Don’t be the cheapest. Be the best.

There has been a recurring theme at work lately. My team at The Weaponry has been involved in several new business pitches. Which means we are competing with other advertising or design agencies to win a project. Sometimes there are 2 agencies. And the pitch is like a rap battle, or the knife fight in Michael Jackson’s Beat It video. Sometimes it is a Royal Rumble where you are competing with every superhero and their sidekick.

The 3 Factors

There are 3 factors involved in winning a new project from a client or customer. At least where organized crime is not involved. (Those organizations add a few other important factors. Like how much you enjoy your family, and your limbs.)

  1. The Proposal. This is the written plan detailing what you are going to offer the customer or client if they choose you. This is quite literally the overview of the product or service being offered.
  2. The Price: This is the summary of how much your offering is going to cost. Your price relative to your competitor’s price is important. The critical question is how does the price and value of your offering stack up against the other options they are considering.
  3. Your likability. Do the deciders like you? Do they trust you? Are you funny, smart, kind, good-looking or tell great stories? Do they want to spend time working and problem solving with you?

All Things Considered

Recently we have heard several times that our price was more expensive than the other options we were weighed against. However, they chose us anyway. This creates a valuable math equation boys and girls.

The Math

In this case, what we were offering and our likability combined was greater than the price we were charging for it.

Offering + Likability > Price

This is exactly where you want to be in business. When you offer superior products or services, and a combination of likability, fun, and trustworthiness, more times than not you will not lose out on price. In fact, if the other two factors are strong enough you can charge more, because you are offering more value. And everyone comes out ahead.

Key Takeaway

In any business transaction, there are always more factors at play than price. As the seller, your responsibility is to provide a superior product and service. And if you deliver that with more likable, more trustworthy people you will not only break any ties, you will add more value to the overall experience, and people will be willing to pay more for your offering. So don’t fight others on price. Compete with them on the offering itself, and on the people who offer it. And like Bob Barker said, the price will always be right.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

Getting the vaccine = Getting back together = Getting back to normal

Wednesday was a big day for me. I didn’t win the lottery. I wasn’t named a Most Beautiful Person. And I wasn’t asked to replace Alex Trebek on Jeopardy. Heck, I wasn’t even asked to replace Alex Trebek in the Colonial Penn commercials. It was a big day simply because it was one of the normalest days I have had outside my home in 15 months.

Vaccination Nation

I got my second vaccine shot 2 weeks ago (I’m Team Pfizer, not Hufflepuff or Slytherin). I now feel that I am as protected from the COVID-19 virus as I am going to be. Better yet, I feel as protected as I need to be. So I have started doing regular life stuff again. And I am reminded how much I love regular life stuff.

Wednesday, Normal Wednesday

Wednesday I traveled from Milwaukee to Madison (which is about a 90-minute drive for those of you who are Wisconsin-illiterate). I went to college at The University of Wisconsin in Madison, and I feel as at home in Madtown as I do anywhere on Earth. I was there to see people that I hadn’t seen since before the planet went cuckoo for Covid Puffs.

The Breakfast Club

I started my day at a breakfast meetup with a group of former University of Wisconsin Badger athletes. The last time I saw any of these W Club members in person was March 4th of 2020. The Crew included:

  • Charlie Wills: The Owner of the Charlie Wills Team -Real Estate Partners (basketball)
  • Scott Silvestri: VP and General Manager of Learfield’s Badger Sports Properties (swimming)
  • Derek Steinbach: Director of Development for Wisconsin Athletics (track & field)
  • Nicholas ‘Papa’ Pasquarello: Executive Director of the W Club and Strategic Partnerships – Wisconsin Athletics (soccer)
  • Andy Crooks: Managing Broker at T.R. McKenzie (football)
  • Adam Albrecht: Founder and CEO of The Weaponry and Dude Who Writes This Blog (track & field)
  • Kalvin Barrett: Dane County Sheriff (football (but he will tell you he was a swimmer))
Nick, Me, Derek, Sheriff Barrett, Charlie and Scott at the Original Pancake House in Madison. I’m always amazed at how many of those restaurants there are. Which makes me think most of them are lying.

It felt like a reunion. We were hugging and shaking hands and seeing each other’s naked faces. We were sharing stories, smiling, and laughing. And not once did anyone say, ‘You’re on mute.’

This was a group of ballers, that included All-Americans, Final Four participants, school record holders, Big 10 Champions, and Team Captains. But the rockstar of the group was Sheriff Barrett. Other people in the restaurant were asking to take pictures with him and to asked him to stop to talk. It was fun to see.

I asked Kalvin if he no longer likes the Bob Marley song, “I shot the sheriff.” He said that he loves that song and plays it in the office. Which reminded me of Shaq in the Grown Ups 2 clip below.

Brunch

After breakfast, I visited Dave Astrauskas, the rockstar throwing coach of the University of Wisconsin track and field team. Dave has coached 4 NCAA Champions, 1 NCAA Collegiate Record Holder, 41 NCAA Division I All-Americans, 4 Big Ten Records Holder, 11 Big Ten Champions and Olympic discus thrower Kelsey Card.

Coach Dave Astrauskas He can teach you how to throw anything but a hissy fit.

Dave has forgotten more about throwing than I will ever know. And of all the people I know Dave is the most likely to set off a spellcheck alarm. #astrauskas

I spent time with Dave for 3 reasons:

  1. Because he is a good human.
  2. To learn from someone who is at the top of their field.
  3. To foster a strong bond between the UW Track & Field program and alumni.

Spending time with Dave was enlightening. He offered me a number of new ways to think about throwing, human performance, coaching, problem solving, the Big Ten Conference, athletic facilities and competition. My time with Dave was a great reminder of how much we can all learn if we ask good questions of experts, listen, and maintain a beginner’s mind.

Lunch

My lunch meeting was pure joy. I met with my friend-client-superstar, Anne Norman, SVP and Chief Marketing Officer of UW Credit Union. Anne has been a favorite human of mine since we first met for lunch at Hi-Way Harry’s in Johnson Creek, Wisconsin in 2018. We have been working together weekly ever since. But we have only seen each other in-person once since February of 2020, at our TV commercial shoot with Jonathan Taylor, running back for the Indianapolis Colts.

The 3 greatest exports of Kenosha, Wisconsin are Orson Welles, my high school teacher Mr. Bill, and Anne Norman.

Anne is a burst of sunshine on any day. Even on the phone or on Zoom. Especially if she is wearing her banana costume. But to be with her in person provides a full week’s worth of Vitamin C in one sitting.

We talked business and branding and teams. We talked about upcoming marketing initiatives. But we could have talked about hang nails, paper cuts and the DMV and I would have enjoyed it. Because spending time with Anne is even more valuable to me now than it was in 2019.

Key Takeaway

Get vaccinated if you can. See your people in real life. Spending time with great humans is joy fuel. And it is even better now that we have had that ability taken away from us. Today, life isn’t just returning to normal. Life is about to be better than ever. Because we have a newfound appreciation for all of the little things. Like simply being together with other good people. Let us never take that for granted again.

Thank you Charlie, Derek, Scott, Nick, Andy, Dave and Anne for sharing some of your valuable time with me.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

I had a lot of help becoming an entrepreneur. Here are 16 names.

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.

Reflecting

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.

  1. 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.
My parents, during one of my speeches.

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.

Me and Dawn: The Early Years. A good life partner makes all the difference.

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.

My college professor Roger Rathke really got my career rolling.

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.

Roger, Paul, and me at an awards banquet. I was voted most likely not to wear a sport coat.

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.

Neil Casey, without the sunshine band.

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.

Ashley was the first person who told me I had to start my own agency to protect my career. He also made cranberries look delicious. Not like the little balls of face-contortion that they really are.

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.

Chris Dawson, before he grew his ZZ Top beard.

9. Chad Thompson Chad 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.

Chad Thompson, inducing hair envy with a smile.

10. Mark O’Brien I 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.

Mark made me wear this Clay Matthews jersey for a presentation. I have no idea why.

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.

The first freelance project I did for Nicole in 2006 was paid for with a sandwich, and a bag of chips.

12. Christien Louviere Christien 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.

Don’t stare at Christien too long or his handsomeness will hypnotize you.

13. Jeff Hilimire Jeff 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.

Jeff and I and a meaty backdrop.

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.

Just a couple of Green Mountain Boys. Never meaning no harm.

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.

Troy and I representing the bookends of the hair spectrum.

16. Brooks Albrecht My 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.

My cousin Brooks and I demonstrating the 2 basic ways to wear a hat.

Key Takeaway

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.

What my first boss said when he found out I was starting my own business.

While researching a longer post about key people who supported my entrepreneurial adventure I came across an email from my first boss in advertising, Neil Casey.

Neil was a partner at Cramer Krasselt and the Executive Creative Director. I started as a junior copywriter and thought I would get fired every day for the first 6 months. Neil and I were opposites in many ways. But I liked his style, and he tolerated mine. Neil is a really great swearer. I am not sure he knows this. He also taught me a lot about advertising, writing, strategy, creative thinking and how to stand up for your ideas.

The following email was from August 25, 2016. I had officially launched The Weaponry, an advertising and idea agency just a few months earlier. I was moving form Atlanta to Milwaukee for family reasons. Neil found out what I was doing and shared this note.

The note:

Hey Adam, Paul told me you were opening an ad agency in Milwaukee. ARE YOU NUTS?! Yeah, Paul had I went bonkers circa 1980 and opened Counsell & Casey. After melding back into C-K things turned out pretty well. Luck is always a component, bad or good. We were fortunate to have good luck.

Put yourself in situations and environments that foster good luck. Then add your unique talent and you’re on your way to fame and fortune. Oh yeah, I forgot about all the drudgery and long hours. Hang out with talented people. Keep the faith.

I always saw you as a Brand Enthusiast, Adam. Milk it for all you can.

Let’s have lunch sometime soon.

Neil

Key Takeaway

Support and encourage people whenever you can. Every bit helps.

Sidenote (actually below note): Neil hates the name The Weaponry. But I love it. And I have always enjoyed being the pea under Neil’s mattress.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message please share it with them.

The Weaponry turns 5 years old!

I always wanted to start my own business. Not because I was an unhappy employee or a free spirit who couldn’t stand to work for The Man. I just like a good challenge. And everything I ever heard about entrepreneurship made it seem like it was the career equivalent to bull riding. Or free solo climbing. Or streaking at the Super Bowl. I knew it was dangerous. The likelihood of failure was very high. But if you are successful, there are few endeavors as rewarding.

On the set of a recent TV shoot with Jonathan Taylor of the Indianapolis Colts. I tried to steal his necklace, and he tried to defend it. It was all very subtle.

Some Fun Entrepreneurial Facts

  • There are 31 million businesses in the United States
  • 90% fail within the first 5 years
  • Only 4% ever make $1 million a year.
  • The average age of startup Founders is 42 years 
  • A first-time entrepreneur has an 18% chance of succeeding
  • 70% of entrepreneurs were married when they started their first business
  • 60% had at least one child
  • 44% had two or more children
  • 66% of start-up founders pay themselves less than $50,000
  • 69% of American entrepreneurs start their business at home
  • 80% of small businesses are non-employer businesses. 
  • 51% of small businesses make less than $100,000 in annual sales. 

Riding The Bull

With these facts in hand, I launched The Weaponry, an advertising and idea agency, in 2016. I wholeheartedly believed that we would succeed. The statistics didn’t scare me. They motivated me to prove that I was one of the few, the proud, the elite non-failers. Although I am sure the failers also felt confident when they first started out. After all, you don’t jump out of an airplane unless you are highly confident your parachute will open. Unless maybe there were snakes on the plane.

A constant reminder in our offices to think.

Turning 5 Years Old

Today, I am thrilled and proud to say The Weaponry is 5 years old! We gave grown significantly each year. And despite the global pandemic, 2020 was our best year yet. Now 2021 is off to a strong start. We continue to add to our team. And we have added 2 new clients in the past 2 weeks.

From a trip to India in 2018 to work with our clients Fifth Third Bank and SLK Global Solutions. I didn’t get the White Shirt Memo.

Funner Entrepreneurial Facts

  • The Weaponry has offices in both Milwaukee and Columbus.
  • We have 24 clients
  • We have clients in all 4 US Time Zones.
  • We have clients in 3 countries: The United States, Canada and India.
  • We offer Health Insurance and Dental Insurance
  • We have a 401(k) plan with a 4% match
  • We have two red refrigerators
  • Both of our offices are in Suite #206 (Although the signs say Sweet #206. Because I thought that was funnier. Those are the kinds of dumb things you can do when you start your own business.)
This is where the magic happens.

What’s Next?

I feel as if we have only just begun, like Karen Carpenter. We have much more to accomplish. We expect us to grow and expand significantly. It is clear that we are having great success with happy clients who have hired The Weaponry 2 and 3 times as they have changed jobs. Which I think is the best compliment a client can give you.

Our 3 Pillars of Success.

Before we won our very first client (Global Rescue), I declared The Weaponry’s recipe for long-term success. And unlike that finger-licker Colonel Sanders, I am happy to share it with you.

  1. Great Creative Idea
  2. Excellent Customer Service
  3. A Fun Experience for Everyone Involved.
Me and Dan Richards, CEO of our first client, Global Rescue. We were trying to look tough while wearing polos.

What’s Next?

If we continue to deliver on these 3 points we will enjoy perpetual success. And while I am very thankful to have made it to 5 years, I believe the job of leadership is to keep a business in business forever. To do that we will have to continue to listen, learn, adapt and improve. I am fully committed to it. Just like a streaker.

Key Takeaway

Entrepreneurship isn’t easy. In fact, it offers one of life’s greatest challenges. But if you want to try it, I highly encourage you. It is extremely rewarding in more ways than I have room to share in a concluding paragraph. To dramatically improve your chances of success start a business doing something you know well. Choose work you love to do. And you will have the intellectual equipment and the magnetic pull to get you to 5 years and beyond.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

5 Random Observations From Vacation.

I’m on vacation this week with my family. We loaded up the Family Truckster and headed south for a week of warmth and adventure. But there is no Wally World for us. This trip is actually last year’s spring break beach trip that got canceled because of the plague. One year later we are certainly enjoying it more than we would have last year.

I have had a lot of time to think over the past few days. Here are 5 random things I’ve been thinking about during my time away.

  1. The work must go on. Even when I am on vacation there is work to do. It is what you sign up for when you become an entrepreneur. To minimize the impact on my family I work early, or late, or both. I am thankful for all the work to be done. I don’t believe in work-life balance. I believe in work-life integration. My vacations are evidence of this. I appreciate my team at The Weaponry who keep things running while I’m away. I’m also thankful for my family who understands my work commitments. They enjoy having food, clothing, and shelter too. And they see how having a job helps pay for such things.

2. Your family role is part of your career. Your role within your family is your most important role of all. You should view your parental and spousal job performance as part of your career success. You need to take it seriously or you will be the only one at your funeral. Seriously.

Me and my 3 interns catching the Baylor vs Gonzaga game.

3. My people are everywhere. I am at the beach in Florida. And I discovered several friends nearby. My former Engauge co-worker Raghu was in a hotel room right above mine. (We first talked on the balcony.) Our across-the-street neighbors from Atlanta, Christy, Kevin, and Fam, are less than a mile away, and we had lunch with them yesterday. Our Columbus, Ohio friends Troy and Katie are just down the beach a piece. So we had dinner with them last night. Running into your people randomly makes the world feel smaller. And better.

The Allens and the Albrechts: Brought together by spring break and alphabetical order.
Raghu isn’t as good at smiling as I am.

4. Boogie boarding is my jam. If I am on vacation at the beach I am boogie boarding. It represents everything you need to know about life. It’s about positioning yourself well, being prepared when opportunities come along, enjoying the ride, and laughing off the crashes. Oh, and if you are not careful you could lose your britches. For more on my life lessons from boogie boarding read 16 important life lessons I learned from boogie boarding.

Skimboarding is my daughter Ava’s jam. I don’t have a pic of me boogie boarding. No one really wants to see that anyway.

5. Funny things happen every day. Each night my 10, 13, and 15 year old kids love to recap all the funny things that happened each day. There is no shortage of funny things to talk about. It’s a great reminder that life is either a comedy or a tragedy, depending on which things you choose to focus on. I choose the funny.

Thanks for reading. I hope your day is full of meaningful work, friends, family, and funny.

*If you know someone who would benefit from this message, please share it with them.

Why adults should tap into the power of playing Pretend.

When I was a kid we didn’t have electronics. Check that, we had one television in our living room. It had no remote control, so you had to get up and go to the TV to change the channel and volume, or to fix the vertical hold. I didn’t have any video games. Our only phone was wired to the wall. And the only fun things you could do with the phone was prank call your friends, or dial 867-5309 and ask for Jenny.

The Pretender

As a result of my Amish-ish youth, I had to find other ways to fill my time. One of my go-to activities was playing Pretend. It worked like this: I pretended I was someone else with a more interesting life than my own. That’s pretty much it.

My pretending covered a wide range of roles. Sometimes I pretended to be a farmer, doctor, astronaut, or soldier. Other times I pretended to be a professional athlete or a cowboy. I used to pretend to run a chapel in my basement. And my older sister Heather and I even used to regularly play (wait for it…) Brother and Sister! We played together the way we saw brothers and sisters play on TV, or in the movies. Which meant that we got along better and did way more adventurous stuff.

Today I am full-grown-ish, yet I still play Pretend. Because I now recognize that if you play Pretend long enough, and really commit to the part, you can make things happen for real.

How it has worked for me.

College

In college at The University of Wisconsin, I pretended I was going to be an advertising creative. So I declared a major in journalism to learn about writing, strategic communications, and the other isms behind journals. I also declared a psychology major, because I wanted to know more about human thinking and motivation. I realized that declaring a major is simply a fancy name for playing Pretend. Just like kilt is a fancy name for man-skirt.

Entrepreneurship

In 2015, at the height of my employed career, I started pretending I was an entrepreneur, and that I owned my own advertising agency. So I started doing all the things I thought entrepreneurs do. I read books about launching and running businesses. I hung out with successful entrepreneurs. I wrote down all my plans. And I talked to people as if I was a real entrepreneur. Suddenly, real people started asking me if I could do work for them with my pretend business. When that happened, my pretend business instantly became a real business. Just like Pinocchio became a real boy. No lie. And no strings attached. Today that business is called The Weaponry.

Blogging

About the same time, I also pretended that I was a blogger. So I did what I thought real bloggers did. I went to a blogging website called WordPress.com, I created a pretend blog, and I started writing pretend posts. Then, after I had written 5 of those, I started publishing them. Within minutes people started reading them. You, my reader-friend, are proof that I am a real blogger. Because you are most certainly a real reader. (Maybe you could write ‘Real Reader’ in the comments to confirm my Real Reader hypothesis.) My blog has now been read in nearly 130 countries around the world. (Because there aren’t 130 countries crowded into one part of the world).

No ending to the pretending.

Today, I am playing Pretend more than ever. Over the past year, I have pretended to be a cartoonist, an author, a community organizer, a high school track coach, an investor, an employee of a tech start-up, a t-shirt maker, and the owner of a food business. All of these things that I have pretended to be are now in various stages of reality. Just like Kanye West.

What About You?

Are you pretending to be who you really want to be? Are you pretending to do the things you really want to do? It’s easier than you think. Just act like you did when you were a child. You knew what to do then. Simply do the same thing now. And if you pretend all the way, you will get all the way to what you were pretending to be. Just like Jackson Browne. Or Chrissie Hynde.

Key Takeaway

Never stop pretending. It is the first step to creating. It is how you activate your beliefs, manifest your dreams, and live into your vision. Because when you pretend hard enough everyone will take you seriously. Including yourself.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

8 questions on how I became an entrepreneur.

This week I had a fun interview on entrepreneurship. I wasn’t talking to Inc., How I Built This or Squawk Box. I was interviewed by Jayson Koel, a sophomore at Germantown High School in Germantown, Wisconsin with great hair. Jayson is taking an entrepreneurship class and is working on his own business, an apparel company called Midwest Running Club. Which I assume doesn’t sell Speedos to New Englanders.

Jayson (Y ask Y there’s a Y) had 8 good questions for me that I thought would be worth sharing with others who are considering entrepreneurship, or who simply wonder how someone gets started on their entrepreneurial journey.

This is Jayson Koel. Check out that flow! (And the t-shirt his Dad and I designed.)

8 Questions on Entrepreneurship with Jayson Koel

  1. When did you know you wanted to own your own business?

At the very beginning of my career. I immediately loved the idea of creating my own version of an advertising agency. I was always envious of entrepreneurs for being brave enough to do what everyone else dreams of doing. And I think envy is a great navigational tool. (Unless you are on a ship. Then you should use real navigational tools.) 3 years into my career a film director I was working with told me I had to start my own agency in order to secure my future. I took the advice. And I wrote about it here.

2. How did you prepare to get started?

I spent 19 years learning how advertising works, building relationships, creative skills, leadership skills, and nunchuck skillz. Because girls only like guys who have great skills. I had a subscription to Inc. magazine that whole time and continuously studied entrepreneurship. I surrounded myself with other entrepreneurs, and learned how they thought, and increased my courage and confidence through their examples. Then, in the last 6 months before I launched The Weaponry, my advertising and idea agency, I bought The E-Myth, by Michael Gerber, which is a great how-to book on how to run a business the right way. Even for southpaws.

3. Who helped you start your business?

My cousin Brooks Albrecht and I launched The Weaponry together. Brooks was in Seattle working for Amazon, I was in Atlanta, working at Moxie, the largest ad agency in Atlanta. We collaborated and planned and made things happen from opposite corners of the country, with a 3-hour time difference between us. We used Zoom, Slack, Google G-Suite, and Dropbox while planning the business because we had to to bridge our distance. That created a perfect infrastructure for the business operations too. Brooks was like a rocket booster and stayed with us for the first year, then peeled off and rejoined Amazon full time. He is now a rockstar at Chewy.

4. What obstacles were incurred in starting the business and how were they overcome?

Our first and largest client in year one was only a 1-year client. Which meant that we had to figure out how to quickly grow and replace that revenue in year 2 and beyond. I had seen what happens to businesses that don’t continuously grow by attracting new clients. (They go out of business.) So from the beginning, I developed a mindset that all of our clients were going to disappear on New Year’s Eve each year, and we would have to start again with all new clients the next year. But at the same time, I wanted to treat our clients so well that they never wanted to leave. Those 2 approaches of continuous business development and excellent customer service have kept us going and growing.

5. What are your characteristics that have benefited you the most as an entrepreneur?

My relationship skills. Personal relationships have always been important to me. And I quickly realized once I started The Weaponry that the hardest part of entrepreneurship, which is relationship development and maintenance, was something I had been working at for the past 30 years. And that has made my entrepreneurial journey really enjoyable. My creative skills, strategic thinking, and careful financial approach have also benefited me significantly as an entrepreneur. My optimism and sense of humor help a lot too. Entrepreneurship is a roller coaster ride. Believing each down will be followed by an up keeps you from throwing up your cereal every morning.

6. Where do you see this business in 10 years?

Large and in charge like Large Marge. We will grow significantly, have offices across the country, and will be sought after by the very best brands. (I shared my actual goals with real numbers and specifics with Jayson to give him a sense of how big I am thinking. But talk is cheap. So I’d rather show the rest of the world what we have done than talk about what we hope to do.)

7. What are the rewards of owning your business?

There is great peace of mind when we go through difficult economic times like we have experienced over the past year. I am still in control of my own future, and won’t be ejected by a business that wants to save money by dropping me like a hot bowling ball. There is also a great sense of control over my life and my future. I sink, swim or fly based on my own actions. I love creating a team culture, working with people I enjoy. Your earning potential when you own your own business is unlimited. I also get to decide on the company t-shirts and hoodies. And I never have to regret not starting my own business.

8. What advice would you give to my classmates and me?

Start thinking about owning your own business right now, while you are still in high school. Keep your eyes open for entrepreneurial opportunities all along your journey. Learn a craft really well so that you are good enough at it that you can start your own business someday. Develop and maintain your relationships. And read Rich Dad. Poor Dad. by Robert Kiyosaki and The E-Myth.

Oh, and start a blog. Share what you know with people and make them laugh if you can. People love to laugh as they learn, except when they are drinking really hot coffee or peanut brittle and it shoots out their nose.

What to do when you find yourself in a blizzard.

I woke up this morning to one of the heaviest snowfalls I have seen in several years thanks to winter storm Orlena. The lake effect snow machine is in full effect here on the Wisconsin side of Lake Michigan. On top of that, the winds are whipping like the Dazz Band. And I say let it whip.

I love this kind of weather. Unlike hurricanes, tornados, floods and wildfires that leave massive destruction in their wake, a blizzard leaves the world better and more beautiful. After Orlena transforms the midwest and northeast into a fresh powder playground, images of the snowfall will be trending on social media like Gamestop. Or Grumpy Bernie.

My Daughter Ava sent me this pic from her room this morning.

Life Is Full of Blizzards

It’s useful to think of the challenges in your life like blizzards. They can be frustrating and disorienting. But once they pass, they often leave you better than they found you.

The Startup Blizzard

When I was first launching my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, the swirling uncertainty of startup-ness surrounded us. And that can really mess with you. Here is something I wrote about the experience we were going through 4 years ago.

From June 10th, 2016

Today I had a long talk with a co-worker who was having a hard time at work. Which is understandable. Because startups are kinda hard. Launching a startup is like walking in a blizzard. Wind and snow are all up in your grill. It’s cold. Visibility goes into the toilet. It’s difficult to navigate in these conditions.

In the middle of a blizzard, your survival instincts tell you to seek shelter. It’s natural to want to escape the relentless wind, disorienting snow and mounting drifts. Sitting by a crackling fire, drinking hot chocolate is far more appealing to most people.

But I like walking in blizzards. I like being out when no one else is. I like doing things that build my character, my will and my personal legend. In the same way a callus rises as the result of repeated friction, strength grows from pushing against resistance.

If a blizzard confronts you on your journey you have to keep walking. You must have faith that you know where you are heading. You have to take steps forward, even when it is hard.

Blizzards of the wintry, professional and personal kind are temporary. Eventually, the snow will stop falling. The wind will chill the eff out. And the sun will come out again.

When that happens, where will you be? It’s a matter of what you did during the blizzard. If you keep pushing, you will find yourself far ahead of where you started, far ahead of those who sought shelter, and closer to your ultimate goal. You’ll find the ultimate rewards far outweigh the hot chocolate you sacrificed along the way.

Key Takeaway

Blizzards are a part of life. They will make life hard for a while. But keep going anyway. Everything is more beautiful on the other side.

Follow Up Note

The Weaponry will turn 5 years old in April. Today we have 23 clients. Because we didn’t stop walking when things were hard.

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How the fun UW Credit Union commercials with Jonathan Taylor happened.

Indianapolis Colts rookie running back Jonathan Taylor has been the talk of the sports world this week. He lit up the NFL on Sunday, rushing for a Colts record 253 yards and 2 touchdowns. He completed the regular season with 1169 rushing yards, 3rd best in the NFL in 2020. He also used his remarkable speed, agility and hand-washing skills to avoid covid all season long.

Taylor’s standout NFL season comes on the heels of a record-setting college career.

Jonathan Taylor highlights at the University of Wisconsin:

  • 1st running back in college football history to rush for 6,000 yards in 3 seasons.
  • 6th most rushing yards in college football history, despite only playing 3 seasons.
  • Winner of the Doak Walker Award as America’s best college running back in both 2018 and 2019.
  • 2 time unanimous 1st-team All-American in 2018 and 2019
JT talking about colts and cowboys.

Marketing Opportunities

In 2020, as Jonathan Taylor began his NFL career, he also began a partnership with UW Credit Union. Taylor first became a member of UW Credit Union his freshman year in Madison. It was the first bank account the Salem, New Jersey native ever had. In fact, it was Taylor who first approached UW Credit Union about a possible partnership, noting the strong connection he felt towards the brand.

The interview portion of the program.

Starting and Stopping

The first scheduled collaboration between Taylor and UW Credit Union was supposed to happen back in March of 2020, just before the NFL draft. JT was hosting a series of football camps for youth in Milwaukee and Madison that was sponsored by UW Credit Union. But the camps were scheduled for March 14 and 15th. Which was the weekend the coronavirus pulled the plug on all fun and games in America.

Not only were the camps canceled, the entire country went into lockdown-mode for the next 2 months. The only sports happening in America were toilet paper hunting, cleaning supply gathering, and an epic game of covid dodgeball.

JT demonstrating the no-look one-handed catch.

One Last Chance

By the middle of summer, we had all settled into the new normal. Anne Norman, the Chief Marketing Officer of UW Credit Union approached our team at The Weaponry about the JT partnership again. She asked us if we thought we should still try to create some new content with Jonathan if logistics would allow. We said absolutely. So we contacted Team Taylor and Everett Sports Marketing, JT’s marketing agents, to see what if anything was still possible.

Good News

As it turns out, Anne’s call was well timed. JT needed to report to training camp with the Indianapolis Colts the next week. As luck would happen, he was going to be in Madison a day before that to pack up his apartment, move, and enjoy some Toppers Pizza. So we had one day to capture what we needed. However, we had less than a week to prepare.

This meant we had less than a week to figure out what we were going to do with JT, where we were going to do it, and who we were going to work with to film and photograph him. Under normal circumstances, this would be a very tight squeeze. But during the covid-era the opening was so small we didn’t know if even JT could run through it.

The Location

The location was difficult to find. The University of Wisconsin was in full lockdown mode, and wouldn’t allow anyone on campus, including the athletic facilities. Dane County put tight restrictions on gatherings of non-household-sharing humans. So we were in a tough spot.

Jonathan Taylor and Adam Albrecht in pre-game warmups.

Finally, we found a high school that would allow us to film on their football field. It is probably more accurate to say that they said, ‘We don’t want to know anything about this, but the gate might not be locked, and you might be able to get on the field if you are all masked and socially distant.’

The Crew

We found a Milwaukee-based film crew that had safety protocols in place and could run a safe covid-era shoot. We tapped our good friend and great photographer Lucian MacAfee for photography duties. Now we just needed scripts to film and ideas to photograph.

This was the first time in my career that my team had locked in a shoot location and both film and photo crews before we had any ideas about what we were going to create. But then again, this was also my first pandemic.

The socially distanced film set.

The Ideas

Our creative team of Kevin Kayse and Kristyn Lilley fired off a barrage of potential video scripts for JT to deliver for social media and the UW Credit Union website. But our timing was limited. And we didn’t know how JT would be on camera, or whether he could deliver humorous ideas. Plus, we couldn’t shoot other actors with JT. To their great credit, the UW Credit Union marketing team trusted that we would come up with something. And we did.

JT and his lucky Bucky Badger debit card.

The Shoot

Despite all of the twists and turns we had experienced since March, on the day of the shoot everything went according to plan. Everyone showed up at the right location at the right time. Everyone wore masks. We used long lenses that allowed JT to be a significant distance from the camera. And we rolled film.

JT was great. He was as good at working with the teleprompter as anyone I have ever worked with. He was extremely coachable and took direction well. We were pleasantly surprised that he was able to deftly deliver the light humor several of the videos required.

In fact, while we were planning on creating a series of online and social videos, we were so pleased with how they turned out that we decided to turn the videos into TV commercials as well. And the response to the spots has been great.

Here is the first commercial to air.

We had a little fun with this spot. Fun fact: It is my voice that talks to JT from off-camera.

Here is the second commercial to air, which focuses on UW Credit Union’s mobile app.

Wisconsin has 2 NFL rival teams. We played off of that in this commercial.

Thanks to UW Credit Union for the opportunity to create this work. Thanks to Anne Norman, Becky Hubing and Jill Rickert of UWCU for your help at the shoot. Thanks to Rachel Everett and ESM for all your help. Thanks to producer Mandi Nodorft for pulling things together. Thanks to Lucian McAfee for all the great photography. And thanks to Jonathan Taylor for being great to work with, and funny too.

JT with Rachel Everett of Everett Sports Marketing. ESM encourages all of its athletes to focus on the brands they have authentic, credible, significant relationships with. Which is a very good philosophy for brand partnerships. Which is why they have also attracted other top NFL players, including Nick Chubb, Tee Higgins and D’Andre Swift.