Seize The Day

Noam Wasserman of Harvard Business School looks at some of the fundamental realities of owning your own shop.

Are you one of the many executives who’d love to leave the corporate battleship to skipper a speedy, nimble start-up? And are you using a variety of rationales for why it’s not yet time to go? Reasons such as: I need to work on my résumé, acquire more credibility, learn to manage better, figure out how financing really works, maintain stability at home while my children are young?
Those are legit reasons, of course, but while you’re waiting for everything to fall into place, you’re acquiring big-company habits that can hurt you if and when you ever make the move. Long tenures in corporate jobs keep you from becoming the self-reliant jack-of-all-trades that a new venture requires. You get used to having HR specialists take care of HR issues for you, finance aces prepare reports for you, and IT whizzes maintain the company infrastructure. You become accustomed to delegating and to distancing yourself from “real work” — a luxury that just isn’t possible in a start-up.

I know we have some community members here that jumped from a holding company’s air craft carrier of agencies to their own swift boat. Hopefully, we can hear from them in the comments.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. Funny you should ask…
    I am in the process of writing a 3-part post for my blog next week called “The Crisis of Advertising.” The first part is about the deleterious effect of consolidation on the ad industry. Here’s a bit of it:
    Advertising was at its best when it was an industry of entrepreneurs. They started agencies because they thought they could do it better. They were mainly craftsmen — copywriters, art directors, and account people — who had two goals: to make some money, and to make good ads.
    Let’s not be overly romantic here. They were no less interested in making money than today’s global fat cats. However, they understood one thing about the advertising business that today’s big shots don’t — in advertising, making money is a by-product. It comes from making good ads.
    Today’s publicly traded behemoths are run by lawyers, accountants and MBAs who could no more recognize a good ad than repair a roof. If their agencies never had to make another ad — if they could just be consultants and brand bull-shitters — they’d be perfectly happy.
    Ask people who work for one of these monstrosities and 90% of the time you will hear how dysfunctional, corrupt, and greedy these companies have become.

    As someone who has owned two independent agencies and worked in a senior capacity for a “global agency”, I highly recommend entrepreneurship. It certainly isn’t easy, but it’s a lot more fun.