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 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I love all of my clients. But I really, really love working with clients who provide an outstanding product or service, but whose marketing lags significantly behind the rest of the operation. This happens a lot. Because organizations often focus so much on crafting their product or service that they neglect to think about how they should package and promote it. Which means the story is already there. Someone just needs to tell it.
In 2017 my friend Mike Bortolotti, the VP of Sales and Marketing at Juiced! Cold Pressed Juicery, called me with exactly the kind of opportunity I love most. Juiced! had been generating a lot of buzz, and he knew it was time for their marketing to level up.
The reason cold-pressing is important is it allows you to avoid heat pasteurizing the juice, which destroys the great nutrition in the drink. And that nutrition is why you drink juice in the first place. #amIright
Mike, or Borto as I have known him for the last 22 years, first learned about Juiced! when he was working for the Milwaukee Bucks. The players on the team loved Juiced!. In fact, they loved Juiced! so much that management sent Borto to see if he could strike a deal with Juiced! to help lower their weekly juice costs by a few bucks (see what I did there?).
Juiced You and I
Borto loved what he found when he visited this scrappy little juicery, created by Jason ‘The Juice Guru’ Lannoch. After years in Manhattan, Jason left a great job to follow his passion for juicing and moved to Milwaukee. Jason quickly became the Rumplestiltskin of fruits and vegetables, blending them into solid gold flavors that people visiting his juice cart loved. His healthy concoctions soon developed a cult following among the heath conscious in Milwaukee. A city which was already famous for pumping out delicious beverages brands, including Miller, Pabst, Blatz, Shlitz and Milk.
Borto took a liking to this little engine that juiced, and soon opened up other doors for Juiced! by introducing them to the Milwaukee Brewers and Green Bay Packers (because Borto knows everyone).
Then he helped expand the brand’s distribution by introducing Juiced! to his friend Ted Balistreri, owner of Milwaukee’s premier grocery store brand, Sendik’s. Ted’s team loved the product and began selling it immediately. (Ted is also a former University of Wisconsin track and field athlete, like me. Go Badgers!)
Invested In The Future
But Borto wasn’t done there. He introduced Juiced! to potential investors, including rock star businessman, Ken Muth, who fell in love at first sip. When Ken bought into the biz, Borto did too. And in 2017 Mike left the Bucks to join the leadership team at Juiced! to sling cold-pressed juice full-time.
The team’s goal was to spread Juiced! to every thirsty, health-minded soul in the Juice-nited States of America. Ken helped introduce scalability to the operation. And Borto quickly helped expand the brand’s distribution to Kroger-owned Roundy’s Metro Market, and Pick N’ Save stores. As well as Piggly Wiggly, Woodman’s and Outpost Natural Food Stores.
In The Market For Better Marketing
The next dot Mike connected was to my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry. In 2018 Juiced! became an official client and we began examining every aspect of their marketing. We started at the beginning with repositioning work, clearly identifying core audience segments, auditing the competitive set and determining the white space in the category.
Speaking of white space, we noticed that in their category, a space known for being clean and natural, there were no clean, white brand looks. So our team collaborated with renowned artist Reginald Baylor on package design, and developed a simple, clean white look that features Baylor’s artwork on each bottle.
The simple shelf set really stands out at retail. Local traffic reports and Google Maps suggest that the new packaging is causing backups in the juice aisle. #SorryNotSorry
As of the new year, the new and improved Juiced! brand look is everywhere. The new bottle design is on shelves. The new website we designed and developed is now live at ColdPressedJuiced.com. The site features all-new photography, designs and writing, which our team at The Weaponry led.
The Juiced! trucks now feature the new brand look. We have also helped create a Carmen Miranda-hat worth of other Juiced! marketing and sales materials, which will help the team expand distribution across the continent, like a cold-pressed juice-nami.
We love helping clients like Juiced! live up to their potential. And we’re thrilled to see their brand, sales and distribution grow. I encourage you to check out ColdPressedJuiced.com, where you can order all 9 flavors, and the 1, 3, 5 and 7-day cleanses, depending on just how much cleansing your system needs.
Look for the new bottles at your favorite grocery store, convenient store or cafe. If you don’t find them, demand Juice-tice! Tell your local establishment that you want some Juiced! the next time you come in.
A Free Bottle!
And if you stop by The Weaponry this Friday (1/11/2019 AD), we will be offering free bottles of Juiced! to anyone who drops by between noon and 5pm. How is that for a healthy Happy Hour?!? We are at 1661 N. Water St. #206 in Milwaukee. We hope to see you Friday afternoon!
Here are a few truck designs that didn’t get chosen:
As Elvis Costello once said, ‘Every day I write the book.’ As an entrepreneur you make decisions every day that write the story of your business. Sometimes the decisions are large and profound. Other times the decisions are simply things you decided not to do. But in aggregate, your decisions tell the tale of your business. It is up to you to make the story worth sharing.
Desperately Seeking Office Space
In the summer of 2017 I could see a solid runway in front of my baby advertising agency, The Weaponry. (To be clear, the agency was a baby. We didn’t advertise the benefits of being or having a baby.) Having recently relocated from Atlanta to Milwaukee for family reasons, I began looking for a legit office space to serve as our world headquarters. Or in Amazonian terms, HQ1.
Let it grow, let it grow, let it grow.
Like a scary rash, The Weaponry was growing at a rapid, yet unpredictable rate. So I began looking for a 1-year lease, which would provide short-term stability, yet long-term flexibility. I captured the entire search in a 3-part series, which I share again here, with hopes that it gives anyone with aspirations of having their own office a vision for how the process works.
We signed a 12-month lease on 1000 square feet of office space in the fall of 2017. (You can get a good look at our office here.) We worked hard to make the space look and feel like home. But the year flew by, and our initial lease expired on December 31st, 2018. We grew, as expected. But several of our new employees were in Columbus and Atlanta. So we still weren’t in trouble with the fire marshal in Milwaukee.
We really liked our location. So to prepare for the end of our first lease we looked at every available office space in our 5-story building. I appreciated the way our property owners worked with us as we developed a plan for our next chapter. I think they appreciated the fact that when they came to talk to us we didn’t look like we were about to pull a Baltimore Colts on them and skip town in the middle of the night.
What We Are Doing Now.
After much deliberation, this is what we signed into our new contract on January 2nd:
We are staying in our current space, for now. We are not yet feeling stretched to capacity. Plus, we love our current space, and have made it our home.
We signed a 13-month extension. Our landlord asked for at least a 1-year commitment. And although we looked at 1, 3 and 5-year options, a 1-year lease was the smallest financial commitment I could make. And given how much growth I see on our horizon, it is hard to tell what our needs will be like more than a year down the road. Why 13 months? A 12-month lease would have us moving between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. And I want to be home sipping eggnog.
Our rent went up 2.5%. That’s all I have to say about that.
We added a right of first refusal on another space. We saw 3 other offices in our building that were of considerable interest to us. But rather than moving now, we decided to put first dibs on a great space overlooking the Milwaukee River (like our current space) on the 5th floor. #Penthouse #NotTheNaughtyMagazine #IsThatEvenStillAThing
The space on the 5th floor would double our square footage, adding several more individual offices, a bigger conference room, a storage room, reception desk and a break room with water, a fridge, and dishwasher. The 5th floor location would also make me feel less guilty about taking the elevator than I do when I ride it to the 2nd floor.
We have decided to be conservative in our commitments. Yet we have a nice option if we outgrow our space in the next 13 months. Which is highly likely. I have discovered that as an entrepreneur you need to know when to be conservative and when to take risks. We think we got this one right. But I’d like to know what you think of our decision. I’m always up for some well-considered counsel. Leave a message in the comment section and let me know if you would have chosen a different adventure.
I walked into my office on Monday morning at 7:30am. For many this would serve as a low point for the new week. But for me, in the quiet and calm, before the week roared to life, I could not have been happier. Because I was standing in the middle of the advertising agency I always dreamed of building.
It has been 13 months since The Weaponry moved into our office space. When we first signed the lease the space had less personality than an empty bucket. Which simply wouldn’t do for the agency I had founded 18 months earlier. Today, as we near the end of our initial lease, it looks as if The Weaponry has always been here. Here’s why:
We have real desks and Herman Miller Aeon chairs (which are AEON-MAZING!). We have comfortable guest chairs in my office that feel like you are getting a hug from a giant Teddy Bear. We have our loungey area couch and chairs that offer a casual place to stop, collaborate and listen. We have our custom designed surfboard coffee table. Because who doesn’t need one of those, right?
The Conference Room
Our conference room is home to our custom-built red, high top conference table. It has been as great as we thought it would be. It allows people to sit or stand and magically be at or near the same eye level. Which is great for staring contests.
The active sitting position of the high chairs means that you simply can’t relax for hours on end at this table. So we meet quickly, then get back to the work to be done. We also have a 55-inch TV mounted to the wall to share work, host video conference calls and watch Netflix at lunch.
We have a new map on the wall that will be the subject of future posts. But we also have important messages on the wall. Oh, and we painted all of the walls either Snowfall White or The Weaponry Red. So the space feels like us, and we feel like our space.
We have a refrigerator in The Weaponry Red too! It’s the hottest thing in cooling. It cost us twice as much as a black or white fridge. But the fact that it goes perfectly with our space makes it totally worth it. Because you gotta coordinate.
Now that we have imposed our vision on this space we are facing some interesting realities. We may not fit here for much longer. So we are working with our building’s management team to determine how we can expand over the course of the next year as we will most definitely outgrow this space. In fact, by December 31st I will sign a new lease. But I still haven’t decided which option I will choose.
Add new space to our current office
Move from the 2nd floor to the 3rd floor
Move from the 2nd floor to the 5th floor
Sign a 1, 3 or 5 year extension
None of the above
All of the above
Let love lift us up where we belong
We have been very happy with the office. It has been a great asset to our team. These 1000 square feet transform The Weaponry from a business to a place. People drop by to see us all the time. I love that. Our clients come and work from our office. Students stop by to see what an agency looks like. Friends and family passing through Milwaukee schedule a stop into their travels (there is also a great beer tour a block away if you are planning your itinerary).
The day that we outgrow this space will be bitter-sweet for me. It will mean that we have grown beyond our starter office, which is the goal. But it also means leaving our first real home. A home that Kristyn Lilley and I painted and personalized. No matter what, 2019 will be an interesting year. At some point we will be moving on up like George and Weezy. I can’t wait to find out where and when. Thanks for following the journey. Because we’re in this blog together. And like berries on the vine, it gets sweeter all the time.
*If you want to know what happens next consider subscribing to this blog. And if you want to know more about how I did any of this, please let me know. I am happy to share.
I have a confession to make. When I set my yearly goals, I cheat in order to attain them. It’s not the kind of cheating that hurts anyone else. In fact, it’s not the kind of cheating that hurts anyone at all. But it sure gives me an advantage. And I don’t feel the least bit bad about it either.
Getting it wrong.
Most people set their goals for the year, and begin working towards them, on January 1st. Or maybe they start on January 2nd, depending on when the holiday falls. Or maybe January 3rd, depending on what bowl games are on TV on the 1st and 2nd. Then, despite the fact that we all have 365 days to accomplish our annual goals, most people lose their momentum before the end of the first month.
Getting it right.
I don’t want to be one of those people. So I give myself every advantage possible. I noticed long ago that no one calls you for a false start if you start working towards your annual goals early. So I cheat. I start working on my goals for next year before the current year is over.
I start working on my fitness goals for the year at Thanksgiving of the year before. I am a bit of a contrarian. So I use Thanksgiving as a cue to get fitter, not fatter. That way I start the new year with a healthy routine already formed.
My wife Dawn and I begin planning our travel adventures for the next year as soon as we have taken our final trip of the current year. Which is now typically right before Labor Day (because kids ruin everything). I found that when I waited too long to plan my vacations they didn’t plan themselves. Which meant they didn’t happen. Now we schedule our adventures early, and we get more out of them.
WWGGD (What Would Gordon Gekko Do?)
I would never consider waiting to act on my professional goals until January 1st either.
Because in business, your year is determined by what you do in the 4th quarter of the year before.
When you add new business in the fall, you start benefiting from it right away, in the beginning or the first quarter. And it pays out all year long. Whereas new opportunities that surface in the first quarter might not bear any fruit until the second, third or 4th quarter. Which means that a piece of business worth $1 million, $100,000 or $1000 over the course of 12 months will only be worth a fraction of that in the first calendar year.
Starting your own business
I launched my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, in the spring of 2016. But I began planning my business in August of 2015. I took on freelance projects beginning in October of 2015. And I used the income from those projects as the seed money to start my own agency. That early start was key to a successful launch. You can do the same thing.
If you want to be great, you can’t wait (that sounds like a Jesse Jacksonism). You can’t coast from Thanksgiving to New Years Eve. You have to build momentum. So improve your chances of making 2019 your best year ever by starting today. Do more tomorrow. Because a New Year’s resolution is most successful when you find your resolve in the old year.
*If one of your resolutions is to read more in the new year, consider subscribing to this blog.
Designing an office space that fits your company culture is like creating a clubhouse. When we signed the lease on our new office space a year ago I couldn’t wait to give it a serious makeover.* The drab office we leased was move-in ready for a lobotomy clinic. That wasn’t quite the vibe we were going for at The Weaponry, the advertising and idea agency I launched the year before. So as soon as we got the keys to the office we began transforming the space to match our personality.
A Sign Of Things To Come.
One of my favorite features of our office is the large sign that now greets you when you first come in the door. The bright red and white, 5-foot by 5-foot sign invites you to, in no uncertain terms, Fight With Your Brain.
Business Is War
I love this statement. because at The Weaponry, we believe that business is war. To win the war of business you need to outthink the competition. You win with strategic thinking and creativity. You win by summoning your intelligence and accumulated knowledge. In fact, your brain is your most powerful weapon in any battle, whether you are talking about business, board games or back alleys.
The Double Entendre
As much as I love the obvious meaning of this statement, I love the second meaning even more. The next level message encourages you to fight against your brain. It is a call to resist your brain’s tendencies. It is a reminder to fight your brain whenever it attempts to follow a well-worn path. To default to habit. To think too small. To simply follow others. Or to delete the last sentence in a paragraph (phew, that was close).
Fight With Your Brain is a warning to resist the feeling that you think you already know the answer. It is a call to fight against assumptions. Fight the belief that there is only one right way to approach a problem.
We want you to fight with your brain when it wants to reject a new process, procedure or plan. Fight with your brain when it wants the old version of an app back (I know you know what I mean).
You must also fight against negative thinking. You need to fight self-doubt. Fight unwarranted feelings of insecurity. Fight against giving up. And fight your bad habits. In fact, you should fight against anything that limits your thinking. Except maybe city hall. Because come on, it’s city hall!
By fighting, while using your brain, you develop better strategies and ideas. By fighting, against your brain, you keep your thinking flexible and adaptable. You keep your emperor organ positive and prepared. It is the best way to keep new and valuable ideas flowing. Which is what makes the brain the most innovative research and development lab on Earth. So keep it cranking. Because when you fight with your brain you will be amazed at all the good you can produce.
*In 2017 I chronicled The Weaponry’s search for an office in a 3-part mini series that shares what the process of finding, negotiating and leasing office space is like for startups. My agent believes he can get the trilogy made into a movie series and have it distributed at every Blockbuster Video store in the country! Until then, you can find the story of our journey at these links: