I don’t have any tattoos. But each time we get a meaningful image or quote added to the walls of our new offices at The Weaponry, I feel as if an important statement has been tattooed on me. Of course our wall art is much larger and much less painful than a real tattoo. And I don’t have to hide the wall art from my Mom.
I’ve written about our wall statements before. But last week we had another quote tattooed to our office. Not only do I find this quote inspiring, it states a critical tenant of brand-building.
Our Latest Wall Quote:
“You are remembered for the rules you break.”
-General Douglas MacArthur
MacArthur hit the nail on the head, and sent it into concussion protocol with this line. In Nike Founder, Phil Knight’s book Shoe Dog, he references this quote several times. I find myself referencing it often too.
There are multiple ways to interpret this quote. But I see it in the most positive light possible. You are remembered for the norms the standards and the expectations you don’t follow. You are remembered for the parts of you that stick out. Not the ones that fit in. You are remembered like Frank Sinatra, for doing it your way.
This is true of people, businesses, brands, products, services, plants, minerals and animals. Speaking of animals, consider mammals for a moment. They are warm-blooded and fur-bearing creatures. But the dolphins doesn’t seem like a mammal because it lives in the ocean. The bat doesn’t seem like a mammal because it frickin flies! And the platypus, well, it breaks so many rules I don’t even know what it was to start with.
Conformity is the opposite of creativity. Conforming to every rule means you disappear. If you want to be remembered by your peers, in job interviews, or in customers’ minds, you have to break some rules.
Look for ways to be different. Break stupid rules. Break smart rules when you have an even smarter reason to do so. Rules were made to be broken. You were made to be remembered. You are not a sheep, or a cow. Don’t follow the flocking herd. Give them something to remember you by. Your Mom and Dad will eventually get over it. Trust me, I know.
From the very beginning of my career I wanted to start my own advertising agency. I dreamed about it for years. I envied those I knew who had done it. And I had wise counselors tell me that starting my own agency was the only way I would be able to control both the path and the length of my advertising career. I figured it would also make it harder for my coworkers to tell me to turn down my music.
I began making concrete plans in the summer of 2015 after a couple of former clients strongly encouraged/challenged/incentivized me to launch a new agency. My cousin Brooks Albrecht and I began formulating plans to launch the new venture from opposite corners of the country. I was in Atlanta. He was in Seattle. We had a lot of late night phone calls fueled by sweet tea and coffee. We were like the Rumpelstiltskin Cousins, trying to spin straw into gold while the world slept.
Brooks was working at Amazon at the time. He was amazing at developing a smart, scalable infrastructure. We devoured the book The E-Myth, and were determined to build our machine the right way from the start. We thought we had a solid plan in place, and even performed some early ‘proof of concept’ alpha testing with two clients, one in Boston and the other in California.
I couldn’t believe how much fun I was having and how excited I was by what we were attempting to do. Then, in the spring of 2016, I filed the paperwork to make it official. Two years ago today on April 12th, 2016, The Weaponry was born, and the adventure began.
Our First Client
Our very first client was Global Rescue. On an early trip to Boston to meet with the GR team, I stayed at the home of their Founder and CEO, Dan Richards. When you are first starting off you do things like stay at your client’s home. Both because your first opportunity often comes from someone who you know really well (Dan is one of my closest friends in the world). And because when you are a lean start-up you’ll do anything you can to save money.
I had helped Dan with some foundational branding and marketing elements when he first launched his business in 2004. At the time, Dan was the only employee. But by 2016 Global Rescue had hundreds of employees, millions of members, and six offices around the world.
Dan and I went for an early morning workout before we got down to business. As we snaked through the empty streets of Boston at 5:30am on our way to the gym, I asked Dan,
“How long after you launched your business did it no longer feel like a startup?
Dan responded quickly and confidently (the way he does everything). He said, ‘2 years.’ At two years he had clients, cashflow, systems and employees. It no longer felt like a victory just to be open for business. I filed that away, and wondered if that would hold true for The Weaponry.
Joining the 2 Year club.
Now that we are officially at the two-year mark, I can say with great confidence, that The Weaponry no longer feels like a startup. As we have approached this milestone, many of my friends who are entrepreneurs have pointed out that a startup’s life expectancy is barely longer than that of a fruit fly. They have emphasized how few startups actually live to eat their second birthday cake.
But I think about it differently. I don’t care what the average is. And I don’t think making it to two years in a major victory. My goal wasn’t to build a business that could break the 24-month barrier. It was to build the perfect advertising agency that could stay in business forever.
The first two phases of a new business are like the first two phases of motor boating (snickering). In phase 1 you are happy to be moving forward and not hitting rocks or docks. But you are plowing through the water with a lot of resistance, and very little speed or elegance. Then you transition to phase 2. In phase 2 the boat builds enough speed that it actually climbs on top of the water and planes out. The ride smooths out, speeds up, and becomes a lot more fun. The nose of the boat (or bow) comes down, and visibility improves dramatically. At two years old, The Weaponry feels like it is planing and gaining speed.
6 Reasons The Weaponry No Longer Feels Like A Startup:
We have a real office.
We offer our employees insurance benefits (from companies you actually know).
We have retainer clients that provide predictable work and cashflow
We have systems in place to organize, produce and deliver everything we do.
We have a steady stream of new opportunities.
We need to hire more great people
I am thrilled that this perfect agency project is now two years old. Starting my own business has been the most exciting chapter of my exciting career. Thank you to all of the clients who have trusted us. Thanks to all of our team members who have made the magic. Thanks to my family for having faith. And thank You for taking the time to read about it.
If you are thinking about starting your own business and have questions, I am happy to share what I know. If you are looking for an exciting, growing and positive place to work, let’s talk. If you are looking for a date to the Marketing Prom, give us a ring (this isn’t a real thing, but if it was, we would totally go with you). And if you are looking for an interesting story to follow, consider subscribing to this blog. The next 12 months are sure to provide plenty to read about.
I got a unique phone call this week. The caller, a friendly and energetic young man, introduced himself as a banker calling from Name-Of-Bank-Protected. Once upon a time, I had banked with Name-Of-Bank-Protected. But now I was confused. Because I had closed my account with them over ten years ago. What was even stranger, was that the banker added that he was a mortgage specialist.
I asked the nice mortgage specialist from the bank I once banked with, ‘Is there something wrong with the mortgage I clearly do not have with your bank?’
He laughed and said ‘No. I am calling about Name-Of-Employee-Protected. Does Name-Of- Employee-Protected work at The Weaponry?’
Then I understood.
I have purchased four homes in my home purchasing career. Right before the closing, the bank offering the mortgage calls your employer to confirm that you actually have the job you claim to have. This gives the bank confidence that you will have the funds to pay your mortgage on the new home. This has always been a wise move for banks. But it has become standard practice since the failure to do background checks lead to the world-melting mortgage crisis a decade ago.
However, this was different.
Now a bank was calling me about a mortgage, because I am the employer. This may not seem like a big deal to you. But this was monumental to me.
My advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, started as a vision in my head two and a half years ago. I had a clear vision of what the perfect advertising agency would look like. I believed I could create an agency that generated excellent creative ideas, provided amazing customer service and offered a fun experience for everyone involved. Best of all, I knew it could provide long-term financial stability for employees.
As I started on my journey to bring that vision to life, I started this blog. Then brick by brick, the vision has become realer and realerer and realererer.
Today, The Weaponry has great clients, a nice office, amazing employees and benefits. But now, we also have real American bankers calling The Weaponry to confirm that our Weapons actually work at The Weaponry.
That’s a great feeling.
The Weaponry is not just real in my head. It is real in the eyes of a bank that will offer a major loan to one of our employees today, so that they can close on a new house this afternoon. I’m not sure I can articulate how fulfilling that is. The Weaponry has come a long way. And we are just getting started. I look forward to many more confirmation calls from many more mortgage lenders from across the country in the years ahead.
*If you would like to follow our journey, please consider following The Perfect Agency Project by clicking the subscribe button. It requires minimal effort from one of your fingers. Any finger will do.
Entrepreneurship is a thrilling game. I started my own adverting and idea agency almost two years ago. Building my business has been the most fun and exciting chapter in a career full of fun and exciting chapters. If you think you’d like to play entrepreneur, I have a few insights to share. But I should warn you, I don’t have an MBA. My business philosophies come from life.
Creating your own business requires four elements:
Vision to see what you want to build.
Optimism to believe you can do it.
Will Power to keep you moving forward.
Money to pay the bills.
The first three inputs are about attitude. If you have a great attitude, you have 75% of the requirements covered. Then there is number four. It has ruined many a good business. It’s the proverbial turd in the punch bowl. And there is no way around it.
Money, Money, Money, Money
It isn’t enough simply to have money. The real challenge is that you have to invest your money at the proper pace. If you spend too little you don’t grow, you don’t mature, and you don’t get closer to your ultimate vision. But if you spend too much, you die.
In order to thrive, you need to find the sweet spot between these two pitfalls. This is the game of business finance in a nutshell. And if you remember your shell history, the nutshell beat out both the eggshell and the clamshell as the perfect container for simple summations.
So how do you know when to save and when to spend? I have developed an approach to spending money that influences every purchase, every hire, and financial commitment we make at The Weaponry.
The Kite Flying Method.
I think of spending money like flying a kite. Once you get a kite in the air, you have to decide if you are satisfied flying it ten feet above the ground. If you are not, and I hope you are not, you have to let out more string.
You let out more string when the wind increases. Not before. This sounds simple enough. But the key is knowing the difference between winds and gusts. A gust is temporary. If you let out string because of a gust, you are in trouble. Because when the gust stops, your line will go slack, and the kite will plummet to the ground. This is bad.
The wind is your income. The string is your outgo. If you want your business to soar to impressive heights, you have to let out string. But always let out less string than the wind can support. That tension you feel is profitability. It is what keeps you in control. Always maintain that. It will keep you soaring for as long as you want to play.
Breathing life into an idea is my favorite thing in the world. Taking a vision that only existed in my head, making it real, and then showing it to the world, offers a healthy, natural high. Even Nancy Reagan would approve.
Furnishing our office has been a fun undertaking. I have written before about our custom-built surfboard coffee table. We had readers of this blog vote on their favorite surfboard designs. Then we shared the final result. The coffee table has been a great addition to the office, and a great conversation starter. Since then, we turned our attention to another room.
The Conference Room
The conference room at The Weaponry was the last room we furnished. We wanted to keep it simple. In fact, we only wanted four elements in the room:
Shopping For A Table
We looked at a lot of used conference room tables, and they all made me want to cry. Most of them felt like they would have been right at home on the set of the TV show, The Office. That would never do. We looked through catalogs. All the tables either looked too serious, too sterile or had no look at all.
Then something caught our eye. It wasn’t a traditional conference room table. It was a high top. The type of furniture designed for an active huddle space. Not the kind of table typically used to pacify you before a Powerpoint lobotomy.
When we inquired about the table we discovered it could be custom-made. Which meant we could choose the perfect length, width, height and color.
Placing The Order
We custom-designed our table to fit our conference room space like a proverbial hand in glove. We chose both the leg style and the leg color. Then came the biggest, and most important choice of all: the color of the surface.
Surfacing the Surface Color
We saw a model of our table with a white table top. It had a birch pattern to it, and it looked nice. But we picked out a few other color chips that might work as well. On the day we placed the final order I glanced at the sign in our office that says, Think like a rebel. I knew that white wasn’t right.
All of the other rooms in our office have one red wall. It makes a bold statement and adds energy to each room. The ConFro (I just made that up) doesn’t have outside windows. We wanted to keep the walls white and bright to make the room feel bigger. So we used the bright red, high top table to make the room feel like the rest of the office.
The table feels active. The red color energizes the room. The height of the table means you can either perch on the high stools, and feel like you are leaning into a meeting, like at a bar. Or you can stand without looking any odder than you usually do. You can also easily switch between the two positions, if you have ants in your pants.
We love the way our conference room has come together. We love that it offers a great hub for active thinking. We love that we have a tall, red-headed 48 inch by 96 inch table. We love our giant dry erase board for ideating and illustrating. We love having a large TV monitor for presentations, and for watching Netflix while eating lunch. We look forward to adding a few embellishments to the walls. But most of all, we look forward to having your stop by for a think.
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In 2016 I left a salaried position with a large, stable advertising agency. I had amassed almost 20 years of experience as an advertising creative. Over the course of my career I had developed a clear vision of what the perfect ad agency looked like. And like Bob The Builder, I believed I could build it.
1 Year Later
A year later my startup ad agency was buzzing with activity. So I joined a CEO roundtable to surround myself with people who knew things I didn’t know. My Council Of Small Business Executives (COSBE) group meets once a month to compare notes, discuss issues and serve as a thought-provoking sounding board.
At the first meeting I attended back in August, the group asked me to take a couple of minutes to talk about me and my business. It was like the introductions you make at an addiction recovery group. You know, ‘My name is Adam, and I am an Ideaholic.’ Welcome brother Adam.
I told the group that my business, an advertising and idea agency called The Weaponry, had attracted ten clients in the first year. Those clients stretched from Florida to Atlanta, Boston, Montreal, Milwaukee, Salt Lake City and San Francisco.
Then I dropped this fun, and almost unbelievable footnote:
We did this despite the fact that we were a brand new business with:
no business cards
After I finished my quick overview on my business, the guest speaker that day said something that I will never forget.
‘There is only one way you could build a business like that. People really trust you.’
This guy was a total stranger. We had been in a room together for 15 minutes. Yet he gave me an amazing insight as to why my perfect agency project was working.
I knew I had clients that liked me. I knew they had good experiences with me. I knew that some of them thought I was funny or smart or creative, or perhaps a non-alchoholic cocktail of all three. But the only reason my business stood a chance of succeeding is that people I have worked with in the past, and those I meet today, trust me.
It’s a matter of trust. (Like Billy Joel said)
Trust is the key ingredient of a successful entrepreneur. It is the most valuable product that you will ever deliver to your clients.
My clients trust me with their money.
They trust me with their confidential information.
They trust me with their valuable time.
They trust me to reflect positively on their personal reputations.
If you want to increase your value to other people, increase your trustworthiness. Do what you say you will do. Deliver what you say you will deliver. Meet the timeline you said you would meet at the price you quoted. Always demonstrate that you’ve heard and care about the concerns of others. You’ll find the rewards far exceed the cost of doing business.
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One of the great traditions of networking is grabbing coffee. When you meet someone for the first time you suggest grabbing coffee. When you see someone you haven’t seen in a long time, you talk about grabbing coffee. Coffee gets grabbed more than an aspiring actress at a Harvey Weinstein pool party. #timesup
I don’t drink coffee. Ok, that’s not fully true. I have now had 4 cups of coffee in my life. That’s about one per decade. But the coffee meeting is one of the most valuable elements of professional development. It is a useful tool for developing and maintaining relationships. It can be used for research, informal mentoring and for stay at home moms to have sanity-preserving conversations with full-sized rational humans.
Despite the fact that coffee tastes like burnt bark juice, I love using coffee meetings to catch up with old friends or get to know new people better. I just do it differently.
Barista, The Usual.
My go to beverage at the coffee shop is chocolate milk. I love that stuff. It reminds me of Fridays in elementary school. Which was the only day chocolate milk was served at school when I was a kid. Today, drinking chocolate milk still feels like a party.
One of the people I regularly grab chocolate milk with is my friend Andy Salamone. Andy is an amazing guy. He started a business called CarSpot right out of college. He developed a way of aggregating used car inventory from dealerships into a centralized, customer-friendly online shopping experience. Andy and his team developed innovative technology to transform and grow the business until AutoTrader made Andy an offer he didn’t refuse. He sold the business several years ago, and now enjoys the fruits of his exit.
It is fascinating to talk to Andy as he scans the landscape looking for the next great entrepreneurial opportunity. He sees businesses the way an engineer sees a machine. He can talk you through the mechanics of creating an efficient device to deliver a great idea. He has been a great influence on me and the way I think about my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry.
Andy texted me last week and said he wanted to swing by and see The Weaponry’s new office. I was thrilled to have him see our space. He arrived with some really fun surprises. He had a gallon of Oberwies chocolate milk. Which is the chocolate milk equivalent to a Goody McGood bottle of Scotch. That alone would have been a great office warming gesture. Then Andy reached into the bag that contained the milk and pulled out four glasses with the five Great Lakes printed on them. On each glass there’s a heart printed right where Milwaukee sits on the shores of Lake Michigan.
A Moment To Absorb.
Now picture this. As I poured my glass full of that chocolatey nectar of the Guernsey’s, I was sitting on a couch at the adverting agency that I always dreamed of creating. I toasted my good fortune with a friend and fellow entrepreneur. Then I set my new Great Lakes glass down on my custom-made The Weaponry surfboard coffee table.
My life was coming together just the way I had always imagined it would. Even my fellow Wisconsin Badger, Abraham Maslow would have grabbed one of my new glasses, raised it towards me and said, ‘Kid, it doesn’t get any better than this.’ #selfactualization.
Make the time to grab a drink of your own choice with the people of your own choice. May you find your own version of The Weaponry, and chocolate milk and custom surfboard coffee tables. I hope that you look forward to going to work every day. I hope you get to design your life, your work and your tribe. May your days be full of great moments that are uniquely you. Here’s to feeling as if you are winning at life.
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