Last week I visited a fascinating company in Bangalore, India. My team at The Weaponry was hired to tell the story of this impressive organization that has grown from 50 people to 5000 employees in just over 12 years. This kudzu-style growth fascinated me as a business owner. And I was determined to learn all I could from studying this organization.
The business has a beautiful, 500,0000 square foot campus that includes multiple interconnected buildings, two giant cafeterias, a walking path through a forest garden, a rainwater reclamation system, large art installations and a transportation system that moves employees between home and work that operates like a school’s bus system, but for business. And presumably without spit balls.
Throughout the campus of this remarkable organization there were posters of the grandfather of the two Founders. Each of the posters highlighted one of the Grand Patriarch’s core values. This iconic businessman was born in 1903, before the airplane, television and computer. He died 25 years ago. Yet his approach to life and business is very much on display as a source of inspiration to this progressive organization’s employees and visitors. And none of the posters simply said ‘Hang in there Kitty!’
As I read each of the posters I kept asking myself:
Which of your core principles could inspire great success in your grandchildren and the organizations they run 100 years from now?
Something to think about.
Do you have such principles, values or beliefs? Have you identified them, written them down and shared them? I think about my beliefs and philosophies often. But I had never thought about capturing them as a source of guidance and inspiration for future generation of my family, and future generations who will work in my business.
In light of what I saw in India, it seems like a great idea for us all to identify our core beliefs and share them with our children, friends and team members. You never know what you may inspire.
As children in America, we are taught that if you dig a hole in your yard deep enough, you will pop out in China. I now know that if you ever do dig such a hole, and I encourage you to try, two things will happen:
You will miss out on a lot of frequent flyer miles.
You will find yourself in India.
Brew City to The ATL
This week I decided to opt for the frequent flyer miles, instead of the tunneling workout, and I flew to India. I traveled there because one of our great clients hired The Weaponry to film a video of a business in Bangalore. The travel started with a flight from Milwaukee to Atlanta. Which was like a light jog before a marathon. I spent most of the flight talking to my seatmate John, who is a lawyer in Milwaukee. It was social and pleasant and short. It was a flight I have done 100 times before. So John was the highlight of the trip.
I met up with my fellow Weapon, Adam ‘Henry’ Emery in Atlanta. We grabbed some Arby’s, because Mexican food before two long flights had the potential to be a really bad idea. As we ate in the food court at concourse E, we sat next to a group of 60-somethings from Iowa heading to a two-week river cruise in Europe. It made me look forward to party-traveling with our couple friends in another twenty years. When they asked us where we were headed…, actually, they never asked. And when you are headed somewhere really interesting like India, you always notice when people don’t ask.
Atlanta to Paris
I washed down my roast beef sandwich with a Malaria medicine chaser. Then we boarded the plane for Paris. My next-seat neighbor looked like he may be Indian, so I was excited to chat him up. Turns out he lived in Warner Robbins, Georgia and was heading to Oslo, Norway for some work with the US Air Force. Oh, and he was originally from Pakistan. (Nice job with the racial profiling Adam!) From here on I will refer to my seat mate as Warner, because I never caught his real name.
The most noteworthy part of the flight was when we were served breakfast. Well it was breakfast if we acted like we were already in Paris. But in Atlanta it would have been a midnight snack. Moments after the flight attendant placed Warner’s breakfast on his tray and handed him a generous cup of water, Warner spilled his entire cup of water on his crotch.
I don’t know about you, but when I see someone de-planing after an overnight flight with a totally soaked crotch, I assume they suffer from nocturnal bladder control. Warner tried to soak up the water on his tray and nether regions with his blanket. But the damage was done. He was soaking wet in all the wrong places.
I tried to console him, saying, ‘Well at least you got a story out of it.’ But what I really meant was, ‘At least I got a story out of it!’
Soon the joke was on me.
As I opened my utensil pack, my plastic spoon fell to the ground by our feet. With our seat-back trays now loaded with food and drinks there was no way to retrieve the spoon within the allotted 5 seconds.
Suddenly I had to figure out how to eat my yogurt, and minced fruit cup without a spoon. So I had to go MacGyver Mode. I found a little package of jelly on my tray. I opened the jelly package, dropped the jelly into my plain yogurt (or is that plane yogurt?) to try to add a little flavor. Then I used the tiny empty plastic jelly dish to scoop out the yogurt and tiny bits of fruit in the fruit cup. Hunger avoided. And just 8.5 hours after takeoff, we were touching down in Paris.
Any time you start your morning in Paris, you know you are going to have an interesting day.Henry and I got off the plane and had to navigate another security checkpoint. While in line, we spotted the two clients we expected to catch up with in Paris. One was traveling from Boston and the other came from Cincinnati. It’s pretty wild to see people you know on another continent. And after a night with no sleep, it felt surreal. Like Sir Reals-a-lot.
The four of us made it through a highly inefficient security procedure and suddenly had three hours to kill. Our client-friends, Nina and Jake, had access to the Air France lounge, and could each bring a guest. So we got our lounge on.
Now I have traveled a lot. But I have never been any place nicer in an airport than the Air France lounge in Paris. We enjoyed complimentary breakfast and drinks. We lounged in comfortable chairs. Some of us took showers. Others of us worked on our blog and re-applied deodorant.
We were also learning to cope with our newly developed sleep deprivation. Which I enjoy. My favorite thing about being around people suffering from mild sleep deprivation is humor inflation. Thanks to humor inflation, very small bits of mild to moderate humor elicit much larger laughs than they deserve. In these situations my attempts at comedy typically receive greater rewards than they merit. The rest of the world is funnier to me when I haven’t slept much too. It is as close to drunk as I ever get. And I was laughing it up Paris.
Paris to Bangalore
As our departure time neared we grabbed a few extra beverages from the lounge for our flight, and made our way to our gate. It was there that we were told our flight was delayed because of a mechanical issue. I always secretly appreciate these delays. I think they are a sweet gesture from the airline. They say, ‘I know we don’t know each other that well, but we don’t want you to die on our plane.’
The delay was only about 45 minutes long, and we were on our way. The 9.5 hour flight from Paris to Bangalore, India was comfortable and uneventful. I had a window seat and got to see things like Southern Germany, The Austrian Alps, the Black Sea, the Caspian Sea and something that looked like Narcolepsy.
Then we crossed over Syria, Iraq and Iran.I saw much of the tense-est political areas on the globe from 35,000 feet. It all looked like Nevada.
We landed in Bangalore a little after midnight. But the immigration process was very slow and joy-less. This 2-hour slog through immigration in the middle of the night, after 24 hours of travel and spotty sleep would prove to be the low-light of the trip.
At 2:30am local time we made our way to baggage claim, and then outside the airport where drivers in white shirts were gathered like paparazzi trying to get the attention of those of us trying to find our drivers.
Somewhere in the drivers lineup we finally found Alfton, our driver for the week. I actually don’t know what his name is. At such a late hour I remember thinking his name sounded like my Grandpa Alton Albrecht’s with an additional F. So it may have been Falton, Alfton, Altfon, or Altonf.
As we walked with Alfton to his van we could see the fancy Taj Hotel directly across the street from the airport. This is where we would be staying every night of our trip, other than tonight. This night had sold out before we booked it. So now, at 2:30 am, we had to make a 50 minute drive into the city of Bangalore.
The air travel was an adventure. And it was long. But it really wasn’t that hard. I got enough sleep to keep powered up. Now, with that leg of the journey behind me I was curious to see what India had in store for me. And that is what I will be sharing next.
I start my journey to India today. The team at my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, are working on a project with a really impressive business in Bangalore. But the first big moment of the trip actually came yesterday. 24 hours before takeoff I received a push notification from Delta that it was time to check in for my flight. I have traveled so much that the mere check-in notice doesn’t usually get me excited. But this one did. There is so much unknown ahead of me in the next 30 hours that I got a fun flock of butterflies flittering in my stomach. I love that feeling. It makes me feel both alive and buttery.
The first big question is, How will I tolerate 2-hour, 8.5-hour and 10-hour flights back to back to back? I have a regular-person seat for both long flights. No first class or business class. No exit row. No incrementally-less-discomfortable seats. The second question obviously is, Do I have enough material to maintain over 20 hours of conversations with my seat mates? I am sure whoever sits next to me on the long flights is going to expect us to have an ultramarathon conversation, like at a no-sleep sleepover. And I don’t want to disappoint.
I leave Milwaukee just before 1pm today and fly to Atlanta. I have a 2-hour layover in my other-home airport, and meet up with my fellow Weapon, Adam Emery. Adam, or Henry as we call him, is our Associate Creative Director, and has been a full-time employee of The Weaponry for a year. When you celebrate an anniversary as a full-time team member of The Weaponry, we like to offer a special project, like working with a celebrity athlete or something that allows you to fly to the other side of the planet. #benefits
From Atlanta, Henry and I have an 8+ hour flight to Paris. There, we will try to find an all-you-can-eat croissants buffet during our 3-hour layover. We will also meet up with the two clients who are traveling with us. I envision us filling our lengthy layover with sitcom-style airport hijinks, and general foreign country hilarity. After 3 hours of ooh la la-ing, we will jump on the final leg of the journey to India. Our 10 hour flight will take us to Bangalore, also known as Bengaluru, where we plan to watch Hulu with a guru.
If all goes according to plan, we will arrive in India just before midnight on Sunday night. Then Henry and I will catch a ride with a transportation service to our hotel in the city center, which is about 35 kilometers from the airport.
This will definitely be interesting adventure. I have watched a bunch of movies to prepare me for this experience. My Pre-India Film Festival included Gandhi, Eat. Pray. Love., Slumdog Millionaire, Lion and Hoosiers. I later realized that Hoosiers actually took place in Indiana. Oops. (or should I say Hoops?)
Thanks for following the journey. I also plan to post updates, pics, vids and stories on Instagram at @adamalbrecht if connectivity allows.
My career in advertising has been an amazing adventure. The interesting experiences I’ve had at work could fill a book. Or at least a blog. I have never taken any of this for granted. And I always look forward to what each new project will bring.
One of the great benefits of my career is that I have done a lot of travel. I have spent more time in New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago than I can count. I love each of those cities, and feel at home in all three. But these great American cities represent a small sliver of my business adventures.
My work travel has taken me to Alaska where I was awed by the Northern Lights. I have snowmobiled on glaciers and ATV’d on black sand beaches during the summer solstice in Iceland. I have worked with 100 men in pink bodysuits in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I spent a week in a camper in the Baja peninsula of Mexico while filming trophy trucks bombing across the desert. I have ridden a 1500 foot zipline in Whistler, British Columbia. I have flown to Quebec City on a private jet to ride a secret snowmobile on a 50 mile long private trail. And I was being paid to do it all.
My Entrepreneurial Journeys
When I launched my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I wondered how long it would be until I added to noteworthy travel. Over the past couple of years I have certainly traveled a good bit. My journal says that work for The Weaponry has taken me to the following places:
Salt Lake City
Taking It To The Next Level
Today I am thrilled to share that I have some really exciting new travel coming up. This Saturday I am going to India! The Weaponry is filming a fascinating global business based in Bangalore, which for those of you who don’t know, is the Silicon Valley of India. Bangalore may be the largest city you’ve never heard of. At a population of 12 million people, it is 12 times larger than any city with 1 million people! (I did the math)
I have never been to India. So this is an exciting new experience for me. The travel itself will be an adventure. Total travel time each way will take 25 hours. I will be in India for just 75 hours, because I need to get home for my wedding anniversary. Which means that my ratio of traveling-time to being-there-time is nothing to envy.
Shots! Shots! Shots!
Last week I got shots for Typhoid Fever and Hepatitis A (which I thought is what Canadians call Hepatitis). I received Malaria medicine and anti-diarrheal medicine. This is the first time anti-diarrheal has appeared in this blog. You know you are embarking on an epic journey when you get counseled on Malaria and diarrhea strategies.
I also called Global Rescue to cover me while I am traveling. This membership-based organization is a life saver. Because if you become ill or injured when traveling internationally, they will come and get you, and bring you home to the hospital of your choice. Even better, Global Rescue was The Weaponry’s founding client, and we are thrilled to be members today.
Once again, my entrepreneurial journey is presenting an opportunity to do, see and learn new things. Thanks to this business I launched, I am going to visit a new continent, a new country and a new culture on the other side of the world. From the beginning, I expected The Weaponry would enable me and my team members to do amazing things together. And it has. But this upcoming trip takes the proverbial cake.
*I will share updates throughout my experience. If you want to follow along, consider subscribing to this blog.
In the first half of 2013 I was in New York City every week. I was the Chief Creative Officer of a 275 person ad agency called Engauge. And we were in the process of selling the agency. A four person leadership team from Engauge shared our story, our work and our finances with 15 potential suitors, ranging from Conde Nast to the Paris-based advertising agency holding company, Publicis, who eventually purchased the agency. However, Conde Nast provided the greatest challenge in the process, because the room that we presented in was plastered with oversized prints of topless women. Which lead to my short-term bout with Attention Deficit Disorder.
One evening after one of our many meetings with potential investors on Wall Street, Engauge President Jeff Hilimire and I headed to the Laguardia airport for our flight home. But first we stopped and grabbed burgers at a barely-open Five Guys at the airport. It was in that small, yet-highly caloric moment, that we proceeded to have one of the most important conversations of my entrepreneurial journey.
Going through an exit (sale) process like we were going through, you are forced to think about the next chapter of your career. Because depending on who purchases your business, some unknown combination of the leadership team will no longer be needed in the new organization. Some of us were on the business equivalent of a Kamikaze mission. Or maybe it was the business equivalent to Russian Roulette. Or maybe I am just being dramatic with an international flair. Either way, Jeff and I each discussed our future in a very open Komono way (I can’t stop).
The Only Job For Jeff.
Jeff told me, ‘There is only one title I ever want again.’
I was curious what that was, so of course I asked, ‘What’s that?’
He said, ‘Founder.’
As a successful entrepreneur, his only interest was in starting businesses and in being an entrepreneur. He found no appeal in helping the company who bought the company that bought the company that he started.
But what about me?
I also had a great desire to start my own business. But unlike Jeff, I didn’t have experience starting my own agency from dust and growing it into a thriving success. So in between bites of my oversized Adam Albrecht Burger from Five Guys, I asked Jeff for advice on how I should get started on my entrepreneurial journey.
Jeff said, ‘The first thing you need to decide is where you want to start your business. Find a job in that market, move there, and spend two years developing your network there, while working for someone else.’ He said that after two years of serious networking, you should have the base you need to go out on your own, and start your own agency.
What I Did
This was really good advice. But I didn’t take it. Instead, I launched my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, in 2016 in Atlanta. But then, for family reasons, decided to relocate my family to Milwaukee. And of course, the business had to move too. Which means that I did the opposite of what Jeff suggested. I started a business, and then moved it to a new city, where I hadn’t warmed up my network at all.
From the beginning, my strategy was different. My network is very broad, with strong and valued friends and connections across North America. So I was determined to develop The Weaponry to be geographically agnostic. Technology has enabled us to live into my vision, and serve clients across the United States and Canada.
2 Years Later
This week marks the 2-year anniversary of our move to Milwaukee. So I couldn’t help but reflect on Jeff’s advice. The Weaponry is thriving, with great clients from coast to coast. But there is something special happening now. There is an interesting momentum building. We are being talked about when we aren’t around. We are contacted more than ever. People are stopping by, and inquiring about us, and wanting to talk to us, and get to know us at a distinctly different pace today.
I believe this is 2-year momentum. We are building on the 2-year base that Jeff originally recommended. It is an incredibly exciting time for us. And we no longer feel like a start-up. We feel like a confident collection of Weapons that know exactly how to handle whatever our clients need. Kind of like the A-Team, without Mr. T (aka B.A. Baracus, aka Mr. I Pity The Fool).
There is no one right way to go about launching a business. The key is to get moving. If you have been considering starting your own business, or making another significant change in your life, I encourage you to set your 2-year timer now, and start the process today. Two years will give you plenty of time to go from that first step, to a confident swagger. Be persistent, be patient, and let’s talk about this again in two years.
This past week was intense, and dense, and interesting. Like the way a good nutrition bar crams a random mix of natural ingredients into a an unnatural rectangle. From Monday morning, through the very end of the day on Friday, I binge-experienced new opportunities, new relationships, intense strategic sessions, and interesting creative explorations that suck you in like a black hole. Or maybe a Dyson vacuum. I forget which one is stronger.
This week I had video conferences with clients, or potential clients in Washington D.C., New York City, Atlanta, San Francisco, Denver, Portland and Minneapolis. I worked on plans for upcoming shoots in Houston, Cincinnati, Atlanta and India. We finalized contracts with 3 new clients. And we added new members to our team.
When I started my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I had a vision of creating the perfect agency, the perfect place to work, and the perfect partner for clients. While we are not perfect, we are on the right path, and we are getting closer. The question is how close to perfection can we actually get. The other question, of course, is who put the bop in the bop shoo bop shoo bop?
On Friday afternoon, I locked up The Weaponry, walked to my car, and drove the 17 miles to my home in Mequon, Wisconsin. I parked my car in my driveway (not Harvard Yard). I sat there for a minute and reflected on my week with pride, gratefulness and satisfaction. I soaked up the wins of the week. I thought about all the new doors that are opening. I wasn’t Thanking God it was Friday. I was thanking God for the entire week. And for my wife, daughter and two sons that I would now get to spend the weekend with.
When you set out to start a new business people give you lots of encouragement, advice, warnings and worried looks. Even so, you don’t really know what lies ahead. You wonder what will be worse than expected, what will be easier than expected and what to expect when you are expecting (unless you already have that baby book).
A topic that everyone warned me about when I started my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, was cash flow. The basic issue is that you get paid for your work, and you have to pay bills, like salaries, rent and insurance. The problem is that you don’t always have an equal amount of money coming in as you have going out. Which means that you must have enough cash on hand to cover slow payments, slow months of work, or larger-than-usual expenses.
What I’ve learned
Cash flow challenges aren’t necessarily a result of a customer being delinquent in paying invoices. The challenges can simply be a matter of timing. Your projects, or deals, may take longer to complete, so it takes longer to bill, and thus longer to get paid. If you are delayed in sending out your invoices, that can funk up your cash flow too.
Avoid At All Costs
But regardless of the reason, running out of cash on hand is a common cause of death for businesses of all sizes. It is a lot like humans running out of oxygen, or blood. Which I’ve never done. But I know some people who have, and they wanted me to tell you to avoid it at all costs.
If you are thinking about starting a business, or already have a business and could use some advice, here are a few tips to keep the cash flowing and your business going.
5 Cash Flow Tips
Don’t quit your job until you absolutely have to. A salaried job helps the cash flow in your startup in two ways. 1. It ensures that cash keeps coming into your world. 2. It decreases or eliminates the need to draw a salary from the business in order to pay yourself. This enables cash to build in your business. Like water behind a dam baby!
Start with more cash on hand than you think you need. Don’t start a business without a reserve. Inevitably you will need it. And if you can’t float an expense because you don’t have the cash around, you clients, suppliers, partners or employees will question your business-hood. And you don’t want your business-hood questioned.
Send your invoices as soon as the work is complete. Entrepreneurs have a lot of demand on their time. So it can be easy to let your invoicing slide while putting out fires and keeping plates spinning. But you have to keep your invoices flowing if you want cash to flow into your business. A good bookkeeper, aka God’s Gift To Entrepreneurs, and a repeatable invoicing process can help ensure that you don’t fall behind on this process.
Delay adding salaried employees until you have a 3-month runway. We began The Weaponry with a freelance workforce. I wanted to be able to see 3 months of sustainable work ahead in each discipline before I committed to hiring a full-time, salaried employees for that role. The 3-month rule has been a very good guide for us. For other businesses the timing may vary. Regardless, develop your own rule of thumb, and enforce it.
Keep 3 months worth of salary in reserve at all times. You never know when the demand for your product or service will go dormant. It doesn’t mean it won’t come back. But you have to be able to weather the winter in order to be around when the demand springs up again. Having the cash reserve on hand is like a squirrel storing nuts. A three-month reserve is good. A six-month reserve is better. A billion-month reserve is best.
Starting your own business is extremely rewarding. But to keep the rewards coming, you have to keep the cash flowing. It is important to understand that cash flow isn’t just a part of the entrepreneurial game. It is the game itself.
*To learn more of what I have learned through my entrepreneurial journey, please consider subscribing to this blog.