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 business plan.
We had just enough experience and chutzpah to believe that we could challenge the status quo by doing things better and cheaper and faster than the bloated, process laden ad agencies we'd previously worked at.
The idea was simple: Build an independent network of creative talent that we can bring in as needed, and simultaneously take the bullshit 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 set-up shop in a filthy, dangerous and yet barely affordable part of the Mission in San Francisco. Our first 18 months were 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. He declared that he was "brand agnostic". I declined the offer to renew our annual retainer.
Excite@Home filed for bankruptcy with $1bn debt - shortly after the CEO 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.
We worked with Applied Materials for five years, and, in spite of being heavily outspent in the media, recognition and interest in our campaign outstripped those from tech bellwethers Intel, IBM and Cisco.
AMAT's share price has since increased by 482%, and today, with a market cap of $137.90 billion, it's the 98th most valuable company in the world.
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 difference making clients has taken us on a 2 million mile journey across North America, Europe, Asia, Africa and South America.
We're flattered, too, that we were entrusted with helping to challenge the status quo in US healthcare; champion global action for a sustainable and inclusive economic future; and further the democratic process in some of the most challenging places on earth.
And to cap things off, I was invited to share what we've learned along the way and teach a brand building class to MBA students at the University of Oxford.
A lot has changed since we first started out. But one thing remains constant. We will never offer business as usual.