Great advice I didn’t take, but maybe you should.

In the first half of 2013 I was in New York City every week. I was the Chief Creative Officer of a 275 person ad agency called Engauge. And we were in the process of selling the agency. A four person leadership team from Engauge shared our story, our work and our finances with 15 potential suitors, ranging from Conde Nast to the Paris-based advertising agency holding company, Publicis, who eventually purchased the agency. However, Conde Nast provided the greatest challenge in the process, because the room that we presented in was plastered with oversized prints of topless women. Which lead to my short-term bout with Attention Deficit Disorder.

LGA

One evening after one of our many meetings with potential investors on Wall Street, Engauge President Jeff Hilimire and I headed to the Laguardia airport for our flight home. But first we stopped and grabbed burgers at a barely-open Five Guys at the airport. It was in that small, yet-highly caloric moment, that we proceeded to have one of the most important conversations of my entrepreneurial journey.

Going through an exit (sale) process like we were going through, you are forced to think about the next chapter of your career. Because depending on who purchases your business, some unknown combination of the leadership team will no longer be needed in the new organization. Some of us were on the business equivalent of a Kamikaze mission. Or maybe it was the business equivalent to Russian Roulette. Or maybe I am just being dramatic with an international flair. Either way, Jeff and I each discussed our future in a very open Komono way (I can’t stop).

The Only Job For Jeff.

Jeff told me, ‘There is only one title I ever want again.’

I was curious what that was, so of course I asked, ‘What’s that?’

He said, ‘Founder.’

As a successful entrepreneur, his only interest was in starting businesses and in being an entrepreneur. He found no appeal in helping the company who bought the company that bought the company that he started.

But what about me?

I also had a great desire to start my own business. But unlike Jeff, I didn’t have experience starting my own agency from dust and growing it into a thriving success. So in between bites of my oversized Adam Albrecht Burger from Five Guys, I asked Jeff for advice on how I should get started on my entrepreneurial journey.

Jeff said, ‘The first thing you need to decide is where you want to start your business. Find a job in that market, move there, and spend two years developing your network there, while working for someone else.’ He said that after two years of serious networking, you should have the base you need to go out on your own, and start your own agency.

What I Did

This was really good advice. But I didn’t take it. Instead, I launched my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, in 2016 in Atlanta. But then, for family reasons, decided to relocate my family to Milwaukee. And of course, the business had to move too. Which means that I did the opposite of what Jeff suggested. I started a business, and then moved it to a new city, where I hadn’t warmed up my network at all.

From the beginning, my strategy was different. My network is very broad, with strong and valued friends and connections across North America. So I was determined to develop The Weaponry to be geographically agnostic. Technology has enabled us to live into my vision, and serve clients across the United States and Canada.

2 Years Later

This week marks the 2-year anniversary of our move to Milwaukee. So I couldn’t help but reflect on Jeff’s advice. The Weaponry is thriving, with great clients from coast to coast. But there is something special happening now. There is an interesting momentum building. We are being talked about when we aren’t around. We are contacted more than ever. People are stopping by, and inquiring about us, and wanting to talk to us, and get to know us at a distinctly different pace today.

I believe this is 2-year momentum. We are building on the 2-year base that Jeff originally recommended. It is an incredibly exciting time for us. And we no longer feel like a start-up. We feel like a confident collection of Weapons that know exactly how to handle whatever our clients need. Kind of like the A-Team, without Mr. T (aka B.A. Baracus, aka Mr. I Pity The Fool).

Key Takeaway

There is no one right way to go about launching a business. The key is to get moving. If you have been considering starting your own business, or making another significant change in your life, I encourage you to set your 2-year timer now, and start the process today.  Two years will give you plenty of time to go from that first step, to a confident swagger. Be persistent, be patient, and let’s talk about this again in two years.

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A great reminder from a bad dream.

Last night I had a dream that I was invited to The OSCARS. But I was indifferent about going. I made no real attempt to find appropriate attire. In fact, I figured some blue jeans and a decent shirt would do. Apparently I had The Oscars confused with The Allman Brothers.

On the afternoon of the big event I slowly put on my far-under-dressed OSCARS costume. My wife walked in, looked me over, and said, ‘You are not seriously going to wear that!?!’ But I was going to wear it. And I wasn’t being serious.

Making My Way

I slowly meandered towards the venue, not really caring if I got there. Then my Mom called via FaceTime. She was thrilled about me going to the show. Until she saw how I was dressed. My Mom implored me to find something appropriate to wear, but I didn’t listen.

A Lucky Break

After I hung up, I looked down and saw that somehow my very best clothes, including my tuxedo, were at my feet. I finally realized that if I wanted to go to the OSCARS, and actually be let in, I would have to put on the tuxedo. Which I finally decided to do. Then I slowly set off again on my journey towards the venue.

But as I got closer to the event, I could hear an announcement over a loud-speaker. A woman was warning, ‘You must be in your seat in five minutes or you won’t be permitted to enter.’ I began to panic. I ran as hard as I could.  But it was too late. I was too far away to make it to the show on time. Then I woke up.

Facing Reality

When I opened my eyes and realized it was all a dream, I quickly reflected on what I thought the dream meant. Here is my summation:

Breaking It Down

It was a classic bad dream. It played off of my greatest concerns. I had a major opportunity and I blew it. I had everything I needed, served up on a silver platter, and I didn’t realize it. I didn’t care. I didn’t prepare. I wasn’t listening to my Wife and my Mom, who I considered to represent the Universe. I caught lucky breaks, like having my right clothes show up when I needed them. Which, of course, is classic dream nonsense. But still, I didn’t act with urgency until it was far too late. The time had passed. The opportunity was gone. I blew it. As the other Cinderella once said, ‘You don’t know what you got, till it’s gone.

Key Takeaway

This dream played into my biggest fear. Which is not taking advantage of the great opportunities that come my way. I am afraid of not recognizing the chances and advantages and lucky breaks I have been given. I am worried that I won’t hear the messages that the Universe is sending me. I have a serious case of FOMO. But my FOMO is the vaccine that prevents me from contracting a boring life.

*Happy Monday!  Please recognize and take advantage of all the great opportunities that come your way.

My reflections on an interesting week from the weekend.

This past week was intense, and dense, and interesting. Like the way a good nutrition bar crams a random mix of natural ingredients into a an unnatural rectangle. From Monday morning, through the very end of the day on Friday, I binge-experienced new opportunities, new relationships, intense strategic sessions, and interesting creative explorations that suck you in like a black hole. Or maybe a Dyson vacuum. I forget which one is stronger.

This week I had video conferences with clients, or potential clients in Washington D.C., New York City, Atlanta, San Francisco, Denver, Portland and Minneapolis. I worked on plans for upcoming shoots in Houston, Cincinnati, Atlanta and India. We finalized contracts with 3 new clients. And we added new members to our team.

When I started my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I had a vision of creating the perfect agency, the perfect place to work, and the perfect partner for clients. While we are not perfect, we are on the right path, and we are getting closer. The question is how close to perfection can we actually get. The other question, of course, is who put the bop in the bop shoo bop shoo bop?

On Friday afternoon, I locked up The Weaponry, walked to my car, and drove the 17 miles to my home in Mequon, Wisconsin. I parked my car in my driveway (not Harvard Yard). I sat there for a minute and reflected on my week with pride, gratefulness and satisfaction. I soaked up the wins of the week. I thought about all the new doors that are  opening. I wasn’t Thanking God it was Friday. I was thanking God for the entire week. And for my wife, daughter and two sons that I would now get to spend the weekend with.

Do you really want serenity? Or do you want to solve problems?

My time is my most precious asset. Not because my time is any more important than anyone else’s. It is certainly not. Just as Steve Miller’s time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping, into the future, I know that my finite time on Earth is steadily slipping away too. Like sand through an hourglass. Literally. Yet, it is this scarcity of time that is the major motivating force in my life.

My Increasing Impatience

More and more, I find myself interrupting others as they recount their disappointments in the past. I often crash pity parties to point out that time spent dwelling on the things that went wrong will not make them go right.

Spending Your Time Wisely

I am a problem solver, both by nature and by profession. As an entrepreneur and as a professional creative thinker, I view the limitations of any given situation simply as the rules that govern the solution. I have no time to relive something that went wrong in the past. All I care about is what I can do moving forward.

The Serenity Prayer

I find great value in the Serenity Prayer. If you don’t know it, or don’t know it by name, here it is:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.  –Reinhold Niebuhr

Serenity Now!

Many see this statement as a path to Serenity. But I would have named this The Problem Solver’s Prayer. Because what Reinhold is praying for is the essence of problem solving.

Problem solving is like conducting a science experiment. To find a great solution to the challenges you face, you must accept the constants, and vary the variables until you get the results you are looking for.

Focus On The Possible

I don’t spend any time lamenting the constants. I accept the things I cannot change. I pour all of my time, energy and thought into the things I can change. You could say I focus on the positive. But I say I focus on the possible. Mine is not a rose-colored glasses outlook. I focus on reality. Because reality is full of positive possibilities.

Key Takeaway

Memorize the Serenity Prayer. Accept the cold hard realities of life. And spend all of your valuable, and constantly diminishing time focusing on the amazing opportunities and possibilities that exist anyway.