I recently watched an interesting story on TV about a business in Brooklyn called Ample Hills Creamery. It was founded by a wife and husband who both quit their jobs and went all-in on their unique ice cream shop. Obviously the business is doing well, or they wouldn’t be profiled on TV. But one specific statement in the story stood out to me.
‘The couple invested their whole life savings into the business.’
This is a great line to capture attention. It says that the couple was daring, and brave. It says they risked everything. They were in a must-win situation.All the chips were pushed to the center of the table.
Now the audience has to know what happened next! Bravo, dramatic story teller!
Risking It All
Most people seem to think you have to risk everything you have to launch a new business. Most people don’t have the stomach for such risk (although it appears Americans have no shortage of stomach). So most people never consider entrepreneurship an option. And I don’t blame them. But do you really have to dig into your entire life savings to become your own boss?
I launched my own business in 2016. I had worked in advertising for 2 decades. Then, in 2015, several former clients encouraged me to start my own agency. I began by dabbling with a nights-and-weekends side hustle. I did a little freelance work for my friend Dan Richards at Global Rescue, and earned $16,000. A few months later I launched The Weaponry, my advertising and ideas agency. Global Rescue was our founding client. I opened a business checking and business banking account with Wells Fargo, and put $6000 into the checking account, and $10,000 into the savings account.
My Initial Investment
So how much money did I use to start my business? You could say $16,000, because that’s what I put into my combined bank account at the start. You could say $6000, because that is what I put in the checking account. Either of those answers could be correct. But they would be correct, like saying it takes 3 licks to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop.
No Money Down
The truth is that I started my side hustle by investing $0.00 into my adventure. All I needed to get started was my home computer, which I already had at home (hence the name home computer.) I was able to start providing value to others with the things I already owned. I simply needed action to start generating a new stream of income. I then diverted the new stream to form a reservoir. And once the reservoir grew large enough, it became my official pool of money to start my own business.
The Real Costs
To officially launch The Weaponry I spent $120 to establish The Weaponry LLC with my state. That’s all I can remember initially spending on the business. I started by working out of my home office, using my home computer. That cost me nothing.
My first real investments in the business were a dedicated work computer, a MacBook Pro, and an iPhone. It’s amazing how much commerce you can facilitate with just those two resources. And most people already own those two powerful business tools.
Don’t be fooled into thinking you need a lot of money to start your own business. You don’t. It costs almost nothing to birth a business. There are always ways to start small. You can probably go MacGyver-style and create your own business out of things lying around your own home right now (or laying around your own home right now, depending on your grammatical choices and intended meaning).
You’d be amazed by how much you could do with just a single run to the grocery store, or the Home Depot. The cost to get on the entrepreneur-ship is much lower than you think. Even if you ultimately want to do big, capital-intensive things. You don’t have to risk your life savings. You just need to get moving. Follow the Yellow Brick road. And pick up as many of those yellow bricks along the way as you can.
*To find out more of the things I am learning on my entrepreneurial journey, consider subscribing to this blog.
In the summer of 2015 I began planning to open my own advertising agency. I knew that I would call it The Weaponry. I knew it would be an exciting adventure. And I knew that we would eventually have an office in Columbus, Ohio. Why Columbus? I’m glad I asked for you. My affinity for this hidden-gem is all right here.
I had lived in Columbus for 7 years and I knew a lot of very talented advertising professionals in the city. Just as importantly I knew a great number of brands and very talented marketers in C-Bus that could use a great agency partner.
In the October of 2017 The Weaponry opened its first office, in Milwaukee. Our new office literally put us on the Google Map, and transformed our business. But just 8 months later we also had two full-time employees in Columbus. And we began planning for our expansion into C-Bus.
By the fall of 2018 we committed to finding our Columbus office in the first quarter of 2019. We considered 3 different options for our initial Columbus space.
Subletting, or sharing space with another business (not letting submarines or long sandwiches).
Coworking spaces (which I always read as cow orking, but I don’t think that’s right).
Stand alone offices space. (The office should stand alone. The people should sit together.)
The Sublease We Could Do
The Weaponry has a lot of great friends in businesses in Columbus. Several of our people invited us to explore sharing some of their unused space. This was not a totally foreign concept to us, as we had also explored subletting in Milwaukee during our initial search.
This is a smart option for many startups. But The Weaponry is no longer in startup mode. We have a unique vibe and culture, and we were concerned that sharing space with another business wouldn’t allow us to feel as much like us as we wanted. So after exploring the option with 3 or 4 other businesses, we decided subletting was not for us. And like the movie Frozen, we sublet it go.
Coworking spaces are now everywhere. And for good reason. They offer a beautiful solution to many officing challenges. For newborn businesses these spaces offer an instant, fully functioning office, with all the amenities of a fully grown business. With just one call, and one payment, you can instantly have a furnished office, with wi-fi, printers, conference rooms, garbage cans and cool common spaces to hangout in, that are not coffee shops.
For solo-preneurs, coworking spaces offer a place where you can work near others, and talk to other people doing what you are doing. Which is attractive, and can be highly beneficial to your network. These spaces also prevent people working in a business-of-one from going all Tom Hanks in Castaway and talking to their volleyballs. #Wilson
These spaces tend to be very new, because coworking is such a modern trend. As a result, the office spaces feel very contemporary. Which means they instantly let you play the part of new startup. or cool agency.
Coworking spaces also provide existing businesses flexibility as they grow. In fact, my friend Lara Shanley, Head of Marketing at Amazon Prime Now, was working in a coworking space in New York City when I saw her last summer. It seems Amazon can’t stop growing, and repeatedly runs out of office space. Coworking facilities prevent people like Laura from having to work Tokyo subway-style, or becoming office-less.
The coworking options are plentiful in Columbus. Our team toured 4 or 5 different spaces. Each one was cooler than the last. Some were part of a national, or international collection of shared spaces. Which would provide us with interesting options when traveling or expanding into other markets. Some were locally owned, which offered the sense that we would have local management eager to help if we needed anything.
But the turnkey co-working space comes at a cost. And the cost is a high cost, and little ability to personalize the environment. We realized through the search for space that an important part of our brand is putting a mark on our space. So we decided to look for a stand alone space of our own.
There are a lot of different options for office space. They all have pros and cons. It is worth the time to explore each option, and find the one that feels right for you. We thought that sharing space would be a really good option. But like so many of us discover in our twenties, we no longer wanted to have a roommate. In the next chapter or our Columbus office saga I’ll share where we landed and why. I’ll also share some exciting news that has happened during our first month in the new space. Thanks for following along!
If you are considering looking for office space, or interested in following The Weaponry’s story, you may also be interested in the following posts about how we found our first office in Milwaukee.
Last summer I got a very interesting call from a friend. She said she was conducting research for the University of Wisconsin Credit Union. And that following the research they would be looking for an agency partner, in Wisconsin, to help rebrand them. She began telling me how the UW Credit Union was a remarkable organization, with great people who delivered an excellent member experience. But I stopped her before she could finish. I said ‘Oh, I know all about the UW Credit Union.’
(To skip the fun back story you can scroll to the bottom, DVR-Style, to see the new work. But you will miss some interesting points and a giggle or two.)
Back In the Day (When I was raised I’m not a kid anymore…)
I am a proud University of Wisconsin Badger. On my 3rd day in Madison, my freshman year in college, I made what I thought would be a quick trip to the UW Credit Union near my dorm. But when I approached the UW Credit Union it seemed that all 43,000 UW students were already in line in front of me. The only other lines I ever saw that long in Madison were outside Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday mornings, and in front of the Kollege Klub on Saturday nights.
I joined what appeared to be the entire student body, and stood in the longest line of my life, holding all of the money I had ever earned. All to open my UW Credit Union checking and savings accounts.I thought this place must be special.
And it was.
You’re So Money, You Don’t Even Know You’re Money!
The UW Credit Union became my primary financial institution, and would be for the next 15 years. My first auto loan was with the UW Credit Union. I borrowed $3000, paid it off in 11 months, and felt like a financial baller. But in 2007 an exciting career opportunities came calling, and it was time for me to fly (…time for me to fly…). So I left America’s Dairy Land, and the domain of the UW Credit Union.
Leaving Wisconsin (The Wander Years)
I moved to Columbus, Ohio, and then on to Atlanta, working my way up to the title of Chief Creative Officer. Then in 2016 I launched my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, and moved back to Wisconsin to be closer to family. I had worked with several esteemed financial institutions, including Fifth Third Bank, Wells Fargo, and Huntington Bank along the way. And now I was hoping to put all of my financial experience to use with UW Credit Union.
My friend Sue Northey introduced me to UW Credit Union’s Chief Marketing Officer, Anne Norman via email. We decided to meet for lunch. But I was in Milwaukee, and Anne was in Madison.So we met in Johnson Creek, an Outlet Malltropolis located directly between Wisconsin’s two largest cities.
Anne and I met for lunch at Hi-Way Harry’s, which for the unfamiliar, is the Rainforest Cafe of Johnson Creek.We had instant rapport. Although I think Anne has instant rapport with everyone. We quickly realized we shared the same vision for how great the UW Credit Union brand could be. We began talking next steps. Which are always my favorite steps.
We put together a thorough proposal that was quickly approved. And we started to roll. We were about to strip the branding down to the studs, and reconsider everything. The logo, tagline, colors and personality would all be re-examined. When we were done we would create a look, language and personality that matched how great the UW Credit Union membership experience really was. Then we would create a fully integrated marketing campaign to bring the brand to life.
Assembling The Team.
My fellow Weapons, Simon ‘Sharper’ Harper, Kristyn’ K-Lil’ Lilley, Kevin ‘Lower’ Kayse and I met with the UW Credit Union’s marketing team, including Anne ’40-Under-40′ Norman, Justine ‘Happy Tears’ Kessler, April ‘Spring’ Laabs, Jocelyn ‘Let’s Ride’ Vande Velde, Becky ‘Shock Value’ Hubing, Jill ‘Rickert’ Rickert, Jill ‘Addy’ Addy, Andy ‘Hugs’ Schubert and Melissa ‘Everything Bagel’ Stapleton (because she does everything, not because she likes everything bagels).
We started by digesting all that had been gathered about the UW Credit Union. The research revealed some really important findings, including:
UW Credit Union is a very special place.
UW Credit Union members love their experience.
UW Credit Union invests time and energy in our members well before a bank would find any financial value in them.
UW Credit Union really cares about the communities it serves.
There was a common misperception that UW Credit Union was a starter bank. (Gasp!) Which is totes not true. But the strong and valuable association with the University of Wisconsin made people think it was a financial institution for college kids and recent graduates. They didn’t realize that UW Credit Union was an excellent financial institution for all ages and stages.
It was time to set the record straight.
We explored a wide range of taglines to summarize how we support our members from their teenage years through retirement. Life changes bring on different needs and opportunities. And at the UW Credit Union we want to help you no matter where you are on your financial journey.
The new tagline:
UW Credit Union. Here for every you.
We are Here, whenever you need us. Which talks to UW Credit Union’s customer service that made them Forbes #1 rated credit union in the state. We are also Here in Wisconsin, just like our members. It explains why we care about your community, your neighborhoods, and your causes. Because they are ours too. We love the emphasis on You, the member. Because as a credit union, we only exist to serve you and your needs. Every symbolizes our flexibility and ability to adapt as your needs change.
We wanted a logo that was cleaner, simpler and easier to use. We wanted a contemporary look. And we wanted to it give us an identity that was distinct from other UW-related organizations, including UW-Health and The UW System itself.
New UW Credit Union Logo
The logo highlights the first priority of the organization: you. By highlighting the U in the name in our flagship color, and making it of equal weight and importance to the name of our institution, we also convey our sense of responsibility to those we serve: You, our members. We also opted for a lower case ‘u’ because it felt more approachable, which is a distinguishing factor of the UW Credit Union. Also, we have taken the liberty to use ‘U’ and ‘You’ interchangeably. #creativelicence
With the new logo, tagline and brand standards in place, we began putting the new brand look to good use. We started creating all manner of new materials in a fully integrated program
First out of the gate are these NewBillboards.
There are also new print ads.
Here’s a radio script currently on air. I would attach the audio file, but I would have to upgrade my account to do that. And it’s too late at night to take on such monumental tasks.
At The UW Credit Union, we like to say we knew you way back when. When your only mode of transportation was the heel-toe express. When the only wheels you owned were connected to a pedal. We knew you when the only home you had ever considered buying was on a monopoly board. When your financial future was defined by the next pay check.We knew you when your family was still supporting you. It was then, when you greatest asset was your work ethic and a dream, that we first invested in you.The UW Credit Union. Here For Every You.
Credit Card Design
We then helped redesign the new UW Credit Cards. We turned the design on its head. Literally. Instead of the traditional horizontal design, we designed this card for the chip reader era, with a vertical orientation. To keep the design clean and simple we moved all the hard-working elements, including card holder name, number, contact info and legalese to the back of the card.
The new brand will also impact UW Credit Union branch design, television commercials, sponsorships, debit cards and more. But the member experience will remain as good as advertised. Because people love the UW Credit Union experience. And we have certainly loved working with this great brand and the great team behind it. We look forward to all there is to come.
I grew up in Vermont. If you’ve ever met me you know I am very proud of this fact. Vermont was a wonderful place to be a kid. It was beautiful, safe and quiet. There were various career options available to Vermonters. We had a lot of maple syrup farmers, stone fence stackers, and a couple of world-class ice cream makers. But I didn’t know a single advertising professional.
I left Vermont for college and went to the University of Wisconsin. When I graduated and wanted to find a job as a copywriter for an advertising agency, I didn’t know anyone who could help me prepare for my job search.
A Friend of a Friend of a Friend.
However, I did have friends. My college friend Gina Wagner (now Gina Zanik of Salt Lake City) told me that a friend of her Mom’s might know someone who could help. A few calls were made, and through a friend-chain I was put in touch with a man named Paul Zukowski.
Paul, a grown man with a real advertising career, then did something remarkable. He took time out of his day to meet with me, a total stranger, on a Saturday, to offer advice on how to best present my work, to maximize the chances of landing a job as an advertising creative.
Paul not only owed me nothing, he was likely to get nothing in return for helping this penniless, jobless, cotton headed ninny muggins. Yet Paul offered me some of his valuable time and gave me some really great, if not unconventional advice. Advice that ultimately helped me land my first job in advertising. And this blog post, written 23 years later, is all he got for his effort. (Although, upon his death he may receive eternal consciousness. Which is nice.)
Thinking of Paul
I haven’t seen Paul since the day we met at Union South in Madison, back in 1996, But I have thought of Paul often. In fact, I think of him every time a college student contacts me asking for an informational interview. I think of him every time someone wants advice on launching their own business. I think of him every time someone who is looking for a new job wants to grab coffee. I think of him when an aspiring blogger wants to buy me a chocolate milk and learn how to get started. (You can learn most of what I know here.)
Paul Zukowski, a man I have seen once in my life, played an important role in my advertising career. When I was desperately trying to get my foot in the door, he showed me how to put my best foot forward. As a result I got a job as a copywriter. I then got promoted all the way to Chief Creative Officer, before launching my own advertising and idea agency called The Weaponry in 2016.
Paying It Forward
Today, I pay it forward and continue the goodwill that Paul started by helping others. This week I drove from Milwaukee to The Weaponry’s new office in Columbus, Ohio. During my drive I spent more than 3 hours talking to people who reached out to me because:
They were about to graduate from college.
They recently moved and were looking for a job and a network in a new city.
They had lost a job and needed to figure out their next chapter.
I don’t expect a thing from any of the people I try to help. Although I hope my willingness to help encourages them to help others down the road. Just like Paul helped me.
Sooner or later we all need a Paul Zukowski. We need someone who can help us chart a new course through a foreign land. While it’s great to find someone who will do that for you, it’s even better to be the Paul Zukowski. To be the one who offers help and guidance while expecting nothing in return. Because it sets off a chain reaction that can make a significant impact on a significant number of people for generations to come. Heck, it can even help a kid from rural Vermont (#redundant) start a career in advertising, launch a business, and launch a blog to share the story with the world.
I recently had the chance to work with Olympic Gold medalist Blake Pieroni. Blake won a gold medal at the Rio Olympics as part of the 4×100 freestyle relay. He is such a strong swimmer that he recently became a Mizuno sponsored athlete. Which is saying something, since Mizuno makes the best racing suit in the pool.
While filming with Blake I asked the Indiana native, and Indiana University student athlete about the major breakthroughs in his career. I was surprised to hear this world-class athlete say he really hasn’t had any.
Slowly Getting Faster
Blake said his progress has been steady and incremental. Day after day he continues to invest time in his training and preparation. As a result, he has slowly gotten faster. Which is a ridiculous thing to write. Yet it’s a proven, oxymoronic formula for success.
Blake’s career is a testimony to the power of slow and steady progress. It is not showy. Or gimmicky. It’s not based on shortcuts, or nepotism, or your mama paying to get you into USC. This is a get rich slow scheme. And if you are willing to put in the work it takes, it is the most certain way to continuously reach beyond your previous best.
I launched my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, in 2016. I bootstrapped the business, which is an Arkansas-sounding way of saying the business was self-funded. We have not grown by adding one giant account. Our growth has come by steadily accumulating great clients, and steadily growing our businesses together.
I was looking at numbers related to The Weaponry’s revenue yesterday when I noticed something interesting. At just 2.5 months into 2019 we have already generated more revenue this year than we did in our entire first year. Yet we haven’t acquired an Amazonian client. We didn’t go Uber-style and quadruple our pricing due to heavy rain and an umbrella plague. We have simply accumulated 17 active clients. And they all matter to our success.
I also started writing The Perfect Agency Project blog when I launched The Weaponry. My goal was to tell the story of my entrepreneurial journey. I wanted to share my experiences and challenges, so that others could benefit from my learnings.
Coincidentally, I noticed an interesting statistic about this blog yesterday too. As of March 20th, in 2019 I have already surpassed the total number of visitors and viewers I had in all of 2016.
Perhaps the blog is getting better too. Because my posts have already generated 14 times (14X) more likes than the entire first year. (And by likes I mean signs of social appreciation from readers. Not likes written into the body of my posts, because I write like a 16-year-old, like, kid from Likesylvania.)
The business and blog growth are both very rewarding. Especially because they are growing too slowly to notice on a daily basis. But when I look at the year-over-year data, the results are clear.
Just keep swimming. Keep doing what you know you need to do to get better. Whether it is swimming, writing, growing a business, studying or any other pursuit worth pursuing. The progress might never be obvious, or dramatic. But keep at it anyway. Because if you do, eventually you will turn around and notice just how far you have come. It is the cumulative progress that matters. Not the speed. Not the attention. Just the results.
In 1999 I went to see a fascinating speech by Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter. Over 3000 people showed up at Marquette University to hear from this man you have likely never heard of. But Hurricane Carter has a remarkable story, and we wanted to hear it from the man himself.
Things Started Bad
Carter was sent to a juvenile reformatory at 11 years old for stabbing a man. He escaped and joined the army. That didn’t work out so well either. He was court martialed 4 times, then discharged in 1956 as unfit for service. Oops.
Things Got Worse
Carter became a professional boxer in the 1960s. He had a very successful career, until 1966, when he ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time. A black man, with a car like his, had murdered people in a restaurant in Patterson, New Jersey. Police found Carter nearby, and he closely matched the description of the suspect. He was arrested, tried and convicted for a crime he did not commit.
Things Got Better
After 20 years in prison, the error was finally revealed, and Carter was released. By that time Bob Dylan had written a popular song about him. Years later Carter wrote a book about his story that was turned into a popular movie called The Hurricane staring Denzel Washington as Carter.
After Carter’s speech, I stuck around the book signing to ask The Hurricane a question. I waited patiently for all the books to be signed and all the other people to leave. Then I approached Carter and asked him the question I was dying to know.
I said, ‘Mr. Carter, after spending 20 years in prison for a crime you said you did not, could not and would not commit, what was the first thing you did when you got out?’
His answer surprised me.
‘I went blind. I literally lost my sight. Prison is such a stressful place, and I had been fighting for my safety, my sanity and my freedom so hard for so long, that once I got out it was like my body shut down, and I lost my sight for a week.’
I said, ‘Wow! It is crazy that after fighting for your freedom so hard for so long, you couldn’t even enjoy it.
I will never forget what he said next.
‘Life’s funny man. Life’s a trip but you gotta take it. A lot of people will say life’s a shit sandwich. But I tell you what, the more pieces of bread you put on it, the less shit you gotta taste.’ -Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter
Remember this the next time you are having a hard day at work or school. Remember this when you have a tough day with your kids, the bank or the neighbors. If Rubin could say that after his time in prison, you can remind yourself of this after a hard commute.
Remember to focus on the bread. Add as much bread as you can. Look for the thick, Texas Toast loaf of life, and just keep adding it to your sandwich.
Ask people who have been through extraordinary experiences what they have learned. Grow through their growth. Take their knowledge, lessons and insights and put them in your pocket. That way you don’t have to go through what they have experienced in order to benefit from it too.
I have a friend in New York City who works for one of the biggest companies in the world. Everyone knows this e-monster. It’s a technical marvel. And it seems to be taking over the world. Which means it’s a great place to work right now. But my friend, who I will call Flora, also has a strong entrepreneurial drive. She has several great startup ideas and is trying to determine the best one to pursue, and the best time to pursue it.
The Throw Away Ideas
Flora thinks big, and wants to create a really big business of her own. Which is to be expected when you work for a global giant. But she also has several interesting ‘small’ ideas that she quickly dismisses. Flora calls these $100 ideas, and tosses them aside the way you might throw fish back in the water because they are too small to keep.
If you have entrepreneurial ambitions, or want to develop a side hustle, don’t dismiss your ideas because they are not likely to get covered by Tech Crunch. See the $100 idea as a great way to start and gain experience.
Your $100 ideas teach you how to create a machine to deliver products or services. They are the intro courses to business building. Once you get started you can always expand and scale them up. You may be surprised how much your $100 idea will ultimately be worth. But only if you get started.
Adam & Sleeve
My first real business was a $100 idea. I designed and sold T-Shirts under the brand name Adam & Sleeve. I learned all kinds of valuable lessons about operating a business from Adam & Sleeve that I put to good use when I started my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry. The Weaponry’s revenues are in the millions. But it sprung from knowledge gained running a business based on a $100 idea.
Other $100 Ideas
Mowing your neighbor’s lawn
Selling those baked goods you are so good at making
Anything on Sally Struthers’ list
Healthcare Patient Advocate
Reselling wholesale candy at school
Cleaning homes or offices
Taking engagement photos
Posing naked for college art classes
These ideas can get you started. They can make you extra money. And you can scale them up and make even more money by growing volume. You can combine multiple $100 ideas, like mowing, snow blowing and raking leaves, then scale up to create a full-fledged yard care business. Or you could create handmade jewelry while posing naked for college drawing classes, and then sell the jewelry to the art students who drew you naked. #doubledip
Don’t underestimate the power of $100 ideas. Acting on them gets you off the sidelines and into the game. They help build entrepreneurial muscles, skills and flexibility. They build confidence and experience in sales, operations, quality control and customer service. But most importantly, they start the flow of self-generated income.
$100 ideas usually have low start-up costs. Which means they are low risk ventures that you can grow your own way (…grow your own way-ay-ay! #FleetwoodMac). You can decide how much you want to scale. You can also decide when you have learned enough to take on an even more lucrative challenge. Because an entrepreneur in motion, tends to stay in motion. Which means it is better to start with a $100 idea today than to spend a lifetime on the verge of putting a billion dollar idea into motion.