I dreamed about writing a book for a long time. But I never had the time or focus to make it happen. Then came Covid. I quickly recognized that the Covid lockdown, which began in March of 2020, was a golden opportunity to write something significant. So I did. I emerged from the lockdown with a 50,000 word first draft of a manuscript. And a Boo Radley-type of tan.
Today the book that only existed in the back of my mind before Covid is now all of the United States. Just as the baby bird learns to fly and leaves the nest, my paper baby has left the printer and learned to hitch a ride with an Amazon delivery driver.
I realized during the fun interview with podcast host and entrepreneur Jeff Hilimire that I hadn’t answered most of the questions he asked me before. No one had ever interviewed me as a published author before. No one had read my book and asked me about the details. No one cared about my inspiration, because they didn’t know I was inspired. And no one knew about chapter 56.
I am happy to have my first interview complete. But I recognize that I will become better at telling the story of my book and of me as an another as I do more interviews. I am preparing now. So if you know a podcaster, blogger, vlogger, reporter, or a student who needs to do an interview for a school project, send them my way. I’ll be ready.
Don’t worry about not being great when you start something new. Simply start. Learn. Then get better as you go. Each attempt will teach you how to prepare better for the next time. Stack your learnings. And let your accumulated experiences make you greater and greater as you grow.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them. If you would like to read the first few pages of my book from Ripples Mediayou can do it here.
19 years into my advertising career I did something cray-cray. Despite the fact that there were already a bazillion ad agencies I could have worked at I decided to start my own. That agency, The Weaponry, just turned 5-years old. Which is kind of a big deal because so many businesses bite the dust before they hit the 5-candle cake.
Our recent milestone has prompted me to reflect on my entrepreneurial journey. What I have discovered is that entrepreneurship is like an epic game of connect the dots. Most of those dots are people. And in my case, none of them are actually named Dot.
I have been thinking of many of the people who have played an important dot in my experience. And I quickly go back to the very beginning. Which is a very good place to start. Because the hardest part of entrepreneurship is simply getting started. Here are some of the people that inspired me to get started and the role they played in my adventure.
16-ish People Who Have Played An Important Role In My Entrepreneurial Adventure.
Bob and Jill Albrecht My parents gave me the confidence to think I could do anything I set my mind to. Except maybe play baseball. Or win at The Quiet Game.
2. Dawn Albrecht My wife fully supported me trading in a well-paid career as an employee to chase the elusive success of entrepreneurship. And she had the most to lose. Like food, shelter, and wi-fi.
3. My Uncles I have 18 uncles, most of whom are either farmers or other forms of entrepreneurs, or both. Seeing that kind of self-reliance all around you makes you believe in yourself. My Aunts (rhymes with wants) were also important partners in the team’s success. Which provided a template for Dawn and me to follow. And some shared genetics.
4. Roger Rathke My college journalism professor at the University of Wisconsin was a copywriter who eventually owned his own agency and made plenty of money in the process. He provided a model and a path I wanted to follow. Plus he had a fancy sports car. Which is not something most professors have. He also introduced me to an agency CEO named Paul Counsell, which was the first domino. We all need a first domino.
5.Paul Counsell Paul was the CEO of Cramer Krasselt, and hired me for my first job in advertising. He provided another great agency leader model for me. He had also started his own agency. And when I asked what he would have done differently in his entrepreneurial journey he said he would have gone after bigger clients sooner. I never forgot that and followed his advice when I started The Weaponry. He also once told me I had no diplomacy. He was right. I fixed that.
6. Neil Casey My first boss. At a lunch 2 years into my career, he told me I had the skills to lead the whole agency. I was 25. That made a major impression on me.
7. Ashley Lazarus Ashley is a world-class director, who in 1999 told me I had to start my own agency to stay in control of my own career. I believed him. Our discussion was a key driver in my career. I wrote about it here.
8.Chris Dawson Chris and I first met 21 years ago when he was a marketing hotshot at Ski-Doo, leading their advertising agency review. Me and my team pitched and won the account. Chris is hyper-smart and we became good friends and excellent collaborators. In the summer of 2015, Chris called me and encouraged me to start my own agency. While the idea of entrepreneurship had been simmering for years, that call and that encouragement was the tipping point. Chris has now helped hire The Weaponry 3 different times for 3 different companies.
9.Chad ThompsonChad was a former client of mine at Nationwide Insurance. He called me 2 hours after I talked to Chris Dawson and also told me he was interested in working together again but didn’t think my current agency was right for his needs. I told him that was good news because I was going to start my own agency. This second call of the afternoon felt like the universe hitting me over the head, telling me it was time to get going.
10. Mark O’BrienI had a 4-hour dinner with Mark, a close friend, and former client a few days later at Marlow’s in Alpharetta, Georgia. #SweetTeaBender I told him that I was thinking of starting my own agency. He said, ‘You HAVE to do this!’ Not you should, or could. He made it clear that success was certain, and the world needed what I was planning to build. That was a huge endorsement. A few months later he hired The Weaponry to work on Mizuno.
11. Nicole Hallada My friend Nicole and I had a phone call shortly after my dinner with Mark. When she asked me what I was up to I told her I was planning on starting my own agency. She told me that if I did she had work for me. She has now been a very important client for 5 years.
12. Christien LouviereChristien is a friend and entrepreneur in Atlanta. But most importantly as it relates to me, he is also a content creator. His blog post Top 10 Things You Don’t Need to Do To Start Your Own Business had a major impact on me. Because in the post he enlightened me to the fact that I should start my business before quitting my day job. He said let your day job fund your startup as long as you can. That key unlocked the gate for me. It took the pressure off of the need for immediate success. In fact, that advice was so important to me that I have now published nearly 600 blog posts since then in hopes that I help unlock something important for someone else by sharing what I know.
13.Jeff HilimireJeff is a serial entrepreneur and was the President of Engauge when I was the Chief Creative Officer. After Engauge was acquired by Publicis, Jeff started Dragon Army and was fully immersed in his new agency when I was ready to start The Weaponry. He was and has been a great advisor and supporter throughout my journey. I remember sitting on the deck at Dragon Army with Jeff in Atlanta when he asked me, ‘What is the percent chance you will actually start your own agency?‘ I told him ‘100%. I will fail at this before I do anything else.’ Which illustrated how committed I was to entrepreneurship. I wrote about it here.
14.Dan Richards Dan and I grew up together in Norwich, Vermont. We played football and were on the track team together at Hanover High School. He is one of my closest friends. He is also an amazing entrepreneur and Founder and CEO of Global Rescue. Dan hired an embryonic version of The Weaponry to do its very first project on October 31st of 2015 in Boston. Over the following 12 months not only was Global Rescue our biggest client, Dan was a great mentor, sharing everything I wanted to know about running a business. Every aspiring entrepreneur should have a Dan Richards.
15. Troy Allen Troy and I both lived in Dublin, Ohio. We were both advertising guys. But when I met him he had already started his own agency called Elevate. Then he started another amazing business called Rise Brands, which creates amazing brands, including the wildly successful 16-Bit Arcade, Pins Mechanical, and No Soliciting. Troy was extremely helpful in sharing his experience and providing insights into pricing and offering revenue numbers to benchmark against. Having someone to talk real numbers with you is huge for new entrepreneurs.
16.Brooks AlbrechtMy cousin Brooks was in Seattle working for Amazon in 2015. But we talked often. We have a lot in common. Including a good chunk of our DNA and our last name. Brooks played football and baseball at The University of Minnesota. I was on the track team at the University of Wisconsin. We both were on Big 10 Championship teams. And we were both looking for our next career challenge. So we teamed up to launch The Weaponry together. We planned and prepped and researched together. Brooks solidified our operations and was part of The Weaponry for the first year. He was a huge help, and really fun to work with. We still talk frequently and are always looking for our next collaboration.
Entrepreneurship may appear to be an individual sport, but it is far from that. It is full of supporters, encouragers, and role models. Finding those people is key to your success. Surround yourself with great people. It increases the likelihood of you doing great things too.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this message please share it with them.
Happy Leap Day! February 29th is your lucky day. In fact, it’s luckier than a 5-leaf clover. And it’s rarer than a mooing steak. In fact, it is so rare that it only happens every 4 years. Like the Olympics, a Presidential election, or Halley’s Comet.
However it is not the rarity of Leap Day that matters. It’s the opportunity. Today is a totally free, bonus day! Which means that today is the perfect day to do something extra. Like Michael Jackson said, today, ‘You got to be startin’ somethin’. Or finishing somethin’. Or working hard on somethin’. #MaMaSeMaMaSaMaMaCooSa
Saturday Day Fever
Even better, this year Leap Day is the perfect bonus day. Because it falls on a Saturday. Which means you probably don’t have to work or go to school today. So take a few minutes to think about those things you have always wanted to do. Those things you can never seem to find the time to start, plan or complete. And get rolling.
Possible Leap Day Activities:
Take a hike
Play a Game
Start a blog, vlog, slog, or drink Glogg
Start a business
Pick up a new hobby, or re-engage in an old hobby, like Holly
Create a podcast
Play an instrument
Create a product
Start a book (reading or writing)
Marie Kondo your house
Volunteer, or sign up to volunteer
Go to church (or find a place of worship to go to this week)
Start a meetup
Join a club or worthy organization
Ask someone to be your mentor.
Call someone you haven’t talked to for too long
Find a dentist
Find a doctor
Find a nurse
Find a lady with an alligator purse
Start your taxes
Plan a vacation
Organize a girls night, or a guys night, or a Michael Knight.
Make a career or life plan
Do something that’s more you, because no one knows you better than you.
I started planning my own business, The Weaponry, during a little bonus time like you have today. Now we have 2 offices and clients from California to Quebec. I also started this blog during a little bit of free time. And this is post number 411. #Information Now it’s your turn to go do something meaningful today.
Time is your more precious resource. Use it wisely. Alchemize it into magic. And when you get a bonus day, or a bonus hour, take advantage of it. Otherwise, when you come to the end of your time, you will wish you had.
Which begs the question: What will you do with your Leap Day?
I love books. They are like fertilizer for your brain. I like to read them and listen to them. I like to collect books and display them throughout my house. I like books that educate, inspire and entertain. And I just finished a great book that did all 3 of those things in one handy-dandy, hard-covered, Amazon-Prime-delivered package.
The 5-Day Turnaround
My great friend, former co-worker and serial (not cereal) entrepreneur, Jeff Hilimire, somehow stole enough time from his crowded calendar to author a book called The 5-Day Turnaround.
I’ll admit that when I first heard the title of the book I was quite skeptical. I mean, who needs 5 days to turn all the way around? I think the Earth itself only needs like 2 or 3 days to turn around, right?
When I dug into the book I realized it wasn’t about slow-turning humans after all. It was about how to inspire established companies to think more like startups. And how to get corporate leaders to think and behave more like entrepreneurs.
I found this book fascinating. And highly relatable. Because 4 years ago I went from a very large, publicly held organization to a startup. My own startup. And as I launched my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I noticed how different the 2 organizations were in their approach to, well, approaching things.
Comparing and Contrasting
The 5-Day Turnaround captures the mindset, speed and aggressiveness embodied in a startup, and contrasts it with the cautious, conservative nature of a well established company. The book is written as a fictional novel. Which means that the reader follows the story, and through ahh-smosis, picks up on all the important lessons learned by the story’s floundering corporate character, Matt.
The Pitch. And The Proposal.
The book really kicks into action after an ad agency pitch, when the potential client (Matt), tells the agency that they didn’t win the pitch because their ideas were so good and innovative that the conservative corporation didn’t have the chutzpah to implement them. Which meant the company was likely to choose a lamer agency instead.
However, the agency’s leader, Will, comes up with a daring plan to help Matt transform from a beaten down corporate dog into a daring, entrepreneurial leader within his large organization.
The story is a bit like the Fairy Godmother turning Cinderella into the belle of the ball. Only Cinderella was a cautious middle manager, who became an aggressive, entrepreneurial executive. And in this story Cinderella kept both of his Allen Edmonds wingtips on as he headed for home, at midnight, in his Tesla.
The book is packed with relatable organization challenges. And Will teaches Matt how to overcome them all in just 5 days. Will does this using foundational fundamentals that help organizations and departments grow at startup speed. Which is only slightly slower than ludicrous speed. #wevegoneplaid
The book challenges the assumption that bad things will happen if you take a risk within a large organization. It walks through a worst case scenario to dispel the myth that bad things happen to people who stick their necks out. It encourages readers to become fearless in their thinking and actions. Which is a lesson that benefits everyone.
You Down With PVTV? (yeah you know me!)
The book walks through the importance of establishing your Purpose, Vision, Tenets and Values (PVTV). Which sounds like the local station in the Portland-Vancouver, WA metro area. It even guides you through a process to determine the PVTV for your organization or department. This alone is worth the read.
The book covers such important topics as:
The Do Or Die Mindset
Identifying the right and and wrong people for your organization, based on the PVTV. (I want my PVTV!)
Who Is It For?
This book is great for any leader interested in thinking and acting more like an entrepreneur, even if you never plan to start your own business. The entrepreneurial mindset is confident, inspired and fast-acting (like Tinactin). Which leads to more success, because it creates more opportunities for success.
The 5-Day Turnaround is not just a book you read once. It becomes an easy-to-use reference book that you can pick up anytime for a quick hit of inspiration. It provides a series of valuable guideposts to keep you on course. Plus, it is a quick, easy and engaging read that flies by, allowing you to digest a lot of new information in a short time.
I found a couple of other fun things in this book. A crazy, risk-taking example Jeff mentions in the book was inspired by a meeting Jeff and I had at Proctor & Gamble, that involved a surprise performance from an opera singer. It was weird, and fun, and memorable. #TakingRisks
One of the really fun surprises at the end of this great read was that I found my name in the acknowledgements section. It was the first time I remember receiving a literary shout out. I think the major contribution I provided was simply encouraging Jeff to write the book in English, and number the pages, in order, starting with the smallest numbers.
Thank for writing The 5-Day Turnaround Jeff. Thanks for sharing your insights, experiences and talent with the world. You have been a positive and motivational, and inspiration force for me and so many others. Now, you have inspired me to want to write my own book. I’m thinking of calling it The 4-Day Turnaround. Or maybe 6-Minute Abs.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this book, please share this post with them.
Do you ever think about your motivational fuel source? It’s valuable to understand what encourages, inspires and pushes you. Because once you know what fuels your personal fire, you can stockpile kegs of it. Then ignite it whenever you need another boost.
I have been a heavy consumer of motivation fuel my entire life. When I was young I guzzled it to help me perform my best in school and athletics. After college I started using motivational fuel to enhance my career, personal fitness and financial success.
My Current Focus
In 2016 I made a strategic decision to push both my career and financial success to the next level. As a result I launched my own advertising and idea agency called The Weaponry. When I was in the planning stages of my entrepreneurial adventure I started this blog to document what I learned along the way. One of my key learnings is that you need to keep a steady stream of motivational fuel flowing into your system at all times.
Finding Your Fuel
Take some time to analyze what motivation fuel sources power your inner drive. Then acquire as much of it as you can. I find that I am inspired by many things. Which means that I have a lot of options when it comes to motivation propellents.
My 15 Sources Of Motivation Fuel
1. My Vision.
This is a major source, if not my primary source of motivation. I have a clear vision of the fully-formed Me. Unfortunately, it’s a lot better than the current Me. But I am already better than I used to be. Closing the Me vs Ideal Me gap is an always available fuel source.
2. Impressive And Successful People.
I love to see others have great success. When I see my friends crushing it, I want to crush it too. This is true in my career and in my personal life. I fancy myself successful, so I want to keep up with others I think are like me. It’s the most positive way to keep up with the Jones. Keep pace with their successes, not their expenditures.
Reading supplies me with steady, slow-burning motivation. I like to read biographies about successful people. I read How-To and Self-Helpy type stuff all the time. Book fuel is really a cocktail of numbers 1, 2, 3, 10, and 12.
Examples: See images above.
6. Motivational Speakers
If motivational speakers don’t fuel you up nothing will. Seek them out in person, or online. YouTube and Social Media platforms are thick with them.
Examples: Tony Robbins, Gary Vee, Zig Ziglar, my college coach Ed Nuttycombe’s spaghetti speech.
When I see others in poverty it propels me forward like the other side of a magnet.
Examples: Driving through a depressed part of town. India.
8. Unhealthy People
People who are obviously unhealthy are a constant reminder that I need to keep moving and eating right. I am thankful for them. And they are everywhere. Except the gym.
9. My family
Taking care of my wife, daughter and 2 sons is a major motivating factor. They are a constant source of motivation. But so are my parents, my 3 sisters and their families. Even broader, I am very proud to be a member of the Albrecht Family and The Sprau Family. (My Mom’s maiden name is Sprau. It’s fun to think of your Mom as a maiden.) I am always trying to be an asset to the family and enhance our brand reputation.
10. Financial Freedom
I am driven to acquire enough money to be able to choose how I spend my time. I want to be in control of my life. This is the way to maintain as much control as possible.
Examples: Hundred dollar bills. Fifty dollar bills. Twenty dollar bills
My goals provide constant motivation. They have big gaudy numbers on them. And they provide a constant measure of what I have left to accomplish in order to live up to my own standards. I really like raw, quantifiable number goals.
Examples of how I measure progress towards my goals: On my bathroom scale, In Quickbooks, Through my WordPress Blog Stats, the amount of weight I lift.
I think pride is the ultimate motivator. I look for it in employees. Because someone who values pride won’t let you down because they don’t want to let themselves down.
Examples: People who work at The Weaponry.
I never want to let others down. When I competed in athletics I never wanted to let my teammates down. As a business owner I am motivated to take care of my team and their families.
I like to compete. So when I see others do well, I want to do well. Your competitors are one of the best motivators you have. Use them.
Life and work can be hard. Motivation isn’t automatic. You need to seek it out. Stockpile it. Refine it. And consume it when you need a boost. Like the variety of foods in a well balanced diet, it’s best to keep a wide variety of fuel sources handy so you can quickly tap into the kind of motivation you need at any given moment. By understanding your motivational fuel sources you can ensure you will always have an abundant supply. And if you have an endless supply of motivational fuel your possibilities are endless too.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this post, please share it with them.
Everyone has a goal. If you are ambitious, young or greedy you probably have many. Your goals serve as the magnets on your internal navigational compass. (As opposed to your Jeep Compass). Goals are what feed your actions every day. Without goals you are in danger of drifting through life.With a goal you can paddle, set your sails, or fire up your 300 horsepower Evinrude outboard motor, and set a course across the stormy seas of life towards a meaningful destination.
Goals are very personal. They represent our desires, dreams and ambitions. If your goals are large, gaudy or outlandish, like a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG), they can make you seem delusional. But it is impossible to accomplish improbable feats without improbable goals.
2 Schools of Thought
One of the great questions in goalology, the study of goals (okay, maybe I just made that up), is whether it is better to share your goals with other people, or keep them to yourself. There are two very different ways to think about this. My great friend Jeff Hilimire and I stand on different sides of the aisle. So we thought it would be worthwhile to share our opposing views.
Analyzing the Analyzers
Adam Albrecht and Jeff Hilimire have interesting similarities. They were both college athletes. Jeff played tennis at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, and Adam was a discus and hammer thrower on the track and field team at the University of Wisconsin. Both of these cats are also entrepreneurs.Jeff’s businesses include digital agency, Spunlogic, mobile and digital agency, Dragon Army and the great web-building, good-slinging, non-profit 48in48. Adam’s businesses include the advertising and idea agency The Weaponry and t-shirt company Adam & Sleeve. Yet despite these similarities, they have very different takes on goal sharing.
Jeff’s Views on Goals:
I’m a big believer in not only creating focused, tight, and specific goals (both short- and long-term), but also that you should consider sharing those goals in order to create accountability – for yourself and through others.
Many people have goals, but very few spend the time to write them down. When you force yourself to write something down, you’re creating a new connection in your brain with that “thing”. There have been studies that show this, but I’m not going to share them here, mostly because you have Google*.
But I have found the real power of accountability comes when you share your goals with others. If you’re the only person holding yourself to your commitments, it becomes easy to slack off or move the goalposts. Even if it’s just with a buddy, asking him or her to check in on you periodically dramatically increases the chances of you holding yourself accountable.
Personally, I like to share my goals on my blog, which is as public as it gets. And it works! One of my goals is to read 53 books this year (one more than last year,) and people I know ask me when we get together, “So, how many books are you at so far this year?” At the very least it’s a reminder that I committed to something and need to stick with it.
Not everyone needs this kind of accountability, but I’d guess 99% of people do. Let’s be real, while everyone has goals, very few people actually accomplish them. Not because they don’t have the skills, but because they don’t keep at it. They don’t stay focused, they find excuses, and sometimes they even forget. Writing your goals down and sharing them with others is at least one way to give yourself a better chance of success.
* also because I only kinda think I’ve heard that, so I might have made it up.
Adam’s Views on Goals
I used to subscribe to the theory that it was good to share your goals with others. But not anymore. There is a very basic problem with goal sharing. If you tell people you are going to start a business, run a marathon or donate 10 gallons of blood, you start feeling like it is true. Afterall, it has been stated aloud, and those words have floated from your mouth, through the ether, into someone else’s ear hole. That makes it true, right?
Wrong. Talk is cheap. You could say talk is worthless. (Unless of course you host a talk show, or are a police negotiator. In which case talk is your most valuable asset.)
The problem is that talking about your goals makes you feel as if you are making progress towards your goals. And the more you talk about them with others, the more you feel like they are real and true. Even though there has been no real progress. It is that false sense of progress that undermines many a good, worthy goal.
Goal sharing can also cause you to lose confidence in your ability to achieve those goals. If you want to lose a lot of weight, earn a lot of money or find a really hot spouse, and you tell someone this, you are likely to get negativity, doubt or laughter in return. You don’t need that. You need to believe you can do what you set out to do. Like Gwen Stefani, you need to have no doubt. And big goals produce doubt in others.
To avoid that false sense of progress, and to avoid the doubters, I like to keep my goals to myself. I have many goals, hopes and dreams that never get shared. Because I tell myself that my talk does not achieve anything. I find great motivation in showing people what I have done, rather than talking about whatI will do.
Goals are personal. And we are all motivated in different ways.You need to find out which approach works better for you. So if keeping your goals a secret isn’t working, try sharing. And if talking about your goals isn’t helping, shut up and get moving.
Despite our differences, we both want to hear what you think. Leave a comment and tell us if you think it’s better to shout your goals to the world like a Mexican soccer announcer, or keep them quiet, like Marcel Marceau.
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.
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.
In the late summer of 2015 I got together with my friend Jeff Hilimire for a little update on our lives and careers. Jeff and I had worked closely together for several years as part of the leadership team at Engauge, an advertising agency with offices in Atlanta, Columbus, Pittsburgh and Orlando.
Engauge was a pretty awesome agency, if I do type so myself. Publicis bought the business in the summer of 2013. Jeff left the company the next day to start his next business (his first startup, Spunlogic, was acquired as one of the three initial pillars of Engauge).
Jeff gave me a tour of his new mobile agency, Dragon Army. I met his team. Then Jeff and I sat outside on the company’s deck, and he gave me exciting updates on his business and his life.
Sharing My Plan
Then Jeff asked how things were in my world. I had stayed on with the company we worked at after Publics acquired it two years earlier. I’m sure Jeff was expecting to hear how things were going at work. He was clearly surprised when I told him,
I am planning to start my own ad agency.
At the time I didn’t have a client. I didn’t have an employee. I didn’t have a name. I didn’t even have this blog. I didn’t have anything to make my claim credible, except my vision and a commitment to myself to make it come true.
Talk is Cheap
I am sure Jeff, who has started multiple successful businesses, has heard a lot of big talk from nontrepreneurs like I was. It is really easy to talk about your plans. Everyone does it. It is so much harder to live into them.
Part way through the conversation Jeff checked my entrepreneurial seriousness. Not in a disbelieving way, exactly. Jeff is a very positive person who loves entrepreneurship (it’s one of his favorite ships). He would help anyone who was truly committed to starting their own business. But he seemed to want to know if this was for realsies, or if he should just smile and nod, but not invest any real time, energy or advice.
Jeff cut through the conversation with this simple question:
What is the percent chance you will actually start your own agency? Because the greatest tragedy would be that the next time we meet we have this same conversation. You’d be talking about wanting to start your own agency, but still hadn’t.
It was a great question. My answer could forever be used against me in The District Court of Hot Air and Blown Smoke. But I was glad he asked.
Jeff looked pleasantly surprised by my answer, but double checked like Aaron Rodgers, asking, “Really?”
I responded definitively, ‘Yes! I will fail at this before I do anything else!’
My mind was set. I had already burned my employment ships. I was going to allow myself no chance of retreat. The only way ahead was through my own business.
I recently talked to Jeff about this conversation. I wanted to know what was going through his head on the other side of the table that day two years ago. It was a fun question to ask because The Weaponry is now a very real business, with real clients, real employees and a real office of our own, despite what you might read on our website.
This is what Jeff said:
I talk to literally hundreds of people that want to start companies and never do. So on the one hand I thought there was a slim chance you’d actually do it. But on the other hand, I know you’re a competitor. And I was trying to tap into your sense of competitiveness. But when you said ‘100%!’ I thought, Heck Yeah*! That’s what I want to hear! Now go do it!
*he didn’t actually say ‘heck’.
If you really want to accomplish anything you have to be 100% committed. Don’t give yourself another alternative. Burn your ships. Talk is cheap. There are thousands of people who are buried every day with their dreams still inside them. Don’t let that happen to you.