As MDC Partners’ entrepreneur-in-residence, Michael Nicholas’ job entails seeking out emerging technologies and startups and managing the company’s strategic corporate VC fund. He is tasked with connecting clients with the right entrepreneurs and startups to fuel their businesses as well as building new companies like Born, MDC’s new AI-focused agency.
“People laugh at my title in ad land, but that’s OK,” he said. “My days are super interesting being both an investor and an entrepreneur — sometimes I feel like a venture guy with an advertising problem, and other days, I feel like an ad man with startup issues.”
While no two days look the same, we asked him what a day in the life of an entrepreneur-in-residence in the agency world looked like:
7:30 a.m.: I live in Boston, but today, like most days, I’m in New York City. I wake up and drag myself for a run. (I don’t actually enjoy running, but I have found that the challenge of doing something I don’t like is an effective way to put some parts of my job into perspective.) This morning, I pass by MDC’s chief financial officer, smile, and keep running.
8:15 a.m.: I text my family, peek at my calendar, fire up Slack and decide that email can wait. I have lots to catch up on regarding MDC Media Partners’ product development and our latest agency Born’s work-in-progress. I’m feeling slightly annoyed today at how Slack handles files.
8:37 a.m.: I don’t check email before I leave because it will bog me down. Normally, I am already walking to work by this time, but this morning, I have a breakfast. The train is the perfect place to scroll through subjects, thinning the herd with the delete button and saving the rest for proper attention.
9:00 a.m.: I’m at breakfast with my KBS Ventures Partners. We discuss making changes to our investment thesis for 2017, final numbers for 2016 and our upcoming meeting with the CFO I just ran past 45 minutes ago. We also discuss a VR company that lowers production barriers for agencies and clients in a way we really like. It’s a startup we all agree is great but not a good fit for our corporate venture fund.
10:25 a.m.: I’m at the office, and email finally gets its due. Nothing too exciting, but there’s a positive reply from a startup regarding ingesting its data into Cortex, our analytics product, for an Assembly client. Like many startups, this company may not be a “data play,” but it kicks off a lot of data and is interested in alternative revenue sources. I have a quick chat with our super smart head of tech ops, Stella Voutsina, around how we can make it easy for the startup to share data with us. I respond to the startup with next steps connecting them to our tech ops team.
10:56 a.m.: I grab banana and latte from our new cafe, T/+VERN/+.
11:00 a.m.: We have a product meeting for “Aperture,” our marketing automation product. The group is tasked with finalizing an 18-month product roadmap that will work for our trade desk VMM and our media agencies Assembly and Allegory. Most of the meeting is great, but the end reminds me of running. I attempt to remind the team how far we have come in a few short years and meetings about things like this are why being less than 3 years old is a huge advantage. Needless to say, the meeting runs over.
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12:30 p.m.: It’s time to discuss the Born pipeline with the partners, and like clockwork, our CEO, Martin Cass, sticks his head in the door. There is a lot of interest in AI, but it’s also in the early days. We compare AI to the beginning of mobile in 2008-2009 and exchange stories of the kind of things brands used to ask for. It’s similar with AI, and we struggle with being polite, because clients sometimes come to us with ideas that aren’t viable long-term ideas. We share stories, laugh a lot and stack-rank some in terms of importance.
1:45p.m.: I’m at WeWork to meet with one of our portfolio companies. We discuss its progress and the integration of its computer vision product into programmatic advertising. It’s so smart and so full of the positivity you need for a startup — I feel energized and practically bounce out of there. I never thought I was coming back to advertising once I got involved in mentoring entrepreneurs, but I’m very lucky it’s now part of my job.
2:48 p.m.: As I walk back across town, I’m on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for a while. Yeah, I’m that guy. I realize I’m starving: time for a #slice.
3:10 p.m.: I grab another latte from the Nespresso machine on the 19th floor. I then review the 2017 and 2018 M&A category implications of our MDC Media Partners strategic plan presented in November with Stuart Coleman, vp of strategy and investments at MDC Partners. Part of my job is finding startups that can bring advantage to our agencies, and this is the other side of that coin. Agencies that can fill a tactical (now), strategic (new) or innovation (next) need for us while getting exponential are the ones that benefit from joining MDC. We discuss a couple of agencies that would be interesting to meet, and Stuart agrees to reach out and make the connections.
4:27 p.m.: While walking across town, I trade emojis on a group text with my 7-, 10- and 12-year-olds. Mrs. Nicholas has locked their devices down with @OurPactApp, so they pay attention when I text, which is nice.
4:41 p.m.: Our Hollywood office is wide awake and wants to talk about client work. Our brand-new video conference service fails, so I resort to my iPhone and FaceTime, which works like a charm. Assembly’s strategy lead briefs me on two assignments in detail — both very secret, both very creative. Connecting unique startup capabilities with creative ideas to deliver something unexpected is super fun. Sometimes not easy, but always worth it.
5:55 p.m.: I plow through emails one more time and start planning for tomorrow.
6:22 p.m.: I’m looking at the character brief for a new AI Agent in development. To us, creativity in AI is centered around character and narrative development. Feels more like video game development than advertising development. We’re toying with the direction the agent will go in if it doesn’t understand user intent. Needless to say, it’s not going to be “Sorry, I didn’t get that.”
6:51 p.m.: I catch up on social feeds and finally have a minute to read something awesome I picked up from Benjamin Palmer.
8:15 p.m.: I get back to the hotel, dump my laptop and try to collect myself. Realize I forgot to iChat my kids before bed. I iChat my kids anyway, but no one answers. #dadfail
8:40 p.m.: New York City has great Greek restaurants, and my partner-in-crime, Stella Voutsina, and I are determined to uncover them all. That said, I have been going to a particular one called “Avra Estiatorio” around the corner from my usual hotel every time I’m in the city for a couple years now. I always sit at the bar, order grilled octopus, a Mythos beer and try to read about something interesting on my phone.
9:49 p.m.: I take a walk and call Mrs. Nicholas to discuss our days and general life progress.
10:01 p.m.: Back in the hotel room, a final check of electronic corporate communications yields nothing of significant importance. I go offline and call it a night.