The surprising question I was asked while guest lecturing.

I guest lecture to college students several times each year. Guest lecturing is like a box of chocolates. Because you never know which students will be surprisingly delightful and which will be totally nutty. Last week I spoke to Erin Napier’s marketing campaigns class at Marquette University (which I secretly call a Marquetteing campaigns class, because it’s kinda funny).

Good Evening

There were 36 students in the class. It started at 5:30pm. Which, in case you don’t remember, is not when college students are at their energetic or attentive peak. I decided to bring some extra energy to make sure no one fell asleep (and no one fell asleep).

Sharing Is Caring

I spoke to the class about advertising, my career journey, the creative process and networking. I talked about starting my own business. And about the value of sitting in the front row. When I was done I opened the floor for questions. Not literally, of course.

A Trick Of The Trade

The students asked many good questions. Although I give myself partial credit for the quantity. Because after the first 2 questions I told the the class that I always remember the people who ask questions. If we stopped right then, 2 out of the 36 of them had made a positive impression on me. After my commentary the questions came fast and furious. Like Ludacris.

The Questions

The students peppered me with the follow queries:

  • Where do your best ideas come from?
  • What do you do when you are stuck creatively?
  • What was your favorite project ever?
  • What is your dream project?
  • What has been the greatest challenge of your career?

The Surprise

But there was one very simple question that truly surprised me.  Julian Wright, a freshman on the Marquette track & field team asked:

Why did you want to talk to this class tonight?  -Julian ‘Lefty’ Wright

My Response:

I wanted to share my knowledge with you. I have learned so much from experienced professionals who volunteered their time that I wanted to pay if forward, or backwards, or however you like to think about it. And I hope someday you give your time to share what you have learned with the next generation.

But I also wanted to make a positive impression on you, so that when you are looking for internships or jobs after college, you think of Adam Albrecht or The Weaponry first. I am always looking for rockstars. And I want the next generation of rockstars to be looking for me.

Key Takeaway

Share what you know. Add to the body of knowledge of students and others who are hungry to learn. The greatest impact you will ever have on Earth is the impact you make on other people. Pass along your knowledge, experience and observations. And in the process you will collect even more. Better still, teaching expands your exposure to talented people. It grows your network, and increases the number of opportunities that come your way.

Speaking Of Which…

This afternoon I will be speaking at an event about marketing through storytelling, hosted by the Metro Milwaukee Association of Commerce. I am excited to learn from the other 2 speakers at the event, Tim Dyer and Richie Burke.  Here is an overview:

WHAT’S YOUR STORY? USING STORYTELLING TO MARKET YOUR BUSINESS

Tuesday, November 12, 2019 4:00 PM – 6:30 PM CST
The Venue at Milwaukee Brewing Co
1130 N. 9th Street
Milwaukee, WI 53233

Behind every business is a great story. As new platforms for content marketing continue to grow, there’s never been more opportunity to use storytelling to strengthen your brand and find strategic ways to reach new audiences.

You can find more details, and register for the event here.

 

 

 

3.5 years after The Weaponry launched we finally have a real website.

When I first started telling people that I was launching my own business they asked, ‘Is your website up yet?’ I quickly realized that many people consider having a business website actually having a business. I also realized that startups that begin with a website, rather than a business development plan, struggle like Muggles at Hogwarts.

Creating A Business

Instead of focusing on building a website, we focused on building a business. We were creating an advertising and idea agency. And we named it The Weaponry. We started by meeting with marketers, asking about their unmet needs, and then creating services to meet those needs. #WeAllHaveNeeds

Building the Machine

We focused on finding great people to work on our team. We developed repeatable processes and procedures that enabled us to deliver great results. We developed the machinery that enabled us to find new clients. We implemented customer service standards that kept those clients coming back. And we honed our accounting operation to make sure that cash flowed through the business to keep the organization healthy and its people paid.

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Some of The Weapons.

Shiny Happy People

As a result, we developed a strong foundation of happy customers. We developed a strong group of business partners and collaborators who loved working with us. And that created a problem.

Losing Out On Brand Champions

We were developing brand champions who didn’t have an easy way to champion us. Because clients who loved working with us, and partners who loved working alongside us would want to recommend us to others. But the only website they could reference to promote us was a joke website we created that featured Laverne and Shirley from the TV show by the same name.

The NonWebsite

I loved not having a real website. It was rebellious and provocative. I loved that we built a multi-million dollar business without a website, by focusing on old fashion business development and maintenance.

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One of The Weaponry’s rockstar clients, Nicole Hallada of AEM.

But I hated the fact that people who loved The Weaponry didn’t have an easy way to promote, endorse or recommend us. In fact, we made our biggest fans look looney when they did tell others about us and had to note that we didn’t have a website, or at least a real website.

I’m Gonna Make A Change, For Once In My Life.

The realization that we were not helping those who were trying to help us was the reason we decided to create a real website for The Weaponry.

TheWeaponry.com

Today, I am excited to announce that TheWeaponry.com is a totally legit website.

  • You can now find out why our name is The Weaponry.
  • You can learn about our 3 Pillars of Success.
  • You can check out the What We Do section to see if it is what you are looking for.
  • You can see photos of our offices.
  • You can find out who we work with, and where those clients are.
  • You can see work.
  • You can see our team members, and you can read their not-too-serious bios.
  • You can submit request for information or more conversation.
  • You can find our contact info, office locations and ways to socialize with us.
  • You can tell us if you like Pina Coladas.

I invite you to check out the site at theweaponry.com and see it all for yourself. And if you look hard enough you still may find Laverne & Shirley.

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Key Takeaway

Don’t be afraid to do things your own way. But recognize when it limits your growth.  This is true in your personal life, and in business. If you want to launch your own startup remember that building a business is more important than building a website. But once you have fans you should make it easy for them to evangelize for you. Can I get an Amen?

There was a lot of thought that went into our decision to not have a real website. I wrote about that thought in these posts:

The story of our crazy website. Part 1: What is this?

Our unconventional website, Part 2: 7 Reasons we don’t have a real website.

 

The problem solving magic of the 3rd option.

I am a professional creative thinker. My job is to come up with ideas, and then bring those ideas to life. Which sounds easy, and fun. Which it is. But there is one major obstacle that often stands in the way of professional creatives: clients. You see, clients also have ideas. And their ideas are sometimes different than yours. And sometimes your clients’ ideas are good. Like, really good.

The Creative Conundrum

So what are you supposed to do when clients go all rogue on you and have their own ideas and opinions? After all, we are hired to be the idea people, right? Aren’t the clients supposed to listen to us? To trust us and our superior ideation abilities?

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A creative super-human, looking all creative and photographable.

Learning From Experience

I have faced this issue a million brazilian fo-fillion times in my career. I have had to contend with client-generated ideas from the time I was a young copywriter until I opened  The Weaponry, the advertising and idea agency I launched in 2016. With over 20 years of thinkering experience under my belt, I have found that there are 3 ways you can handle the client-creative idea clash.

The 3 Alternatives

1. Give Up. You don’t have to stand up for your ideas.  In fact, agencies often surrender immediately when a client proclaims their own idea. Or asks for a change. Or sneezes. This is because there are a lot of people who don’t believe in their ideas enough to stand up for them.

I hate this. It devalues the original creative idea. Which should have been presented for a very good reason. (You did have a very good reason didn’t you?) By simply surrendering to your client’s idea you are suddenly just a production person on behalf of your client. Don’t be that guy. And don’t be that gal.

2. Don’t Budge. This is the option I encourage most professional creatives to choose. Stand your ground. Believe unwaveringly in your idea. Fall on your sword. In fact, I’ll throw you on your sword if you like.

The reason I want you to embrace this idea so strongly is because it is a fast way to lose clients. And I would love to slip in and pick up your clients as you are getting thrown out a second story window.

3. Find A New, Better Option. If the client isn’t fully satisfied with your idea or execution it is because they still have a perceived unmet need. They are offering an idea that helps meet that need or concern. Sometimes their suggestion will be perfect. And a good creative should recognize this. But if the solution isn’t perfect, keep exploring. The greatest creative solution is the one that accommodates for the dreams and desires of both the client and agency. (Dreams and Desires is also the title of the trashy romance novel I’m now inspired to write.)

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Pushing for that perfect third option has 5 positive benefits.

1. It demonstrates that you want what is best for the project. And not just what the client requested.

2. It shows you are not simply married to your own idea. (Which also means no one gets to throw idea rice at your idea wedding.)

3. It certifies you as an avid problem solver. Clients love a partner who will push further to make everyone happy.

4. It strengthens your skills. It’s like adding more weight to the bar at the gym. Throw more challenges on the problem, add more constraints, and see if you can still Houdini out.

5. It reveals your work ethic. In the workplace your work ethic translates to character and trust and all manner of positive attributes.

Key Takeaway

Everyone loves a problem solver. This is true in business and in your personal life. But problem solving doesn’t mean giving up on your idea. And it doesn’t mean winning at all costs. It means finding a solution for every challenge. Always push for the win-win solution. Develop a reputation for helping everyone get to the best answer. It is the best way to get many more problems to solve.

If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them. 

How to make your dream business real.

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.

My 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.

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The E-Myth

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

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Read this book.

Impractical Jokers

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.

What If…

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.

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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.

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I’m just living the dream.

Today

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.

Key Takeaway

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.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this story, please share it with them.

Our unconventional website, Part 2: 7 Reasons we don’t have a real website.

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.

man holding drum sticks
Apparently this guy really loves to drink D- rum.

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?.

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Give them any rule they’ll break it.

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.

open neon signage turned on

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.

neon signage

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.

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Now we have creative work to show.
swimming
Like this.
Dreams Come True copy
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And this.

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.

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Our site is targeted towards people like Sarah Disanza, who hunted us down and demanded a job. So we gave her one.

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.

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This guy has been growing like a weed wearing tweed.

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

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Find great people and start doing great things. That’s how you grow a business without a website.

Key Takeaway

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.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

How to impress others with a follow up note.

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.

Scouts

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.

Stephanie Herbst-Lucke

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.
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My friend Stephanie is a rockstar. Here she is (front left), with me (front middle) and a group of Wisconsin track alum at a get together at her house in Atlanta.

The Call

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


Hey Adam!
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!
Best,
Erika
notes

Wow.

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.

Key Takeaway

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.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this story, please share it with them.

The most underrated risk takers in entrepreneurship.

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.

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Me and my original wingman, my cousin Brooks Albrecht.

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.

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My first hire at The Weaponry, K-Lil, and one of our billboards for the UW Credit Union, or no?

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.

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Some of our Weapons at a recent team brewery tour including, Adam ‘Henry’ Emery, Kevin ‘Lower’ Kayse, Sarah ‘Ice’ Disanza, Calla ‘Superfragelistic’ Stanford, Sally ‘Money’ Bretsch,Jeanne ‘Meyer’ Mayer, Shirley Feeney and Laverne DeFazio.

Key Takeaway

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.