Riverhead native Brian Cristiano was only 17 when he buried his father, a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, the day before his retirement party. After observing a life dedicated to serving this country, Cristiano was heartbroken that his father would never live out all of his incredible dreams. In this moment, his life changed.
Growing up in Riverhead, before its cultural revitalization, provided little opportunity for the now 30-something-year-old Cristiano. “While I appreciate my humble beginnings, I knew I wanted more opportunity,” he said. Although most members of his family went into typical middle-class professions, Brian was different. By the time he was 16, he was already expressing his own individuality, making skate videos.
“My first skate video was called ‘Apocalypse’ and I cold-called an extreme sports distribution company called Video Action Sports,” he said. “I told them I had their next big skate video, and a year later I had sold 5,000 copies.” Inspired by the likes of Tony Robbins, Cristiano aimed higher. “When I was in high school, I knew I needed to go somewhere that would challenge me and put me in a position to succeed. I was just curious growing up, so I was never afraid to just try something I felt passionate about.”
The road to success has been similar to driving on the Belt Parkway during rush hour, full of potholes and delays. After starting a production company in the early 2000s, Cristiano found himself $250,000 in debt by 2006. Unable to pay his employees and on the cusp of being evicted from his New York City apartment, he had no choice but to rent out his own bedroom to a Frenchman and sleep on the couch just to make ends meet. “I was deeply depressed. I thought it was over,” he said. “I thought I was going to prove everyone right who had told me I couldn’t do it.”
After six months of stumbling his way through, Cristiano found his footing again. “I woke up and decided I had to get off the couch and make a massive change,” he said. When an opportunity to see Tony Robbins live presented itself, he found light in the darkest of hours. Fourteen months later, the young entrepreneur was debt-free, off the couch, and celebrating his first $1 million in sales. “I’ve never looked back since, except to remind myself of what I never want to become again. It pushes me through the toughest of times to this day.”
Despite the success his production company achieved, he decided he’d rather work directly for clients and cut out agency middlemen. After buying out his business partner in 2011, he launched BOLD Worldwide as a fully integrated ad agency. Some notable clients include Pepsico, Tropicana, Gillette, A Rod Corp., and Direct TV. As it continues to grow as an influential ad agency, so do Cristiano’s dreams. On November 27, he held his first ever thinkBOLD Business & Marketing Conference in Manhattan; it featured prominent entrepreneurs and motivational speakers, and he aims to make it bigger and better. Within five years, he foresees producing over $100 million and switching up the industry by standing out from the rest. “We want to drive real results for our clients, and we want advertising to be more than just placing ads and making commercials,” he said. “We believe we can build a community that makes a real difference.”
Each step of the way Cristiano remembers his father. “I learned discipline from him. He wanted to see me succeed — he was excited for me.”
A successful CEO, loving husband, adopted-dog owner, and new father to a baby girl, Cristiano is proof that success isn’t a linear equation — it comes at the price of hardships and suffering. Despite all of his battles, he continues to think boldly and be an inspiration to countless individuals, in Riverhead, and beyond. Reminiscing on the skater boy he used to be, “I would tell myself to trust my gut and not to listen to the naysayers,” he said. “To take more action, to expect it to be tough, yet continue to push through the challenges no matter what. I’d tell myself that I was enough.”