It is easy to talk about starting your own business. I started talking about it within the first year of landing my first job in advertising. I have heard countless colleagues and friends dream about starting their own business over the years. But few have done it. Last year I started my own advertising and idea agency called The Weaponry. I also started this blog to share my learnings about the process.
So, what have I learned?
Most people think that starting a business is really hard. It is not. It is actually pretty easy. In fact, as the title of this post suggests, it is as easy to start a business as it is to get pregnant. And for many people it’s actually way easier.
How to get pregnant.
To get pregnant you simply need two people to agree to a somewhat awkward exchange. One time. That’s all. And boom, your pregnant! You don’t need foreplay or formality. You don’t need to be experienced or even be particularly good at it.
Starting a business works the exact same way. Two people agree to a very basic, if not awkward initial exchange. They connect a problem and a solution. And when the money changes hands you have a business transaction. Once you have created a business transaction, even a micro-transaction, you have started a business.
The rest of it is romance. Window dressing.
Congratulations, it’s a business! Now what?
Once you have made that exchange (become pregnant or started a business) you can figure out what to do next. In fact you don’t have to do much. You don’t have to be a good business owner, or parent. Certainly there are many parents who make their greatest, if not only contribution at conception.
You don’t have to get married to have children. And you are not required to make your business official by creating a separate business entity. It can remain a sole-proprietorship.
Remember, the pass-fail question here is, ‘Did you exchange a product or service for money?’ Once you have done that, you have a business, whether you claim it or not. Putting a lot more energy into the business is up to you. You get to decide what kind of parent of owner you want to be.
Stop thinking it is so hard. Stop thinking you have all sorts of prerequisites to starting a business. You don’t. You don’t need any foreplay at all. You just need to play. And if you like it, the after-play is where you can develop the business further. You have time to figure all of that out as you go.
But if you really want to start a business just take that first small step. It’s really not that hard.
If you know someone who has been talking about starting a business forever, please pass this post along to them. And if you found a bit of value in this post yourself, please consider subscribing to my blog.
I hate the word failure. In my book, failure is the real F-word. So why the F has this F-word become so popular lately? Organizational leaders, motivational books and quasi-business coaches are encouraging us to embrace our failures. They tell us to fail fast. And fail more often. They say that if you are not failing you are not pushing yourself enough. I fail to understand this thinking. In fact, I don’t place any value on failures at all.
Emphasizing The Wrong Syllable.
When I set out to create the perfect advertising agency, I expected it would be a lot of hard work. I expected that I would face a lot of challenges that I was underprepared for. But one of the best things I did from the beginning of my entrepreneurial adventure was give myself permission to be an amateur. As an amateur, I have valued one thing above all else. It’s not success. And it’s certainly not failure.
I place the greatest value on the attempt.
The attempt is the action that creates all possibilities of success. Failure is simply a result of the attempt. Failure by itself does not lead to success. Never forget that.
A Life Lesson From Newtonian Physics
Newton’s first law of motion says that a body at rest tends to stay at rest. True dat, Sir Issac! You know what that means to me? A body at rest does not start a business. It does not change paradigms. It doesn’t invent new products or services. A body at rest does not create a magnetic culture. It does not develop a force that helps businesses thrive. A body at rest does not lead a company in sales. It does not create a positive impact on friends, families and communities. In fact, the only thing a body at rest does is remain at rest. Which is tragic.
The supreme value of my entrepreneurial-self is action. As long as I am taking action I give myself credit. Every action gets me closer to success. Action is the energy. Action is the possibility maker. Action is the seed of accomplishment. Remember the old saying that sex is hereditary? (If your parents didn’t have sex, chances are you won’t either.) If you don’t take action, none of your dreams will either.
Life is like golf. To get the ball from the tee into the hole you need action. That, my friends, comes from you swinging the club. If you are too lazy or too afraid to swing the club you will never, ever get the ball in the hole. Simply by swinging the club you have given yourself a chance to succeed.
Back to Business
As I build my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I put a premium on action. I place a high value on simply taking one step after another. If the steps are off, or fruitless or inflict pain or damage, that’s ok. The key is to learn, correct and act again.
It was either Steve Perry or Lao Tzu who said, ‘A journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step.’ But even more importantly, every step of the journey is just a single step taken. Maybe you’ll have some missteps along the way that will ultimately make your journey 1001 miles, or 1110 miles or 2000 miles. That’s ok. That’s not failure. That’s action. Take the first action. Take the second action. Then just keep going. That’s how it happens. Don’t embrace failure. Embrace the action that created the possibility.
If you’re ready to take more action now, consider subscribing to this blog. Where else will you find Sir Issac Newton, Steve Perry, golf and the F-word references in the same 600 word post?
Welcome to the third post in my Finding Office Space series. This is a trilogy, like Rocky (which actually has seven chapters, but who’s counting?). In Looking for office space: A startup story. we began our quest for a great new office. In Looking for Office Space: The Messy Middle, we shared the middle of the journey, including an overview of all of the spaces we looked at. In this post we will decide which office we want, sign a lease, and defeat Mr. T (Clubber Lang). Then Eye of The Tiger willplay, the credits will roll, and I’ll share some pics from the new space.
My advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, first opened for business in 2016. Technology, including Slack, Google’s G-Suite, Dropbox, Asana and Zoom connected and enabled our team immediately. So we didn’t need a dedicated office. But I highly value culture and a team atmosphere. So we began searching for a new office space in July. We knew our first office should be in Milwaukee. But our rate of growth makes it difficult to know just how much space we will need a year from now.
Looking for an office is a little like looking for a date. Here is a list of the criteria we included in our E-Harmony profile:
1000 square feet. This provides enough room for our current team, and room for us to get really cozy as we grow.
A 1-year lease. From year one to year two we will have doubled our business. We would like to maintain that trend. But we are not willing to bet the business on it. So we will not bite off more than we can lease.
Downtown location. We want the energy of the city, sure. But we also want to make the commute reasonable for everyone. And all roads lead to downtown.
Northern Downtown location (The North End). This wasn’t a mandate. But it was more than a tie-breaker. I live north of Milwaukee in the suburb of Mequon. Having moved to Milwaukee from Atlanta a year ago, I am eager to minimize my commute as much as possible.
A separate conference room. Our team needs to gather, get loud and have fun client meetings without disturbing the rest of the staff. So a fully open concept wouldn’t work.
A separate private office. We wanted to have a private office that anyone could use to have more privacy when needed.
Windows. I love the energy that comes with natural light. So we wanted significant windows that let in a lot of sunshine.
Inexpensive parking. Downtown parking isn’t fun or easy. But it is a necessity. So we wanted parking close by at the best rate available.
Move-in ready condition: We didn’t want to have to build or move any walls. That would eat up time and money, and call for a longer lease term.
A good feel. If you’ve ever shopped for apartments or homes you know that some places just feel right for you. The same thing holds true for office space. And underwear.
After looking at eight properties we narrowed the field to a final four for an RFP process. Easy Breezy,which I will now call 1661 North Water Street, was our Goldilocks. It met all of the criteria listed above. And the porridge temperature was just right.
Legal Mumbo Jumbo
The first step towards securing our new space was a credit check. Which felt kind of like getting tested to make sure we didn’t have any diseases. Which, of course, we don’t. Then the property owners sent a 19-page lease agreement, which is like a pre-nup. I say this because it was the highly unromantic part of what had been a romantic experience. But in the lease application phase you go from dreaming about the space to distrustful statements and lawyery clauses that add a little bitter to the glitter.
The lease agreement failed to mention a couple of important clauses from the original proposal. Like the month of rent abatement that the property owners offered (a free month of rent). It also had some wonky wording around the insurance we were required to carry. Our insurance provider and I were both scratching our heads over the language, which I now believe was just a cut-and-paste error from the landlord.
Please allow myself to introduce myself…
I had to co-sign for the lease as Adam Albrecht, the human. So if Adam Albrecht, the Founder of The Weaponry can’t pay the lease, Adam Albrecht, the regular guy has to pick up the bill. I found this to be an odd part of the process. But as Bob Bradley, my business finance advisor, and the retired CFO of Cramer Krasselt told me, bankers and landlords still ask businesses that have been around for 100 years to have someone co-sign. Those experienced businesses have a track record that allows them to reject such requests. The Weaponry, with no rental history, and little credit history, hasn’t yet earned that luxury.
Trying to finalize.
I signed all of the paperwork, printed out my proof of insurance, wrote out a business check for the deposit. Then I told Mitch, my broker, I was ready to stop by the property owner’s office to drop everything off and pick up the keys. He called to warn them I was coming the next afternoon. But when I arrived no one there could help me (despite the fact that there were 50 people in the office).
The receptionist was new. The person she tried to page couldn’t be found. And I had to run to a CEO roundtable meeting.
When I came back that afternoon they restored my confidence in the organization. A seasoned receptionist was at the desk. She summoned Daniel immediately, He greeted me at the front desk to take the paperwork and deposit check.
Then came the moment I had been waiting for. They keys. If you’ve ever bought a car, house or sturdy pair of handcuffs, you know how great it feels to get handed those keys. It signifies that all of the paper road blocks have finally been cleared.
But this was slightly different. Because when Daniel pulled the keys out of the cabinet to hand them to me there weren’t just one or two keys. There were 13. I had a whole mitt full of keys. I was like Edward Keys-hands. Or Schneider from One Day At A Time. It was a pretty exciting moment.
The Opening Ceremony
I left Daniel and strutted across the parking lot to my new office building. I got on the elevator and rode to the second floor. I got off and walked about 50 feet down the hallway to Suite #206. Then I fumbled though the keys to find one that opened the door to the office. My FIRST office, for the very first time!
The first key I picked worked. I opened the door and walked in.
I was present in that moment. I drank it all in. I was by myself, which was nice. Because it gave me a moment to reflect on my very personal journey.
Of course there are several other people who I wish could have been there to share that moment with me too. I’ll mention them in another post. But for now, I am thankful to be starting what promises to be an even bigger, better chapter in The Weaponry’s story.
Our official lease started November 1st. We have a bit of furniture moved in. Which I will write about soon. I’ve provided a few pics of the new space below. So, please take a self-scrolling tour.
Thanks for following our story. If you would like to know what happens next, consider subscribing to this blog. And please stop when you are in the neighborhood. Or, if you are really fun, smart, creative and adventurous, consider joining our team.
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.
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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