Photography by Lucy Hewett
How do you start from scratch after working at the same company for more than a decade? And how do you go from a world of music journalism into the world of creative brand building?
According Chris Kaskie & and Mike Renaud, both CEOs and founders of the brand new Chicago based creative studio Varyer, it’s about trusting your instincts and to work with people you value and love.
And they should know: Merely a year ago, the creative power duo left their positions as president and creative director at Pitchfork—a company in which they spent over 10 years building into one of the most trusted and most read music magazines there is.
Congrats on Varyer! No small task starting a brand new creative studio; how does it feel to be at the beginning of something new?
Thank you! It feels fantastic. We spent over 10 years with our heads down, working hard to grow Pitchfork and all that we created within it. Bringing Varyer to life has been an opportunity to reset, broaden our purview, and start building again - and it feels good. We feel an enormous amount of comfort when put in the position to cultivate and grow a brand.
You both left Pitchfork a year ago. When did you start planning Varyer, and what has the last year been like?
The past year has been full of family, friends, and finding inspiration in so many different ways. While we started planning Varyer towards the end of 2017, we have always looked at the world longingly for more. What and how we built Pitchfork was designed in a way that, ideologically, would allow us to bring that experience and perspective along with us for the rest of our lives. The foundation, compass, and meaning that we created at Pitchfork revolves around working with people we value and love — building something you care deeply about, and something that is ultimately super fun. And now, it's nice to be able to apply that to something that is not only wholly ours, but that can exist in a world where it feels like anything is possible.
Can you pitch us Varyer in one sentence?
Varyer is an integrated creative studio that will work to build, design, and operationalize brands – from a local flower shop to the Chicago Blackhawks.
From Pitchfork to a Varyer—It’s a quite different landscape in terms of disciplines. Or maybe it isn’t? How does that transition work for you?
It really isn't. We spent our time at Pitchfork growing brands beneath it, whether it be the Pitchfork Festivals or the Pitchfork Review. And, in all that, we also ended up building a creative agency that could expand Pitchfork's offerings to advertisers and partners. Ultimately, we really did get our hands on a little bit of everything. When the time was right to start Varyer, we knew that instead of building a brand like Pitchfork, we could use those skills, expertise, and instinct to help other people, brands, or organizations grow. While music is a far cry from a professional hockey team, thinking about audiences, the meaning of a brand, and how to deliver value to an audience — it's all the same world.
In what way are your experiences from Pitchfork relevant and useful for Varyer?
We built Pitchfork slowly and purposefully, enacting our specific vision on something and ensuring we did so with creativity and our "needs" out front. Too often now, people look to scale, and the speed with which they reach scale, as the metric for success. We found that through consistent, quality, and innovative work, you can grow scale alongside something even more valuable: engagement. While we aren't building another Pitchfork, we are building a company that we hope means something to people, and working with brands/companies/individuals that we can help achieve that same goal.
Any good advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Listen to yourself, not the data. Instinct is a powerful tool, and while data is always helpful when supporting a decision or otherwise, building what you do around data or chasing success based on what the data shows is a losing battle. We all have the same information, but we don't have the same opinions. That's what sets people apart.