From a young age, Franco Caruso had a keen interest in both music and technology. Picking up on this, his parents enrolled him in piano lessons and endearingly nicknamed him “Fingers” for his constant urge to press buttons. As he grew older, his curiosity for AV (audio/visual) technology grew, and at just 16 years old, his first entrepreneurial instincts kicked in when he began installing car audio systems out of his parents’ garage.
Using this newfound income, Franco started putting together his first DJ setup from bargains he found on Kijiji. He then turned to YouTube to learn the foundations of DJing and AV tech, which marked the beginning of his quest to turn his impassioned hobby into a real revenue stream.
He took the time to chat with RAC about how he made the leap from young, resourceful DJ to owning a successful AV business – which has served big corporate clients such as BMO and Provigo – and how this complements his role as Brand Manager at SFM, a pro AV distribution company.
RAC: It began as a passion and evolved into a side hustle. When did you realize you wanted to seriously pursue a career in the world of audio?
Franco: When I DJed my first paid gig and I was more excited about the gig than the pay – that’s when I knew I found “my” industry. I am so grateful that I get to wake up every morning and do what I love, both with my company Caruso Entertainment and in my current position at one of Canada’s leading pro audio/visual distributors, SFM.
RAC: How old were you at your first paid gig and how did this opportunity come about?
Franco: I was 16 years old. I had designed and printed my own business cards and handed them out in my high school’s cafeteria at lunch time – this led to quite a few sweet 16 gigs!
RAC: You then started a business as an AV entertainment company for events. What led you to choosing that specific niche?
Franco: My parents were always wary of me DJing in clubs and being in that scene… So, in order to make them happy and to continue having their permission to use the family van to transport my equipment, I focused on DJing personal and corporate events. Little did I know, the choice that pleased my parents would also end up being the most scalable and profitable one.
RAC: As a DJ, you were self-taught, but you also have a business degree. How valuable was your marketing education in building your own business?
Franco: It was extremely valuable. I can definitely say that my university and marketing degree helped me scale and grow my business into what it is today. I would also like to mention that the inverse was valuable as well – meaning my business was valuable to my education. I was able to apply real-life entrepreneurial experiences to the subject matter I was studying, which in turn made it easier to grasp the marketing theories and strategies being taught. I wasn’t memorizing information like most students do; I was associating what I was learning in the classroom to real-life situations.
RAC: What was the biggest challenge you had to face when you first started your business?
Franco: My age. I was extremely young and was bidding on contracts for events against other entertainment companies that had many years of experience. At 18 years old, I had to convince couples and corporate clients to trust me with their wedding or event. I quickly learned that when people saw my passion, my age didn’t matter as much, because they knew I would go above and beyond in order to deliver on their expectations.
RAC: How do you differentiate your company from others like it?
Franco: Unlike many other entertainment companies that take on many types of events, we decided to focus and specialize on only weddings and corporate events. We also don’t rely on volume (multiple events per day / multiple teams working at once)… one day, one event. This allows us to personally pay special attention to all the details and needs of our client.
Additionally, I am one of the youngest trilingual (English, French, and Italian) DJ/MCs specializing in weddings and corporate events in the city.
RAC: What are some things you did that you feel helped grow your business?
Franco: Testimonials are the best type of marketing. I made it a point to collect testimonials from all my clients after every event and used social media to share their experiences. This generated the most leads and referrals. Word-of-mouth is the most powerful tool – be sure the words people have to say are generally good ones.
RAC: What are some important lessons you’ve learned along the way?
- There is always a solution to every challenge.
- Under promise, ALWAYS over deliver.
- Having a business partner that complements your skills and is able to keep you in check is essential. Without my business partner (Claudio Pantoni), I wouldn’t be where I am today.
RAC: How important is it to know people in the live event industry?
Franco: Very important! It’s a small industry and everyone knows one another. There are an abundance of live events in Montreal, hence referrals from venues and industry vendors (photographers, event planners, florists, etc.) are very important in order to succeed. The more people you know, the more leads you’ll get!
RAC: Any advice on how to build a network?
Franco: First impressions and your reputation are extremely important. Let your work speak for itself, and others will notice you – demand will organically follow. Stay humble, be kind, and always be willing to lend a hand (even to a competitor!).
RAC: You also have a full-time job as Brand Manager at SFM. How did you land this job?
Franco: SFM is one of Canada’s leading pro audio/visual distributors. They are also an authorized repair center for many of the brands they distribute. That being said, it’s where I would bring my DJ equipment to get repaired. One day, I asked if there were any openings and applied.
RAC: Can you give us a brief overview of your work at SFM?
Franco: From launching new brands to developing and reinventing mature brands, I work closely with the marketing department to create campaigns and marketing strategies that will reinforce each brand’s position in the Canadian marketplace. I also work very closely with the sales team in every province to ensure the growth of the brand. From pricing strategies to inventory analysis, my typical work day changes every day. Some days are full of number crunching, while others are very sales- and marketing-oriented.
RAC: How does this job complement your role as owner of Caruso Entertainment?
Franco: At SFM, we cater to companies exactly like Caruso Entertainment. Hence, I understand the client’s perspective and psychology, because I am one! Understanding your client is the most important thing in sales, and thanks to my personal experience, I know exactly how to appeal to my market. I like to tell people that these two jobs are a perfect match because during the week I manage the toys corporately, and on the weekend, I get to play with them!
Also, my network became even larger seeing as I deal with clients all across Canada.
RAC: Are there any challenges working both as a corporate employee and a business owner? How do you balance the two?
Franco: The biggest challenge is bandwidth/time. Discipline is very important and there is dedicated time in my week to both jobs. Monday to Friday is dedicated to SFM, and weeknights and weekends are dedicated to Caruso Entertainment. Thus, I’m often working 6-7 days a week.
Somewhere in between there, I find time for my personal life! I’m lucky to have a very supportive wife who understands my passion and love for the industry.
RAC: The pandemic caused a big disruption to the world of live audio and events. How did you adapt?
Franco: SFM: Sales trends changed dramatically. Live audio / lighting decreased significantly, while broadcast (due to virtual events) and musical instrument sales increased. Everyone was stuck at home and taking up new hobbies, and that included DJing!
Caruso Entertainment: Our events were cancelled for two years in a row. Some of our clients were desperate to get married, so we adapted to the times by offering livestreaming services. Clients were able to get married without guests physically being present, and we were able to livestream the ceremony to hundreds of family members and friends to enjoy.
RAC: Do you think that livestreaming is the new live [event]?
Franco: Nothing will ever replace the feeling of an in-person event. The bass thumping in your chest, the mesmerizing lightshow… You just can’t recreate that virtually. So no, probably not entirely.
As Franco Caruso clearly demonstrates, the audio/visual industry is full of diverse career opportunities, whether it be as an event DJ, an entertainment business owner, a corporate employee, or otherwise – and they don’t have to be mutually exclusive!
When asked for any last advice he’d like to share with us, he responds: “Never stop learning and always stay curious. Technology is at the forefront of this industry, and we all know how quickly technology changes. Staying in the know and being adaptable allows you to remain competitive.”
Text written by Andria Piperni
lllustration by Yihong Guo