On October 1, 1998, David Anderson drove up to a small brick house and knocked on my door. Off Madison Ave started that simply. Day one. No press release. No fanfare. And no one knew except our wives.
As I write this flying back from a business trip in Europe, I can’t believe how far this journey has taken me, Dave and hundreds of others. And how fast it has gone by. But I catch myself smiling as I think, it’s been one hell of a trip so far. Starting a company, you have dreams of what it could be. Hopes for what is to come. And blind ignorance for the challenges you will face. I wouldn’t have traded it for anything.
I’ve often been asked how Off Madison Ave became so successful. My answer? Dumb luck. Oh sure, there were some smarts involved and sheer brilliance by really great hires over the years. But getting this far is really going against the odds. Statistically, 95% of all new businesses fail. Of the ones that make it, 90% of those won’t see $1 million in sales. Of the ones that do, less than 3% will see $5 million in sales. And finally, less than 1% of those businesses will make it $10 million in sales annually. Since we’ve blown past that number, I’d say we’re a fucking miracle.
(Side note: I’m grateful no one shared those stats with me 20 years ago; otherwise Dave and I might never have started this thing.)
So, this is where I should probably thank some people, but I’ll save that for the end. Instead, I want to focus on what makes Off Madison Ave so special. It’s a cliché but in all honesty, it’s the people. I’ve already said they are brilliant, and they are. But it’s deeper than that. It’s more about the personal relationships we have had with them and the lifelong friendships they have forged with each other. In other words, this place is really like a family. Seriously.
We see each other as much or more than our actual families. We have had staffers date. We’ve celebrated marriages and we’ve welcomed a bunch of kids into the world. We’ve also had some adoptions (you can read that as kids, cats and dogs). We’ve employed brothers, sisters, spouses and in-laws. In fact, we learned the DNA pool is actually a pretty good place to trawl for talent. And sadly, we’ve had a few leave this world far sooner than they should have.
It’s those relationships I’m most proud of. Case in point, a few years ago I was tagged in a Facebook post by one of our former staffers living in San Francisco. She held a “wear-it-once” party. Yeah, there were a lot of bridesmaid dresses. Anyway, four of them took a photo with a handwritten sign that read: OMA SF. How do you place a value on that? I can’t.
Another way this place resembles a family comes in the form of careers. We have launched more than I can count. And, I’m not just talking about interns or students right out of college. We have had our share of those, but we’ve also had seasoned professionals come to the agency only to discover they found a place that helped them get to a level they didn’t know existed. You might find this difficult to believe, but Dave and I are incredibly proud of those who find big success after their experience with us. Some have gone on to work for Fortune 500 companies. Some have risen to the highest positions inside of other agencies. And many have started their own successful businesses.
So, yeah, it’s been a wild ride. We bought a company or two. We merged with an agency which brought us great partners in Mike Horne and Lorraine Murrietta. We have friendships with clients that transcend the traditional agency-client relationship. We have partners who have been with us since the beginning. I won’t pretend it’s always been perfect. But as I look back on these 20 years as a whole, I can honestly say that it’s pretty damn close.
Now, for the thank yous.
I can’t possibly mention everyone, so please forgive me if your name is not here.
First, thanks go to my amazing wife, Joanne, who never wavered in her support of my career. And of course Dave Anderson, my partner in crime, and his wife Debbie. If the four of us never had dinner at my house hashing through agency names together, who knows what we would have called this place. I’d also like to say thank you to our third partner, Lorraine. She’s a brilliant CFO and can add much better than Dave.
Thanks to Tina Lentz and Sandy Bates. They were two of our first clients who took a chance on two guys in a garage, and I’m happy to still count them as my friends.
Thanks to Ashley Duncan, my sister from another mother. It’s almost inconceivable that I’m the only person she has worked for in her career.
Thanks to Eric Rosenberg for jumping ship from a really successful agency to join two guys with an idea—that took some guts. In fact, hiring Eric as full-time employee number one still ranks as one of the scariest moments in my life.
My thanks to Ruben Muñoz for helping set the structure and flow of the agency and for his ambassadorship of our culture.
Thanks for Kevin Reid, our accountant from before there was a day one. To this day, I still remember the look on his face when Dave told him that I was the guy he was going to partner with. #Nuts.
Thanks to Bob Anderson and Kyle Cardinal from Prisma Graphic. You both really came through by giving us the credit we needed for a large project when no one else would.
Thanks to Mike Patterson, our attorney. He has help us stay clear of trouble more times than I can count.
Thanks to Jay Baer. Buying Mighty Interactive and having you launch us into the digital world has been incredibly valuable—almost as much as your friendship.
I also want to give a special thanks to our current leadership team: Sasha Howell, Patrick Murphy, Amy La Sala and Spike Stevens. The way you all work together is inspiring.
And finally, I want to thank every single person who has graced these halls and added to the unique culture that is Off Madison Ave. I know I speak for Dave and Lorraine when I say that there is no way we could have gotten to 20 years without each and every one of you.
While I can’t predict what the next 20 years of Off Madison Ave will bring, I know in my heart, it will be amazing.