How our agency overcame a Biggie Smalls experience.

It was the rapper Notorious B.I.G. who once penned that famous American quote: ‘Mo Money. Mo Problems.’ In 2018 I learned Biggie was right. Because as my young advertising and idea agency was growing at an exciting pace, we also faced mo money problems. Or was it less money problems? Maybe it depends on whether you’re more East Coast or more West Coast.

Go With The Cashflow

In 2018 The Weaponry, faced a cash flow problem. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t been warned. My posse of entrepreneurial homies, including Dan Richards of Global Rescue and Jeff Hilimire of Dragon Army, warned me that as you work with larger and larger clients they will use their financial muscle to get longer and longer payment terms. So instead of our standard 30-day terms, new clients began requesting, pushing for or demanding 45, 60 and even 90-day terms. #WhatWouldSugeKnightDo?

The 60 and 90-day terms put growing businesses like mine in a conundrum. Obviously we want to work with the biggest and best companies in the world. The problem is that while we wait to get paid for the work we have completed, we still have to pay the Weapons, vendors and freelancers who work for us. Which means that like a leaky bucket, more money is leaving the system than coming in. #DearLizaDearLiza

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Big Poppa

By June of 2018 we had been in business for 2 years. We could clearly feel the momentum build. There was sharp rise in the demand for our work. But with all the new work, longer payment terms, and invoices that seemed to have taken the slow boat to PayMe Town, we started carrying between $500,000 and $700,000 in our monthly accounts receivable stack.

For a business that bootstrapped its way into being just 24 months earlier this was an interesting turn of events. It is nice to be owed that kind of money. But cash is the life blood of a business. And there were serious demands on our blood supply.

We were always able to pay our salaries and all of our bills. But the depleted cash on hand meant that we weren’t able to invest in our own growth. We had started looking at space for our Columbus office in June, then hit pause on our plans to sign a lease in order give ourselves some breathing room. We waited on transitioning some of our freelance help to full-fledged Weapons. And we postponed the company offsite meeting in Monaco.

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It Was All A Dream.

When I shared our mounting money challenge with our team, they once again stepped up to solve the problem. Simon Harper, one of our outstanding account directors, shared how we could adjust our invoice timing to make sure we were paid by our clients sooner. Other account leads also contacted their client contacts about the outstanding bills. Which helped get the money ball rolling.

Our accountant, slash bookkeeper, slash egg dealer, Sally Bretsch, recommended another adjustment to our billing process that would ensure that our invoices got into our clients’ accounts payable systems faster, with greater accountability. Which is either totally meta or just a nice word play (Did I mention I used to read Word UP! magazine?)

From Negative To Positive (And it’s all good.)

With these team-driven enhancements in place, suddenly we dramatically decreased the turnaround time between work performed and payments received. We had our own Black Friday moment, when suddenly, following months of increased billing, but decreased cashflow, we started seeing the fruits of our labor manifest in our bank account.

Key Takeaway

Business is a team sport. As an entrepreneur, leader or department head, it’s important to understand that your team will find ways to solve problems and improve performance faster, and in better ways than you would be able to unearth on your own. Share information with your team. Make them part of the solution. If you’re thinking about starting a business, surround yourself with a strong crew who knows more about their specialties than you do. Then give them a mic and let them flow. That’s how small teams make big things happen.

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To share your goals or not share your goals? That is the question.

Everyone has a goal. If you are ambitious, young or greedy you probably have many. Your goals serve as the magnets on your internal navigational compass. (As opposed to your Jeep Compass). Goals are what feed your actions every day. Without goals you are in danger of drifting through life. With a goal you can paddle, set your sails, or fire up your 300 horsepower Evinrude outboard motor, and set a course across the stormy seas of life towards a meaningful destination.

Getting Personal

Goals are very personal. They represent our desires, dreams and ambitions. If your goals are large, gaudy or outlandish, like a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG), they can make you seem delusional. But it is impossible to accomplish improbable feats without improbable goals.

2 Schools of Thought

One of the great questions in goalology, the study of goals (okay, maybe I just made that up), is whether it is better to share your goals with other people, or keep them to yourself.  There are two very different ways to think about this. My great friend Jeff Hilimire and I stand on different sides of the aisle. So we thought it would be worthwhile to share our opposing views.

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Adam, Jeff, some steak and a yellow pepper.

Analyzing the Analyzers

Adam Albrecht and Jeff Hilimire have interesting similarities. They were both college athletes. Jeff played tennis at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, and Adam was a discus and hammer thrower on the track and field team at the University of Wisconsin. Both of these cats are also entrepreneurs. Jeff’s businesses include digital agency, Spunlogic, mobile and digital agency, Dragon Army and the great web-building, good-slinging, non-profit 48in48. Adam’s businesses include the advertising and idea agency The Weaponry and t-shirt company Adam & Sleeve. Yet despite these similarities, they have very different takes on goal sharing. 

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Jeff’s Views on Goals:

I’m a big believer in not only creating focused, tight, and specific goals (both short- and long-term), but also that you should consider sharing those goals in order to create accountability – for yourself and through others.

Many people have goals, but very few spend the time to write them down. When you force yourself to write something down, you’re creating a new connection in your brain with that “thing”. There have been studies that show this, but I’m not going to share them here, mostly because you have Google*.

But I have found the real power of accountability comes when you share your goals with others. If you’re the only person holding yourself to your commitments, it becomes easy to slack off or move the goalposts. Even if it’s just with a buddy, asking him or her to check in on you periodically dramatically increases the chances of you holding yourself accountable.

Personally, I like to share my goals on my blog, which is as public as it gets. And it works! One of my goals is to read 53 books this year (one more than last year,) and people I know ask me when we get together, “So, how many books are you at so far this year?” At the very least it’s a reminder that I committed to something and need to stick with it. 

Not everyone needs this kind of accountability, but I’d guess 99% of people do. Let’s be real, while everyone has goals, very few people actually accomplish them. Not because they don’t have the skills, but because they don’t keep at it. They don’t stay focused, they find excuses, and sometimes they even forget. Writing your goals down and sharing them with others is at least one way to give yourself a better chance of success. 

* also because I only kinda think I’ve heard that, so I might have made it up.

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Adam’s Views on Goals

I used to subscribe to the theory that it was good to share your goals with others. But not anymore. There is a very basic problem with goal sharing. If you tell people you are going to start a business, run a marathon or donate 10 gallons of blood, you start feeling like it is true. Afterall, it has been stated aloud, and those words have floated from your mouth, through the ether, into someone else’s ear hole. That makes it true, right?

Wrong. Talk is cheap. You could say talk is worthless. (Unless of course you host a talk show, or are a police negotiator. In which case talk is your most valuable asset.)

The problem is that talking about your goals makes you feel as if you are making progress towards your goals. And the more you talk about them with others, the more you feel like they are real and true. Even though there has been no real progress. It is that false sense of progress that undermines many a good, worthy goal.

Goal sharing can also cause you to lose confidence in your ability to achieve those goals. If you want to lose a lot of weight, earn a lot of money or find a really hot spouse, and you tell someone this, you are likely to get negativity, doubt or laughter in return. You don’t need that. You need to believe you can do what you set out to do. Like Gwen Stefani, you need to have no doubt. And big goals produce doubt in others.

To avoid that false sense of progress, and to avoid the doubters, I like to keep my goals to myself. I have many goals, hopes and dreams that never get shared. Because I tell myself that my talk does not achieve anything. I find great motivation in showing people what I have done, rather than talking about what I will do.

Key Takeaway:

Goals are personal. And we are all motivated in different ways. You need to find out which approach works better for you. So if keeping your goals a secret isn’t working, try sharing. And if talking about your goals isn’t helping, shut up and get moving.

Despite our differences, we both want to hear what you think. Leave a comment and tell us if you think it’s better to shout your goals to the world like a Mexican soccer announcer, or keep them quiet, like Marcel Marceau.

It’s time for a new office in a new city!

When I first decided to launch my own advertising agency, I had a clear vision of what the fully formed business would look like. It was spectacular, as visions should be. Because it costs just as much to envision a multi-billion dollar empire as it does to envision a lemonade stand. So you might as well envision big.

In 2015, even though my startup was still in the embryonic-stage, I was confident that great things lie ahead. I just never knew the pace at which success would unfold. But I knew, like a 2-year old in a laundry room, the unfolding was just a matter of time.

Things Started Happening

In the fall of 2015 I ran an alpha test of our minimum viable product (MVP) with our first client. The test run went as well as advertised. (#punsalwaysintended) Then, in the spring of 2016, my home office in Atlanta, where I planned every detail of the business, became The Weaponry’s first headquarters. Suddenly I was in business. And I had the best commute in Atlanta.

By the end of 2016, as part of my life design, I moved to Milwaukee. The Weaponry’s new headquarters was my new  home office. In 2017 the business was humming, we saw plenty of runway ahead, and we signed a lease on 1000 square feet of office space downtown, on the Milwaukee River (actually it was on the side of the river).

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Our Milwaukee office. As they say, home is where custom designed surfboard coffee table is.

But Wait. There’s More!

I never wanted to settle for just one office. That’s why I developed my Home Office Strategy. Which means I plan to establish an office every place I’ve owned a home. This includes Milwaukee, Atlanta and Columbus. I also want an office in New England, where I grew up. So Burlington, Vermont and Boston are possibilities too.

By 2018 we had full-time employees in Milwaukee, Columbus and Atlanta. 6 months ago we started thinking about the next office. And, (drumroll app please…) we’ve decided that Columbus, Ohio will be the home of the next office of The Weaponry.

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Columbus, Ohio just keeps getting better.

Discovering Columbus.

Columbus, Ohio is a hidden gem. It is well stocked with a highly educated workforce. It offers an amazing quality of life. And thriving industries. We have had full-time Weapons in Columbus for well over a year. And we are eager to add more.

Back Story

I spent 7 great years in Columbus with the ad agency Engauge, before it was acquired by Publicis, and I was asked to move to the new headquarters in Atlanta. Columbus has a 3-ship flotilla of talented advertising and design professionals. And there are more great brands and smart marketers there than even John Lennon could imagine.

Getting Down To Business

Columbus is the home to well-known brands like Nationwide Insurance and Safelite Auto Glass. There are great restaurants headquartered in C-Bus, including Wendy’s, Bob Evans, White Castle, Charley’s Philly Steaks, Sbarro, Donatos and Steak Escape. There are great retail brands, including Victoria’s Secret, Bath & Body Works, Hollister, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Express. Scott’s Miracle Grow is also growing plants miraculously in Columbus. Cardinal Health, which is the 14th largest company in America is headquartered there too.

The Weaponry C-Bus

We have collected a great nucleus of talent in Columbus, including both full-time and freelance Weapons. The relatively low-cost of living and high quality of life make the city a great draw. What’s even better is that Columbus is within a 3-hour drive of Detroit, Windsor, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Lexington, Louisville and Indianapolis. Not to mention Youngstown, Akron, Canton, Dayton and Toledo (wait, I DID just mention them!) The close proximity enables us to service clients in all of those cities from our Columbus hub.

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What is round on both ends, hi in the middle, and loaded with Weapons?

Key Takeaway

There is a lot to love about Columbus. Which is why we are excited to be opening our next office in this great city. I look forward to sharing how we’ve gone about the process of finding our new space, and why we landed where we did. If you are in Columbus and want to be part of a great team, we should talk. Because things are about to get really interesting.

Does your organization trust you to be an insider?

One of the great debates in business is about how much information we should share with our teams. There are two schools of thought:

  1. The ‘You-Can’t-Handle-The-Truth’ Community College.
  2. The ‘There’s-No-Such-Thing-As-TMI’ Prep Academy.

I have gone on recruiting trips to both campuses. They feel very different. One has a work hard, play hard vibe. The other feels like the place where the parents from Footloose went to school.

Solving For Happy

One of the key factors of employee satisfaction is feeling like you know what is happening within your organization. Employees are afraid of being left in the dark. It makes them feel like outsiders, when all they really want is to feel like insiders. #SodaPopAndPonyBoy

A lack of information sharing makes employees suspicious, and encourages them to jump to their own conclusions. In many corporate cultures conclusion jumping is like an Olympic event, and a world-class distraction.

Low Unemployment Means Higher Expectations.

Today, the labor market is tighter than a Boca Raton facelift. Which means that we have to make sure our employees feel valued and included in order to keep them engaged (I mean actively interested and invested in your company, not committed to getting married).

That’s why I believe in this simple philosophy:

Share information to show your employees that you see them as part of the solution. And not part of the problem.

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If You’ve Got A Problem, Yo, Let Them Solve It.

At the beginning of 2018 all of the business at my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, was project based. We were thrilled to have the work. And the work we performed for many of our clients was steady throughout the year. However, because we didn’t have any long-term commitments from our clients it limited our ability to plan. And it prevented us from committing to more full-time hires, which would better serve our clients.

I shared this challenge with our team at the beginning of 2018. Our account leaders took matters into their own hands. They had discussions with several of our clients who regularly engaged us for projects. They shared the merits of having a fixed plan in place, dedicated employees who accumulated knowledge on their business, and the ad agency-equivalent of rollover minutes that would never expire.

As a result, by the 3rd quarter of 2018 we had 6 retainer clients who compensated us with a fixed monthly payment. That helped make our revenue stream steadier and more predictable. It makes it easier for our clients to manage their budget. The retainer commitments have enabled us to think longer term about the work we do for our clients. And it has allowed us to invest in our team and infrastructure to better serve our clients.

Key Takeaway

People love solving problems. They love showing that they know, or can find the right answers. So share information with your team. Let them solve more of your organizations challenges by giving them more of the information they need to create great solutions. Remember, leadership will never have all of the best answers to the challenges that face an organization. It’s amazing how much faster and more intelligently you can solve an issue when all of your best minds are working on the problem.

 

How I designed my life. And suddenly it became true.

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.

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We are family. Except on the last day of school. Then it’s every Albrecht for her or himself.

 

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.

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As part of our life design we like to cut down our own Christmas tree. We like them full, with a lot of sap.

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.

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This is the view in front of my office on The Milwaukee River. Full disclosure: this photo was not taken in January.

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.

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It’s great having an office where you can point at someone with both hands.

What’s Next…

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!

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Our next office will be somewhere on this map.

Key Takeaway

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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The most important ingredient to entrepreneurial success.

There is a fun debate about what it really takes to be a successful entrepreneur. Some think the key is having a great idea. Others think it is all about your network. While still others think the key is not running out of cash. I would argue that running out of cash is an awfully bad thing for a business. In the same way that running out of blood is bad for the human body. But that’s kind of like saying the key to solving global warming is not letting the Earth get warmer. It may be accurate. But it will make you look like an idiot when you suggest that at your next Mensa meetup.

Jeff Hilimire’s Recipe

Recently, my friend, and entrepreneur, Jeff Hilimire shared his secret recipe for whipping up a successful entrepreneur on LinkedIn.

 ‘50% amount of runway + 40% hard work/execution + 10% initial idea. I might have overshot the importance of the initial idea.’  -Jeff Hilimire. CEO of Dragon Army and Founder of 48in48

As a good facilitator of engagement should do, Jeff then asked the LinkedIn collective brain if we agreed or disagreed. Which provoked a healthy sharing of opinions. All of which had merit. None of which matched my own.

My Recipe for Entrepreneurial Success

My recipe is simpler than Jeff’s. In fact, I believe there is only one ingredient that matters at all. The absolute essential, non-negotiable, Holy Grail of ingredients, is action.  Without action you are guaranteed not to succeed. But with action, continuous action, all things are possible.

The Idea

The idea is not at all important to entrepreneurial success. Because absolutely everyone has an idea. You have had an idea for a product, service or business that could have worked. I know you have. The only reason that idea hasn’t become a successful business is that you haven’t taken enough action. Yet.

Time, time for some time for some action. (#obscurelyricreference)

Your runway, which is your brine of time and money, is continuously increased by taking more action. Action makes opportunity. Action spins straw into gold. Action is what builds and maintains your network. Action is what makes luck. And action is what makes for a really great date. #amiright

In the past 2.5 years since I took action and launched my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I have had hundreds of discussions with people about the business ideas they wanted to pursuit. Every one of those ideas could have been successful. And every one of those people could have become a successful entrepreneur if it wasn’t for one missing ingredient. You guessed it: Action, Jackson!

Key Takeaway

If you want to be a successful entrepreneur the verb is the word. You have to take action. Absolutely nothing happens without it. The best of ideas, the best networked humans, the deepest pockets and the best of intentions are powerless without action. Talk is cheap. Potential is nothing. Ideas are everywhere. So as Nike once so famously and succinctly commanded, if you want to be successful entrepreneur, just do it.

11 ways my 11-year old would make my lame business awesome.

When I first launched my advertising and idea agency in 2016, I knew great things would happen. I just couldn’t predict the pace at which those great things would unfold. Despite my confidence, had I been grilled under oath by a great lawyer like Ally McBeal or Jackie Chiles, I would have had to admit that I had no hard facts, and no physical evidence to support my original assumptions about our imminent success.

Today,  The Weaponry has indeed been a great success. Our rate of growth, roster of clients and level of talent is tracking with my lofty expectations. Most people who know the details of our story are impressed. But not everyone. Namely, my 11-year-old son, Johann.

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Johann and I in Hilton Head, just before his little brother kicked his flip-flop under the railing and into the water, never to be seen again.

Johann

Last week, as I drove Johann home from his piano lesson he asked, ‘Dad, what’s new at The Weaponry?’ Which he always pronounces as Webonry. (I’ve noticed about 25% of the population does this.) I excitedly told him about our latest news, the number of employees, the new clients, the new lease and more. I concluded with, ‘It’s pretty great huh?’

Johann responded with, ‘Not really.’

It seems a 2-year old advertising agency, launched from dust, now rolling fast and picking up steam, still has a hard time impressing a 5th Grader. I wanted to know what would seem more impressive to my elementary-aged son. So I asked Johann. And here are his answers.


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Some of my biggest fans, and my biggest critic on their first visit to The Weaponry.

11 Things Johann thinks would make The Weaponry way more awesome.


1. A Better Building  Johann said, ‘Dad, nobody even notices your building. You need a much taller building. Either move into a building 20 stories high, or build one of your own. (He liked that my old office in Atlanta was on the 22nd floor.)

2. A Breakfast Buffet I couldn’t argue with this.

3. Promote Yourself!  ‘You need to advertise The Weaponry on billboards all over the city! You need big signs with your logo that say “The Weaponry is for hire!”‘ I think all the  personal injury attorney ads have gotten to him.

4. More People ‘Dad, don’t be an average business with very few people working for you. You need more than 100 people to be a big business. And the more people you have the more money you will make.’

5. More Clients  ‘You need more clients. Like hotels and resorts. You should work with Coca Cola, Ramen Noodles, Fortnite, oh, and movies!’

6. More Offices: ‘You should have offices in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, Houston, Atlanta and Orlando. You know, the big ones.’ I said, ‘You know I have employees in Atlanta, right?’ He responded, ‘Yeah, but they just work with you online. You don’t have an office there yet.’ Touché! #appealdenied

7. Even More Offices ‘You really should have international offices in Tokyo, London, Paris and Sydney.’   Me: ‘What about Greenland?’ Johann: ‘Greenland has a very low population.’

(Yet I dream of my blog one day being read in Greenland. It is the largest country on Earth that has never viewed my blog. #popularitygoals)

8. Celebrities: ‘You should work with celebrity spokespeople, like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Justin Timberlake and the woman who plays Mary Poppins in Mary Poppins Returns. Jack Black and the guy who plays Remy in Ratatouille. Oh, and Rachael Ray and Jimmy Fallon! But Not Miley Cyrus, because she was naked on a wrecking ball.’

9. Athletes ‘You should also work with sports people like Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Danica Patrick, Aaron Rogers, Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, LeBron James and Gronk!’

10. Directors: ‘You should work with directors like Brad Bird and John Lassiter. And you should also make memes.’

11. Real Weapons: ‘And Dad, The weaponry would be cooler if you actually made weapons. Like swords with skulls on the handles. That would be really cool. And you should have a sailboat that has your logo on the sail!’  Apparently I would be cooler if I was a pirate.

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Johann would be jumping for joy if The Weaponry was more Hollywood. Or more Pirates of The Caribbean.

Key Takeaway:

It is always helpful to have someone remind you that you are capable of more. It is easy to spend time counting your successes, and to surround yourself with those who tell you how great you are doing. But if you want to really accomplish amazing things that are universally impressive, find someone who will tell you all the things you have not yet done. You know, the things that would make you a worldwide success. And if you can’t find someone like that in your circle of friends, try stopping by an elementary school. Because as the saying goes, kids and the dumb ones tell the truth.