We just celebrated our 10-year anniversary! To reflect on the past 10 years, we interviewed Andrew Smith, the Founder and President of initiate-it.
What inspired you to start initiate-it?
“Really, I just didn’t want to have any regrets. I was 38 years old and didn’t want to look back and say, what if I was 50 and at a place in life where I would regret not trying it? It’s been a great 10 years.”
What is the best advice you’ve received?
“I think the best advice I have ever received is treat people the way you want to be treated. You know, everyone is a human being, and you treat them with respect. Typically, if you surround yourself with good people, do good things, and treat people the right way, you will have a lot of success. So, I definitely think this is one of the key pieces of advice for me.”
What is one of the biggest mistakes you have made?
“Oh gosh, there’s been numerous, I’ve made a ton of mistakes – some I can’t talk about on camera – but probably being too impulsive. From the standpoint of making decisions quickly, not including your team members, that sort of thing. So probably the biggest mistake I’ve made is being too impulsive and moving too fast.”
What is your funniest memory from the past 10 years?
“There’s been a lot. You know, the biggest thing for me is our client interactions. We’ve had a lot of great clients, we’ve traveled a lot, we’ve made some great memories, we’ve been all throughout the country. We’ve had some great relationships, and clients seem to gravitate and want to be around us – we are around smart people that care. And I think that’s the key for any successful business to staff appropriately, get the right people in the room, and good things are going to happen.”
What is the proudest moment you have had while working with a client?
“One of the proudest moments I’ve had working with a client is being competitive and winning. I’ve always been a competitive person, and one of the things I’ve loved about advertising is you walk in, put a strategy together, look at research, and put your best foot forward. Just like in a football game – one of my mentors, when I was younger in my career, would talk about: you start out with a plan, and then first quarter happens and someone gets injured. And you move and you shift and you pivot. Then half time happens and you move and you shift and you pivot. And so it’s that competitiveness that’s always intrigued me.
“That’s my proudest client moment, and we’ve had several of them, is to see the success of our clients. I know a lot of agencies say that, but we’ve had a lot of wins. I don’t think we would be where we are today if we didn’t win. That’s the key. We definitely want to do great creative work, be good corporate citizens, but at the end of the day, our clients are here to make money, for the most part, and watching them be successful is a great pleasure of mine.”
Who is your favorite on the initiate-it team?
“That could get me in a lot of trouble… the easy answer is everybody. Everybody serves a role here, everybody has a part, and I think everybody brings a certain value to the table. Obviously, you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t, and that’s even with previous employees. We’ve gotten to the place where we are today because of all the efforts of a lot of people. Through the year, a lot of people have had a hand in it, so you can’t take credit for it. This is not the ‘Smitty’ Group. This is initiate-it. If I wanted it to be about Andrew Smith, I would have named it ‘The Smith Group.’ It’s not about Andrew Smith. It’s about the people that are here because we are in a people business.”
What has been your favorite project to work on?
“That’s a tough one. You are going to get me in trouble again – Every project for every client is very important, and I’ve loved to work on them all. Certainly, there’s been some I’ve found more enjoyable for me personally to work on. Obviously, clients that give us a lot of creative freedom to really kind of test. We are very data-driven here, so I love clients who are willing to let us out of the box. People who try to put us in the box are not as fun because anybody can be put in a box. Lots of times, I’ve had conversations with clients: ‘Just go get a freelancer.’ If that’s all you’re looking to do, you can get it done cheaper than paying us. If we just want to be an order taker, I’d probably be in a different business because I could probably find a lot better ways to make a lot more money. So anyway, I think that any clients willing to let us out of the box, we’ve been successful with, and that’s probably one of my most favorite things to work for. And quite honestly, a lot of our clients have let us out of the box, and I think that’s why we’ve seen so much success. Again, you put me on the spot, but every client is important, and I enjoy all of the projects we get to work on.”
What was the most challenging piece of running your business so far?
“I think there’s been a lot of challenges in the past ten years. From being a one-man shop to starting your own company, there’s no one to blame. When you’re in a company, you can say well ‘that’s such-and-such’s fault,’ ‘well, it’s that person’s fault,’ or ‘that person didn’t stay late,” or ‘that person didn’t do that job.’ When you’re the only person sitting around, there’s no one to blame but yourself. So, you really have to look in the mirror. You start at one person, you get to two, you get to three, you get to four, you get to five, you get to ten, you get to twelve, you get to thirteen, and all of a sudden, it’s a different animal. So growth management has certainly been one of the challenges.
“Secondly is finding great talent. There’s a lot of people out there just looking for a job. If you’re looking for a job, I can give you recommendations of a lot of other places to go, where you just kind of punch the clock from 9 to 5. If you want to be a part of an advertising agency, if you want to do great creative work, and be a part of a growing company, then this is the place for you. So finding the right mix of talent has been key. And then COVID hit, and a lot of companies didn’t survive. We had a lot of great clients that stayed with us, and we all pivoted and we moved and we shifted – that was the word, obviously, ‘pivoting.’ But that hit, and a lot of companies did not survive that. We were able to survive, and that’s due to the hard work of our team jumping in and helping our clients navigate that timeframe. So, I think those are the 3 biggest [challenges] I’ve had.”
What are you most excited about for initiate-it’s future?
“I’m most excited about the next generation coming up and taking it over. We talk a lot about that internally. I never had goals when I started initiate-it, to grow it to $10-$20 million and sell it. That was never my objective. The next 10 years, if I were to break it down, is how do you transition the next generation that wants to come in here and take it over? That’s what gives me excitement, is watching the next generation come through. Because I’ve been there, done that, and I’m excited for the team here to be a part of growing the company and being a part of it for a long time.”
If you could speak to your younger self, just starting out, what advice would you give him?
“Slow down. It goes fast. The first year went fast – and this is just in life in general. I started the company when my son was 7 and my daughter was 4, so now I have a 17-year-old and 14-year-old. When I look back at it, what I’m most proud about starting initiate-it is I never missed a baseball game, I never missed a practice, never missed a recital. This company afforded me the ability to do that, to be a dad. So I would say slow down and even take more time. When I first started the company, I met with a big business leader – and I was moving a thousand miles a minute – and he said to me: ‘I would have told you to take a 2-week vacation.’ Because I went from one job right onto the next. So, he said, ‘Go relax. Go to the beach. Take a breath.’ I thought that was really interesting because he was saying that in a simple way – slow it down. If I had to go back and tell myself – in life and business – slow down, it will all be ok. A lot of people get ramped up, we all get frustrated. This is happening, and this is happening. We are in a fast-paced environment. One of my biggest learning curves is ‘it’s all going to be ok.’ So yeah, slow it down.”