Who you should always compare yourself to.

I always say something ridiculous at the beginning of our quarterly meetings. Ok, even typing that sentence sounds ridiculous. For someone who started his advertising career as a precocious young copywriter, the idea of being a business owner who ‘begins quarterly meetings’ sounds kinda crazy. But I digress.

At the beginning of each quarter meeting at my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I say,

“The Weaponry is a (insert ridiculously large revenue number) business, with (insert ridiculously large number) of offices, and (insert ridiculously large number) of employees. Our job, ladies and gentlemen, is to close the gap between The Weaponry I just described, and The Weaponry that exists today.”

We then identify the most important things the business must add, remove, implement, enhance or change in order to close the gap between who we are today and our ideal self. We use the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS), as spelled out in Gino Wickman’s book Traction to help us do this.

Every Day I Write The Book.

We compare ourselves to The Ideal Weaponry constantly.  It’s our version of What Would Jesus Do? When making decisions about hiring, copier machines, our website, or business development, we constantly asks, What Would The Fully Formed, Fully Realized Version of The Weaponry Do. You know, the classic WWTFFFRVOTWD.

By creating a strong, tangible and detailed vision of your future self, you can mentally google any questions about your ideal state. Just ask yourself, ‘How does Future State You handle performance reviews?’ Or ‘How does Future State You invoice, or develop a pipeline of new business opportunities?’ When you ask such questions, you’ll usually find the answers sitting right there at the top of the search results. Because your ideal state is optimized for mental SEO.

I’m Talking About You Too (And Maybe U2)

This works for individuals too. By creating a strong image of your future self, you always have a great model to follow. When you stand back-to-back with your future self,  you can easily find the gaps in knowledge, professionalism, patience, trust or reliability that you need to close. This helps you focus your efforts on acquiring new knowledge, skills, and maybe updating your wardrobe.

Key Takeaway.

Don’t compare your business to a competitor. Don’t try to keep up with the Jones’s. The only organization you should be benchmarking against is your organization’s ideal state.  The only person you should be jealous of is Fully Formed You. These are the only comparisons that matter. And they are the only comparisons that you can do anything about. That’s why the guy sitting in my chair at my company’s quarterly meeting didn’t completely surprise me. I’ve been comparing myself to him my entire life.

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This is what people really remember about you.

I don’t have any tattoos. But each time we get a meaningful image or quote added to the walls of our new offices at The Weaponry, I feel as if an important statement has been tattooed on me. Of course our wall art is much larger and much less painful than a real tattoo. And I don’t have to hide the wall art from my Mom.

I’ve written about our wall statements before. But last week we had another quote tattooed to our office. Not only do I find this quote inspiring, it states a critical tenant of brand-building.

Our Latest Wall Quote:

 “You are remembered for the rules you break.”

-General Douglas MacArthur

MacArthur hit the nail on the head, and sent it into concussion protocol with this line. In Nike Founder, Phil Knight’s book Shoe Dog, he references this quote several times. I find myself referencing it often too.

There are multiple ways to interpret this quote. But I see it in the most positive light possible. You are remembered for the norms the standards and the expectations you don’t follow. You are remembered for the parts of you that stick out. Not the ones that fit in. You are remembered like Frank Sinatra, for doing it your way.

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Me and my cousin Brooks Albrecht and some 504 point type.

This is true of people, businesses, brands, products, services, plants, minerals and animals. Speaking of animals, consider mammals for a moment. They are warm-blooded and fur-bearing creatures. But the dolphins doesn’t seem like a mammal because it lives in the ocean. The bat doesn’t seem like a mammal because it frickin flies! And the platypus, well, it breaks so many rules I don’t even know what it was to start with.

Conformity

Conformity is the opposite of creativity. Conforming to every rule means you disappear. If you want to be remembered by your peers, in job interviews, or in customers’ minds, you have to break some rules.

Key Takeaway

Look for ways to be different. Break stupid rules. Break smart rules when you have an even smarter reason to do so. Rules were made to be broken. You were made to be remembered. You are not a sheep, or a cow. Don’t follow the flocking herd. Give them something to remember you by.  Your Mom and Dad will eventually get over it. Trust me, I know.

The Weaponry Turns 2 Years Old Today!

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.

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Me and Dan Richards. We’ve known each other since we were 12. Since then we have been football and track teammates. We have been in each other’s weddings. We have helped each other launch companies. And we’ve hitchhiked together.

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?

The Answer

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.

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One of the greatest parts of starting The Weaponry has been sharing the experience with my family. Especially because it gives us a new place to take family photos.

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.

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We printed way more than 2 year’s worth of stickers. It was a sort of sticky life insurance policy.

 

Motor Boating.

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:

  1. We have a real office.
  2. We offer our employees insurance benefits (from companies you actually know).
  3. We have retainer clients that provide predictable work and cashflow
  4. We have systems in place to organize, produce and deliver everything we do.
  5. We have a steady stream of new opportunities.
  6. We need to hire more great people

 

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I love that my parents can come visit me at my business. And I’m even happier that I haven’t had to move back in with them.

 

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Cheers!

Conclusion

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.

 

My unique spin on the coffee meeting has come full circle.

One of the great traditions of networking is grabbing coffee. When you meet someone for the first time you suggest grabbing coffee. When you see someone you haven’t seen in a long time, you talk about grabbing coffee. Coffee gets grabbed more than an aspiring actress at a Harvey Weinstein pool party. #timesup

I don’t drink coffee. Ok, that’s not fully true. I have now had 4 cups of coffee in my life. That’s about one per decade. But the coffee meeting is one of the most valuable elements of professional development. It is a useful tool for developing and maintaining relationships. It can be used for research, informal mentoring and for stay at home moms to have sanity-preserving conversations with full-sized rational humans.

Despite the fact that coffee tastes like burnt bark juice, I love using coffee meetings to catch up with old friends or get to know new people better. I just do it differently.

Barista, The Usual.

My go to beverage at the coffee shop is chocolate milk. I love that stuff. It reminds me of Fridays in elementary school. Which was the only day chocolate milk was served at school when I was a kid. Today, drinking chocolate milk still feels like a party.

 

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This is my friend Andy. We regularly grab beverages,where we compare and contrast the merits of different hair styles. 

Andy Salamone

One of the people I regularly grab chocolate milk with is my friend Andy Salamone. Andy is an amazing guy. He started a business called CarSpot right out of college. He developed a way of aggregating used car inventory from dealerships into a centralized, customer-friendly online shopping experience. Andy and his team developed innovative technology to transform and grow the business until AutoTrader made Andy an offer he didn’t refuse. He sold the business several years ago, and now enjoys the fruits of his exit.

It is fascinating to talk to Andy as he scans the landscape looking for the next great entrepreneurial opportunity. He sees businesses the way an engineer sees a machine. He can talk you through the mechanics of creating an efficient device to deliver a great idea. He has been a great influence on me and the way I think about my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry.

Recent Visit

Andy texted me last week and said he wanted to swing by and see The Weaponry’s new office. I was thrilled to have him see our space. He arrived with some really fun surprises. He had a gallon of Oberwies chocolate milk. Which is the chocolate milk equivalent to a Goody McGood bottle of Scotch. That alone would have been a great office warming gesture. Then Andy reached into the bag that contained the milk and pulled out four glasses with the five Great Lakes printed on them. On each glass there’s a heart printed right where Milwaukee sits on the shores of Lake Michigan.

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Cheers to friends, good fortune and frothy chocolate milk.

A Moment To Absorb.

Now picture this. As I poured my glass full of that chocolatey nectar of the Guernsey’s, I was sitting on a couch at the adverting agency that I always dreamed of creating. I toasted my good fortune with a friend and fellow entrepreneur. Then I set my new Great Lakes glass down on my custom-made The Weaponry surfboard coffee table.

My life was coming together just the way I had always imagined it would. Even my fellow Wisconsin Badger, Abraham Maslow would have grabbed one of my new glasses, raised it towards me and said, ‘Kid, it doesn’t get any better than this.’ #selfactualization.

A Toast

Make the time to grab a drink of your own choice with the people of your own choice. May you find your own version of The Weaponry, and chocolate milk and custom surfboard coffee tables. I hope that you look forward to going to work every day. I hope you get to design your life, your work and your tribe. May your days be full of great moments that are uniquely you. Here’s to feeling as if you are winning at life.

*To find out what happens in my life and business when I am not chugging chocolate milk consider subscribing to this blog.

 

Our newest piece of office furniture is also the most unique.

If you like shopping for furniture you should become an entrepreneur. Because one of the by-products of owning a growing business is you need to buy products like chairs and table for your team. The Weaponry, my advertising and idea agency, now owns 14 comfortable chairs, a couch, several tables, and one custom-made lamp. The lamp is probably considered lighting. But this is my blog and I’m calling it furniture.

The Coffee Table Quest

We quickly found options we liked for most of our office furniture needs. But there was one piece that we just couldn’t find in stores or online. We wanted a statement-making coffee table. In full disclosure, I don’t drink coffee. So I think of it as a chocolate milk table. But because the rest of the world knows these types of drink-stabilizing platforms as coffee tables, I will give in to peer pressure and act like I will enjoy coffee on them like everyone else.

Square Pegs.

Our office space is very square. The furniture in our casual seating area is very square too. So we needed a long table with a curvy figure to round out the room. A surfboard-shaped table would be perfect.

Desperately Seeking Surfboard.

Within 60 seconds of thinking, ‘A surfboard coffee table would to totally gnarly dude!’, I found a custom maker of surf furniture online. I was soon on the phone with Marker Six in North Carolina. Then the Weaponry whipped up six different design options and asked people to vote on their favorites. You can find the post ‘Surfing for a coffee table and we need your help.’ here.

If you didn’t play along then you can play now.

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Pick your favorite (or remember your favorite from the first time you voted). Then check below to see if we have similar tastes.

The Votes Have Been Tallied

After we had sufficient feedback from our social networks we ordered our custom designed table. Then we waited.

It’s Here!

After about a month, and some unfortunate weather delays in the epoxification process and FedEx’s delivering-during-a-snowstorm process, our new table showed up yesterday.

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The surfboard top came packaged like this. The box underneath it contained the legs. We didn’t read the instructions and thought this was how it should go together. #seesawtable
This is the revere angle of what our table top looked like covered with a cardboard prophylactic. 
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This is the cardboard cocoon our table emerged from. Its duty was heavy, but still medium.
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Rick from Marker Six, the makers of our coffee table, was listening during the ‘Use Protection’ talk.  He used layers of cardboard, pipe insulation, paper and styrofoam to protect the wood.

 

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Ta Da! Number 3 is the winner!  It’s a fun conversation piece. Even if I am just talking to myself. In the background you can also see our custom-made pen lamp from David Laro.
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This is a great place to surf the web.

What’s Next? 

The next step is for you to stop by to enjoy a tour of our office and a beverage on the board. Make The Weaponry part of your next swing through Wisconsin. If you live in Milwaukee, stop by and let’s have some chocolate milk, coffee, tea, beer or a juice box in our newly completed board room. We’re expecting you.

*To follow the good the bad and the gnarly of my entrepreneurial adventure please  consider subscribing to this blog.

 

The best thing about our new stickers is hidden on the back.

There are some business secrets they don’t teach you at Harvard Business School. Like the fact that every great business needs a great sticker. The Weaponry, my advertising and idea agency, now has a great sticker. It comes from Sticker Robot.  Which I think is where The Jetsons and R2-D2 get their sticker supplies.

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Sticker Robot makes the best silkscreened stickers in the business. But if you want some for your business you should order them the same day you establish your legal business entity. Because they take a loooong time to produce. We ordered ours back in November.  They finally arrived on January 16th.

A video on how Sticker Robot make their world-famous stickers.

The Modern Branding Iron.

The whole concept of branding originated from ranchers who branded their livestock with a hot iron to identify their little dogies. Today I find very few people who will let me sear them with a red-hot iron. So we use these 2.5 inch X 2.5 inch vinyl stickers instead. I have already placed one on my computer, my Yeti tumbler, my car and all three of my children.

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We ordered 1000 stickers and got 500 free.
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I’ll tumbler for you.

Check out that backside… (It’s stickerlicious!)

But what I really love about them is their backside. Sticker Robot allows you to print a message or design on the back of the sticker. So we added some of our philosophy. And some of our philosophy about our philosophy. And we added a call to confusion. Which is like a call to action, if the action actually leads to more confusion, like our website does. Visit theweaponry.com to see what I mean.

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I love sharing our philosophy on the back of our sticker. Don’t overlook the little opportunities to share your brand message in unexpected places.

Then we also added a note about the importance of proofreading.  See the *note below? I’ll wait while you review.

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Did you find the typo? Did you look carefully?

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The Typo

If you didn’t find the typo it is probably because there is no typo. We just thought it was a funny addition. And perhaps it would increase engagement. Who reads the back of a sticker two or three times?  Well, if it’s a sticker from The Weaponry, and you feel challenged, maybe you will. Then, maybe you walk away with a story about how you spent 60 seconds looking for a typo that wasn’t really there.

This sticker sums up The Weaponry pretty well.

  1. We believe in the power of a consistent brand look.
  2. Red reflects our enthusiasm.
  3. We believe the most powerful weapon on Earth is the human mind.
  4. We believe that business is war.
  5. We believe we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously.
  6. And we believe in finding fun ways to increase engagement.

Your takeaway.

If you would like a sticker just ask (I now carry them with me everywhere). Or leave a request in the comment section below. You can also stop by The Weaponry to pick one up (1661 N. Water Street In Milwaukee). If you are looking for a job, an internship, a chance to network or just a good excuse to come for a grand tour of The Weaponry’s World Headquarters, a sticker request is a good in. And we have a sticker with your name on it. Well, actually our name is on it. That was just a figure or speech.

*If you would like to stick around to learn more about The Weaponry and my entrepreneurial journey please subscribe to this blog. You may even find some real typos.

 

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!