I’m not easy to scare. I’m not an anxious or nervous person. In fact, I am so normal that I am often bored by my lack of lunacy. My kids say that the only thing I am scared of is missing out on a fun time. In the past, they may have been right.
But I have a new fear that seems to have crept up on me when I wasn’t looking. I feel it in libraries and bookstores. It makes me truly uncomfortable in these places that should be quiet and calming.
So What’s Up?
I have tracked and analyzed this feeling and have discovered its source. Libraries and bookstores make me anxious, because I am now comparing all of the books I want to read with how little time I have left to read them. The equation does not work in my favor. And this freaks me out.
I love to read. Reading a book is like being the recipient of an organ transplant. Because as you read, someone else’s knowledge gets transferred to your body of knowledge. Yet, unlike when you receive a new, kidney, heart or appendix, your body rarely rejects new reading material. Even when you disagree with what you’ve read, you incorporate it into your understanding and world view.
Entrepreneurship Makes Symptoms Worse
I have always loved to read. But ever since I founded my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, my reading pace has picked up. So has my phobia. My FOLAB (Fear Of Libraries and Bookstores) is like FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). Except the FOLAB stems from the knowledge, perspective, and mental stimulation I know I will never receive.
I have read several sources that say the average CEO reads one book per week. This doesn’t surprise me. Because entrepreneurs are looking for as much knowledge as they can accumulate. I turn to books as my primary source of professional inspiration and education. I pick up something useful in everything I read. I always juggle several books at once (because they are safer than chainsaws). And most of my commute is done listening to audio books. Yet, time is slipping away.
I am confronting the finite amount of book-reading life I have left. And I am in desperate need of some knowledge donors. Please share some of your go-to books that you feel I should prioritize. The average age of my four grandparents was only 95 years old.* So I may only have 50 years of reading left. Oh, my gosh. Seeing that in print is totally freaking me out. Please help by sending your reading recommendations today.
*My Grandma Albrecht is 98 and still going strong. So the average is still going up. But still…
It was December of 1999. The world was facing a possible Y2K apocalypse, and I was surrounded by cranberries. I had written a national TV commercial for Northland Cranberry Juice and was now preparing to shoot the spot in their hometown, Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin. Wisconsin Rapids (just in case you’ve never been there) is to cranberries what Nashville is to country music.
The premise of the commercial we were shooting was that the honest, hardworking people of Wisconsin Rapids put 100% into everything they do. So they would never consider putting anything less than 100% juice into a bottle of Northland. The same could not be said for those villains at Ocean Spray. Their cranberry cocktails ranged from just 17% to 27% juice. Cut to the close up of the Ocean Spray ingredient label, and cue the horror movie music.
But this story is not about juice. It is about the director. Ashley Lazarus. While Ashley Lazarus is one of the most beautiful names I have ever heard, it belongs to a bear of a man. A South African man. A man best known in America for launching the Saturn car brand with the iconic Spring in Springhill commercials. In other words, Ashley had mad directing skillz.
My first two days with Ashley were spent scouting for locations to shoot the commercial. We were looking for the most interesting locations in and around Wisconsin Rapids to capture on film.
While driving between locations in the Wisconsin countryside, Ashley, who was in his 60s, turned to me and slowly asked in his deep, South African accent, ‘Adam, how old are you?’
I replied, ’26’.
Not only will I never forget what he said next, it helped steer the course of my career, and my life.
‘Adam, eventually you must open your own advertising agency. You will be promised great positions in your career. You may even be offered them. But eventually all creatives are either passed over or forced out of agencies. The only way for you to remain in control of your career is to own your own agency.’
I had dreamed of owning my own agency since I first started my career three years earlier. But now, at 26 years old, I was told I had no choice. If I wanted to be in control of my career and my life’s path, I would have to start my own advertising agency and create my own opportunities.
That advice stuck in my head like a cocklebur to corduroy. I believed Ashley was right. Over the next 15 years I was promoted from Copywriter, to Senior Writer, to Associate Creative Director, to Creative Director, to Executive Creative Director to Chief Creative Officer. But I never forgot what Ashley said. And I wanted the ultimate control over my career path.
In 2016, when I was 42 years old, I launched my own advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry. I also launched this blog to chronicle the entire journey (if you’d like to follow along at home consider subscribing). Today, I’d like Ashley to know that I listened, appreciated and followed the advice he gave me in the back of that SUV in Wisconsin, Rapids in 1999.
What Ashley said about my career holds true for you too. Your career path, and your life path will be determined by someone else if you don’t take control of it. You too should start your own business, or side hustle, or consulting gig. Prepare your own plan B before you need it. It’s the key to writing your own script with your own happy ending.
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.
Most people will tell you that envy is bad. They will say you should be happy with what you have. But don’t believe them. Envy is one of the most powerfully positive forces on Earth. Envy reveals what we truly enjoy, what we really want, and who we want to be like. This is nothing to feel bad about. Baby, you were born this way.
Using envy for good starts with recognizing it as a powerful, natural, innate draw within you. Don’t try to quiet that voice. Tune in to it. Understand it. Learn what envy can teach you. Envy is like a gravitational force pulling you towards your own happiness. Or at least towards a great pair of pants.
Definition (from the great online dictionary)
Envy (noun): a feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else’s possessions, qualities, or luck.
Envy (verb): desire to have a quality, possession, or other desirable attribute belonging to someone else.
Interview Your Envy
Envy offers insights to feelings that are hard to articulate.
Do you envy the person who doesn’t have to travel for work? Or the person who does?
Do you envy your friend who has dinner with his or her family every night?
Do you envy the entrepreneur? Or the volunteer? Or the activist?
Do you envy the rich and famous?
Do you envy the simple and anonymous?
Your envy is trying to lead you on your true path. Don’t protest too much.
I have found myself attracted to, and envious of all kinds of random things throughout my life. But instead of feeling bad about it, or trying to turn the feelings off, I have tuned in, and recognized the things I truly want to have, do or be. And those things I once envied have contributed greatly to my own happiness.
Here is a quick list or random things I have envied:
A pair of well-worn work boots
High schoolers who could lift a lot of weights
People who have canoes.
People who vacation on islands
People who don’t follow popular opinion
People who have great blogs
These things that I once envied have now contributed greatly to my own happiness. My feelings were not negative. They were motivating.
Today, my work boots (and my flip-flops) are my favorite shoes to wear. I began lifting weights my freshman year in high school and have found it to be the absolute best thing for my mental health. I launched my own business, The Weaponry, almost two years ago, and I am eager to get to work each day. I own a beautiful 17-foot canoe, and a couple of kayaks, which bring me and my family great joy. I have had wonderful vacations on islands with my wife and kids, where we felt as if we had escaped the real world together. I’ve climbed many a mountain, and felt the rewards of accomplishment. I am confident in my unpopular ways. I’m working on the blog thing. But I still have a nagging feeling that I don’t volunteer enough, and envy those who do.
Don’t feel bad about your lust for those shoes, that job or the epic vacation. Don’t think you don’t measure up because you haven’t started your own business, created a charitable foundation or bought a second home. If you really want those things, add them to your list. Then create a plan to make them yours, and get to work. That’s what I do. And someday I expect to have them all.
Now that I have shared, is there something you have envied that you have used as motivation? Please share it in the comments section. I’d like to think I am not the only one.
I recently found this post in my rough drafts folder. It was originally written in June of 2016, but never published. At the time, my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, was a startup in the first months of life. The swirling uncertainty of startup-ness surrounded us. And that can mess with you…
From June 10th, 2016
Today I had a long talk with a co-worker who was having a hard time at work. Which is understandable. Because startups are kinda hard. Launching a startup is like walking in a blizzard. Wind and snow are all up in your grill. It’s cold. Visibility goes into the toilet. It’s difficult to navigate in these conditions.
In the middle of a blizzard your survival instincts tell you to seek shelter. It’s natural to want to escape the relentless wind, disorienting snow and mounting drifts. Sitting by a crackling fire, drinking hot chocolate is far more appealing to most people.
But I like walking in blizzards. I like being out when no one else is. I like doing things that build my character, my will and my personal legend. In the same way a callus rises as the result of repeated friction, strength grows from pushing against resistance.
You have to keep walking. You must have faith that you know where you are heading. You have to take steps forward, even when it is hard. Blizzards of the wintry, professional and personal kind are temporary. Eventually the snow will stop falling. The wind will chill the eff out. And the sun will come out again. When that happens, where will you be? It’s a matter of what you did during the blizzard. If you keep pushing, you will find yourself far ahead of where you started, far ahead of those who sought shelter, and closer to your ultimate goal. You’ll find the ultimate rewards far outweigh the hot chocolate you sacrificed along the way.
*To learn what has happened to The Weaponry over the past year and a half, check out some other posts. To see what happens next, consider subscribing to this blog.
We all know the story of Orville and Wilbur Wright, right? These brothers from Dayton, Ohio were the first humans on Earth to build and fly an airplane. They launched their original Flyer in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in 1903. Their airplane forever changed life on this planet. It opened the possibility of space travel, next-day package delivery, and complaints about spotty wi-fi on transcontinental flights.
Do you know how much they spent to get that first plane in the air? It took them four years. Over that period their expenses included all the materials needed to research, build, test, modify and repair their prototypes. The price tag also included all of their travel between Ohio, where they built their machines, and the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where they attempted to fly them. Remember, this was before Southwest Airlines made it cheap and easy to fly about the country.
So how much did they spend?
I’m adding fluff to this story to prevent your eye from catching the number below.
It’s my attempt to add suspense.
But now it is time for the number:
All in, they spent less than $1000!
Less than $1000! That’s unbelievable, Wright?!? It is so ridiculous that it wasn’t even one of the multiple choice answers!
The Wrights found that the actual inputs were not crazy-expensive (my words, not theirs). They invested more in elbow grease and developed sweat equity in their innovation. They were remarkably frugal with their travel. And as a result, they changed the world for less than $1000.
You can do the same. Put your own work into your greatest idea. Create an inexpensive prototype. Offer the service yourself. Write that script in your head. Figure out how to develop a minimum viable product. See where things go from there.
Great ideas have a way of taking on a life of their own once you give them the push they need to get started. So don’t let that great idea in your head shrivel and die. Feed it. Water it. Grow it. Put in the effort. Then watch your idea take off.
Just like the Wright Brothers did.
*I know this was 115 years ago, and there has been inflation since. So I pulled out my trusty calculator and mathed-up the inflation. In today’s dollars that would be $26,000. But still, it is a frickin airplane! On today’s airplane the barf bags probably cost more than that. The numbers were found in David McCullough’s amazing book, The Wright Brothers, (which I would have titled The Wright Stuff).
It is small. Cute. Harmless. Easily overlooked. The acorn is found everywhere. So common and simple. Yet it has the potential to grow and expand in phenomenal ways.
The acorn is actually a mighty oak tree starter kit. The plans for all of the tree’s complex systems are housed inside: the roots, bark, sap, branches, leaves and the alchemy of photosynthesis. The remarkable ability to create habitat, shade, support, protection and oxygen are all under that cute little beanie.
The acorn is a bomb. When detonated, it expands beyond all possible comprehension. Its final form is no less of a mushroom cloud than a mushroom cloud.
Your ideas are acorns. Recognize the enormous potential they each hold. Create conditions where acorns can transform into forests of towering trees. Those trees will produce more acorns. Which produce more trees. Which produce more acorns.