… And Other Catalysts To Becoming An Entrepreneur
DJ Haddad is Founder & Creative Director of Haddad & Partners and Co-founder & Chief of Operations for 321 Ignition
I never set out to start my own ad agency, but I can remember the exact moment I decided to leave someone else’s “to do my own thing.”
Let me paint the scene: It was 2002 in midtown Manhattan, I was probably listening to Interpol’s Turn on the Bright Lights, and I had way more hair than I do now; that is to say, I had some hair. A friend and I were working through one of many late nights on an unrealistic website project that the agency sold into the client, and it was our job to make a miracle happen. (If you need more perspective on the timeframe here, this website had a huge Flash component to it and we only had to QA for Internet Explorer and Netscape.) I loved this agency, and the people who worked there, but was underpaid and beginning to get a little burnt out by the workload.
On a particular 1AM night, the sales guy who owned the project was there sitting over our shoulder, answering our questions, making coffee runs to keep us awake, and trying his best to keep us focused and motivated. (Focus was a challenge here; the previous night we took a late-night break and set up an Xbox to the company projector and played a full Street Fighter II tournament against a skyscraper across the street. The characters were 5 stories tall and people stopped along the street to cheer our game on.)
At one point in the night, he was so visibly excited about the upcoming launch that he started slapping my shoulders and telling me all about the new BMW he was going to buy with his commission on this project. Ouch. At this phase in my life, having a car was about as realistic as having my own Gulfstream so, listening to him describe the sound system for his forthcoming SUV was enough to make me give notice the very next week.
Countless freelance gigs and entrepreneurial failures later, I caught a lucky break when a financial client from a previous agency reached out asking if I would like to work with them directly on one or two small landing page projects. I jumped at the opportunity because I had always loved this client, plus, the rate was so much better than my current hourly. Over time I got so busy that I recruited some friends/colleagues from a previous agency, and soon enough we had an actual small design business—along with all the stress and excitement that comes with it. 15 years, and lots more hair-loss, later that small design shop has turned into a creative agency with over 100 teammates and a presence in over 7 countries.
Despite his abysmal inability to read a room, I’ve always hoped that sales guy got that car he wanted, and more, for these two reasons: (1) at least he was there with me in the trenches – I respected that then and still do today; and (2) in his own misguided, tone-deaf way he was only trying to motivate me, which in the end, I guess he did.