When I first became a parent I was prepared to drop knowledge on my kids. I had prepared a syllabus of over 30 years worth of life lessons. They were sorted into 3 files. The first was labeled Smart Things I Did. The second was labeled Dumb Things I Did That You Should Avoid. And the third file was simply labeled Bill Cosby.
What I wasn’t prepared for were are all of the lessons that my children would teach me. My latest lessons have come from my 9-year old son Magnus. Magnus, has taught me a lot about socializing. He has a remarkable ability to make instantaneous friendships anywhere. His social intelligence is as good as the best adults I know. He’s like a little Dale Carnegie on the playground, just winning little friends and influencing little people.
But as impressive as Magnus is at socializing, he is world class at losing teeth. It’s an odd thing to be great at, I know. But lately Magnus has lost teeth at a meth addict rate. I think he has lost 8 teeth in the last 2 months. In fact, I don’t know how he actually chews anything anymore. #popsiclesfordinner
Talk Is Cheap
However, it is not his quantity of tooth loss that impresses me. It is the style. You know how I know when Magnus has a loose tooth? He puts the tooth in my hand. Before that he doesn’t talk about it, complain about it or brag about it. He says nothing until the tooth is out. Even then he doesn’t really talk about it. He just shows me the results, and smiles an ever toothlessier smile. And every time he surprises me (and the Tooth Fairy) with absolutely no advanced warning, I am more impressed by his ability to quietly take care of business.
I meet people all the time who go on and on, (like Steven Bishop, down in Jamaica, with lots of pretty women), about their big dreams, lofty goals and ambitious plans. But talk doesn’t bring a dream to life. Discussions don’t achieve goals. And ambition doesn’t execute a plan. Talk is the cheapest of all commodities. Action is the the most valuable. And it’s the only currency you can use to buy your goals and dreams.
Success requires action. To be successful do more. Talk less. Complain less. Analyze less. And focus on results. Don’t tell the world what you are going to do. Show them what you’ve done. Then, after the work is all done, you can sit back and enjoy the rewards. Just like my son Magnus does.
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The legendary motivational speaker Jim Rohn once said that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. That’s why it’s so important to spend your time with the best people. This past Friday, during the University of Wisconsin homecoming weekend, I spent 6 hours with an amazing group of former University of Wisconsin varsity athletes. These Badgers are some of the brightest, most driven, most fun, and most successful people I know.
Business Up Front
I kicked off homecoming weekend in Madison with a 2-hour advisory board meeting for the W Letterwinner’s Club. The advisory board is like Noah’s Ark. Because it features two former athletes from every varsity sport.
We meet to discuss how we can help our members develop more meaningful relationships with each other, both personally and professionally. We discuss how we can offer assistance, guidance and mentorship to graduating Badger student athletes. And we explore ways that our network can add value to the mission of the University of Wisconsin and its world class athletic department.
Up In Da Club
The former Badger student athletes on the board are inspiring. They include Big 10 Champions and National Champions. They include All-Americans and professional athletes. They include school record holders and Hall of Famers. They include athletes who made it to the Final 4 and the Frozen 4.
Our youngest members just graduated from Madison. And our most senior members used to get run with Crazy Legs Hirsch, Alan ‘The Horse’ Ameche and Paul Bunyan when he was just a babe himself.
Today these W Letterwinners are crushing it in their post-collegiate careers. They are executives and entrepreneurs. They are administrators, professors and coaches. They are leaders and volunteers. And they are great parents, wives and husbands. Just spending time with these badasses enhances my own false sense of badassery.
Party In The Back
On Friday night, after the work was done, we did what Badgers do. We played. We migrated to the iconic State Street Brats, and joined hundreds of others at the annual Badger Athlete Reunion. We spent the next few hours together, talking, laughing, sharing memories, making new friends, connecting dots, drinking beer and eating brats.
While it certainly looked as if we were having fun, we were doing more than that. We were strengthening our personal bonds. The bonds between former student-athletes who know just how hard it is to live up to the demands of academics and athletics at the Big 10 level. We were strengthening the bonds between Badgers who know that if you can excel in both the classroom and athletic arena at The University of Wisconsin, you have the critical tools and the skills to be successful for the rest of your life.
If you want to be great surround yourself with great people. Find rockstars who inspire you. Spend as much time with those special people as you can. It will make you a better person. I know it will. Because I learned that lesson in Madison as a student athlete at the University of Wisconsin.
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Every business starts off as an idea, dream, or vision. You probably have a great business idea lounging in your brain right now. Or maybe you have a conglomerate-worth of business ideas up in your noggin. What entrepreneurs know that others don’t is that businesses are just ideas that someone decided to make real by simply living into their dream.
In the summer of 2015 my cousin Brooks Albrecht and I started talking about opening our own advertising agency. And the first step was really fun. Because all we had to do was dre-E-E-E-eam, dream, dream, dream. There are absolutely no constraints, no budget limitations, and no reality check at all in this phase. Just ideas and fantasies.
Brooks and I bought and devoured copies of The E-Myth by Michael Gerber. (It was delicious). Then we followed the book’s advice. We wrote down all the details we dreamed up about the business, its processes, procedures and culture. We thought about all the crazy things our business would have. Like Thinking Showers and Thinking Beds, because those are where people come up with many of their best ideas. And I wanted my imaginary HR director to have something real to worry about. #AmIRight
The whole thing was just a dream. And totally impractical. I lived in Atlanta and Brooks lived in Seattle. Yet we kept calling each other late at night to talk more about our fake little advertising agency. We were playing business, like kids play house. Which is to say we were grown(ish) men, imagining and pretending. But through all that pretending we seemed to have envisioned and imagined everything. And this ad agency we were pretending we owned seemed totally real to us. Like realer than Real Deal Holyfield.
We could have stopped right there. We could have told our friends, family and professional network that we had thought of a great agency idea. Like so many of my coworkers had done. And we would have wondered for the rest of our lives what would have happened to that idea had we brought it to life, like Pinocchio, Frankenstein, or that hot chick from Weird Science.
Don’t Stop, Get it, Get it.
But we didn’t stop at the dream, the vision, or even the janky police sketches we made of the business. We took the next step. And we told people what we were trying to do. And we talked to potential clients as if the business really existed. Because in our heads it totally did.
Then, one day, we decided to go online and register The Weaponry LLC as a legal business entity for $120. And the business got realer.
Then we sent for a federal tax ID number. And it got realer.
Then we opened a bank account and transferred $16,000 into it. And it got realer.
Then I took the day off of work, and flew to Boston to spend the day working with our first customer, Global Rescue. And shit got really real. Because Dan Richards, Global Rescue’s CEO and one of my best friends in the world, told me he needed what The Weaponry offered.
It’s Getting Realer!
Throughout the fall of 2015 and the spring of 2016 my favorite line to Brooks was, ‘It’s getting realer!’ Because that is exactly what was happening. The business I dreamed up was becoming realer every day. Because Brooks and I believed it into being. And this little figment of my imagination literally became a business because we pretended it was a business. And like visionaries and people suffering from serious mental illness, we could no longer separate reality from fantasy.
Soon, perfectly sane humans started referring to The Weaponry as if it was a real thing. Or even better than the real thing. #U2 In meetings people introduced me as ‘Adam Albrecht, from The Weaponry.’ And suddenly real business were working with The Weaponry. And it just got realer and realer and realer.
It has been 4 years since Brooks and I started dreaming about our advertising agency. And things keep getting realer. We have offices in Milwaukee and Columbus. We have 17 clients from coast-to-coast. Yesterday I saw advertisements The Weaponry created on TV, on billboards, on my mobile device, and on my computer. I saw packaging we created at the grocery store last night. I saw a trade show booth we designed. And I saw logos we designed for our clients on Facebook and Instagram. And the dream felt realer than ever.
Don’t just dream your dreams. Make them real. Envision your vision. Then live into it. Don’t quit your job. Just take one step forward. Taking that first step makes it realer. Then take another step. And another. And another.
Before you know it other people will call your made up idea by name. Fiction will become reality. Because a business is just a made up idea that someone began treating as if it was real. That’s all it takes. If you have a dream to create a business, organization, event, product or service, all you need to do is live into it. And it will get realer than you ever imagined it could.
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Establishing a new business was much simpler before Al Gore invented the interwebs. You just established your legal entity with your state. You received a tax ID number from the federal government. Then, you got yourself a phone number from Ma Bell and listed it in something our forefathers called The Yellow Pages. Then you sat back and let your customers’ fingers do the walking across their phones to your business. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.
It’s A Different World
In 2016, when I launched The Weaponry, my advertising and idea agency, things were very different. The Yellow Pages were effectively extinct. Because the Google and its band of digital buddies changed everything. Suddenly, you were expected to build a website that told the world everything it wanted to know about your business.
A High Degree Of Difficulty
For most new business creating a website is really hard. Most entrepreneurs don’t have the Bob Villa skills to build their own website. At least nothing that looks like a website you would want your business to live in. Of course you can hire someone else to design your website. But that can involve more expense than most bootstrapped startups can pay when they have no revenue.
Marching To An Offbeat Drummer
The Weaponry decided to do things differently. We created a fun and frivolous, if not totally fricken random website at The Weaponry.com. The first headline visitors read says, ‘Am I in the right place?’ And the first body copy on the site reads, ‘This is not a legit website’. At least visitors can’t say we didn’t warn them. The main image on our home page is of Laverne and Shirley from the sitcom Laverne & Shirley. I wrote in detail about the site in The story of our crazy website. Part 1: What is this?.
More Thought Than You Think
While it appears that we were just trying to be funny when we created our website there was actually a lot of thought put into the decision to create such an unconventional site. And here’s the rationale.
The 7 Reason The Weaponry doesn’t have a real website.
1. Our website is not our business.
I have met far too many entrepreneurs and non-trepreneurs who spent all of their critical, early effort thinking about their website. They spun their wheels and delayed the real work of establishing a new business until the website was complete. Which stole far too much of their valuable time when the business was still in its veal stage.
This is one of the biggest mistakes I see startups make. Instead of focussing on your website, focus on business development. Work on your network. Work on your processes and procedures. Work on your product or service. All of those things are far more valuable to your growth and long term viability than a website. Don’t fool yourself. A polished website is merely a placebo that makes you feel as if you have a real, viable business.
2. All agency websites looked the same.
Agencies love to puff about how creative and different they are. But the sites all say the same thing, which betrays the statement. If you are really different, and think different, do different. Our illegitimate website is nothing if not different. It helps us stand out. Which is the first order of business in marketing.
3. We didn’t start out with creative work to show.
Advertising agencies deal in the currency of ideas and creativity. In the beginning we didn’t have ideas that were born and raised at The Weaponry to share. I didn’t want to feature work that wasn’t conceived, gestated and birthed at The Weaponry. But agency websites that don’t show creative work feel as if the are covering something up. So we decided to avoid creative work altogether by not revealing anything.
4. Our website is meant for prospective employees. Not clients.
Websites, like any good piece of communication, should be crafted for a specific audience. The audience we most wanted to reach was prospective team members. We knew that creative thinkers would recognize what we were doing as very different. Which probably meant that the way we thought and operated was different. And that we are open to new and novel thinking. While I might not know much, I know, I know, I know this much is true.
5. The intrigue was too fun to let go.
When the first visitors found our fake site the fun began. People immediately wanted to know more. In fact, everyone told us that they read every single word on the site. We have now had that non-website for 3 years. And the stories just keep piling up. We could write a book on the stories we have heard, and the funny emails that have been forwarded to us. It has definitely created an inside/outside effect. All to the benefit of our insiders.
6. I didn’t want the business to grow faster than I grew as the leader of the business.
This is the most important reason we don’t have a real site. When I first launched The Weaponry I had a lot to learn. And I didn’t want the agency’s growth to outpace my own. It would likely lead to disaster. Unhappy clients, unhappy partners and unhappy employees.
I knew the business would grow. But I didn’t want the pressure of additional demand before we created the systems and processes to accommodate for it. So a magnetic website with great SEO and a sharply-honed paid search strategy, like we implement for our clients, would have actually worked against our long term plans.
7. My Own Rebelliousness
I simply like doing things differently. And I wanted to prove that even in the digital era you can grow a multi million dollar business without a website that shares a dot of data about you. Which is exactly what has happened.
What is even better is that smart businesses trust us to design and build their websites, despite the fact that we don’t have one ourselves. That will provide a great hook when I finally write the book about my experience. #MarketingBakedInFromTheStart
There are no absolutes in business. There are multiple ways to do everything. If everyone else is zigging then you should zag. Or zog or zeg. Because breaking the rules always gets you noticed. And getting noticed is the first step to making a sale. So learn all the rules. Then decide which ones are worth breaking. Then break away. It may just provide the break you’ve been looking for.
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And if you leave them alone they will stay that way forever. Just small kernels of potential. Unrealized. And Inedible.
There are millions of un-popped kernels around you. They are in jars. In stores and in cupboards. Just waiting to be popped.
But unless you live in Hades, those kernels won’t pop in the store. They won’t pop in the jar. And they won’t pop on the shelf in your cupboard.
You have to pop them yourself. The way your grandparents and Orville Redenbacher did.
The Recipe For Popcorn
Pour kernels into a pan.
Bathe them in oil.
Crank up the heat.
Start shaking the pan. Then keep shaking and shaking until all the kernels pop.
Opportunities surround you. But they won’t pop on their own. You need to apply heat and action. But when you do, the results just keep piling up. So crank up the heat to high and start shaking. Then keep heating and shaking until you have a bowl full of delicious, salted, buttered popcorn in front of you.
It’s important to surround yourself with great people. In business, as in life, the better the people around you, the better you become. That’s why I am always on the lookout for special people. I want to find rockstars with great experience that I can learn from. And I’m always searching for young guns who will turn heads when they kick in the swinging doors of the saloon. Like Emilio Estevez.
I have talented people in my tribe who scout for people they think I should know. I regularly receive emails, texts and LinkedIn messages from friends and family about people they want to introduce me too. I love this. But this only happens because they know I am an avid collector of rockstars.
One of my people scouts is my great friend Stephanie Herbst-Lucke. Stephanie is a fellow University of Wisconsin track alum (although she is not actually a fellow, she is a lady). She is also a very talented marketer, who now teaches at Georgia State University in Atlanta, while working on her PhD from Case Western. Stephanie recently connected me to one of her senior students at GSU that she was quite impressed with, and thought I should know. The student’s name is Erika Bevers.
On Wednesday night I drove from Louisville (remember the I and S are silent) to my home in Milwaukee. Which is a 6.5 hour drive. During a fuel stop in Indiana I sent Erika a message saying that I was driving for the next few hours, and had time to talk. Erika called me within 10 minutes.
We talked about her career aspirations, strengths and passions. She asked me a lot of smart and insightful questions about my career path, and what I thought were the keys to success. (As if I would know…)
It was a fun conversation between an energetic student, excited to get her foot in the door of an advertising agency, and someone who remembers struggling to find a door to stick a foot in. That is until one of my college professors, Roger Rathke, introduced me to Paul Counsell, the CEO of Cramer Krasselt. And now, 2 decades later, I am the CEO of an ad agency, The Weaponry. And now professors send me students, with feet, to stick in my doors.
I offered Erika advice and answered questions. She seemed to be paying attention. But you never really know, you know?
The Morning After
The following morning I got an email from Erika. Which is always a good move. But what I read was not just a good move. It was a textbook way to say I was paying attention throughout our conversation. It said that I picked up what you were putting down. That I am a quick study. And I would be a great addition to your team. All without literally saying any of those things.
I’ve attached her email below, reprinted with permission from Erika, who holds the copyright thereto.
The Follow Up Email
I want to thank you for the conversation we had yesterday– it was helpful, uplifting, and I learned a lot from your stories and advice. I’ve done my best to make an easy-to-follow outline of what we discussed. Feel free to let me know if I should go back and revise some points!
There are three things a person should remember if he/she wants to be successful:
1) Have a GROWTH mindset- Never stop trying to learn new things.
2) Surround yourself with good people. Learn from them.
3) Here’s the big one. Develop and MAINTAIN connections with people. It’s a small world and having that network is really important.
Here are some pointers on networking:
1) The secret to being able to talk to anybody in the room is to have a host-mentality- that way, it doesn’t matter how shy or awkward the person may seem; you, as the host, will make sure the conversation flows.
2) Build LinkedIn Network to 300 by the time I graduate this December 2019.
3) Study market trends.
4) Get a Twitter! Not only is it full of useless drama, but it can be a great resource.
5) Informational Interviews are great- they’re casual, relaxed, and bit more “real.” Atlanta Creative Mornings is a great resource for this.
Some general bits that are very noteworthy and good to remember:
1) Get good sleep. Eat good food. Exercise.
2) A B C D – ALWAYS BE COLLECTING DOTS TO ALWAYS BE CONNECTING DOTS!
I have attached a picture of my chicken-scratch notes just for the sake of entertainment. Again, I appreciate your time and insight. I am looking forward to hearing from you soon.
Hope you have a great weekend!
Not only was Erika listening, she was taking notes, asking clarifying questions, and going back go make sure that what she heard, and understood, was correct! This is a great way to make a great impression. And you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Advertising taught me that.
If you want opportunities that other people don’t get, do things that other people don’t do. Bring value to everyone around you. Make them want to pass your name along to others. Then be as good as advertised. Make a great first impression. Make your strengths, passions and contributions obvious. It will open doors for you. And opened doors mean more chances to learn, earn and grow. Then follow up. Thank the people that have helped you move forward. By doing so you’ll develop a reputation that will open doors you didn’t even know existed.
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Americans have great reverence for entrepreneurs. I certainly do. Ever since I was a kid I was awed by men and women who were brave enough to start their own business. I looked up to them. I wanted to be like them. I still do.
Start Me Up
In 2016 I joined the ranks of those who dared to create their own living. I started an advertising and idea agency called The Weaponry. Soon I developed an even deeper understanding of why we are so impressed by entrepreneurs. Not just because entrepreneurship is hard to spell. But because they really do risk a lot to play this thrilling game of business.
You’ve Got Me Running Hot.
But there is another group that doesn’t get nearly enough credit for their bravery, risk taking and contribution to the success of startups: the early employees. Without the early employees, a startup never moves beyond starting. Without the early employees entrepreneurs can’t scale. We can never develop real businesses that create significant jobs and help grow the economy. Which means that company picnics could take place on a single pogo stick.
Let’s Do This Thang
It is the early employees who enable the ultimate success of the organization. I am extremely grateful to The Weaponry employees who have taken a chance on me, my business idea, my vision and my ambition. Without you I would be a 1-man band, limited to playing a pretty lame tune. Like Hot Cross Buns.
Entrepreneurs can not create great organizations alone. It takes a strong team to make a strong business. I would also like to say thank you to all of those employees who have, or are taking a flyer on a startup. Especially my Weapons. Your bravery, commitment and confidence don’t go unnoticed. We couldn’t do this without you. Literally.