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 just had enough skill, experience and chutzpah to believe that we could challenge the status quo by doing things cheaper, faster and better than the agency's we'd previously worked at.
The idea was simple: Build a multidisciplinary 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 we 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's CEO for direction at an all-hands meeting. He declared that he was in fact "brand agnostic" and I declined the offer to renew our annual retainer.
Excite@Home went bust owing $7 billion - 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 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 we'd learned and teach a brand building class to MBA students at the University of Oxford, Saïd Business School.
"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' remains constant.