From getting hated on for taking pictures of his friends in high school to starting a jewelry company out of his parent’s basement, Dan Folger is truly the definition of a self-made entrepreneur. Folger sits down with our co-founder, Matt Moloney, to tell us about his journey from working at a cheese factory to touring the world with Wiz Khalifa, G-Eazy & more.
Without any further ado, this is the Dan Folger interview.
Matt: So tell me a little about your background – where are you from? where are you currently living? and how old are you?
Dan: Yeah for sure – I’m originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I’m 27 years old and I’m living in LA right now. I lived in Pittsburgh up until I was about 18 years old and then I landed a job with Wiz and actually moved out to LA with him so I was there for awhile, but I’ve bounced around a lot. I was in LA, then I moved to NYC, then to Miami, and now I’m back in LA, but I’m not leaving the West Coast anymore haha.
Matt: Yeah I don’t blame you haha – It just started snowing here in Boston and you really see how unproductive things can get when the weather gets in the way.
Dan: Trust me bro, Pittsburgh’s gloomy so I know but I gotta give it one thing – people always ask ‘Are you happy you’re from Pittsburgh?’ and I’m like, ‘Honestly, yeah. Just for the fact that it builds people who grind. It’s a hardworking city – there’s not much to do other than just grind it out.
Matt: Definitely man, 100%. So tell me about how you got started with photography – you mentioned working with Wiz at 18, but when did you actually pick up a camera and start shooting?
Dan: Honestly man, I’ve just been obsessed with taking photos since I can remember. I literally just had an iPhone at the start, and I even consider this as photography. Documenting everything is, to me, photography. I did it just because I love to look back at shit – I just wanted to document stuff. Our friend group is super close and everything we do, we do together – you know, parties, going out, whatever. Anything we would do I would film. You know when you’re sitting there at night just looking back at all the photos like, ‘damn, that was the funniest day.’
So I would say I was probably in 10th grade, I don’t even know how old that is, but yeah 10th grade is when I really started.
Matt: When you first stated out were you big on photography? or mainly video? Or was it just about remembering the memory?
Dan: So I would do both – I had a Flip camera, I don’t even know if you’ll remember what that is, but it was like a little brick camcorder, and I would just carry that around and just film shit. And that camera was cheap, maybe $100 bucks, but my first actual camera was the Nikon D3300, I’ll never forget that. I got that when I was probably a junior in high school and that was my first real camera. I would just take it everywhere, and it was really just a fun hobby or mine, I really enjoyed it and just brought it with me everywhere I went. I didn’t know I was going to pursue it or anything and it kinda just led me to more things.
What’s cool about it too is that I’m self taught. When I was learning I downloaded Photoshop; I’m sure I downloaded it illegally at that time, and I started playing around with it and really learned a lot. But what’s crazy too is back when I was doing it… I’m 27 now so I’m not old or anything, but when I started, people hated on it. I came from a school that was big on sports, and I like sports, but I knew wasn’t going to go the league. But a lot of people thought it was weird to take pictures, or it was ‘feminine’ just because I took photos. And it was like shirtless, modeling photos you know what I’m saying? It was just cool photos, but a lot of people hated on me. And it’s funny too when stuff started to pick up a lot of people were coming around like, ‘dude, that’s so sick you’re with blah blah blah’ and I’m just thinking, ‘it’s cool man, I remember… you used to talk shit’
Matt: Yeah, 100% man it’s crazy. I’m only 22 and I haven’t shot with Wiz or anything like that but I know what you mean. When you first start shooting in like high school, you just take photos of what you see and people will clown you because it’s not that much, but then eventually you start seeing better things in front of your camera, and they wish they were there too so it’s just funny how that works.
With that being said, did you go to college after you had finished up with high school?
Dan: Nope, straight out of highschool I got a job. My two main jobs that I had were at a Comfort Inn and at a cheese factory. I would work overnight at the front desk of the Comfort Inn and then after I quit that, my official last job was at a cheese factory. It was 7am – 3pm, Monday – Friday and that was rough; I’d be in and out of industrial freezers, it was just not ideal and that was when I didn’t know what I was doing with my life.
I was still making some money doing photography with local rappers, filming music videos, you know, whatever I could get. I was making side money, but again I wasn’t making enough to quit my job.
Matt: Definitely – I feel that. At that point, making that jump from working for free or for little pay to actually supporting yourself it’s definitely not going to be easy right?
Dan: Yeah, exactly. So let me say this – I’m working my job, paying my bills and everything – my mom wasn’t paying my bills; I still lived with her, but you know my car, insurance, all that I paid for. Before my first tour with Wiz or anything – I went on tour with G-Eazy, Tory Lanez, and Rockie Fresh and my buddy linked me and said, ‘Yo, you should come on this tour – we don’t have a budget though. It’s like a month and a half long, we’ll cover food and stuff but we can’t pay you.’
I’ll never forget it because I thought to myself, ‘This is my chance. I’m gonna go in there and crush it and I’m gonna fucking take off after this.’
I can never forget this – I walked into work the next day and quit. My mom was like freaking out, she couldn’t wrap her head around why I was doing any of this. You know, this is when Instagram was on the rise so I had a vision of what could really happen, so I quit. I had enough money to cover my bills for a few months so I just said, ‘fuck it’ and I went on tour with them. And that’s really what kind of sparked everything – I was starting to get followers, this is when G-Eazy toured and when everyone was on the rise too so they’re posting me like crazy.
Matt: Damn, that’s wild haha. And this was before G-Eazy was really famous famous right?
Dan: Yeah, he had a good fan base, but not huge like it is today. It was called the ‘These Things Happen Tour’ – we literally drove around in a sprinter bus, we didn’t even have a tour bus. But it was dope, man – small venues, and that was like my first time touring you know, living out of a suit case for like 2 months seeing places all over the country. And I just grinded it out – I met a lot of cool people and that was like the big jump. If I missed that opportunity, I’ll tell you right now I would not be where I’m at today – 100%.
And that goes for any photographer or entrepreneur, if there’s ever a point in your life where it’s gonna be like, you gotta just take that risk. Even though in the back of your mind if you’re thinking it may not work out, you just gotta do it or else you’ll never know.
Matt: Damn yeah 100%. So when you got back from that first tour what was the main benefit you got out of everything? Was it meeting good connections? getting your work shared more?
Dan: Meeting people was really good, but definitely starting to gain a social presence was big – you know, nowadays your Instagram is your portfolio so everyone would tag me, I was getting tory Lanez fans, Rocky Fresh fans, G-Eazy fans, so it really helped build my portfolio up.
And I can’t discredit meeting people though. I remember when were in NYC for a show, that was my first time at Atlantic Records, so I was able to meet some record label connects there and that was big for me.
Matt: So now you’re back from your first tour – tell me where your head is at. Are you realizing that this is becoming a full-time thing? Or are you kind of scrambling to figure out what to do now?
Dan: Yea, so I’m back in Pittsburgh, everyone’s doing their own thing. I didn’t even get a job again. I figured I would pick up more work, so I would just do random, one-off projects with anyone I knew really. I remember Rocky Fresh was signed to MMG so one time he was like, ‘hey man, I’m going to Rick Ross’ house for four days, I need you to shoot some stuff – I’ll fly you down there.’ So I was still doing little stuff like that but it was a lot of local stuff until I got into the Wiz stuff.
Matt: Awesome, and so tell me about Wiz – how did you get connected with him? Was it from the first tour you went on that he found out about you?
Dan: No, I actually met Wiz through working with local people in Pittsburgh. I was doing a lot of work in the area with his entourage – say Wiz’s body guard’s cousin you know what I mean. That cousin is like, ‘Yo, Dan come take some photos of us at Wiz’s music video, so I started to come around because of his entourage and his friend. I always had it in my mind not that I wanted to use people, but use instead use the opportunity in a way that I would make sure everyone around him was set up with photos even if I have to work extra hard because they always wanted a camera man there. So I started coming around a lot but it was crazy because Wiz still didn’t know who I was, I was just there.
The time Wiz and I really clicked…. do you know who John Geiger is? Shoutout John Geiger, that’s my fuckin brother. He was close with Wiz… and I tell this to everybody because it changed my life. Wiz invited John to his show in Scranton, PA, and John and I were close. I would always take pictures of his crazy ass fashion, his unreleased shoes, whatever. So he hit me and was like, ‘Yo let’s go up to Scranton for Wiz’s show, we’ll grab a hotel, stay over night, blah blah blah.’ So we go up the day before the show because Wiz had some rehearsals. We were backstage and Wiz was like, ‘Yo take some photos of me real quick’ and he crouched down with his dog, and he was smoking weed with a tie dye background and that was like my iconic photo.
After that, Wiz was like, ‘You should email me those photos’, not even text them, so I went back to the hotel, emailed him all the photos, and went to sleep. When I woke up my IG was exploding – he posted like 10 photos, tagged me, shouted me out, all of it. I went back to refresh my email to see if he said anything and he literally responded back saying, ‘Yo homie, if you can – hop on this whole entire tour with me.’
I went back home after the show, I packed a bag, and had a friend drive me down to Virginia to meet him for the next show.
And to top it all off, I did that for free. Anyone would obviously, but I wanted to prove myself. And Wiz and I – it was different than worker/cameraman, he really liked me and we had a good bond. When I would do his videos, I wouldn’t be timid, I would get in his face until he told me to back up, I just wanted to get raw footage.
So that first tour was for free – I get home and it’s silence for months. I get a call a few months later from his manager, Will, shoutout to Will Dzombak – I’ll never forget man. There’s an area in Pittsburgh called Oakmont – I was driving through Oakmont to go home, it was late at night, Will called me and was like, ‘Yo, Dan – just an FYI, Wiz wants to hire you full-time and put you on a salary, but you have to move to LA like now.’ And when I heard that, I was like, ‘Dude, say no more.’ I drove home and packed a bag, the rest is history straight up. I packed a bag, flew to LA and was with him for like five years.
Matt: Damn, man that’s actually wild how sporadic things were and how it all worked out.
Dan: Yeah, it was for real crazy man – especially because my main thing was photos. I could do videos but I had a partner at the time who would do all my editing, I didn’t know jack shit about editing. So wherever I went with Wiz he’s expecting me to edit so that’s when I downloaded Premiere and just started to figure it out and learn how to be versatile.
I’m not an unreal editor, I can’t do all these crazy effects, but what we really liked was just raw shit. You know – when you watch a documentary a lot of it is not crazy ass transitions, so that was cool, I did a lot of raw stuff. It didn’t have to be stabilized, glide cam, I just like raw stuff, handheld, so it was just perfect the way it worked out.
Matt: Yeah, definitely. So tell me about getting hired – when Will called you did he tell you specifically what you’d be doing or was it kind of just like ‘We want you to document’?
Dan: No, they told me they wanted a photographer and they wanted me to take over the Day Today episodes and that’s when I was like, ‘Oh shit, I can’t blow this.’
Matt: Damn, yeah hahah I believe it because Wiz’s Day Today’s have been one of the most influential vlog / documentaries in music over the past decade or so.
Dan: Yeah and what was cool is that he was doing that before anyone – he was really the one that started the day in the life; the fun, with your friends, showing how he worked – he really started that. And luckily I got in on it early to really show him doing all that cool shit. And we were dropping them a lot – now days he doesnt drop as much, he has a son now and everything but in his prime, when we were going hard, we would drop them like once a week.
Matt: Yeah, and it was smart for him to do that because long-term, he really built a legacy off that and now Gunna, Trippie Redd, Juice Wrld, all these other guys did documentaries and stuff – it’s not just out of thin air. They saw someone do it, and they saw that it worked too.
Dan: For sure man. His YouTube must have so many subscribers now because there’s so much legendary footage. And basically like I said before it was just history in the making – even if he didn’t make a dollar off of it, it’s just so cool for him to look back when he’s 60 years old and be like, ‘I documented my whole life.’
I mean, I would love to have someone document me like that. That’s the one thing I really love about photography and videography – you can look back on it; it’s real memories. I don’t know, if you’re ever just having a down day you can look back at some memories and just laugh at an old video and just laugh out whatever is, so that’s why I fuckin’ love this shit.
Matt: Nah, I totally agree, that’s so sick how it all worked out.
Matt: I wanna also tie in GLD, your jewelry company, to the story as well – at what point did you start working on this?
Dan: Yeah, we started GLD in 2014 – I was working with Wiz at the early stages of GLD, we were just starting out, selling on Instagram. But it came about because my buddies were graduating college. I was making a bunch of connections, my Instagram was blowing up and we all knew we had to take advantage of the position we were in. So through another friend, we got put on to do jewelry and we kinda just ran with it and it was just kind of a snowball effect. And it was perfect too because we were portraying the lifestyle that we were actually living, you know, that ‘Work Hard, Play Hard’ mentality. It was cool, you looked at our Instagram, you’d see our jewelry, Wiz, private jets, this and that, so our Instagrams were really blowing up and our content was great luckily because I was good at photos and it just snowballed from there, and I actually stopped working with Wiz because we were crushing it, and that was another risk because we were definitely killing it, but it could’ve failed still and I’ll never forget when we were like, ‘this is it, this is what we’re doing, we’re going to turn this thing up to a $500M company, we’re going to do this.’
… honestly it feels like a dream still. It’s kinda crazy because I’ve been doing it for a long time but I still look around like, ‘what the fuck?!’ It’s a dream come true – I still smile every time I talk about it.
I even remember sitting down with Wiz and being like, ‘Hey, man…’ I mean he knew about GLD because we were making hats, shirts, stuff like that and I would give him stuff. He saw me doing my thing, he supported it but yeah, I’ll never forget it – we were at a studio house that he rented and I sat him down and was like, ‘Dude, I gotta talk to you.. GLD is doing really well and I think I gotta step down from this position and take on GLD full-time.’ And it was sad I’m not gonna lie, we both were like, ‘Fuck!’ but he wanted me to grow, a real friend wants you to grow.
Matt: Damn yeah that’s definitely tough, and it sucks because you know when something’s gotta give, or when something needs to change, but it was probably hard to adjust from working so closely and in a rhythm like you were.
Dan: Yeah, and it’s cool too, Wiz just did an interview like a week ago and he brought me up and he was saying something about how ‘it’s awesome that people around me wanna be their own boss.’ He really respects me doing my own thing and not just wanting to follow him around, off his own money forever. He watched me grown, and he helped me grown, and to him he’s definitely proud of that and I’m super thankful.
Matt: Yeah man, that’s a mutual respect. You never want a relationship to go bad just because one person wants to change or one person wants something different.
Dan: Yeah, exactly. And now we make money together so I’m glad he saw the big picture in it and believed in me.
Matt: So bring me up to speed with GLD – what are your current projects right now? I just saw you announced the NCAA partnership, that’s gonna be awesome.
Dan: Yeah so GLD is in full effect now, we have an office in Wynwood, in Miami – 12,000 square feet, it’s fucking massive. Literally starting in our parents’ basement – we had a white USPS box with jewelry in it and that’s how we started. Then we started to make some money and opened a small office in Pittsburgh which we fuckin loved. We used to live there practically, we treated it like our first apartment, but now we’re fully kicking in Miami – we have partnerships with the NFL, NBA, MLB, Marvel, PSG, and the NCAA, which actually comes out tomorrow. And obviously, the Rolling Loud partnerships we’ve done, but honestly it feels like a dream still. It’s kinda crazy because I’ve been doing it for a long time but I still look around like, ‘what the fuck?!’ It’s a dream come true – I still smile every time I talk about it. We have partners and workers that are super qualified with a high end work portfolio you know? We’re the youngest in the office, and when you walk in it’s like a legit corporation it’s really shocking to me still haha. Fucking managers to every department – we have like 50 employees, all with health benefits, so yeah it really just still shocks me.
Now it’s just about continuing to grow and have fun. That’s the goal in life. That’s the reason why we even started GLD – we just wanted financial freedom and to have fun. We love just to have fun, and we wanted to make money while having fun – who doesn’t wanna do that?
I just want to take the time to thank Dan Folger for taking the time to sit down and tell us his story. Be sure to keep up with Dan’s work on his Instagram here. Also be sure to stay tuned to all things GLD here.