How a Musician on the ‘Front Lines of Social Media’ Co-founded an Agency

Ready Set Rocket is celebrating its 10th year under Aaron Harvey

portrait of a man with his his arms folded in front of a framed picture of himself
Harvey co-founded Ready Set Rocket with friend and partner Alex Lirtsman.
Ira Chernova

Aaron Harvey was sick of wrapping burritos in his hometown. After coming off a tour in 2006 with his indie band Mashlin, the future co-founder of digital agency Ready Set Rocket was back in Orlando, Fla., working at a Chipotle, watching old friends swing by on their lunch break.

While there’s nothing wrong with that, for Harvey, “it was super embarrassing.”

Fortunately for Harvey, who had a marketing degree but no work experience, one of those friends had just started a digital branding shop and needed an intern. Within three years, Harvey rose through the ranks, eventually becoming a partner at the agency.

After gutting it out on the road with his band, advertising felt like a natural fit. “When you’re in a band, you’re trying to build a brand, and everything is DIY with no money,” said Harvey. “[In 2009], we were on the front lines of social media. How do I take my Myspace following and go to a new city and have people show up? How do I find people in that city who look like the people who [would] like me?”

In 2009, Harvey struck out on his own, moving to New York and co-founding Ready Set Rocket with friend and partner Alex Lirtsman.

Now in its 10th year, business has never been better as the office gets set to mark the milestone by rebranding the agency. Having worked with everyone from the NBA to Sweetgreen, Harvey cherishes the partnerships that allow Ready Set Rocket to promote “social capitalism,” pointing to its work with Ranpak, a sustainable, recyclable, paper-based packaging business aimed at reducing plastic use.

In addition to his own business, Harvey—who has dealt with anxiety and depression relating to almost 20 years of living with undiagnosed OCD—launched IntrusiveThoughts.org and nonprofit Made of Millions to help educate and advocate on behalf of the mental health community, specifically those with OCD. With the tagline of “For Sufferers, By Sufferers,” Harvey is balancing his branding expertise and leadership role with his agency to change the mental health narrative.

“You can be vulnerable, and you can be decisive,” said Harvey. “You can still make business decisions while being a human being.”

Big Mistake 

Without hesitation, Harvey said that working with friends has been the biggest mistake he’s made since entering the industry. “In 10 years, I’ve experienced a lot of broken relationships as a result,” said Harvey. “When you create that dynamic between you as an owner and someone who’s working for you … I can’t deny that having a company and having a completely different separate social life wouldn’t have its advantages.”

Lesson Learned

“My whole life is wrapped around my business,” said Harvey. “While that is a beautiful thing, and you can share some special experiences with people you trust and love, it doesn’t come without consequence.”

How He Got the Gig

After rising through the ranks at Purple, Rock, Scissors in Orlando, Harvey wanted to take a shot at making it in New York. He reached out to his friend Alex Lirtsman, and the duo formed Ready Set Rocket in 2009 during the economic recession. “If we could make it then, we can make it for a long time,” said Harvey.

Pro Tip

“My No. 1 tip is to look for and stay places where you’re acquiring skills. Skills are your currency,” said Harvey. “Don’t move for a title or a pay bump. Move because you’re truly going to learn something or you’ve tapped out where you are.”

This story first appeared in the Sept. 16, 2019, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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