I’m a sucker for anniversaries. That’s something my wife experienced firsthand when I woke her from deep slumber for a surprise 6:00 am flight to Chicago to celebrate one year of dating; August 7, 2017. She married me 16 months later, so that worked out swimmingly.
April 18 is a different kind of anniversary. In 2016, I got fired from a big advertising agency in Ft. Lauderdale, leaving behind, among other things, my cherished MacBook Air and a box of chocolate brownie protein bars in my desk cabinet.
And a livelihood.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been fired, but for me, it was a sure-fire way to be reminded of my earthly insignificance, of the relative smallness that is my life. Somewhere along the line – and I’d venture to say this happens to most of us – we start to equate a lot of our self-worth with our ability to do our jobs. To collect a paycheck, chase a new title, impress a superior, and climb the proverbial ladder. I was there, with plans to trade in my Acura the following spring for…a nicer Acura. Oh that’ll show ‘em!
And the next thing I knew, those Acura dreams were being walked out of the building. Sure enough, a time-tested way to know for sure that you’re but a flash in the world’s pan is to get shit canned from your job.
The 40-minute drive home was quiet. I heard my own thoughts for the first time in months. Instead of the demands of others, or the ever-present guilt of knowing someone had stayed at the office 20 or 30 more minutes than I had, I was unemployed. And I was…relieved.
What kind of dumbass finds himself without a source of income, driving in something he’s making payments on, to a condo he owes a mortgage on, and feels relieved? This dumbass – a dumbass who couldn’t have been more thankful to be mercifully removed from a joyless rat race without having to muster the courage to do it himself.
It’s jarring to discover your true feelings about yourself, about your life, when something you’d rooted your identity in is pulled from you. I wasn’t so far gone that I didn’t see a path forward, but yes, I had a few hours – okay, a few days – of major self-doubt. But by and large, what I felt was freedom. Particularly because I had decided by the end of that first night that I was going to start my own ad agency, and not take on another full-time job. Hell, if I had done it for someone else for three years and made them millions, couldn’t I do at least well enough on my own to pay my bills?
It was a bet I was willing to take; a bet on myself. The same place that showed me the grit required to succeed in their world had unwittingly given me the tools to do it on my own when they put me on my ass. The first days were filled with expected apprehensions, and countless phone calls – both from people who were shocked to see I’d been fired, and to people who I was hoping might see my plight and take a chance on me.
I took out an extra credit card for incidentals – you know, food – just in case things didn’t go as planned, and before the credit bureaus discovered I was out of a job.
Weeks rolled into months. I took on just about anything I knew I was capable of. Some copywriting projects. Some retainer work managing social ad campaigns, which was the core of the ‘business’ I wanted to be in.
Eight months later, when 2018 came to a close, I had earned more money than I would have if I’d never been fired.
I never had a chance to tell my former employers to shove their raises up their ass, and it turns out I didn’t need to. It would’ve been for my own hollow gratification, and they wouldn’t have batted an eye. Truth be told, I had them to thank. Many of the mentors and relationships I made in that building came with me anyway. And my obligations to that building and all it contained were the only things holding me back from something I’d proclaimed I wanted, but lacked the guts to grab hold of.
On Thursday this week, I meet the third anniversary of that day with a mixture of pride and quasi-defiance.
While my business was officially incorporated five weeks later, DB + Partners was truly born that night at my kitchen table. I pored through my emails and LinkedIn contacts and spent all night on the phone and email. In subsequent weeks, I wore gym shorts because I wanted to. I took occasional midday breaks to enjoy the beach in my backyard and spent late nights in front of my laptop with chicken tacos from Lime, cranking through whatever I could get my hands on to pay my bills.
The following year, 2018, I was able to grow revenue in the business by 220 percent. I made my first full-time hire in July. We generated $5.97MM in attributed client revenue, and likely drove much more, all on $1.63MM in ad spend. In February 2019, we added an additional full-time hire, and opened our first office with a view of the intracoastal in Ft. Lauderdale earlier this month. Revenue is on pace to triple our 2018 efforts.
Today, we have 21 clients on retainer. We took an ecommerce client to their first million-dollar sales month in March 2019. And we are on track to surpass the total amount we invested in ads in all of 2018, by the end of April 2019.
If it sounds a bit like a boast, it is. I’ve by no means done this on my own, but I’ve found plenty of satisfaction in being able to grow a team while the company that ditched me continues to toil in rinse-and-repeat hire and fire drills. And even so, it has nothing to do with me.
Perhaps that’s the biggest thing I gained: perspective. I’m 34 now. Few of my peers are in jobs they love, and with kids in one hand and spouses in the other, they’re in no position to do much about it. I was fortunate – yes, fortunate – to get fired at 31, single with no obligations other than my bills. It felt like the world had caved in on me that day, but truth be told, that was child’s play compared to what others face when they get the axe.
Perspective has allowed me to see my firing as it was: an opportunity served inside a shit sandwich. To be grateful for three tough, educational years at a major ad agency, where I was afforded opportunities that others didn’t. In all sincerity, everything I’m doing now wouldn’t have been possible without the job I held prior.
But rather than make this a Dwyane Wade-style exit where I bask in the glow of fortuitous circumstances, I in fact want to turn this into a mini-series of content about small business. This isn’t an attempt to show you how to make millions and create cool hashtag memes about grinding and hustling next to rented cars.
I’ve had several friends wonder out loud to me what it would be like if they left their jobs and tried to start their own thing. Some of it is as mundane as ‘how do I incorporate my business and start a website’ to ‘how do you get clients, when did you know you were ready to hire someone, and what are the most valuable lessons you’ve learned.’
So the follow-up post to this, which I’ll post by the end of the week, will have a lot more about that. Comment below if you have some questions you’d like me to answer!