On the eve of my 40th birthday I sketched out a vision for the rest of my life. I wrote in great detail about what I felt was my personal legend. By starting with the end in mind, I was able to determine the actions I needed to start making in order to accomplish all of my personal and professional goals.
It was a transformational evening. In the last hours of my 39th year I determined the best way to grab control of my life, and design it exactly the way I imagined, was to start my own business.
I became totally focused on bringing my design vision to life. I put my plans into motion. Two years later, I launched my own advertising and idea agency in Atlanta. I named it The Weaponry. And I have been living into the vision ever since.
One Life. One Wife.
My wife, Dawn, gets co-creator credit on my life design. Like Al Jarreau said, we’re in this love together. Because a good marriage is like a 3-legged race, my life plan had to accommodate Dawn’s, and vice versa. We also had to consider our 3 children as part of the design. While we liked Atlanta, it didn’t quite fit all of our design requirements for our perfect long-term home base. So we had to plan our next move.
We didn’t mind moving our children while they were young. But we wanted to stop moving by the time our oldest child, Ava, reached middle school. We wanted to be closer to our families. And as a couple who grew up in Wisconsin and Vermont, we wanted winter. So we began looking for a northern headquarters for our family and bouncing baby business.
The City Search
We began looking for our 13-year home. A 13-year home would mean none of our children would have to move again before they graduated from high school. We drew a circle of acceptability around an area that included Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison and Minneapolis. All of these cities are in the Central Time Zone, which we felt was the best time zone for a well designed life, and maximum business flexibility. These cities also put us within a comfortable driving radius of our parents. And we like our parents.
In the Goldilocks And The 3 Bears analysis of these cities, we decided that Chicago didn’t offer the best quality of life (cost of living and the commute were Boos). Madison was too small for the business I wanted to build. And Minneapolis needed another ad agency like an NBA player needs another tattoo.
The Brew City Sweet Spot
After much deliberation, we chose Milwaukee as our 13-year home. It put us within a 3.5 hour drive of both of our parents. I have a substantial network in Milwaukee, that includes former clients and co-workers from my time at Cramer Krasselt. Dawn and I both graduated from the University of Wisconsin, and Milwaukee is ground zero for Badger alumni. The city offers a great quality of life. The suburban schools are excellent. Plus, it offers easy access to Madison and Chicago, both just 90 minutes away.
But I’m A Rolling Stone…
While I wanted to provide my wife and children with long-term stability, deep down, and maybe not that deep, I like moving. By the summer of 2016 I had lived in 9 different cities. I wasn’t sure I could commit to one place for 13 years. So I built a solution into the master design.
The Home Office Strategy
As part of my life design, I developed The Weaponry’s Home Office strategy. Which is my strategic plan to have an office for The Weaponry every place I’ve had a home. This strategy would provide regular travel and consistent interaction with the friends, co-workers and clients I have made along the way. It would also make me feel like I am part of several communities, so I don’t have to choose just one.
The cities on The Weaponry Home Office Strategy list include Milwaukee, Columbus and Atlanta. Because I grew up in New England I also want an office in either Burlington or Boston. Both of which are wicked good options.
Laying The Groundwork
When I began looking at potential employees and freelancers to join The Weaponry, I was biased towards people based in the cities listed above. So I began forming little clusters of resources in the Home Office Cities to help me live into the dream. In the fall of 2017 we signed a lease on 1000 square feet of space overlooking the Milwaukee River in, you guessed it, Milwaukee.
Today, I am really excited about the next step we are taking to bring the Home Office Strategy to life. We have been putting a lot of time and effort into the next phase, which may mean a new office in a new city. So tune in next week, when I share the unfolding news of our HQ2. I can’t wait to tell you all about it!
If you want to live your ideal life you have to write down a vision of what you want your life to look like. You have to map out the steps to get you to your ideal design. Then you have to take deliberate actions to make it all come true. It’s an amazingly rewarding and fulfilling adventure. I’m typing proof.
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I love all of my clients. But I really, really love working with clients who provide an outstanding product or service, but whose marketing lags significantly behind the rest of the operation. This happens a lot. Because organizations often focus so much on crafting their product or service that they neglect to think about how they should package and promote it. Which means the story is already there. Someone just needs to tell it.
In 2017 my friend Mike Bortolotti, the VP of Sales and Marketing at Juiced! Cold Pressed Juicery, called me with exactly the kind of opportunity I love most. Juiced! had been generating a lot of buzz, and he knew it was time for their marketing to level up.
The reason cold-pressing is important is it allows you to avoid heat pasteurizing the juice, which destroys the great nutrition in the drink. And that nutrition is why you drink juice in the first place. #amIright
Mike, or Borto as I have known him for the last 22 years, first learned about Juiced! when he was working for the Milwaukee Bucks. The players on the team loved Juiced!. In fact, they loved Juiced! so much that management sent Borto to see if he could strike a deal with Juiced! to help lower their weekly juice costs by a few bucks (see what I did there?).
Juiced You and I
Borto loved what he found when he visited this scrappy little juicery, created by Jason ‘The Juice Guru’ Lannoch. After years in Manhattan, Jason left a great job to follow his passion for juicing and moved to Milwaukee. Jason quickly became the Rumplestiltskin of fruits and vegetables, blending them into solid gold flavors that people visiting his juice cart loved. His healthy concoctions soon developed a cult following among the heath conscious in Milwaukee. A city which was already famous for pumping out delicious beverages brands, including Miller, Pabst, Blatz, Shlitz and Milk.
Borto took a liking to this little engine that juiced, and soon opened up other doors for Juiced! by introducing them to the Milwaukee Brewers and Green Bay Packers (because Borto knows everyone).
Then he helped expand the brand’s distribution by introducing Juiced! to his friend Ted Balistreri, owner of Milwaukee’s premier grocery store brand, Sendik’s. Ted’s team loved the product and began selling it immediately. (Ted is also a former University of Wisconsin track and field athlete, like me. Go Badgers!)
Invested In The Future
But Borto wasn’t done there. He introduced Juiced! to potential investors, including rock star businessman, Ken Muth, who fell in love at first sip. When Ken bought into the biz, Borto did too. And in 2017 Mike left the Bucks to join the leadership team at Juiced! to sling cold-pressed juice full-time.
The team’s goal was to spread Juiced! to every thirsty, health-minded soul in the Juice-nited States of America. Ken helped introduce scalability to the operation. And Borto quickly helped expand the brand’s distribution to Kroger-owned Roundy’s Metro Market, and Pick N’ Save stores. As well as Piggly Wiggly, Woodman’s and Outpost Natural Food Stores.
In The Market For Better Marketing
The next dot Mike connected was to my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry. In 2018 Juiced! became an official client and we began examining every aspect of their marketing. We started at the beginning with repositioning work, clearly identifying core audience segments, auditing the competitive set and determining the white space in the category.
Speaking of white space, we noticed that in their category, a space known for being clean and natural, there were no clean, white brand looks. So our team collaborated with renowned artist Reginald Baylor on package design, and developed a simple, clean white look that features Baylor’s artwork on each bottle.
The simple shelf set really stands out at retail. Local traffic reports and Google Maps suggest that the new packaging is causing backups in the juice aisle. #SorryNotSorry
As of the new year, the new and improved Juiced! brand look is everywhere. The new bottle design is on shelves. The new website we designed and developed is now live at ColdPressedJuiced.com. The site features all-new photography, designs and writing, which our team at The Weaponry led.
The Juiced! trucks now feature the new brand look. We have also helped create a Carmen Miranda-hat worth of other Juiced! marketing and sales materials, which will help the team expand distribution across the continent, like a cold-pressed juice-nami.
We love helping clients like Juiced! live up to their potential. And we’re thrilled to see their brand, sales and distribution grow. I encourage you to check out ColdPressedJuiced.com, where you can order all 9 flavors, and the 1, 3, 5 and 7-day cleanses, depending on just how much cleansing your system needs.
Look for the new bottles at your favorite grocery store, convenient store or cafe. If you don’t find them, demand Juice-tice! Tell your local establishment that you want some Juiced! the next time you come in.
A Free Bottle!
And if you stop by The Weaponry this Friday (1/11/2019 AD), we will be offering free bottles of Juiced! to anyone who drops by between noon and 5pm. How is that for a healthy Happy Hour?!? We are at 1661 N. Water St. #206 in Milwaukee. We hope to see you Friday afternoon!
Here are a few truck designs that didn’t get chosen:
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.
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!