My youngest son, Keegan, was born on March 28, 2001. Six months later, the attacks on September 11 threw the US and world economies into a downward spiral. Three months after that, with a nine-month old baby, and a four-year old son, I decided to quit my job at DDB and join seven guys who wanted to start an advertising agency.
Within days of opening, we’d been informed by a lot of the people that we respected and admired that we would fail. I had no reason to doubt them. I was 33 years old and had been working in advertising for only 6 years. They were industry icons, many of whom had built successful agencies. I was very surprised at the time that we were getting so much attention. It hadn’t occurred to me that what we were doing was really that contentious. My writer, Dave Chiavegato, and I dealt with the negativity the best way that we could: we’d head downstairs to the Fox and Fiddle and have a pint.
Before we opened our doors, we had the Labatt contract for Blue, Blue Light, Kokanee and a few smaller brands. For one reason or another, this was considered by many in the advertising industry to be an underhanded move by the marketer. Apparently, Labatt didn’t have the right to take the people they wanted to work on their business, and offer them the opportunity to work on their business. It wasn’t done that way, and we would fail. Agencies could not have so many senior creatives under one roof, so we would fail. We didn’t enter award shows, so we would fail. We didn’t pitch spec creative, we would fail. The ICA even threatened legal action if the partners didn’t take their own historical television reels down from our website. Most of the industry agreed that we wouldn’t last two years. Some went as far as to say three months.
But we pressed on. Mostly because we’d already quit our jobs. But primarily because we all had something to prove. We put our heads down, ignored the press, and focused on the thing we were most passionate about. And after we’d finished playing foosball, we’d start writing ads.
We had our detractors. But we also had a lot of support. I’m grateful to every one of those people, who, in the early days, wished us luck and congratulated us for doing something different.
As partners, we got to know each other better, and grew from colleagues into friends. We respected each other’s differences. We learned from each other’s strengths. We tried to build a company that put our values as individuals ahead of profits. We had vastly different personalities, yet decisions rarely needed to come to a vote. I was honored to be part of what we were becoming. Over the last ten years, we’ve been fortunate to have some of the most amazingly talented, genuinely inspiring people work under our roof. I’ve learned more from these people than I’d ever imagined.
We’ve had some great years, and some not so great years. Some amazing victories, and some difficult defeats. Like any agency, we are still a work in progress. Ten years from now, the agency landscape will be vastly different. At some point, another group of agency people like us will probably consider quitting their jobs and trying to do something a little differently. I have one piece of advice. Don’t do it; you’ll fail.