Not Business As Usual.
Business beginnings are often excessively mythologized. But we didn't have a product, or a service that was unique, let alone a robust five-year plan. We just had our experience and a belief that we could challenge the inefficient and ineffective status quo that existed in the ad industry.
The idea was simple: We'd hire the best independent talent we could find as-and-when-they were needed and simultaneously take the bs out of the brand building process. What could go wrong?
On the 4th July 1999, my partners and I leapt into the middle of the dot-com tsunami, and we set-up shop in a filthy, dangerous and yet barely affordable part of the Mission in San Francisco. Our first year was dominated by a bunch of messianic digital entrepreneurs, at what was then the largest high-speed Internet provider in the United States.
"Excite@Home believed they were pioneering 'the new economy'. It turned out they were running around in circles burning cash faster than they could fathom it all out."
Dan Goodin, Wall Street Journal
Frustrated at not being able to get any work out of the door, I asked Excite@Home's CEO for direction at an all-hands meeting. He said he was "brand agnostic" and we declined the offer to renew our annual retainer.
Excite went bust owing $7 billion - shortly after the company declined an offer from Messrs Page and Brin to buy Google for $750K.
When the dot-com crash finally happened and the plug was pulled, the effect was instantaneous. There was no gentle glide path back to reality. San Francisco's once vibrant advertising community was in ruins.
Fortunately, we'd been asked to meet with a mysterious company that had been quietly laboring for thirty years at actually making the next big chapter of the Information Age a reality. Applied Materials were now hungry for recognition - and very keen to take advantage of the free fall in media prices. We pitched against several big name shops, and won the business in a shoot-out with my former employer, McCann Erickson.
We worked with Applied Materials for around five years, and our work helped transform the company into a famous Information Age brand.
We'd finally proven, on the big stage, that a small, special-forces-like team of talented professionals could execute better, faster and cheaper than the big global agencies my partners and I had previously worked at.
Looking back, it's incredibly cliched to say how lucky we've been over the last two decades, but we have. Our work for an extraordinary group of entrepreneurs, mavericks and visionaries has taken us all over Asia, Africa, Europe, North America and South America, and from 2010 to 2013, I was invited to share what I'd learned and teach a brand building master class to MBA students at the Saïd Business School in Oxford.
"In addition to building famous B2B and B2C brands, Whitty has helped his eclectic client base defy the status quo in US healthcare, champion global action for a sustainable & inclusive economic future, and further the democratic process in some of the most challenging places on earth."
Peter Tufano, Dean of the Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford
An awful lot has changed since we first set out to challenge the bloated, process laden advertising industry, but our commitment to the simple principal of 'never offering business as usual' and matching the right talent and expertise to our clients individual needs, remains constant.