A bittersweet symphony.

Why I’m leaving the company I helped build.

The dictionary defines bittersweet as pleasure alloyed with pain and co-founding and running a digital marketing agency is exactly that!

As of February 23rd, 2015 I put pen to paper and finalized an arrangement to leave Horse & Cart Agency Inc. as Partner and Co-Founder.

Brendan Tully Walsh (left), Brendan Sera-Shriar (right)

Over the past few years a lot of blood, sweat and tears went into building this company from just two guys to an extended family of close to 20 and a roster of clients from small local startups to international brands.

It’s been a crazy adventure and the decision to hand the keys to the kingdom over to my partner took a lot of thought and consideration.

To be clear my departure does not signify the end of Horse & Cart. On the contrary, my former partner Brendan Tully Walsh will continue to run the business. Leaving the company I helped build is probably the most significant move I’ve made both professionally and personally in years.

With this decision comes many questions. There’s a sense of obligation to tell the whole story and explain my actions. But that’s the thing, there’s no big story to tell. Brendan and I have had a great run. We set out to Keep Marketing Fun and that’s exactly what we did.

Our roots

In 2012, Brendan and I sat down to discuss the kind of company we wanted to build. We had no business plan, no clients and no idea what we were doing. We knew we wanted a different professional life for ourselves and we figured doing our own thing was the solution. We just wanted to build cool shit! We never intended to build an agency. In fact our message was very clear from the beginning “Agencies are broken”.

We envisioned a company built on relationships and quality deliverables not billable hours. We wanted to be intimately involved in the creation and execution of the work being done for our clients from pitch to product.

With this in mind we built an amazing team over the years and I have had the pleasure of working with some incredible partners, contractors, freelancers and interns.

I’m most proud of the incredible talent we’ve had come through our doors over the years. Many of our former staff and interns have gone on to accomplish great things. I can’t help but feel a little responsible for that ☺

But things change

Founding an agency is one of the greatest endeavours I’ve ever pursued, professionally that is. I’ve made many mistakes along the way and I’m better for it. Building an agency is not about just building cool shit and I had to learn that the hard way. It’s about budgets, people management, relationship building, leading and being lead, communication, resources, time, and money. It’s not for everyone.

At some point it became evident that I was spending more time in Excel than Photoshop. I understand that is the role of an “executive” but it needs to be justified for the betterment of the business. I began to feel that my vision for the future of the company was no longer aligned with my partner’s. I wanted to get back to our roots. And I realized the only way for me to do that was to make a bold move — start again on my own.

What I’ve learned running a digital marketing agency

I’ll make these points brief. I’ll probably expand on them in a future post.

  1. Things always take longer than you expect.
  2. Some clients aren’t worth it. It’s ok to fire a client.
  3. You can’t do everything! Focus on what your good at and stop doing what you suck at and hire the right person for it.
  4. Don’t compare yourself to other agencies. Focus on doing the best you can for your business.
  5. Nothing is ever finished. It’s always a work in progress.
  6. Making mistakes is ok. Don’t beat yourself or others up about it.
  7. You don’t need to yell to make a point stick.
  8. Don’t be afraid to tell your clients you screwed up. They’ll appreciate it as long as you fix it.
  9. Don’t obsess over numbers you’ll just get lost in them and forget what your agency is really all about.
  10. Make sure to tell your staff their doing a great job and thank them as often as you can.
  11. Spend as much time building your brand as you do building your clients.
  12. Be as transparent as possible with your staff, clients and the public. Good communication is key to any business.
  13. Most importantly, if you’re not having fun it’s time to move on.

My next chapter

I’m not exactly sure what I’m going to do next. I know what I’m good at. I know what I love doing. Now I need to find a way to execute on it. I’m not ready to start another full-time business and when I do I doubt it will be an “agency”.

I’ve always had a passion for landing page design, development and strategy. A good majority of my work at Horse & Cart was in this area. Now that I’m a free agent I’ve decided to launch a new project — DayChamp!

DayChamp is an official Unbounce Design Partner

DayChamp was born out of necessity, demand, and my love for landing pages. With DayChamp I have the opportunity to break down barriers of communication and provide years of knowledge in a fast, inexpensive, and interactive experience. I’ll be focusing most of my efforts on this new project for the time being and I’m really excited about it. You can learn more about it here.

That’s my bittersweet symphony …