I was warned this is the worst part of entrepreneurship.

In the spring of 2016 I left my job as EVP, Executive Creative Director of a large advertising agency. It was owned by a publicly held advertising agency holding company that employed 80,000 people in over 100 countries. One of the great benefits of working for a company that size was the benefits themselves. Because when you have that many people in your organization, you have Bezos-level buying clout.

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More People = More Benefit Buying Power 

On My Own.

I love a good adventure. So I left the cushy benefits behind and started my own advertising and idea agency called The Weaponry. I love what we have built. The Weaponry is quick and nimble. Strategic and creative. It is a really fun place to work and offers a great culture of collaboration. We have a lot going for us. But one thing we do not have is benefit-buying clout.

The Hard Part

When I launched The Weaponry I asked a lot of questions of my entrepreneurial network about a broad range of subjects. In return I got a lot of great advice. But when it came to insurance I got absolutely nothing. Unless those crickets I heard were trying to tell me something (chirp chirp… run while you can… chirp chirp).

I could tell by the lack of insights that insurance was the toughest nut for entrepreneurs to crack. Those who did comment said things like, ‘Yeah, that’s hard. I don’t know what to tell you.’ And, ‘It Sucks.’ And, ‘I would love to help you, but I would rather set the world record for most paper cuts received over a 24-hour period than talk about health insurance.’

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We must protect this house (with health and dental insurance)!

Me vs Goliath       

However, I am very proud to say that as of January 1st, 2018, The Weaponry offers insurance benefits. I wanted to share my experience with anyone thinking of starting their own business, or wondering how Obamacare impacts a small business and its ability to grow and compete.

Starting The Search

Over the second half of last year I began planning our employee benefits for 2018. I wanted to offer health and dental insurance. But I also considered a couple of other benefits, including life insurance for full-time employees. But as with so many other aspects of this startup adventure, I decided to simplify to make sure we completed the critical mission.

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I felt like this in the beginning. Only without the suit and itchy scalp.

Research

I began with research. I learned right away that you need at least two non-related employees in your business to be able to offer insurance as an employer. We qualified. I found my way to the health insurance marketplace and started poking around and modeling various products and prices. But in a vacuum it was pretty hard to evaluate what was good, what was necessary, and what was not. From this initial poking I learned my first lesson:

Key Insight:  You will not feel empowered to make a good health insurance purchasing decision if you try to do it on your own.

Broker

My business finance advisor encouraged me to talk to an insurance broker, and preferably more than one. He encouraged me to have them model a variety of options so that I could get a feel for the landscape available to me. By talking to more than one broker, he said, you can compare and contrast styles to know that you are getting the right option for you. This was all good advice. But I still didn’t know how to find a reputable broker, let alone multiple brokers.

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This photo is merely a re-enactment. Although we did sit at a desk and look at papers like this, nobody wore a tie. And I didn’t wear a bracelet like the dude in blue.

My Wife To The Rescue

My wife Dawn is a smart woman, and an important part of The Weaponry brain trust. She was the one that finally got us moving in a positive direction on health insurance. How? She talked to our neighbor Sally.

Sally’s husband, Bruce is the President at EBSO,  a third party administrator (TPA) benefits solutions company. However, because of our size and our specific needs EBSO couldn’t help us, yet. But Sally said that Bruce frequently partners with Jon Rauser at The Rauser Agency for clients of our size. Dawn got Jon’s contact info. And within a few days Dawn and I  were sitting in Jon’s office.

Key Insight: A good wife is the best business asset in the world. This may also be true of good husbands, but I’ve never had one of those.

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Before signing anything that may be photographed make sure to get a manicure.

The Rauser Agency

Dawn and I met with Jon, and it couldn’t have gone much smoother. He started by offering us a range of three or four different insurance providers. Based on our preference, and the providers prevalence in our healthcare market, we quickly narrowed in on one health insurance provider. Then it was a matter of comparing deductibles to get to the final premium options. We simply had to share the ages and family status of our employees. With that we were able to see projected costs, broken down by employee.

Once we provided the names and ages of our employees who would be opting in for our insurance we had to sign a couple of forms to initiate coverage. We also needed forms signed by the full-time employees who were opting out, acknowledging that they had been offered coverage. Next, we had to decide how much of the premium we would pay for our employees. Then we had to send in a check for the first month’s premium.

Then we were done. Seriously. 

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We signed documents. But I never saw a stethoscope.

We Did It!

We had an employer health insurance plan! We have dental insurance too, which was easy to get. We were all grown up! And we were becoming an even more attractive place for smart creative people to work! We had climbed the most daunting mountain on the Entrepreneurial Range. And we planted The Weaponry’s flag at its peak.

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Apparently when someone took a closer look at Obamacare a line came shooting out of a piggy bank’s right nostril.

Obamacare

Why was the process so easy? Obamacare. I should insert here that I am a staunchly independent voter. I grew up in Vermont where independent thinking flows like maple syrup. I think the two parties are antiquated and don’t allow for my complex vision of the world. But Obamacare made it really easy for this startup to insure our employees. There are no pre-existing conditions. We didn’t need medical exams. We didn’t need to take a lie detector test. I didn’t have to tell anyone that my Great-Great Uncle Nels choked on a peach pit when he was eight years old. (RIP Little Uncle Nellie…)

Is Obamacare perfect? No. It has driven insurance costs up by 30%. But you know what? My baseline is today. So I simply look at the price today and ask, ‘Can we afford to pay this?’ And the answer is yes.

I can’t change the costs. But what should it really cost? I have no idea. All I know is that we were able to get it fairly easily, and all we had to do was pay for it. Our premiums are not much more expensive than the COBRA prices I had been paying since I started The Weaponry.

Conclusion. 

I may hate Obamacare in the future. And I certainly don’t want to ever pay more than I have to. But today I am happy to have easy access to health insurance for my team. I want to make sure they are protected. So as you follow the political fight over Obamacare, know that this independent voter, who owns a small business said it was easy to protect his team because of Obamacare. And the small price to pay is simply a larger price to pay. And today, we’ll take it.

*If you know someone thinking of starting their own business that could benefit from this story, please share it with them. If you would like to learn more from my entrepreneurial journey consider subscribing to this blog.  If you have more specific questions about my health insurance experience please contact me directly. I am happy to share what I know.

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How do you measure your professional growth?

When I was a kid I loved being measured. It was a great way to track my growth. I loved standing against the wall and measuring my height to see how much I had grown since the last time I stood against a wall. But I have not grown a millimeter since I was 14 years old. I topped out at 6 feet and 1/4 inch. But I was thrilled to be 6-something and not 5-something. (No disrespect 5-Somethings. #heightgoals)

Weight

I used to love stepping on a scale to see how much weight I had gained too. While I didn’t get any taller after my freshman year, I did gain 65 pounds during high school. In the 20+ years since then I have never been more than 10 pounds above my graduation weight. But like most adults, I am no longer excited to see growth on the bathroom scale.

Taking New Measurements

Today I measure my growth in other ways. In 2016 I decided to undertake a personal growth challenge and start an advertising and idea agency. I knew this entrepreneurial adventure would push me to grow in a great number of ways. But when I first began my journey I’m not sure I could have identified those many areas of growth. Or perhaps more importantly, how I would recognize the growth when it occurred.  After all, there is no scale to step on to measure the size of you Entrepreneurium.

Last week I saw it.

Late last Wednesday afternoon I left my office and climbed into the driver’s seat of my car. I took a moment to reflect on my day. There, in the quiet of my car, I could measure my own growth as clearly as I could when I was a kid standing against the wall or stepping on the bathroom scale.

The New Growth

Here are a few things that happened that day that showed me how far I had come in my entrepreneurial journey.

  1. I went to my office at The Weaponry. What had started as a business idea in my head in 2016 is no longer just an idea in my head. It’s a real, physical space with walls, doors and windows. It’s located at 1661 N. Water Street, Suite, #206 in Milwaukee. Stop by when you have a moment.
  2. I spent an hour dealing with our employer-offered insurance. We now offer health and dental insurance to our full-time employees. I had to chase down information that morning to get our new group ID numbers. I then put on my HR Director hat and held an impromptu meeting to update our employees who have enrolled in our insurance. Then I distributed temporary ID cards. Even typing this feels like a big step forward. I will have a whole post on this process to share soon.
  3. I participated in my monthly CEO roundtable discussion. I meet with a group of six business owners on the second Wednesday of every month. This group is part of the Council of Small Business Executives (COSBE), organized by the Metro Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC). I encourage you to click that link just to see how beautiful their picture of Milwaukee is. Milwaukee is a great city on a great lake. And I am thrilled to be here. But the discussions I participate in at these monthly meetings are a clear indicator of my professional growth over the past 18 months.
  4. I ended my day with a 45 minute discussion with our IT consultant. We are implementing upgrades to our IT infrastructure to meet the stringent security standards of the banking industry. There will be more to come on this in a future post. But when I stop and think about my expanded vocabulary in this space alone it is impossible not to recognize the growth. I’ve come a long way since I was a young copywriter penning headlines like, “It’s so responsive it knows which butt cheek you’re flexing.’  

Take Away

I don’t need a scale or measuring tape to document the growth spurt that I’m experiencing now. It is clearly evident in my daily actions, my language, and the growing circle of impressive people I spend my time with. This is exactly what I was after when I first experienced the urge for more growth, both personally and professionally. I know there is much I don’t yet know. But I am working on it. And that makes all the difference.

*To follow my journey please consider subscribing to this blog. If you’ve never subscribed to a blog before, consider this part of your personal growth. Yay you!

 

 

How to make an office feel like your home.

In the summer of 2015 I began the perfect agency project in my home office in Atlanta. It wasn’t just this blog. It was an entrepreneurial project to create the perfect ad agency. I was a man on a mission. I wrote down my goals. I mapped out the people, processes, and purchases needed. I declared the agency’s core values and pillars for success. I could see it all. I even envisioned the first company picnic, and how lame it was going to be when we played tug-of-war with just 2 or 3 people.

In mid 2016 the agency opened for business.

One of the most profound and important steps in the process was naming the agency. There was something about going from building “an advertising agency” to creating The Weaponry that transformed the dream from ethereal to concrete.

The first year was a great success, as measured by the original vision. We had even moved the headquarters to Milwaukee, which was part of the larger plan. In July of 2017 we decided it was time to move the agency operations from a home office to a real office downtown (things will be great when you’re downtown). I began a search for space and wrote about my experience in a 3-part series that you can now binge read anytime. See Looking for office space: A Startup Story,  Looking For Office Space 2: The Messy Middle, & Looking for office space: We have an office!

Moving in.

November 1st we got the keys to our new space in Milwaukee’s modern North End. The team is thrilled to have an office of our own. But just like when you buy a house, the empty space we inherited didn’t immediately feel like us. It wasn’t bad. It was just, neutral. And we are decidedly not neutral. So, just like at the beginning of the project, our team had to apply our vision for the agency in order to transform the space into The Weaponry.

We started with some basics. We added wi-fi and computers, desks and chairs. We were operational and our most basic needs were met within the first week. But the space wasn’t ours yet. Like ranchers brand their livestock, we needed to brand our new space. We needed to give the office a name. And personality. So we looked for ways to make our mark.

Front Door

Our front door was just naked glass. There was nothing on it to tell people who we were or where they were. This had to change. So we contacted a very talent freehand sign painter. We really loved her style. Apparently so does everyone else. Because she told us in November that she was booked until late January or early February. Since we signed a 13-month lease we couldn’t afford to go sign-less for the first 3 or 4 months.

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Our front door is no longer naked. 

We looked into signage that we could have in place quickly.  We found a good sign company that could make what we wanted, and have it installed within 3 days. Which was great.  But then we ran into another challenge. To install the wall graphics we wanted we had to wait a month after we painted so that the gas could escape from the new paint on the walls. I snickered at the idea of having gassy walls.

So we began painting immediately. Or I should say K-Lil, our super talented Associate Creative Director started painting. She picked the perfect colors and started bringing The Weaponry to life as a real place.

 

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Do you think the logo is too small?  

Last Friday, the paint had properly aged and we had the sign people come and make their magic. And magic it was.  They put up our first three branding marks. And suddenly the space feels like The Weaponry. Our front door declares that you have arrived at The Weaponry. When you enter our space you are greeted by a 90-inch wide reminder of where you are. And we have started putting small thinking reminders around the space.

 

We have much more to add. But the office is developing a great feel. We’re thrilled to call this place our home. And we’d be happy to have you come see it for yourself.

Here are a few videos of the installation.  If you want to see and hear more about our journey please subscribe to this blog.

 

If you are celebrating your failures you are missing the point.

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.

And… Action!

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.

Golf 

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?

 

Looking for Office Space Part 3: We Have An Office!

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 will play, the credits will roll, and I’ll share some pics from the new space.

Quick Background

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.

Our Criteria

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:

  1. 1000 square feet.  This provides enough room for our current team, and room for us to get really cozy as we grow.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. A separate private office.  We wanted to have a private office that anyone could use to have more privacy when needed.
  7. Windows. I love the energy that comes with natural light. So we wanted significant windows that let in a lot of sunshine.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

The RFP

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.

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Shut The Front Door! That’s our new office!

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.

The Keys!

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.

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The Keys!

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.

Today

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.

 

We’re picking out paint to freshen up the fort.

 

We have a minimum viable product.

 

 

 

 

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One of our areas is already equipped with a shared desk space. This is where we will have our staring contests.
We are looking at options for a couch, or sectional and coffee table (chocolate milk table) for our common space.
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The conference room furniture is a work in progress. But If you want to come over for card night we are totally prepared.

 

Lucky 21!

Do you remember the very first day of your career? You probably remember what the day was like. (You didn’t know anyone. You had to ask where the bathroom was. Lunch options were a mystery. And you didn’t know when it was acceptable to go home.) But do you remember the date? I do. I started my career in adverting 21 years ago today, on October 7th. I’ve always remembered that because it is also my Mom’s birthday. It must have been a pretty great birthday present for her, knowing that her son wouldn’t be living in her cellar (I’m from Vermont. We didn’t have basements).

Feeling Lucky.

Today I am feeling lucky that 21 years later I am just as excited about my career as I was on Day 1. Maybe even more excited.

On that first day, 21 years ago, I became an advertising copywriter. I think. I never actually saw my title written anywhere in that first year. Today, I am lucky to be the Founder and CEO of my own advertising agency called The Weaponry.  I’ve been able to take everything that I have learned about creativity, strategy, customer service, business development and having fun, and turn it into The Weaponry Way.

I’ve been lucky to develop a lot of really great personal relationships over the first 21 years. And I’m enjoying those relationships more now than ever. My latest chapter is a product of the trust my clients have in me and my team. As well as the faith that my colleagues have in my ability to help keep them fed and sheltered.

I feel lucky that my Weapons and I will soon move into our new office space (hopefully we will get our keys this week).

I am lucky to be working with so many great brands and great clients. There are even more great clients joining us over the next few months. Which is likely to make this year the most exciting year of my career yet.

I am lucky to still be learning.  But now I am also in a position to share all that I have learned.

As many of my friends consider career changes I am still intensely passionate about my work. I still get to wear t-shirts and flip-flops most days. I still get to play loud music in the office. And I still find nothing more exciting than a smart new idea.

On the first day of my career, 21 years ago today, I sat next to a young art director named Vince Demarinis. On Thursday I am traveling to Miami to meet with a potential new client. Thursday night I will be staying with Vince. We have remained good friends despite the fact that we haven’t worked together for 17 years. And despite the fact that he has way better hair than me.

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That’s Vince (art director)  on the left.  I’m in the middle. The third amigo is Dan Koel (art director) on the right. I am sporting the very informal costume I wore to the formal company Christmas party at Cramer Krasselt.  It’s not that I didn’t get the memo. I just decided to ignore it. Oh, and I would never wear that hat under normal circumstances. Go Sox!

Today I’m thankful for my supportive wife Dawn, whom I met at that first job. I am blessed to have three great, healthy kids who get to see a father who really loves his work. And I feel lucky to have friends, family and others willing to read a blog post about my career anniversary. Thank you for your time and your continued support. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Looking For Office Space Part 2: The Messy Middle.

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.

Quick Background

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.

The Options.

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.

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The first space we saw offered some great looking, ready-to-rent, super grown up suites. 

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.

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This is a terrible picture of what was actually a nice space in a great building. The space was occupied at the time and all of my other pictures seemed too revealing of the occupant’s world to reveal here.  But if you look closely you can see my friend David’s elbow and white sleeve on the left side of the pic. That’s a classic elbow, right?

The Broker.

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.

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The view alone made me really want this space to work out. You can see the statue of Fonzie from Happy Days across the river.

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The Penthouse

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.

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This space had a great view. And a high price that was more suitable for a law firm.

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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.

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One of three office/conference rooms in the space.  This was a very attractive 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.

Easy Breezy

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.

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The front door to Easy Breezy.
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That’s Mitch.  He’s the one on the left.
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A view of the river and the super-easy parking.
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Western Exposure, River View, Exposed Brick & Electricity!  

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.

  1. The best reason to have an office is to help build your company culture.
  2. You don’t need any bells and whistles in the beginning.
  3. Be conservative in the size (and cost) of your office. Go small (or stay home) and find something that works for the near term.
  4. 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.

Then what???

We decided to include 4 buildings in our RFP:

  1. The Big River Front Space
  2. The Makeover Beauty
  3. The Custom Classic
  4. Easy Breezy

The Proposals:

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 Breezy was 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…

Plot Twist!!!

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!