02 April 2014

How I Went From Ad Land to Startup Land


This past year I moved to Startup Land.

It wasn’t a complete break with Ad Land, because our media technology startup is squarely in the advertising business.  Although I’m not working in an agency, I still work with many agencies.  That said – it’s different in Startup Land.

How Did I Get Here?

A couple of years ago I decided to look for a new role at a new company.  Going to another agency is always an option, but it occurred to me that among the many technology companies in or near Ad Land, there might be a need for someone who has experience connecting consumers with brands.

Once In a Lifetime

First of a series
So last year I sought the advice and experience of some people who had funded or started new companies anywhere near the business of marketing communications.  Could I work in that space?  Based on everyone’s advice, there seemed to be three possible paths:
  1. Big famous VCs like Kleiner Perkins or Union Square Ventures.
  2. Consult for a less-funded entity, earning mainly equity in the firm.
  3. Go in-house at a startup already funded with $10 million or so.

The third option was most practical for me, but there was no such opportunity at the time.  Then, one day, a Digital Place-based Media company startup called.  Having done the homework, I was ready to consider the job of CMO.

Is Startup Land Right for Advertising People?

This five-part series should offer some insight into whether Startup Land is right for you.  It’s not right for everyone.  You have to work hard, get your hands dirty and have patience.  Here are some things to consider from today’s story.

Cowardice is not an option.  I was going to write, “Fear is not an option,” but everyone has fears.  Not everyone faces them honestly, though.  Be brave.  Admit what you don’t know, and seek to learn it by reading or – better still – experiencing different technologies.  I was interested in Augmented Reality, for example, and gave myself a crash course.

Work your network.  Talk to people who work or have worked in a startup, or even any kind of technology firm.  If you don’t know anybody, chances are that you know somebody who knows somebody.  The point is, you have to be able to ask questions and get answers.  I read a lot, and that informed my conversations, but the conversations helped me organize my learning.

Have good peripheral vision.  A lot of traffic flows through the intersection of media and technology, and just like driving a car through a Boston rotary, you need to pay attention to what’s nearby.  It amazes me what I’ve learned from companies that at first glance didn’t seem related at all to what I was working on.  We’ll cover that a little more in the next post.

2 comments:

  1. Nice one, Steve! What does a person do if they are not connected to the start-up community?

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    1. Derek, that was exactly my situation two years ago; my connections weren't solid. First, I did my homework on possible tech or startup topics related to what I knew. Second, I tapped into my network, seeing who knew somebody I could talk to. Third, I had a series of 15-minute phone calls with people who understood the topics I had researched -- and give me honest opinions as to what I could and could not offer. Lastly, armed with all this insight, I kept my eyes and ears open.

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