Rising star


David Siteman Garland is a 24-year-old “creative opportunities specialist” living in the Central West End. Recently, he spoke to the Jewish Light about controlling his own destiny, his new TV show on KDNL-ABC30 and how it doesn’t hurt to have rich and famous relatives.

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You went to MICDS and graduated from Washington University in 2006. What exactly does a creative opportunities specialist major in?

I have a degree in women and gender studies. I took a women’s studies class and thought I would be completely out of place in it, being an athlete, in a fraternity and a straight, white male. But I really enjoyed the content and the conversation. I decided I have four years to do something unique, I’m going to do this and study business on the side.

What was your first job after graduation?

I was going to move to southern California and do marketing at a hockey rink. Three weeks before I moved, the hockey rink was sold and became a parking lot.

Bummer. Did you have a back-up plan?

No, but really, this was a blessing. I started my first company, which was a professional in-line hockey league. We ended up with six teams in three cities over two years. I did everything from getting paper clips to securing sponsorships to playing goalie to announcing. I developed a knack for doing creative advertising, sponsorships and shows because I had a radio show related to in-line hockey.

Why did you give it up?

After two years, I wanted to move onto something where the ceiling was a little higher. More importantly, I wanted something where I could control the destiny a bit more.

You recently started a marketing agency; a Web site, therisetothetop.com and a self-syndicated TV show, in which you are the host and creative opportunities specialist. What’s that all about?

You can be as passionate as you want about something but a creative opportunities specialist can turn that passion into a business and make money at it, too.

What about your show, The Rise to the Top, which airs locally on KDNL-ABC 30 at 11 a.m. Sundays? How would you describe it?

As a talk show on steroids. It’s young, fun and hip. It’s fast moving business and lifestyle tips. You have various segments, some of which are recurring, as well as a featured guest each week.

Where do you find your guests?

From my personal network and people I know.

Doesn’t that get incestuous?

As more people see the show, they are suggesting guests. Plus with the Internet and podcasts, we can attract guests from all over.

Who is your audience?

Originally we thought this was going to be designed for younger people and we definitely hit that sweet spot of 21-to-30-year-olds. But we’ve really hit entrepreneurs of all ages. They can resonate with what is going on.

How do you know who is watching?

We get reports from ABC. But I’m all about engagement. The way we know people are engaged is that they go to our Web site, they sign up for our E-zine and they send me messages. They find me on Facebook and Twitter. There are all these ways of contacting me and they do.

How did you talk KDNL into letting you put your show on the air?

I networked my way in there. I put a list together of 20 to 30 people who I thought would be great mentors. I literally sat down with each of them and said, “Here’s my concept. I need help.” A guy named Norty Cohen, another Jewish fellow, said you need to talk to Bonni Burns, who was the head of Roberts Broadcasting at the time. She told Norty she would take the meeting but she was going to send me out to the streets. It ended up with her really believing in the concept and she started hammering down doors for me, including KDNL’s.

You essentially pay for your show to be on TV. How do you get paid?

Through sponsors and myself. I made significant contributions. Like poker, I am all in.

Speaking of significant contributions, your grandfather is Alvin Siteman whose namesake cancer center is just down the street. It’s easier to be an entrepreneur when you have money and family connections, don’t you agree?

I have a hair up with family connections. But really, it’s about connections and creating my own connections. My grandpa, who is on my advisory board and who, by the way, was the most difficult person to get on my advisory board, has always instilled a work-your-face-off work ethic where it’s like you are going to make this yourself. It’s not like grandpa is paying the bills for me. He offers supports and so does the family, which does allow me to take more risks. But it’s all about standing on my own and investing in myself.

While we’re discussing your name, are you related to the famous Wizard of Oz Judy?

The funny thing is I do have an aunt who married into the family but she spells Judy with an “i.”

I know you are single but are you seeing anyone?

I am. I have a serious girlfriend. I met her running in Forest Park.

OK, here it comes — is she Jewish?

No, she got a little shiksa going. Our faith is very similar in that we’re a lot more culturally involved with our religions as oppose to sitting there having religious debates. She pretty much says now that she’s half Jewish.

But you celebrated a bar mitzvah?

Yes, my family belongs to Shaare Emeth. Believe or not, there was a real-life chimp at my bar mitzvah reception.

We’ll save the details for another time. Do you have a favorite Jewish custom, food or holiday?

I like the High Holidays and Passover. I like getting together with family and having matzoh ball soup or eating apples with honey on Rosh Hashana. I think such a strong part of being Jewish is the cultural mishegas.

Who are your role models?

My family, of course, especially my grandpa in terms of business ability and ambition. Also a guy named Gary Vaynerchuk. Sitting at home with a camera, he created a wine TV show that now gets 80,000 views a day. He’s an Internet celebrity. I see him as a role model because he created something very cool from scratch.

What’s the next step for you?

We’re going to keep growing The Rise to the Top. We’d like to have a million viewers by May. We already have 250,000 after three shows so we’re on track.