Launching an agency is not for the faint of heart. Having a co-founder can ease the burden — someone to weather those stressful pitches with, a sounding-board for ideas, someone to throw under the bus — and can be the difference between success and failure.
We caught up with a few agency founders and their better halves-in-business to learn their secrets. Whether they started as childhood best friends or as a couple in love, they were more than happy to dish on the recipe for success — and throw each other under the bus.
Tom O’Keefe and Matt Reinhard, co-founders at O’Keefe Reinhard & Paul
O’Keefe and Reinhard, now CEO and CCO at OKRP, respectively, first met when they were both starting out at FCB San Francisco over 25 years ago. After having worked with other creative partners for a few years, director-copywriter duo finally came together in 1993, on a new business pitch for Schweppes.
“We both felt that we do our best work together,” said O’Keefe. “Having a partner that you can really trust and have great chemistry with is extremely valuable in this business.”
The two even shared the same pad for a number of years, subsisting on a diet of whiskey and bananas — which remains a metaphor for the culture they built together at OKRP, starting in 2013, along with their third partner, Nick Paul. “One part whiskey for the coolness and one part bananas for the humor in our work,” explained Reinhard.
Today their families are friends — and they even go to concerts together.
Matt Doud and Ed Callahan, co-founders at Planit
Friends since second grade, Baltimore natives Doud and Callahan may not have necessarily known that they wanted to get into advertising, but they always had that creative streak. “We were the ones that put in that extra effort into our lockers and binders,” said Doud. “All those tiny things we did eventually led us to found an agency.”
After getting degrees in journalism and graphic design, the two founded Planit in Baltimore in 1994 — with just one client and one computer. The agency has a tradition in which every new hire receives a framed photo of Matt and Ed in grade school on their desk, where it sits until the next new hire starts.
“If you think of us as a sailboat, Ed is the sail and I’m the rudder,” said Doud. “The sail is about speed and moving ahead aggressively, but if you don’t have a rudder, you don’t have that sense of direction.”
Karin Drakenberg and Scott Goodson, co-founders at StrawberryFrog
Drakenberg and Goodson aren’t just co-founders but also husband and wife. The pair met in Stockholm in the ‘90s, where Drakenberg worked for agency 1687 and Goodson worked at Welinder Advertising, now Publicis Sweden.
They got married in 1992 and moved to Amsterdam, where they started both StrawberryFrog and their family in a small apartment. Today, the agency is based in New York City. While Drakenberg runs operations and management, Goodson focuses on strategy and creative.
“The trick to a thriving marriage and a successful business partnership, especially in an ad agency where there’s stuff coming at you 24/7, is never, ever, ever, ever talk shop at home,” said Drakenberg. “You must stick to this one simple but important rule or suffer the consequences. Scott and I always find time to talk things through about work — just not on private time.”
Pete Sena and David Salinas, co-founders at Digital Surgeons
Sena and Salinas were gym buddies, who would often talk about everything that was wrong about the advertising industry over workouts. Sena remembers the day they decided to partner up, while he was mid-bench press.
“There were not a ton of digital-first agencies back then,” said Sena. “As a designer and developer, I was often getting pulled in opposite directions.”
They set shop in New Haven, Connecticut — not a bustling agency hotspot but a location that made sense to them for its grittiness and urban charm. Today, they have locations in Vancouver and New York.
“The time I knew we were perfect partners was when we working on a keynote deck, and it was past midnight,” said Sena. “I typed in half a sentence, and he finished it.”
Anselmo Ramos, Fernando Musa and Gaston Bigio, co-founders at David
Co-founders Ramos, Musa and Bigio decided to form their agency drunkenly, in the middle of a party at Cannes in 2012. They describe it as a “wild date,” in which two Brazilians and an Argentinian came together for “a very passionate ménage à trois.”
“I’ve known Fernando Musa for over 20 years. We went to the same university and always kept in touch, then we met Gaston Bigio through Ogilvy,” said Ramos. “I think we complement each other.”
The three believe that they balance each other out: While Musa and Bigio are incredibly passionate, Ramos keeps the calm. And like every passionate couple — er, threesome — they even have a song: “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.”