My business plays in a fun sandbox. Brands across the United States and Canada come to my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, looking for smart new ideas. Our team of strategic and creative thinkers explore ideas that extend far beyond what most clients could create on their own. Clients love us because we reveal new possibilities. And because we do ridiculous things that make them laugh a lot in meetings.
Exploring the Possibilities
Clients often hire us to help them reimagine their brand. On a recent project our team presented our client with 40 new logo options to choose from. Yes, 40. We pride ourselves on offering a great range of thinking so that everyone can find something they like. You know, like a buffet. Or a boy band.
Once we concluded the share of new logos and opened the floor for discussion (ok, so the floor didn’t really open), I was surprised by the very first comments that followed. One of the clients said, “I REALLY don’t like option 9.” Then he spent several minutes elaborating on why he didn’t like option 9. After several others shared their favorites, this client spoke up again and said, ‘Did anyone else dislike option 9 as much as I did?’
The Weaponry Way
Let me let you in on one of The Weaponry’s secrets. The reason we show multiple ideas is because our clients might not like them all. I’m fine with that. My friends at Coca Cola sell a wide range of drink options so that we can all find something we like. I love Coke and Gold Peak Tea. I don’t focus on the fact that Diet Coke tastes like liquid bike tires.
It is a waste of time to focus on the things that we don’t like. Or the things that don’t work. I think of the creative process like finding your way through a maze. Once you find yourself at a dead end, immediately turn around and start exploring another option. To stop and focus on that dead end, or worse, go back to the dead end to see it again, and think about how dead that end really is, is a waste of time.
A few years ago I did a Strength Finders analysis. The test concluded that I am a Maximizer. Which means I don’t spend any time focusing on what happened in the past, or what can’t be changed. I focus on the possibilities in front of me and how to make something good into something great. Which is a good construct to have when you are a professional creative. Or an entrepreneur. I help my team and my clients find ideas with a lot of potential, then bring out the maximum potential in each of them.
The Take Away
Focus on the things you love most. Spend your time looking for the solutions, the answers, the wows. The beautiful building, the kind act, the smart idea, the great looking jacket, the blog post about focusing on the things you love (that you loved enough to like and share). When you see something that doesn’t work for you, move on. Focus on the great, the exciting possibilities, the things that make you happiest. You will find more good in the world. Let’s all let go of our own option #9. The other 31 options are better anyway.
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Since I was in college I have heard career-minded folk talk about the importance of networking. Which begs the question, What the fruit is networking? Because before college I didn’t network, and I seem to have gotten along just fine.
But starting my freshman year in college, professors, advisors and guest speakers talked about networking as if it twas the key to success beyond college (twas is a word you can only use in December). Then I started my career in advertising and I heard the same thing. Business books and career coaches strongly encourage you to network. I have even attended a few functions called networking events. Oy.
So what the funk does it means to network?
Oh looky here! I found a definition.
Network (verb): interact with other people to exchange information and develop contacts, especially to further one’s career.
Ahh. When you put it that way, I understand what you mean. And it kinda makes me want to barf. ‘Interacting with people‘, ‘exchanging information’ and ‘developing contacts’ is something that can be done by a machine. Or a criminal.
What I do.
While other people network, I am still doing what I did before college. Before I was told that networking was the key to advancing my career. Before I was told networking was crucial to successful entrepreneurship.
No. I don’t network.
What does that mean? Well, I just happen to have the definition for you right here:
Befriend (verb): act as a friend to someone by offering help or support.
This is what I do. I learned how to do this when I was in pre-school and it has served me well my entire life. Notice the keys to befriending? You act as a friend. You offer help and support. This is the good stuff. This is what other people really want. This is how you improve life on the big blue marble.
When you dive into the synonyms of befriending you develop an even richer picture:
make friends with
make a friend of
keep an eye on
be of service to
lend a helping hand to
The Take Away
The world would be a better place if we stopped trying to network, and we just tried to make friends. So I encourage you to develop real relationships. Because when you make people the most important thing in your life, everything else magically falls into place. Our relationships, and the positive impact we have on one another, are the only things that really matter. It is true at home. It is true in pre-school. It is true in college. And it is true in business. So if you really want to be a great success, be a great friend. If there is any way I can help, please let me know.
These modes are not sequential. You can shift from one mode to another in any order you choose. Read a book and you are in Growth Mode. Do some drugs and you are in atrophy mode. Brush your teeth and you are in Maintenance Mode. (Listen to some 80s English electronic music and you are in Depeche Mode.)
Right now I am spending as much time as I can in Growth Mode. I am reading for learning. I’m working out regularly. And I have started my own advertising and idea agency called The Weaponry, which pushes me to grow every day.
Growing By Learning From Others.
To push myself for more growth, I am soaking up as much as I can about inventors and pioneers. Recently I’ve studied Walt Disney, Lewis and Clark, the team at Pixar, and Ernest Shackleton. Right now I am studying Orville and Wilbur Wright. Notice I say that I am studying them. Not reading about them. You can read simply to be entertained. Or to kill time. I’m studying because I am trying to learn and grow.
The Wright Brothers
For those of you who aren’t up to date on your turn-of-the-last-century trivia, Orville and Wilbur Wright, from Dayton, Ohio, invented the airplane. Which changed the world forever. In fact, if it weren’t for them you wouldn’t be able to complain about the lack of leg room or that spotty in-flight wi-fi as you cross the entire country in just 6 hours.
One of the things that stood out to me about the Wrights was their highly pragmatic approach to their own growth and learning. Today, you and I can use their approach to develop our own breakthroughs, both personally and professionally.
The Wright Stuff
To learn and grow like the Wright Brothers read the following excerpt from a talk Double Dubs (my nickname for Wilbur Wright) gave to a group of engineers in Chicago:
Now, there are two ways of learning to ride a fractious horse: One is to get on him and learn by actual practice how each motion and trick may be best met; the other is to sit on a fence and watch the beast a while, and then retire to the house and at leisure figure out the best way of overcoming his jumps and kicks.
The latter system is the safest, but the former, on the whole, turns out the larger proportion of good riders. It is very much the same in learning to ride a flying machine; if you are looking for perfect safety, you will do well to sit on a fence and watch the birds; but if you really wish to learn, you must mount a machine and become acquainted with its tricks by actual trial. -Wilbur Wright 1901
Applying Wilbur’s Approach
The same holds true for you my friend. You can study that challenge in front of you from the comfort of your couch. You can read about it, talk about it and watch other people do it. But if you really want to learn how to do it yourself, you have to climb aboard your own flying machine and learn the tricks yourself, through trial and error.
That’s how I started The Weaponry. I read and studied and tried to prepare ahead of time. But eventually I had to jump in the cockpit, pull back on the wheel and start messing with the controls. I’m learning by doing. And I’m learning faster than I ever could from a book or a class.
The same approach holds true for learning anything. You learn how to kayak, juggle, write code, start a non-profit, lead, cook, invest and speed-eat hot dogs by doing. Experience is the greatest teacher. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Mistakes help you course-correct and keep you moving forward.
Don’t settle for Maintenance Mode. Avoid Atrophy Mode at all costs. And keep growing. Not by watching or reading. But by doing. Get off the fence and climb aboard your own horse, bicycle or flying machine today. Then just keep at it until you get it Wright.
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When I started my career in advertising my very first account was Case IH farm equipment. Case IH makes the red tractors, combines and implements that dot the American countryside. I was hired to work on the account because I have a farming background. In my job interview I shocked the ad agency leaders with my knowledge of PTOs, disk harrows and 12-row heads. I know these things because I come from a long line of farmers. My mom is one of nine farm kids. My dad is one of twelve.
As part of that first job I did a lot of research, talking to farmers about their wants and needs. In one of those conversations a farmer shared a quote with me that I will never forget. He said,
You will never find a farmer in Vegas. Because we are gambling out here every day.
A Farmer’s Reality
Farmers are gamblers who bet on themselves. They are the ultimate entrepreneurs. They eat and breathe their work. Literally. They work from sun-up until sun-down. They reap what they sow. But to farmers, these are not clichés. These are the facts of life.
But here is the scariest reality of farming: A farmer can work tirelessly every day, follow the best formula for success, never make the same mistake twice, and still go bust.
This is because a farmer does not control his or her own fate. They are at the complete mercy of Mother Nature. And Mother Nature doesn’t play fair. She doesn’t care how hard you work. Or that you’ve invested every dime you have into this year’s crop. And no one is immune to the whims of Mother Nature (except maybe the people who live in San Diego).
So the farmer can do everything in his or her power to grow a bumper crop, and then there is no rain. Or too much rain. Or a killing frost. Or flattening wind. Or hail. Or an eff-ing grasshopper plague.
So this time of year, when the frost is on the pumpkin and the hay is in the barn, farmers are more thankful than you could ever imagine. While all Americans are thankful today, they are not as thankful as farmers.
The moment I started planning to launch my advertising agency, I felt like I was getting back to my farming roots. Because I was betting everything on my ability to grow my own crops. But instead of producing corn, soybeans and milk, I would be growing creative ideas. And the hard thing about growing creative ideas is that you can’t buy the seeds from Monsanto.
Today, I am experiencing farmer-strength thankfulness. The Weaponry, the advertising and idea agency that I started in 2016, has transformed from a dream with a plan to a physical business with walls, doors and desks. We have world-class employees. We have great clients. And we are cranking out ideas like Iowa cranks out corn.
6 things I’m thankful for this Thanksgiving.
Today I’m thankful for my wife Dawn, who has demonstrated unwavering faith in my ability to feed, clothe and shelter our family.
I’m thankful for my kids who share my love for ideas, adventure and creation.
I’m thankful for my team of smart, self-driven creatives who produce valuable ideas every day.
I’m thankful to my clients who have trusted The Weaponry to help them create the strategies and ideas they need to grow and thrive.
I’m thankful for all of my friends. For handshakes and hugs. I’m thankful for those who will take my phone calls and reply to my texts. For the friends who have joined me this year for chocolate milk or a meal. And to those friends who like, comment or share something I post on social media.
And on this day that we give thanks for the harvest I am especially thankful for my large farm family of Albrechts and Spraus. Our rich farming lineage has provided us all with a tremendous work ethic, a strong self-reliance, and a great appreciation for all that we have. Today we are working hard to pass the character traits that grow strong on farms on to our children. So that even though our offspring may never live on a farm, they will benefit from our family roots that reach deep into the rich black soil of Minnesota.
As you enjoy your Thanksgiving feast with friends and family take time to count your own blessings. As you pass the plates around the table remember where the food came from. And please say a little thank you for the farmer. Because surely they are saying thank you for you.
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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.