Starting in South Park, Kevin Carlson heads straight to Dawgtown

In this series, WeWork’s director of digital community selects a WeWork member to get to know better, sharing her fun findings with the rest of the community.

When I met Kevin Carlson, the founder of Dawgtown, I loved the premise of his app: helping connect dog owners and their pets with awesome places to visit and things to do. (Turns out the WeWork Congress member started Dawgtown after his memorable time working on the TV series South Park.) Read on to learn about Carlson’s experiences working in comedy, making new friends through dog ownership, and more.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Well, I was born and raised in Houston, Texas, so I grew up loving Tex-Mex, loathing Mattress Mack commercials, and hating mosquitoes with all my heart. My life changed drastically when I moved to Austin in 2010 to attend the University of Texas. I majored in film and TV production and happened into a job at Tugg, Inc., a young, promising film distribution startup that sparked my interest in entrepreneurship. After two great years at Tugg, graduation was on the horizon and I had to figure out where my life was headed.

UT has a great program called UTLA—University of Texas Los Angeles—allowing seniors to spend a semester finishing their coursework while interning in the entertainment industry to see if it’s a good fit. So I moved out to Los Angeles in the summer of 2013 and was offered an internship at Comedy Central in their development department, where I provided notes on incoming scripts and attended pitch meetings from some amazingly talented writers and producers.

Starting in South Park, Kevin Carlson Heads Straight to Dawgtown2

When it was all said and done, I’d received an invaluable education on the art of the pitch. My internship came to an end, and I had already booked a flight back to Texas for my graduation ceremony when I was offered a position at South Park—to start the following Monday. I knew I’d forfeit the opportunity if I left, so I missed my flight and jumped right into the real world at South Park. Over the course of 2014, I worked in production on Season 18 of the show and helped out with South Park’s video game, The Stick of Truth, which culminated in the most exciting, stressful, and animated year of my life.

After the season wrapped, I had a bit of time off for the holidays, and I unexpectedly found myself questioning whether this was the career ladder I wanted to climb. I had been getting more serious about pursuing a business idea that had garnered positive feedback from trusted friends and colleagues, and it became surprisingly clear to me that I would never be in a better position to take a leap. When one of South Park’s technical directors expressed interest in heading up development on Dawgtown, I packed up and made the drive back to Austin to break ground on a mobile software company that aims to place a dog owner’s local community of dog-friendly people, places, and products in the palm of their hand.

A year later, I’m so proud of what we’ve done with Dawgtown and excited for the road ahead. And though I no longer feel a need to justify the decisions that got me here, I do still enjoy reminiscing on how much of that 22-hour drive back from Los Angeles was spent fearing that I’d just made the biggest mistake of my life.

Starting in South Park, Kevin Carlson Heads Straight to Dawgtown3

What was that experience like? Do you still keep in touch with the team there?

For me, the most incredible thing about it all was seeing how a company that successful can maintain such creative control over their brand and leverage that as a source of creative inspiration to keep going at such an intense pace. And if you’ve seen the documentary 6 Days to Air, you know that intense is an understatement. To ensure that Comedy Central will be able to air a new episode during its scheduled time slot on Wednesday nights, the South Park crew works a 24-hour sprint each Tuesday to polish and ship the final cut by Wednesday morning. Experiencing that shift for the first time felt a lot like trying to sprint a mile when you haven’t jogged in six months.

Working from one sunrise to the next took some getting used to, but one of the highlights of my time on the show also happened somewhere between 3:00 to 6:00 AM on Tuesdays. Matt Stone would weave through the office, rallying any zombies he could find to come to the sound booth where we would record audio for the crowds, mobs, and any other group scenes an episode necessitated. We’d run through a scene one time while Matt explained the context, and moments later, we were yelling, jeering, and laughing at the top of our lungs. To experience a room of brain-dead employees become an adrenaline filled mob in a matter of minutes was surreal. Watching Matt Stone riff on characters and voices was also surreal.

I do try to stay in touch with some of my close friends on the show, and I feel blessed that I was treated like family by many of my co-workers at South Park—because L.A. is a very different city than Austin—and it was tough to make the same type of friends and connections that I have in Texas.

Starting in South Park, Kevin Carlson Heads Straight to Dawgtown4

How did you come up with Dawgtown, your app to help connect dog owners? Do you have any canine companions in your life?

Being a lifelong dog owner myself, I firmly believe that the shared experience of dog ownership is the ultimate common denominator. So the idea behind Dawgtown was to create a handheld means of accessing one’s like-minded community of dog-friendly people, places, and products. When a respected colleague at South Park resonated with the idea, I moved back to Austin to go all-in on realizing the vision for Dawgtown. A little over a year later, we’ve just launched our first version on the iOS App Store, which was a big milestone for us.

I have an 11-month-old puppy named Shia. He’s an Aussiedoodle—an Australian Shepherd and Poodle mix. He looks more like a panda bear than a dog. He’s 70 pounds of pure, mischievous fluff. Shia was my first foray into raising a young puppy on my own, and he has been a case study in responsibility over these past nine months. His full-time job is trying to convince me to play with him, which he does by chewing his rope on top of my head or smashing his paw on my keyboard when I’m working. Other hobbies include eating ice cubes (he knows how to use our ice dispenser) and prancing around with the biggest stick he can find when we go to the park.

If you were a breed of dog, what would you be and why?

I’d probably say I aspire to be one of these Doodle mixes that have become so popular, just to be able to claim I’m athletic, attractive, and intelligent. But my friends and family would probably say Jack Russell Terrier since I have a tendency to yap a lot and run in circles when I’m bored. 

Anything else we should know about you?

I truly believe in the power of connecting. It’s something that I learned how to navigate and discuss while working in the entertainment industry, where the connection economy is universally known and utilized, but I think the power of your personal network is an asset that a lot of people undervalue and underuse. I know the ‘ask’ part of the equation is easy to grasp, but more emphasis needs to be placed on the ‘give’. I feel driven to invest in the success of my network. Whether that be investing social capital and offering strategic introductions, investing financial capital and backing a friend’s Kickstarter, or investing emotional capital and making an effort to understand the challenges being faced by the people I work with and care about. I want to do these things because I make a serious effort to surround myself with people I support and believe in. It doesn’t matter how you contribute, but the more genuinely vested you are in the success of your peers, the more they will actively vest themselves in you.

Photos: Adam Saraceno

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