Sometimes It Pays to Go With Your Gut

Why I Took a Chance on a Startup

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Jim Mitchem
Jim Mitchem
In the spring of 2009, I was contacted by an entrepreneur who said he was starting a company that made mobile hospitality venues out of used shipping containers. His attorney, a friend of our family, sent him my way because she knew I was in advertising. And because he's a startup (no budget), and I'm a small agency (lower rates), it seemed like a good fit. David needed marketing help.

I entertained him by listening to his pitch, and even gave him some basic advice on how best to launch his company from an advertising standpoint. Naturally, I emphasized brand. Before we hung up, he said he had a couple of other agencies to call and that he would be in touch. I never expected to hear back from him. After all, when you're a small agency, you see a lot of really great ideas by enthusiastic startups who aren't ready to hear the truth about things like research, procurement, development and budgets. Especially budgets.

But the following week he called back. I left our initial meeting really impressed with his company's concept. I sent him a proposal a couple of days later. My proposals are always fair market rate. Not the highest. Not the lowest. I don't think it's good business to compete on price point. David called back, impressed with the direction of the proposal. Then he talked about price. I attempted to justify the value of the work for the rate, and he seemed to agree. He said he'd call back.

In discussing all of this over a coffee with my design partner, I began to see what a brilliant concept it really was. My gut said that with the right direction, this company had the potential to not only gain market share, but open up a whole new market. But there was more. David had already started a couple of hospitality container prototypes, and hired an architect firm to design plans for things like residential units and even retail and dining. We ended up naming the company that day -- not because we set out to, but because that's how it always goes when you try to contain passion. Somehow, this project stirred my passion. So I decided to work at a reduced rate if our continued negotiations came to that.

The next day David called. He was ready to move forward but had concerns about his budget and funding the development of necessary residual marketing elements for the brand. I liked how this guy was thinking, liked the concept for the company, and liked that he had the resources and resolve to begin fabrication whether the brand was in place or not. So I offered to work for about half of what I'd normally charge for a project of this scope. Doing this went against everything I'd ever learned about business. But I trusted my gut.

Boy, am I glad I did.

A year and a half later, Boxman Studios is a known presence in the hospitality and eco-build industries. All with the most minimal media investment I've ever managed for a client. Based on a solid brand (based on a great concept), we've pushed the marketing into digital spaces as a way to remain eco-friendly and budget-wise.

Through Twitter, Facebook and a blog, we've connected with prospects across the globe and have been featured in popular blogs like Gizmodo and Inhabitat.

Another example: The company is currently participating in three separate eco-conferences in California and is even a featured exhibitor at West Coast Green in San Francisco. And rather than carry a bunch of printed collateral out west to shove into people's bags, we developed a 'Text To' solution and on-location data capture via iPads as a way to augment the experience of interacting with the product, and engaging David and his team (me and one other guy) directly. Someone texts or submits their name and email and -- bingo -- they receive a succinct thank you along with a link explaining that we felt the paperless solution was the more responsible solution.

The point of this post isn't to promote Boxman, nor is it to imply that I'm an advertising genius. It's to reinforce that, despite everything we're trained to know about things, sometimes it pays to go with your gut and take chances. As small agencies, we're more nimble than the behemoths, so we must be able to recognize gold when we see it. And act.

Jim Mitchem is a father, husband, writer and principal at Smashcommunications. You can find him on Twitter @jmitchem.
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