Coltrane Curtis isn’t just a man with a marketing firm. He's also a Morehouse Man, who used his can’t-stop-won’t-stop attitude to create Team Epiphany, an award-winning influencer agency based in New York. Yes, he’s living the dream now—but Curtis didn’t get there without a dream deferred, too. When he entered Morehouse College, Curtis wanted to be a lawyer. But things changed when he realized a buttoned-up life of practicing law might not be for him.
Instead, Curtis swerved off the legal path to seek a degree in marketing, which ultimately led him to walk in the footsteps of his father, who'd started his own marketing agency from the top floor of their Brooklyn home. In addition to his father’s influence, Curtis, a proud Bed-Stuy native, also credits Spike Lee with impacting his future, explaining that he, “applied to Morehouse because of Spike, because of Do the Right Thing, because of all those amazing movies.”
After graduation, Curtis was motivated, with success on his mind. He embarked on internships, applied for media jobs, and eventually found gigs as a TV personality and VJ for various networks. In 2005, the honorary ATLien launched his own marketing agency with the initial purpose of having “an excuse to escape Manhattan’s brutal winter to throw parties in Miami,” Curtis explains. Fifteen years later, that small firm has transformed into the influencer agency, while moving back to New York. Team Epiphany now boasts a squad of more than 70 people that does it for the culture and for the likes. Curtis and his agency also work to give back to their community through a unique scholarship program that helps men of Morehouse get job-training internships in the entertainment and media industries. But most important to Curtis, the Team Epiphany founder now manages his agency alongside his wife, Lisa.
Read on to learn about Curtis' thoughts on business, working with his wife, persevering through challenges, and founding a scholarship program.
Welcome to Team Epiphany.
Coltrane on Having a Seat at the Table:
I think the big challenge, for me, in the business is when people stack the deck against you. I'm the type of person that the deck is stacked against me. Bigger agencies are able to fake it 'till they make it, generally 'till they break it. But the reality is, they're building brand strategies on generally third party information that is inaccurate, dated, and defunct. My job now is to make sure that we have a seat at that table. And that term, “having a seat,” is proverbial. It means, I don't care about the one seat, I want to control the room. If I can control the room from one seat or 10 seats, I want them all. I have two sons named Count and Ellington, one of the big goals of the agency is making sure that they grow up in the agency too.
Coltrane on How the Entertainment Industry Opens Doors for the Community:
Let's look at this like F1 racing. The difference between first and 10th place could be a second or two. The difference between first place and second place could be hundredths of a second. It's just a matter of who is driving that car, and what team is helping them get to their goal. I think it's really about the people who are controlling the narrative to be more inclusive, and making sure that through their successes are opening other doors for people that look like them.
Coltrane on Running a Business With His Wife:
I've been passionate about my wife ever since I've seen her. There is no separation in my life. To be super honest, I couldn't picture nor imagine my life any different. That's just the way it is, and I wouldn't have this any other way. We can do the research and [see] that you spend more time with people at work than you do with the people you love and care about. So why can't you spend the time at work with the people you love and care about? Most people are like, Oh my gosh, it must be so difficult. It's actually easier than it's ever been because as the company's gotten larger, we've had to run and do our own thing. We have lanes that we own. When we swerve lanes, we get into arguments, but that’s because we're all passionate about the same thing.
Coltrane on Running His Own Business:
[At school], I thought I was going to be a lawyer. [I] went to the bookstore, got my pre-law crewneck, and started taking those deep, heavy-reading workload classes. Then I realized that this wasn't for me. A bow tie and navy suit were not in my future. [Now], I think the first thing is to make sure that I love going to work and the people that I'm working with. I think the byproduct of that is the work that we do. For most agencies, it's the other way around, which is why most of them haven't been around as long as we have. I want people to be at the agency who are disciplined, who contribute in culture—this way I can have an understanding of what's going on. I'm 45 years old. I'm not the coolest kid on the block anymore. The reason why I am, is because of the people I hire. They connect me the world.
Coltrane on Starting a Scholarship Program:
I'm a Morehouse man. We looked up, and were like, Wait, hold up. There [are] no future Jarretts, no future Parises [Team Epiphany executives present]. Why is that? What's going on? And we need to fix it. And the way that I did was through the scholarship in Morehouse. In our community, families have to leverage everything they got to get their kid in, through, and out of school. So, when the kid comes back [and says], Hey, I want to go do something creative. But creative comes back with a question mark and a liability asterisk. So what we wanted to do was create the opportunity for an entrepreneurial scholarship at Morehouse before kids decided that they wanted to go work on Wall Street. We created this scholarship in my father's name. He would probably punch me. He didn’t do anything for the accolades or the limelight. He was about the substance. If he was still here, he would have never wanted to put the scholarship in his name because he was just that humble. The average GPA, a lot of time, is like 3.5, [and that] doesn’t make some of the most creative kids eligible. We brought the GPA piece down to a 2.5, and if you're interested in being an entrepreneur, you have the ability to apply for the scholarship. The scholarship creates an opportunity for people who need financial assistance and also creates a pipeline for us to find young Black creatives earlier in the process. The scholarship not only helps pay for school, but it also provides them an internship with us in New York City, where we pay for lodging and housing. We want to give you all the tools and the spending money. We want you to see what New York is about. We want you to work.