Since college, I've always dreamed of having my own agency, and David was the closest I ever got to it. It was an amazing and unforgettable experience. However, there was a problem: It wasn't mine.
So, earlier this year, I finally did it—I left. And that was scary, but exciting. For those of you thinking about going indie, here are a few reasons why right now is the time to do it.
The best work ever has been done (arguably) by indies
Many indie shops are responsible for creating some of the best work in advertising thanks to their independent spirit. Look at work from places like Fallon, GSP, Wieden & Kennedy, Droga5 and Barton Graf—I could go on and on. These agencies have done amazing work and continue to do so because of the freedom they have. It's also exciting to see what newcomers like Joan, TDB, Callen and Activista will do, and what their legacies will be because of the freedom they have to do and be whatever they want.
Indies can commit more mistakes faster
Nothing but yourself will hold you back. You can now make as many mistakes as you want—hiring mistakes, firing mistakes, creative mistakes, business mistakes, client mistakes, leadership mistakes, travel/vacation/reimbursement policy mistakes, financial mistakes, mission/vision/values mistakes, new office-opening mistakes, having-the-most-creative-independent-agency-network-in-the-world mistakes. Just make sure you do it fast, and make them only once.
It's the worst time ever to start an independent agency
If you really think about everything that's going on in our industry, you'd never start an agency.
The market is not necessarily favorable to ad entrepreneurs right now. There's clearly a holding company crisis. The P&Gs and Unilevers of the world are drastically cutting their ad budgets, and understandably so. Clients, consulting companies and tech giants are all building in-house capabilities and stealing talent. Gurus and pundits are saying the model is broken and advertising is dead. But for all these reasons, it's also the perfect time to start an indie agency since there's a clear need for highly creative shops right now.
Brave clients love indies
"Brave clients" are the two most important words in advertising because we're absolutely nothing without them. If you're lucky enough to work with one, handcuff yourself to him or her. Because they're brave, they want the best and bravest agencies working for them. They don't buy scale and jargon talk; they buy powerful, innovative, never-before-seen ideas. Brave clients don't want programmatic. They want obsession, passion, trust and commitment.
In the best cases, indie shops are leaner, faster, bolder, more adaptable, more obsessed and non-bureaucratic. They have the founder's direct involvement, care deeply about the work, and operate on an idea-to-idea basis as opposed to quarter-to-quarter. Now, what brave client doesn't want that kind of agency?
You can be happy while being uncomfortable
As an industry, sometimes we get way too comfortable. We take accounts for granted. We become fancy (sometimes fancier than our own clients). Sometimes we forget why we started in this business in the first place: our love of advertising. This is a problem for a creative business, since creativity comes from being uncomfortable, but indies are uncomfortable by nature. While it's easy to think about the cons of going indie, being uncomfortable is the best part; it's a chance for you to start anew, create your own business model, and to think about your own philosophies and the type of clients you want to work with.
Gerry Graf said I should do it
When I was debating whether or not to jump, I called Gerry Graf. He was kind enough to invite me to Barton Graf and he listened to all my doubts and gave me advice, which was the push I needed to finally hit send on the "I quit" email. Of course, if everything goes wrong, I will blame Gerry. The moral of the story is we should help each other more often.
Now that I'm enjoying the freedom, I ask myself why I didn't do it earlier. Looking back, I know I thought I wasn't ready, that it wasn't the right time, and that people had expectations and opinions about what I should do. But it doesn't matter now. The important thing is, I did it.
If you're thinking about starting an indie agency but are hesitant to, I'll leave you with this: Be careful not to live other people's dreams. Listen, trust and follow your gut. We should encourage and inspire each other to follow our dreams the same way all these amazing indie shops inspired me. I want to give the next generation of ad nerds the confidence to jump way before I did, and I hope one day people will ask for my advice about how to start one, just like I asked Gerry. They can totally blame me if it doesn't work out.