Chris Cardoza is the Founder & Director of Doza Visuals, a Boston-based media production company with experience filming and photographing across the globe. You may be familiar with Cardoza’s work locally via the artist documentaries he produces for ICA Boston.
Cardoza’s entrepreneurial journey was preceded by a childhood culminating as a multi-sport athlete in high school. Sports were everything to him, until injuries crept into his life and ripped away his first passion. This is when he discovered a new calling in photography and video and he brought that same energy, determination and dedication to his new craft. Although playing sports came to a halt, in this episode we learned that his relationship with sports found a way to blossom in a creative way.
For the past decade, Doza has been shooting stills and videos for some of the most recognizable brands and publications in the world. He’s worked with companies such as Reebok, ESPN, TB12 Sports, VICE and many more. When he’s not behind the lens pointing his camera at athletes such as Olympic Gold Medalist Aly Raisman or NFL Superstar JJ Watt, you can find Doza traveling to countries such as Rwanda and documenting how sports are affecting the world.
Outside of his work, Cardoza spends his time watching documentaries, flying drones, trail running and spending time with his newborn twins. On this episode of Boston Speaks Up, we chat with Cardoza about juggling parenthood with running a startup, traveling in Rwanda with renowned Boston sports journalist Jackie MacMullan, what it’s like working with star athletes, and what it takes to start your own business.
Before we get into the written Q&A, here’s a teaser clip from the episode:
Where did you grow up? And how would you describe your childhood?
I had a fascinating and very loving childhood. It was pretty ideal with a close family which still continues to this day. I grew up in Easton MA, and was obsessed with baseball, which occupied my time and mind until I went to college. My parents owned a pizza shop in Fall River MA and my entire family was heavily involved in almost every aspect of that business from day 1. We would often spend all day and night there while my parents ran the ship. At only 7 years old I was folding pizza boxes in the back and making pizzas for customers. My family experienced a lot of ups and downs with the business and had to sell about 10 years later, which was a very tough time for all of us. This experience made me who I am today as well as my siblings who all own their own businesses.
Who were your role models growing up?
My parents by far. They are resilient in every way.
If you could go back and give your 18-year-old self one piece of advice, what would it be?
Chill out, things will work out. If I could tell myself that only 1 week ago I would…Working on that.
How did being a multi-sport athlete prepare you to be an entrepreneur?
Redefining the definition and my acceptance of failure. Especially with baseball. Baseball is a game of failure so you get used to it and embrace it. At this point I think failure rarely actually exists since most things are not that important in the grand scheme of things so when something doesn't actually work out I don’t see it as a failure, I just see it as a strikeout swinging (K) knowing I’ll be back up to the plate real soon.
What is the biggest challenge you had to overcome to get to where you are today?
Mental health, anxiety. Really just not listening to that voice of fear. Entrepreneurship can be a pretty lonely existence for a solo entrepreneur like myself so keeping my mental health in check by consistently talking to a therapist, exercising and forcing myself to connect with other entrepreneurs and creatives has been key.
What do you love most about having your own company?
Freedom and control. This has become very beneficial most recently when my twins were born. I’ve been able to continue to work whenever I find a minute and split the parental duties with my wife. I was basically able to take 6 months “off” which has been the hardest and greatest time of my life. I put off in parentheses because I’m never really off, I love what I do too much to ever really check out.
How is the juggling act going with twins at home while you’re building a business?
Insanely hard, it actually feels like we are running two businesses. A home business where my wife is the CEO and I’m her assistant. Then at Doza Visuals I’m in charge. I feel a lot of pressure to be honest. Given that we had twins we decided it would be best for Katie to take the year off from her job so I feel a lot of pressure now that our only source of income is coming from me. BUT this has lit a flame that I never realized was actually in me. I’m a very driven person but this unlocked a different animal. It feels great actually, which surprised me a lot. Because of this, I have changed some of my business models and overthink less about trying new things or putting work out there.
What are some of the challenges you face being a creative entrepreneur in Boston?
Boston is such a tight and small creative community that it's difficult to tap into new brands, especially since the city gives more weight to immediate data and intellectualism. Companies have been working with the same creatives for years and there’s only so many of us. Luckily, we are close to NYC and the rest of New England has a lot of opportunities. I do think starting in a city like Boston is a massive advantage as well. Once you do break in, word spreads fast and you can become respected nationally whereas this process takes longer in such a saturated market like NYC or LA. The diversity of industry is also pretty incredible. One day I may be shooting pro athletes for one of the top shoe brands and the next day I could be working with a scientist at Harvard. This is why I love Boston.
What do you think is holding Boston back from better integrating its creative/artist community with its business community?
I just don’t think the business community knows about all the untapped creativity here in the city. Far too often they source out to NY or LA but we have some of the best in the world right here. Boston businesses don’t put as much emphasis on creativity as they probably should, which I imagine stems from how data driven our culture is. This doesn’t and should not be binary. Creativity needs to be a major part of a brand if it is thinking long term.
Having been in the industry for some time now, do you have any advice for young people that are hoping to build a career in photo/video? Where should they start? Any things you wish you did differently when you first started?
The beauty of starting in 2023 is that every resource is available to you, mostly free online, and the tools are already in your pocket. In the content production world, no one really cares what camera you own, what editing software you use or what college you went to. If you can tell a great story in a unique way and be incredibly easy to work with then you will go a long way. I learned everything on youtube and that was 10 years ago. Become obsessed, give yourself a masterclass online and don’t be afraid to share your work…even if you don’t feel it's your best. We must promote ourselves and have a business mindset otherwise you will just be a starving artist. Do you really want to be a cliche just to live up to some outdated stereotype of an artist?
Now, going a bit deeper into the company you’ve built Why did you first start Doza Visuals? Were you shooting freelance at first? What made you feel confident to take this on full-time?
After graduating from Umass Amherst, I started a temp position at Reebok in their video production department and my contract was about to end. Internally, people started to catch on to some work I had been doing and conveniently a new group formed that would need content. That group told me that if I go freelance after my contract (which I was planning, since I had met freelancers while there and loved what I saw) that they would hire me for work. So, I took that opportunity and that blossomed into where I am today. They are still a great client of mine and many of my current clients blossomed from my relationships and work there.
Can you share a story about your time in Rwanda with Jackie MacMullan?
Jackie and I are both heavily involved with a nonprofit in Boston and Rwanda called Shooting Touch. Shooting Touch uses the game of basketball to provide health education and resources to girls in Boston and families in Rwanda. I had been going to Rwanda with Shooting Touch for years and she joined one of our trips. She was headed to Africa to write a piece about Cameroon's emergence in developing NBA talent like Embiid. We all became very good friends and she was super collaborative. One of the funnier moments was when we were in the village of Rukara and I was filming Jackie introducing a basketball court. This was a simple walk and talk crossing a road. In the middle of her intro a cow got loose and a bunch of locals started chasing after it. Jackie didn’t miss a beat, she addressed the situation with humor and continued on with her introduction. That’s why she's the GOAT. We spent a lot of time interviewing women about their lives, surviving the genocide and how basketball had become an unexpected passion of theirs. Often, it was just Jackie, myself, and a translator having an emotional conversation with one of our new friends. Safe to say that trip changed all of our lives.
Where do you see Doza Visuals in 5 years from now?
In 5 years I hope to have a team of 3 or 4 and open a creative studio on the south shore. I have a fairly new and evolving dream of opening a gallery/studio with some sort of culinary component. I’m still working through the culinary portion but I have some ideas that I’m not ready to put out into the universe just yet.
Let’s get deep for this one… If you could be remembered for one thing in life, what would it be?
That I cared about people…all people.
Before we get to our final question, we have to take advantage of having a filmmaker on the show and ask… What is one film (could be a movie, short-film, documentary, etc.) you would recommend our audience to watch and why?
I’m currently obsessed with different ways to foster creativity and mostly keep my mind focused on being creative first so I’m rewatching Shangri-la on Showtime. This is a documentary miniseries about the producer Rick Rubin and his studio in Malibu. I just began his new book about creativity as well. I need to recommend one more: Ken Burns’ new documentary series “The US and the Holocaust.” Just watch that. It’s too important.
FINAL QUESTION: We like the idea of ending our episodes with a challenge for the listeners/readers. Whether it be reaching out to an old friend, reading 5 pages a day from a book, creating a new healthy habit… What is one challenge you have for the listeners?
This year ask a stranger to take their photograph, get their information and send it to them later on. Ideally printed.