Camaraderie Over Competition: Newbie Ad Agency Founders, Unite

There is a unifying phenomenon happening among agency startups

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When you’re about to become a parent for the first time, even strangers will go out of their way to offer encouragement and support. Our grizzled general contractor from South Jersey would sit me down daily to discuss what Mona and I were about to experience.

This outpouring of love from unexpected places should serve as a warning to the uninitiated that what they’re about to embark on is so fantastically and universally difficult, that it has the power to create bonds between complete strangers.

I was reminded of this unifying phenomenon when we publicly announced the founding of our ad agency, Bandits & Friends.

Our network mobilized in a chorus of well-wishes along with some incredibly generous and practical help. But it was the support of the other start-up founders that really caught me off guard.

Some we knew, but many were relative strangers. They were so excited and enthusiastic about the prospect of us joining the fray. They were quick to offer tips and bits of wisdom that might pass off as cordial social graces, but then they’d follow up with introductions, recommendations and the kind of help we were in no position to reciprocate as a three-person company squatting in the back of a coffee shop. Or, more often than not, in the back of a music house (thank you New Math, Mr. Bronx and Duotone—we are forever grateful).

At one point I found myself wondering why everyone was being so nice. Part of me thought this could just be that been-there-done-that empathy from the older parents all over again. Even the founder of a company in year two can look at someone with a freshly minted LLC and think, “Oh, you have no idea what you’re in for, little buddy.”

And part of that was probably the case. But the gesture was more than mere empathy; it was real-world help. Help that could accelerate our growth into the kind of agency they might have to compete with for clients and talent and production dinner invites. Weren’t they a little worried about us? Where were the sharp elbows? Where were the cutthroat competitive antics Mad Men had prepared us for?

I’m embarrassed to admit how long it took me to relax and accept that the help wasn’t part of some elaborate ruse. There’s a real sense of camaraderie among the startups that outshines the natural competitiveness.

And embracing that community has made it so much more fun to navigate in year one. We now celebrate every win of our small agency brethren both as friends and fellow little guys. We know every win helps continue the rising tide we’re seeing across the industry.

Every time a big client strays away from a more traditional choice and discovers something amazing and unexpected, we win. We all win. Every time someone takes that leap, it makes it that much easier for the next marketer to tell their boss they’re going with that crazy little agency with the weird name and the Squarespace website. And with that positive momentum, some of the advantages of speed, collaboration and cost that come naturally when you’re small can outshine the doubts about whether or not a small shop can pull off big things. We can. We have. We will again.

So, as we move from being incredibly small to just kind of small, we want to extend the same support shown to us to the next generation of founders trying to slog their way through fear, doubt and the reams of legal documents that stand between them and the beaches of Cannes. Unless of course, we see them in the pitch room. Then we’ll return to our corners and prepare to duke it out like mortal enemies until the decision is made and we can return to our roles as friends, colleagues and occasional drinking buddies.

As we near one year of existence, I’m happy to report that the sense of gratitude is slowly overcoming the buzz of anxiety, and we have a lot of people reading this right now to thank for that.

So, thank you.

This article is part of an ongoing Voice series that takes a behind-the-scenes look at new agencies in their first year of business. For more on Bandits & Friends, see previous articles: The Dangers of Texting While Contemplating Your Future. You Might Just Start an Agency and How to Start an Agency, One Letter at a Time. Or HTSAAOLAAT, for Short.