Wouldn’t it be nice if everything in life worked according to your schedule? You simply set the amount of time you need to handle anything, personal or professional. Then nothing ever challenged your pre-established timeline. That would be pleasant. And it would bore me to tears.
The world doesn’t conform to your schedule. Business, and life, are far too unpredictable. As Nationwide Insurance used to say, life comes at you fast. Really fast. Opportunities and threats appear in a blink. In the social era you need to respond before your opportunities become yesterday’s tweets. You must be able to thwart threats before they become Napa-sized wildfires, engulfing your home and vineyard.
But opportunities abound in the imperfect schedule. As the Founder of the Advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I am always thrilled by quick deadlines. They add excitement to the work. They test our abilities. They push us to learn what we can do without.
Ridiculous deadlines present favorable conditions for creativity too. When time is short the approval process is also short. You run through fewer approvers, who tend to be more accepting of really great creative solutions. So better ideas are often produced under tight timelines, because the client has less time for second guessing.
Walt Disney’s Magic
Recently I read about a crazy request Walt Disney received from Pepsi in 1963. Pepsi had been working on a collaboration with UNICEF for the World’s Fair, but had failed to come up with a worthwhile idea. So they approached Disney with the daunting task of creating an exhibit to fill their 94,000 square foot exhibit space. But they had far too little time and far too little money for the challenge. So Joe Fowler, the supervisor at Disneyland, turned down their request.
When Walt Disney heard this he was furious. He said, ‘I’ll make those decisions,’ and then informed his team that they would indeed take on the Pepsi project. To solve for the time, space and money challenges, Disney devised a boat ride through a canal, surrounded by animated dolls from around the world. The dolls sang a song that Disney commissioned the Sherman brothers to write. As Disney described the concept of the exhibit to the Shermans, he explained ‘It’s a small world after all.’ That, of course, became the name of the song, and the ride itself.
The World’s Fair exhibit was a resounding success for Pepsi and UNICEF. Today, almost 55 years later, that boat ride is still one of the most popular attractions at Disney World. And its theme song is known around the world.
Your next great opportunity may show up at your doorstep wearing a really short deadline. But don’t be too quick to shoo it away. Don’t focus on all the reasons you can’t take on the challenge. Focus on the possibilities. That opportunity just may turn into the greatest thing you’ve ever done. But if you truly can’t find a way to make it work, send it my way. I love a short deadline after all.
Do you remember life before the internet? Back in the day, when you had a question, you just had to guess what the answer was. Or you could spend a lot of time searching for answers with primitive tools. Like books and microfiche.
Now, the detailed answers to our most random questions are literally everywhere. We have harvested all human knowledge and loaded it onto the internet like stacking hay in a barn. Anyone with a smart phone has access to that barn and all the information in it anywhere, anytime. Yes, the barn door is always open.
Today, if you have a question you simply google it. Where did Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall get married? (Lucas, Ohio). What was the first interstate school district in America? (Norwich, Vermont and Hanover, New Hampshire). What is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow? (African or European?) Curiosity, and the ability to satisfy it, is the driving force behind Google’s success.
I recently read Brian Grazer’s book, A Curious Mind. He positions himself as a modern-day Curious George (my words, not his). The Graze (my word, not his) credits his curiosity, not his creativity, as the driving force behind his Hollywood success. His curiosity lead him to interesting stories that turned into blockbuster movies like A Beautiful Mind, Backdraft, 8 Mile and The Da Vinci Code.
Curiosity also led him to push the limits of what hair gel can do. He talks about that in the book too. But you can just look at the picture below to find the answer.
However, one of the most interesting elements of the book was Grazer’s, statement about where Google’s supreme powers stop. He writes:
There are two things you cannot google.
Answers to questions that have not been asked.
If you are the first person to ask a question, the best search engine to find the answer is you. Don’t stop because the answer doesn’t exist. These are the most important questions to answer. And once you do, you get to pitch the answer into the haymow of knowledge to benefit the rest of humankind.
You can’t google a new idea. You have to invent it. You have to do the work, the thinking, the ideation yourself. Only the human brain can come up with valuable new ideas. There will always be a great need and great value for those who can create a new idea, not simply blow the dust off of an old one.
More importantly, there are new ideas that can only be created in your mind. Yes you. The person reading this. Just like no two snowflakes are alike, no two minds are alike either. Your mind is formed by your unique combination of thoughts, perspectives, experiences, readings, learnings, language, friends, physiology and chemistry. Which means that despite the fact that there are 8 billion people on this planet, there are ideas that could only possibly come from you.
As the Founder of the advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I am constantly wowed by the power of the human mind. The power of the new idea. The power to create new things, new thoughts, new connections. There is so much still to come.
It is up to us to create new innovations, new stories, new humor, new lessons, new solutions to old and new problems alike. Stay curious and you will discover the new ideas yourself. Those ideas, your ideas, have the power to change the world. Which means the world may soon be googling you.
Do you remember the very first day of your career? You probably remember what the day was like. (You didn’t know anyone. You had to ask where the bathroom was. Lunch options were a mystery. And you didn’t know when it was acceptable to go home.) But do you remember the date? I do. I started my career in adverting 21 years ago today, on October 7th. I’ve always remembered that because it is also my Mom’s birthday. It must have been a pretty great birthday present for her, knowing that her son wouldn’t be living in her cellar (I’m from Vermont. We didn’t have basements).
Today I am feeling lucky that 21 years later I am just as excited about my career as I was on Day 1. Maybe even more excited.
On that first day, 21 years ago, I became an advertising copywriter. I think. I never actually saw my title written anywhere in that first year. Today, I am lucky to be the Founder and CEO of my own advertising agency called The Weaponry. I’ve been able to take everything that I have learned about creativity, strategy, customer service, business development and having fun, and turn it into The Weaponry Way.
I’ve been lucky to develop a lot of really great personal relationships over the first 21 years. And I’m enjoying those relationships more now than ever. My latest chapter is a product of the trust my clients have in me and my team. As well as the faith that my colleagues have in my ability to help keep them fed and sheltered.
I feel lucky that my Weapons and I will soon move into our new office space (hopefully we will get our keys this week).
I am lucky to be working with so many great brands and great clients. There are even more great clients joining us over the next few months. Which is likely to make this year the most exciting year of my career yet.
I am lucky to still be learning. But now I am also in a position to share all that I have learned.
As many of my friends consider career changes I am still intensely passionate about my work. I still get to wear t-shirts and flip-flops most days. I still get to play loud music in the office. And I still find nothing more exciting than a smart new idea.
On the first day of my career, 21 years ago today, I sat next to a young art director named Vince Demarinis. On Thursday I am traveling to Miami to meet with a potential new client. Thursday night I will be staying with Vince. We have remained good friends despite the fact that we haven’t worked together for 17 years. And despite the fact that he has way better hair than me.
Today I’m thankful for my supportive wife Dawn, whom I met at that first job. I am blessed to have three great, healthy kids who get to see a father who really loves his work. And I feel lucky to have friends, family and others willing to read a blog post about my career anniversary. Thank you for your time and your continued support. I can’t wait to see what’s next.
I travel a lot for work. In fact, I am flying from Milwaukee to Miami right now. As we all know, 9/11 made travel tougher on all of us. Especially if you travel with liquids. Or have feet.
I own an advertising and idea agency called The Weaponry. Which means I am in the business of coming up with ideas that solve problems. But sometimes the problems I solve are my own.
One of my problems is that I have long hair. Not like Crystal Gale. But long for a guy. My hair also has some curl to it that turbocharges in high humidity. You know, like the kind of humidity I wil find this afternoon in Florida.
So, I am embarrassed to say, I need me some hair products when I travel. But none of my stash comes in airport-legal bottles of 3.5 ounces or less.
When I am only traveling for a night or two I use contact cases and fill the wells with the daily dose of whatever liquids I may need:
Leave in conditioner
Tears of a mermaid
These little cases help me travel lighter and quicker. Because these liquids are not in big bottles I don’t need to check a bag. Because they are not in small bottles I don’t need to put them in a ziplock bag, and then remove them when I go through security.
Try this contact case trick the next time you are traveling. Just make sure to keep your cases straight. I don’t want you to be mad at me when you put vodka soaked contacts in your eyes before you big meeting.
Welcome to the second post in my Finding Office Space series. This a trilogy like The Godfather. Only nobody dies (I hope). In Looking for office space: A startup story.,we began our quest for a great new office. In the post you’re reading now I will share the middle of the journey, and reveal a plot twist, (oh yes there is a plot twist!). In the next post we will finally be in our space, cracking open some cold chocolate milks, shooting Nerf hoops and talking about how the people down on the street below look like ants, only to realize they are actually huge ants that look like people.
My advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, first came to life in 2016. We opened for business with five former clients who wanted us to help them make some marketing magic. We started by using modern technology to form a modern team that didn’t need to be in one space to deliver really modern thinking.
That approach has worked extremely well. Our regular team consists of great talent in Wisconsin, Ohio, Georgia and Florida. And business is booming! Over the past 18 months we have worked with more than twenty brands in the US and Canada.
Despite the fact that platforms like Slack, Google’s G-Suite, Dropbox, Asana and Zoom made us feel like we were all under one roof, collaborating seamlessly, we decided it was time for our first office, in Milwaukee. But our rate of growth makes it dificult to know just how big of an office we will need 2 or 3 years from now.
This summer we looked at eight different buildings. Here is a brief overview of what we saw.
The Sublease Special
The first space we looked at because a friend of mine knew we were looking for space and invited me to stop by to see his office opportunities. He ran a business that had both additional unused offices within their core space, and some turnkey office suites and conference rooms that they rent out. Both were interesting options, and I could see either working out. But it also felt a little like moving back in with my parents. I love my parents. But I wanted to see what else was out there.
The Appealing Amenity Space.
The second space we looked at was in a beautiful converted former Milwaukee brewery. Again, the owner is a friend and he told me he had some space that might work for us. The building was very cool, and well located. There were lots of extras: A gym, a pool, a common kitchen, available meeting spaces, lots of available huddle spaces throughout the building and a 24-hour concierge desk just steps away from what would be our suite. The space itself had a conference room, but no other private office. So we kept looking.
Then I called some brokers so I could see spaces that weren’t owned by my friends. That’s when I found Mitch. Mitch is an eager and very professional recent college graduate of my alma mater, The University of Wisconsin-Madison. Mitch found a whole mess of options that gave me a great range to compare and contrast.
What we saw with Mitch:
The Big River Front Space
This cool move-in-ready space right on the Milwaukee River featured a high-visibility storefront that opened to a main intersection of the elevated skywalk system downtown Milwaukee. Also in the building was a major concert venue and a great steakhouse. It was close to the downtown mall too. At 1800 square feet it was bigger than we needed. However, the management was willing to offer flexible terms to make it work. This was interesting.
The next space we saw was in a well-known high-rise building downtown. It had a beautiful view of Lake Michigan. It was right at 1000 square feet, which is what I felt was right for us now. But the price per square foot felt more like Madison Avenue. So I immediately removed it from consideration.
The Makeover Beauty
Next we saw a really interesting option. It was an older building that had gone to The Makeover Center For Formerly Beautiful Buildings. And it came back looking dreamy. Clearly the new owner knew how to spend money well to upgrade a building. It had a very cool tenant lounge on the first floor that felt like an ad agency space. There were large presentation rooms available to us. There was a gym, pool and racquetball courts in the building. The space itself was just what we needed. 1000 square feet, with 3 office spaces/conference rooms already built. Plus good common space to boot (although I don’t really know what ‘to boot’ means). This was a real option.
The Custom Classic
Then we saw another swanky space on the Milwaukee River, across from The Big River Front Space. The management team was really great. They took me on a thorough tour and made me feel like they were on top of their game. This would have been a great building. But the two spaces they had that were 1000 square feet would both need to be gutted and built to suit us. That would likely require a longer lease term. But I was intrigued.
The Didn’t Love Shack
Then came a small, old building that Mitch threw in the mix so we could compare a cheaper option. But the building felt old and odd. The two spaces we saw in it both felt like they were in an old house. Thanks but no thanks. We moved on.
The final space we saw was the one that Mitch seemed most excited to show me. It was at the far northern end of Water Street, the North-South spine of Milwaukee, along the Milwaukee River. The building was simpler than all the others. It was a converted Mill building of some sort. There were no crazy amenities. No tenant lounge. No gym. No common space. But the office space itself was great. It was just under our ideal size at 920 square feet. It had a bit of common space and two large private offices with large windows facing the Milwaukee River. It also had a separate conference room. It felt really good. Plus the rep from the space said that they were happy to offer 1-year leases. This was a great end to the office space tour.
The Narrowing Process.
In addition to looking at spaces, I conferred with you, my friends, family and blog readers. I asked you what you felt was important. Four key pieces of advice came through loud and clear from people who had been through this process before.
The best reason to have an office is to help build your company culture.
You don’t need any bells and whistles in the beginning.
Be conservative in the size (and cost) of your office. Go small (or stay home) and find something that works for the near term.
Look for a short lease term our sublease. If you can do one year, do one year. Learn what you ultimately want during that time and don’t get locked into something longer. As a startup you just don’t know what the future holds yet. Unless you are a startup fortune teller.
All of this was great advice. It was helpful to get the experienced perspective of my former co-workers Jeff Hilimire and Raj Choudhury from Engauge. They have both started, lead, and found office space for multiple businesses in various stages of growth.
I also pow wowed with Bob Bradley, another former coworker and the former CFO of Cramer Krasselt. Bob has been an amazing source of wisdom and sage advice throughout this process. He also found multiple ways for me to save money. It’s what CFOs do.
We decided to include 4 buildings in our RFP:
The Big River Front Space
The Makeover Beauty
The Custom Classic
The Big River Front Space came back with a very reasonable and flexible option that let us pay a little more each month to slide our heavier payments to the future allowing us to financially grow into the space. But ultimately it was just a bigger financial obligation than we thought we should commit to right now.
The Makeover Beauty offered us the 1-year option we really wanted. But the price per square foot and the price for parking spaces was the highest of the Final Four. This was too bad, because I really liked the building and the people we worked with at the property.
We knew The Custom Classic was a long shot, but we wanted to know what a build-out would look like. As expected, it looked like a long-term commitment. We felt we would likely need a lot more space in the next three years.
Easy Breezywas our Goldilocks. Management offered us exactly what we were looking for. They proposed a 1-year term at a good price per square foot. The parking spaces were the cheapest of any we saw. And because the space had what we were looking for we didn’t need them to build or change anything. We would be an easy tenant for them. They would be an easy Landlord for us. Easy like Sunday morning.
So we began negotiating some smaller details with Easy Breezy. They were reasonable and I liked how this was going. We had found our space. Or had we…
Just as I was preparing to break out some candy cigars and enjoy the birth of our new office space, I got a late night email from The Makeover Beauty. The message said that they really wanted us as tenants, and they asked if there was anything they could do to get the deal done.
So I called them. I laid it all out. I told them about the square foot rate we would require, the price for parking spaces, the term length. The extras that Easy Breezy down the streetzy was willing to offer. They asked for 24 hours to respond. I said, ‘Yeah, like, totally, for sure.”
The next afternoon I heard back from them. They couldn’t match Easy Breezy. I was actually happy about this. I would have thought less of them had they started with such a high rate when they actually could have lived with the lowest rate of anyone. But I appreciated their eagerness. They will be on the list the next time we look for space.
Where we stand now.
After the brief pause in the process, we told Easy Breezy they were the date we wanted to dance with. They sent a form for us to fill out so they could do some credit checking. That checked out (obviously, cause we are totally credit-worthy). Now, today, I have the 19-page lease agreement in hand. So what happens next? You’ll have to wait for the 3rd installment of the trilogy to find out. Thanks for following our adventure!
Ever since I started the advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, the comment I hear most often is:
It must be nice to be in a position to say “No”.
As employees, most of us feel we don’t have the right to say things like:
No, I don’t want to work on that project.
No, I don’t want to work those hours.
No, I don’t want to work with that client.
No, I don’t want to go on that business trip to Newark, again.
No, I don’t want to partner with Stinky Frank the close-talker.
There are plenty of benefits to being an employee. But you have to do what the job requires.
However, now that I am a business owner, the ability to say ‘No’ never crosses my mind. Sure, I’ve heard in-demand artists, actors and musicians talk about being able to say no to opportunities. I know doctors that no longer take new patients (and I kind of hate them for it).
I like having more control over the work my team does. But I approach the opportunity from the opposite direction.
The best thing about owning your own business is being able to say ‘Yes!’ I like to help people as much as I can. So now I say Yes! more than Meg Ryan in the diner scene in When Harry Met Sally. (I’ll have what she’s having).
I get to say Yes! to obscure requests.
I get to say Yes! to small projects.
I get to say Yes! to huge projects.
I get to say Yes! to ultra-fast turnaround projects.
I get to say Yes! to demanding celebrities who have unique pet projects.
I get to say Yes! to startups who don’t yet have the money our work is truly worth.
I get to say Yes! to novel partnerships with other agencies and organizations so that we can both take on bigger challenges together.
I get to say Yes! to clients who have never worked with a team like The Weaponry and have no idea how to get started.
I get to say Yes! when The Weaponry is the mistress agency that gets involved when the client’s lead agency can’t or won’t do what they need.
I get to say yes to projects that are less that $2 million, less that $200,000, less than $20,000 and less than $2000.
Saying Yes!makes me happy. It makes me feel empowered to help. It allows me to work with the people I want to work with, and make decisions that are not driven first and foremost by the income I receive today. It allows me to think about long-term benefits. It allows me to find creative ways to get important work made. It forces me to think creatively. Which is what people come to The Weaponry for in the first place.
If you are looking for more happiness, find more ways to say yes. Help more. Enable more. Get creative more. The world looks better when you are looking for possibilities.
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I started planning the Perfect Agency Project blog when I began planning to birth my own advertising agency. It was August of 2015. It was also really hot in Atlanta. So it was a nice time to sit indoors in the air-conditioning and think.
I had big dreams back then. I was going to start my own advertising agency. I was going to write a blog to share my challenges, wins and losses, surprises and learnings. But back then The Weaponry was just a vision. There were no clients. No employees. No office. No religion, too.
There was no reason to think The Perfect Agency would become a reality. Other than my vision. But in my head The Perfect Agency was very real. It would be an amazing company that would help its clients win the war of business. It would be a bottomless well of excellent creative ideas. Best of all, it would offer a fun and rewarding experience for everyone involved.
Now let’s do the dream sequence bit from Wayne’s World, and fast forward two years.
Fall of 2017 Updates
Today The Weaponry LLC is realer than Real Deal Holyfield. Don’t let theweaponry.com fool you. We have real clients. Real Processes. Real creative ideas. And a really real relationship with the IRS.
I have joined a CEO roundtable group through the chamber of commerce. I think it is hilarious that the table we meet at is actually rectangular. At our meeting this week we were asked to share one word that describes what’s going on in our world right now, and then spend 2-3 minutes describing why we chose that word.
My word: Maturing
Here are the latest ways The Weaponry has been maturing.
We are in the middle of our search for a new office space. I’m learning interesting nuances, terms, tricks and oddities of the commercial leasing world.
We are preparing to offer our first employee benefits. Health and Dental are the starters. We may also add Fortune Telling.
We have been in significant contract negotiations and budget discussions with several great clients. This provides longer term visibility and increases our ability to plan, hire and invest in the business.
We’ve hired lawyers. It’s a good problem to have. But I’m not sure there is anything that makes you feel as much like an adult as having to spend time with a lawyer. It’s the adult equivalent of going to the Principals office. Trust me.
We’re discussing establishing a line of credit with our banker. It will allow us to tap into capital when our cashflow is burdened by a lot of activity at once, and longer payment terms from our clients.
We are transitioning more of our significant freelance team to part-time employees. This is part of a development process that identifies and moves great talent from our outer rings to our core full-time team.
We are working with international clients and have to clarify on our invoices that all numbers are in US Dollars. That feels significant to me.
Thank you for being a friend #GoldenGirls
Thank you for following the journey. Or being part of the journey. Or being Steve Perry and singing all those great songs for Journey. But the best is yet to come. I can see it.
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