We all know the story of Orville and Wilbur Wright, right? These brothers from Dayton, Ohio were the first humans on Earth to build and fly an airplane. They launched their original Flyer in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in 1903. Their airplane forever changed life on this planet. It opened the possibility of space travel, next-day package delivery, and complaints about spotty wi-fi on transcontinental flights.
Do you know how much they spent to get that first plane in the air? It took them four years. Over that period their expenses included all the materials needed to research, build, test, modify and repair their prototypes. The price tag also included all of their travel between Ohio, where they built their machines, and the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where they attempted to fly them. Remember, this was before Southwest Airlines made it cheap and easy to fly about the country.
So how much did they spend?
I’m adding fluff to this story to prevent your eye from catching the number below.
It’s my attempt to add suspense.
But now it is time for the number:
All in, they spent less than $1000!
Less than $1000! That’s unbelievable, Wright?!? It is so ridiculous that it wasn’t even one of the multiple choice answers!
The Wrights found that the actual inputs were not crazy-expensive (my words, not theirs). They invested more in elbow grease and developed sweat equity in their innovation. They were remarkably frugal with their travel. And as a result, they changed the world for less than $1000.
You can do the same. Put your own work into your greatest idea. Create an inexpensive prototype. Offer the service yourself. Write that script in your head. Figure out how to develop a minimum viable product. See where things go from there.
Great ideas have a way of taking on a life of their own once you give them the push they need to get started. So don’t let that great idea in your head shrivel and die. Feed it. Water it. Grow it. Put in the effort. Then watch your idea take off.
Just like the Wright Brothers did.
*I know this was 115 years ago, and there has been inflation since. So I pulled out my trusty calculator and mathed-up the inflation. In today’s dollars that would be $26,000. But still, it is a frickin airplane! On today’s airplane the barf bags probably cost more than that. The numbers were found in David McCullough’s amazing book, The Wright Brothers, (which I would have titled The Wright Stuff).
It is small. Cute. Harmless. Easily overlooked. The acorn is found everywhere. So common and simple. Yet it has the potential to grow and expand in phenomenal ways.
The acorn is actually a mighty oak tree starter kit. The plans for all of the tree’s complex systems are housed inside: the roots, bark, sap, branches, leaves and the alchemy of photosynthesis. The remarkable ability to create habitat, shade, support, protection and oxygen are all under that cute little beanie.
The acorn is a bomb. When detonated, it expands beyond all possible comprehension. Its final form is no less of a mushroom cloud than a mushroom cloud.
Your ideas are acorns. Recognize the enormous potential they each hold. Create conditions where acorns can transform into forests of towering trees. Those trees will produce more acorns. Which produce more trees. Which produce more acorns.
Starting your own business brings on a parade of exciting firsts. Each one marks an important milestone in the realization of your dream. There is your first client. Your first employee. Your first office. And your first lawsuit (I assume).
When I first launched my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I created a human-like set of life stages that I expected the business to go through. I listed key developments that would happen at Rolling Over, Crawling and Running. That way I would have some sense of where the business I birthed was on its maturing process from newborn to Olympic athlete.
An Especially Special Day.
On February 7th I had a uniquely proud first. My parents came to see my office for the first time. As an entrepreneur, your business is like a child. So that day I got to introduce my parents to their Grandbusiness.
My Parents’ Influence
My parents were responsible for planting the seeds that led to The Weaponry. Since I was a small child they taught me how to develop meaningful relationships. They taught me to think about the needs of others. They built my confidence to believe I could do whatever I set my mind to. They taught me how to be financially responsible. My mom taught me writing and public speaking. My dad taught me how to work hard.
They made several important decisions that put me into great schools in my childhood. Their Big 10 educations at the University of Minnesota influenced my Big 10 education at the University of Wisconsin. They helped support me through college. After graduation, when I was offered my first job as an advertising copywriter at Cramer Krasselt, they gave me the $500 I needed to move to Milwaukee, put a security deposit on my first apartment, and stock my pantry with ramen noodles. If it weren’t for my parents I probably wouldn’t be here.
Showing off the office was really fun. Kind of like the first time I brought my wife, Dawn, home to meet my parents. I gave Bob and Jill the grandest tour our space would allow. I pointed out all the changes we had made. I shared plans for what’s next. And I got to introduced my Mom and Dad to my team.
My parents brought an office warming gift. It was my favorite celebratory beverage: a bottle of nonalcoholic sparking cider (I still haven’t matured to the hard stuff). It was a meaningful gesture from the people who have helped shape me through meaningful gestures.
Business and Family
This week more of The Weaponry’s broader family have visited the office. We’ve had one Weapon’s husband and another Weapon’s brother spend time with us. It’s important to me to have siblings, parents, children and spouses come to our office. I want them to understand our culture. And I want them to feel part of it too. The more we can integrate our at-work family with our at-home family the more we are able to understand and support each other.
Thanks Mom and Dad for taking time to come see The Weaponry. Thanks for taking the time to meet my teammates. Thanks for the little boy bottle of bubbly. But most importantly, thanks for giving this little birdie a great nest to grow up in. And thanks for teaching me how to fly.
*If you would like to follow The Weaponry’s maturation process please subscribe to this blog.
Starting your own business requires a special mindset. You have to have both a tolerance for risk, and a confidence that you will succeed despite the odds stacked against you. But how do you know if you have the right kind of entrepreneurial wiring? Before I launched my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry I didn’t have a predictive test to evaluate my risk tolerance. But now I do.
I recenly had a very interesting conversation about risk with my friend Tom O’Hara. Tom is EVP & Enterprise Risk Management Director at Huntington National Bank. Evaluating risk is a challenging task. You must find a way to assess risk tolerance in a way that people can easily articulate.
One question Tom poses in his risk evaluation is this little diagnostic gem:
If you have a meeting with the CEO of your company at 7am, and your commute usually takes 15 minutes, what time would you leave for the meeting?
The answer to this hypothetical question reveals a lot about your risk tolerance. If you say 5:30am you have a very low tolerance for risk. If you say 6:45am you have a very high tolerance for risk. If you say 7am you have trouble understanding the time and space continuum.
My big aha!
As Tom talked through this simple predictive test, a fake lightbulb went off in my real head. I applied the same evaluative criteria to my approach to catching airplanes. When planning my departure for the airport I don’t work off the standard ‘Be at the airport 1-hour ahead of time’ rule of thumb. I know that the check-in period for domestic flights ends 30 minutes prior to scheduled departure. But I don’t use the 30-minute rule either, because I always check in online.
Instead, I use the ‘What time will they close the door?‘ rule of thumb. I have always thought this was the only indicator that really mattered. As a result I am often the last person on the plane. Which has freaked out many of my more conservative coworkers. Yet, I can only remember missing a plane one time in my entire business career. And that was because I had the wrong departure time in my head. Stupid departure time memory malfunction!
What this says about entrepreneurship
Clearly I have a high tolerance for risk. Because those airplanes, they don’t wait (I heard that in a country song). That being typed, I am never unprepared for my travel too and through an airport. I have timed my airport route to the minute, and I allow for a degree of error in traffic, difficulty finding parking, and for crowds at security. On the other hand, my drive to the airport makes me feel alive. So does owning my own business.
Know thyself (but don’t call thyself ‘thyself’). If you have to be at the airport two hours before a domestic flight you may struggle with the coo-coo crazy of entrepreneurship. But if you like rolling onto the plane just as it prepares to roll away from the gate, you likely have what it takes to stomach a couple of years of unpredictability. But there is no right or wrong answer to risk tolerance. There are just different types of rewards. So whether you are traveling for work or pleasure, always consider the rewards that make you happy when you file your flight plan.
*If you like living dangerously and don’t mind missing any of my blog posts then don’t subscribe to this blog. But if you want to play it safe, and have every post emailed to your inbox upon publication, please subscribe today.
I haven’t read Andy Grove’s book Only The Paranoid Survive. I don’t need to. I get everything I need to know from the title alone. If you want to survive in business you have to be paranoid.
Why I bring this up.
I am part of a CEO roundtable known as the Council of Small Business Executives (COSBE) in Milwaukee. We had our monthly meeting yesterday at my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry. The theme of the meeting was clear. The CEOs in my group are all feeling paranoid.
But here’s the funny thing: none of us are in imminent danger. There is no grim reaper at the door preparing to cut our internet connections and leave our businesses for dead. Quite the opposite. Our futures all look bright. We continue to grow and add new clients. We are hitting exciting milestones that indicate our businesses are moving in the right direction.
Yet we all seem concerned that we are not doing enough. That we are not as productive as we could be. Or as aggressive as we should be. Or as focused. Or as successful. To a therapist we may all appear to have odd self-image issues. Or a lack of confidence. But that is not the case.
The Real Issue
We are doing exactly what you need to do to survive as an entrepreneur. You have to worry about issues before they become issues. You have to invest in relationships you don’t need today. You have to develop plans and infrastructure that aren’t critical right now.
You need to do the little things that are important but not urgent before they become urgent. Because if you wait until they are urgent it will probably be too late. Self-inflicted paranoia keeps you a step or two ahead of the real danger. It activates your fight or flight responses when there is no imminent fight. That’s how you prevent complacency. And that’s how you thrive.
Your personal life.
The same power of paranoia can also help your personal relationships, fitness and finances. If you are paranoid that you are not doing enough, you will invest action in each of these three critical areas before they become real problems.
Embrace your self-inflicted paranoia. It’s a great survival tool. By pulling the fire alarm in your head you’ll be prepared before any actual fire has a chance to block your escape route. Better yet, there is a good chance that fire will never happen.
*If you are paranoid that you will miss a post from this blog, please subscribe to receive each new update via email.
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.
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.
After we had sufficient feedback from our social networks we ordered our custom designed table. Then we waited.
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.
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.
Do you know what the definition of insanity is? No doubt you have heard a proposed definition of insanity many times. In nearly every meeting about change, or broken processes someone breaks out TDOI. If you haven’t been in a course-correction meeting since the Korean War, here is the statement I am referring to:
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” -unknown
This quote has been misattributed to everyone. Einstein, Twain, Franklin, Cheech, Chong.
But it is not true. I have degrees from The University of Wisconsin in both journalism and psychology. Which makes the inaccurate reporting of this psychological definition feel like a wheel of cheese under my proverbial mattress.
Here is the actual definition
noun. The state of being seriously mentally ill; madness:
or: extreme foolishness or irrationality.
Insanity comes from the Latin ‘in’ (meaning not) and ‘sanus’ (which makes me snicker, but means healthy).
When you put them together you get insane, meaning not healthy.
I encourage you to continue pointing out the problem of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. But let’s lose ‘the definition’ part. Definitions sound so… definitive. This statement is more of a creative observation. So let’s try it like this:
Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.
We can call this a metaphor instead of a definition. It still works. Yet it doesn’t make me want to throw my DSM-IV across the conference room table. Deal?
There are two kinds of people… We’ve heard this intro line many times before. We love to simplify the world’s inhabitants this way. Because it offers an easy construct to think about complicated topics. I recently read one of these ‘two-types-of-people’ observations that wowed me with its simplicity and profunditude.
Here it is:
There are people who prefer to say ‘yes’ and there are people who prefer to say ‘no’. Those who say ‘yes’ are rewarded by the adventures they have. Those who say ‘no’ are rewarded by the safety they attain.
Wow! With this simple statement Johnstone summarizes the difference between accepting and denying offers that come your way. Did you notice that both outcomes are positive? You either walk away with adventure or safety. Nobody goes home empty-handed.
Which one are you?
The key is to know which outcome you really want. I am an emphatic Yes-Man. I like road trips without reservations. I am all in on the adventure or life. I am an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurship is all about saying yes. So is creativity. I see all of life’s challenges through the ‘Yes,and’ lens of improvisation. It truly makes every day adventurous, exciting and full of new possibilities. I’m not saying it is better than safety. It’s just better for me.
Make sure you know what makes you happy. Know what makes you sleep well at night. And reward yourself with more of that. If you prefer the safety, predictability and peace of mind of home then embrace it unapologetically. If you prefer adventure, embrace the bruises, wardrobe malfunctions and flat tires as souvenirs from the trip.
*Yes-Man and No-man are not intended to be gender specific. Regardless of your gender please consider subscribing to this blog. It’s written for people who prefer a safe reading adventure.
Did you see Super Bowl LII? What a show! The game is always hyped as the greatest television event of the year. It certainly lived up to that billing again this year.
The game itself was amazing. There were so many Super Bowl records set that I think the game set a Super Bowl record for setting Super Bowl records. There were over 1000 yards of total offense. There were two pass attempts toquarterbacks playing wide receiver. And there was an exciting Hail Mary pass into the end zone as the clock expired. The only thing that would have made the game better for me would have been a Patriots victory. But as a huge Pats fan, I have two Super Bowl miracle wins in the last few years to console me.
After getting off to a slow start Justin Timberlake’s halftime show made a nice comeback and finished strong. The momentum turned during JT’s tribute to Prince. His performance of Mirror was spectacular. Although I worried that one of the hundreds of kids running around the stage holding mirrors would drop one and bring seven more years of bad luck to the hometown Vikings.
Then there were the ads. As an advertising professional I love Super Bowl spots. At a price of over $5 million for 30 seconds, commercials during the Super Bowl are too expensive to get wrong. So most of the spots that run during the big game do what good commercials should do. They entertain us. They make us laugh. They surprise us. They wow us. They make us think differently about the products, services or brands they promote.
The Super Bowl ads are so good that people actually want to see them. They are part of the appeal and entertainment of the entire event. Sometimes they are they best part of the program. Especially when Up With People are the halftime entertainment. Or when the Dallas Cowboys are playing the Buffalo Bills.
The Best Advertisers
So who won the battle of the advertisers? This is a question that gets asked every year. It will be a topic of conversation around the proverbial water cooler all week. Marketing types will weigh in with their professional opinions. And there will be polls that try to determine a winner. However, we will never know the real answer.
You don’t succeed in advertising by winning a popularity poll. You win by setting a marketing objective, and then nailing it. Advertising can help increase awareness, brand affinity and purchase intent. All of these dimensions are measurable. But not by a poll that asks viewers to pick their favorite commercial.
Your opinion of the marketing only matters if you are part of the audience the advertiser is trying to reach. I thought the beer commercials were funny. But I don’t drink alcohol. I also liked the Tide commercials, a lot. But I don’t make any of the decisions about which laundry potions my family uses.
Super Bowl commercials are not simply meant to entertain you. They are strategically developed marketing weapons. The only way to evaluate their success or failure is to measure the impact they have on their target audience. Anything else is just playing Monday morning quarterback.
In the spring of 2016 I left my job as EVP, Executive Creative Director of a large advertising agency. It was owned by a publicly held advertising agency holding company that employed 80,000 people in over 100 countries. One of the great benefits of working for a company that size was the benefits themselves. Because when you have that many people in your organization, you have Bezos-level buying clout.
On My Own.
I love a good adventure. So I left the cushy benefits behind and started my own advertising and idea agency called The Weaponry. I love what we have built. The Weaponry is quick and nimble. Strategic and creative. It is a really fun place to work and offers a great culture of collaboration. We have a lot going for us. But one thing we do not have is benefit-buying clout.
The Hard Part
When I launched The Weaponry I asked a lot of questions of my entrepreneurial network about a broad range of subjects. In return I got a lot of great advice. But when it came to insurance I got absolutely nothing. Unless those crickets I heard were trying to tell me something (chirp chirp… run while you can… chirp chirp).
I could tell by the lack of insights that insurance was the toughest nut for entrepreneurs to crack. Those who did comment said things like, ‘Yeah, that’s hard. I don’t know what to tell you.’ And, ‘It Sucks.’ And, ‘I would love to help you, but I would rather set the world record for most paper cuts received over a 24-hour period than talk about health insurance.’
Me vs Goliath
However, I am very proud to say that as of January 1st, 2018, The Weaponry offers insurance benefits. I wanted to share my experience with anyone thinking of starting their own business, or wondering how Obamacare impacts a small business and its ability to grow and compete.
Starting The Search
Over the second half of last year I began planning our employee benefits for 2018. I wanted to offer health and dental insurance. But I also considered a couple of other benefits, including life insurance for full-time employees. But as with so many other aspects of this startup adventure, I decided to simplify to make sure we completed the critical mission.
I began with research. I learned right away that you need at least two non-related employees in your business to be able to offer insurance as an employer. We qualified. I found my way to the health insurance marketplace and started poking around and modeling various products and prices. But in a vacuum it was pretty hard to evaluate what was good, what was necessary, and what was not. From this initial poking I learned my first lesson:
Key Insight: You will not feel empowered to make a good health insurance purchasing decision if you try to do it on your own.
My business finance advisor encouraged me to talk to an insurance broker, and preferably more than one. He encouraged me to have them model a variety of options so that I could get a feel for the landscape available to me. By talking to more than one broker, he said, you can compare and contrast styles to know that you are getting the right option for you. This was all good advice. But I still didn’t know how to find a reputable broker, let alone multiple brokers.
My Wife To The Rescue
My wife Dawn is a smart woman, and an important part of The Weaponry brain trust. She was the one that finally got us moving in a positive direction on health insurance. How? She talked to our neighbor Sally.
Sally’s husband, Bruce is the President at EBSO, a third party administrator (TPA) benefits solutions company. However, because of our size and our specific needs EBSO couldn’t help us, yet. But Sally said that Bruce frequently partners with Jon Rauser at The Rauser Agency for clients of our size. Dawn got Jon’s contact info. And within a few days Dawn and I were sitting in Jon’s office.
Key Insight: A good wife is the best business asset in the world. This may also be true of good husbands, but I’ve never had one of those.
Dawn and I met with Jon, and it couldn’t have gone much smoother. He started by offering us a range of three or four different insurance providers. Based on our preference, and the providers prevalence in our healthcare market, we quickly narrowed in on one health insurance provider. Then it was a matter of comparing deductibles to get to the final premium options. We simply had to share the ages and family status of our employees. With that we were able to see projected costs, broken down by employee.
Once we provided the names and ages of our employees who would be opting in for our insurance we had to sign a couple of forms to initiate coverage. We also needed forms signed by the full-time employees who were opting out, acknowledging that they had been offered coverage. Next, we had to decide how much of the premium we would pay for our employees. Then we had to send in a check for the first month’s premium.
Then we were done. Seriously.
We Did It!
We had an employer health insurance plan! We have dental insurance too, which was easy to get. We were all grown up! And we were becoming an even more attractive place for smart creative people to work! We had climbed the most daunting mountain on the Entrepreneurial Range. And we planted The Weaponry’s flag at its peak.
Why was the process so easy? Obamacare. I should insert here that I am a staunchly independent voter. I grew up in Vermont where independent thinking flows like maple syrup. I think the two parties are antiquated and don’t allow for my complex vision of the world. But Obamacare made it really easy for this startup to insure our employees. There are no pre-existing conditions. We didn’t need medical exams. We didn’t need to take a lie detector test. I didn’t have to tell anyone that my Great-Great Uncle Nels choked on a peach pit when he was eight years old. (RIP Little Uncle Nellie…)
Is Obamacare perfect? No. It has driven insurance costs up by 30%. But you know what? My baseline is today. So I simply look at the price today and ask, ‘Can we afford to pay this?’ And the answer is yes.
I can’t change the costs. But what should it really cost? I have no idea. All I know is that we were able to get it fairly easily, and all we had to do was pay for it. Our premiums are not much more expensive than the COBRA prices I had been paying since I started The Weaponry.
I may hate Obamacare in the future. And I certainly don’t want to ever pay more than I have to. But today I am happy to have easy access to health insurance for my team. I want to make sure they are protected. So as you follow the political fight over Obamacare, know that this independent voter, who owns a small business said it was easy to protect his team because of Obamacare. And the small price to pay is simply a larger price to pay. And today, we’ll take it.
*If you know someone thinking of starting their own business that could benefit from this story, please share it with them. If you would like to learn more from my entrepreneurial journey consider subscribing to this blog. If you have more specific questions about my health insurance experience please contact me directly. I am happy to share what I know.