Dmitri Vietze | CEO, Rock Paper Scissors | CEO, StoryAmp
From activist to entrepreneur.
Quirky, colorful, and full of big ideas.
Meet Dmitri Vietze. NYC activist turned successful entrepreneur. Hailing from Nashville, TN, he has called Bloomington ‘home’ since 2000. Dmitri is the founder and CEO of music and tech PR firm, Rock Paper Scissors, as well as StoryAmp, a software platform that connects musicians to the press. You’ll recognize him by his big smile, colorful pants, and contagious energy. His story shows his fierce “go getter” attitude, always rising to challenges with gusto. Dmitri has certainly forged his own path, never backing down from his passions and dreams – even in the face of less than optimistic advice. Hard work and focus pays off, and Dmitri’s tale is an example of just that.
The formative years: What led you to where you are today?
“I was born in Nashville, TN. I lived there the first 12 years of my life. Growing up, I didn’t really have a “thing.” My brother was into video games. My sister was into singing. Eventually, I made my way to music. But, before I did, I taught myself to juggle and walk on stilts. I love that you can just DO stuff that’s weird and fun. I also remember when I was really little, I taught myself how to turn an olive into a whistle. … Yeah, I was kind of quirky.”
“I also liked hanging out with adults more than kids. When I was little, we’d be walking down the street in our neighborhood in Nashville in the 70s, and my mom was like, ‘How do you know all these grown ups?’ Eventually I got a gig – this was at age 10 – at the local 7-Eleven. The manager and I chatted up and he said if I cleaned up the parking lot he’d give me the keys to the video games. And, a big gulp and a sandwich. It was one of those microwavable 7-Eleven sandwiches. That was my first entrepreneurial gig. I didn’t have a paper route or anything like that.””It wasn’t until much later that I even thought about jobs or my career. I was an activist in New York City in the 1980s. I was doing a lot of anti-racism activism. I was really interested in changing the world. Then, I got a full tuition scholarship to Antioch College, for activism. I went to a very expensive, private liberal arts school for free, because I was basically demonstrating in the streets in NYC.”
“I decided that the best way to change the world is through commerce and business. So, I got a business degree. Whoever gave that money was probably rolling in their grave. There’s an activist going to college and now he’s studying business.”
“I was always interested in a lot of cross-cultural stuff and entrepreneurship. And, eventually, I made my way into the music industry. But, first, I was doing workshops using music to teach about cultural differences. I would bring in instruments and samples to help people see cultural difference as a source of innovation and opportunity, rather than as a conflict and problem.”“I got into the music industry when I worked for at a record distribution company in Portland, OR, where I moved after college. The folks there knew that I was interested in global culture and music. They were setting up a PR department, and I helped them do it. It was basically just like the workshops I was doing, in PR form. We were getting a tons of National Public Radio stories, New York Times stories, from artists all over the world. I decided that I wanted to do that, full-time, on my own. That’s when I started Rock Paper Scissors.”
“We came to Bloomington temporarily in 2000. My wife, Antonia, is from Bloomington. We had a one-year-old, our daughter, who is now 19 and at Oberlin College. At the time, we thought we’d come here temporarily. Her mom was around, and my wife was getting her MFA in photography at IU. So, we kept our house in Portland for three years, rented it out, and stayed here. After three years, we kind of liked it. We decided life was too easy, and our daughter was having a great experience. Bloomington was so… just easy. The business started to grow and I just didn’t want to uproot it. So, we decided to stay.”
Would you give your younger self advice if you could?
“I feel like I had to live through some of the challenges to get the experience, and I don’t know if I would’ve believed myself if I told myself something differently.”
“What would I tell myself? ‘Don’t spend so much time trying to grow the business in a market that’s too small.’ I could’ve told myself that. But, I don’t regret any of my experiences. And, I really locked in the learning by banging my head against the glass ceiling in the market I was in. I feel like, as an organization, we move and pivot a lot faster as a result of the extended runway that it took me to learn all that. It was that painful. And, I don’t regret it. We’ve always had great clients. In the beginning, we were very focused. And, we got our 10,000 hours of practice in with a very specific kind of client base. Today, we still do the same kind of PR we’ve always done, we just added several other things to it.”
Personal habits: the good, the bad, the ugly
If money was no object…
“I travel a ton for work. But, when you travel for work, it’s one type of experience. We measure our return on investment on every trip. We know what our profit margin is. So, let’s say we have a 10% profit margin. For every $1000 we spend on a trip, I have to come back with $10,000. So, I’m very focused when I travel for work. If money was no object, I wouldn’t be worrying about that as much and would be able to experience it.”
“We’ve also got this incredible team here. Three people on our staff have PhDs, three of them have masters, and each of them have specialties – in music, in culture, and in business. They are whole worlds in themselves. I can have conversations with some of the people on my team and get transported in terms of ideas. Some of them bring so much historical knowledge, that it’s right there.”
“Also, our client base is not in Bloomington. We have clients in Tokyo, Toronto, Portland, LA, Stockholm. All over the world. So, all I have to do is hop on a strategy call with one of our clients and our team, and I’m in another world.”
About Rock Paper Scissors
Rock Paper Scissors PR is a music & technology PR and event & conference planning firm. We handle publicity for artists, labels, music tech companies, festivals.
For artists, for journalists, for publicists – StoryAmp is a platform for connecting musicians and the press.