20 Lessons I've Learned in 20 Years of Running David&Goliath

A challenger's journey across two decades

Ever since I can remember, I've always wanted to create an agency environment that inspired people to take on challenges knowing they'll be better off for it. A culture that comes from the core of who I am and best reflects my belief that we are all challengers at heart. 

In November 1999, I moved my family from New York to Los Angeles to start an ad agency called David&Goliath. Prior to that, I'd had a successful career as a creative, but I had never owned a company. 

There have been many ups and downs along the way, but the lessons I've garnered over those two decades have been incredibly informative. Lessons that I'll cherish forever. Starting your own shop is never easy. But if you have the right motivation, the will and resilience to prevail, you can create anything. 

Here are my 20.

1. Stand for something. 

To be successful in this day and age, you need to have a clear idea of who you are and what you stand for, and live it in everything you do, starting with your agency. Because before you can ask your clients to stand for something, you have to first. 

2. Make work that has impact beyond the industry. 

Our job is to create work that works. Whether it's work that gets talked about at your Uncle Freddie's wedding or a local hair salon. Create work that makes your client proud and shatters their stretch goals. Soon you'll realize the true impact of that relationship. 

3. When you do what you love, there is no distance between work and home. 

When you do what you love, it doesn't feel like work. There's no sense of time or commute. Even if you live 30 miles away and sit on the 405 freeway for an hour, and have the same commute for 20 years, going to a place you love makes it all worth it. 

4. Inviting Gary Busey to your agency party might not be the best idea. 

Let's face it, when you throw a great party in Hollywood, you never know who might show up. And if it's a Lethal Weapon villain who wants to stop your party for a religious cleansing, hold your ground. After his prayer, of course.

5. Behind every setback is an even greater comeback. 

Setbacks. We all experience them. I got news for you—get used to it. Reimagine them. Don't focus on the storm. See the rainbow. Behind every challenge is an opportunity for you to come back even stronger. 

6. Honor birthdays. 

No matter how big you are, you can't forget about the 200 people who make the agency what it is. Celebrate their special day properly with non-trick candles.

7. Never fear the left muscle. 

As a creator, it's hard to think of anything but great work. However, you can't build a business solely off the right side of your brain. Exercise the left muscle properly and you'll thrive not just as a creative but as an entrepreneur, riding the razor's edge between the right and the left. 

8. Let your client beat you at Ping-Pong. 

If a CEO challenges you on his own turf, do the right thing and lose by two. Then play him a second time and again lose by two. He'll appreciate your consistency.

9. No one will ever care as much as you do. 

It doesn't matter how passionate of a place you create, no one will ever feel as committed to it as you do. Just like no one will ever love your children as much as you do. But that's OK. Inspire them daily through your actions. Give them a reason to care more about something in addition to their paychecks.

10. Treat your interns with as much respect as your managers. 

Start with the simple concept that we are all people, regardless of age or position. Give your experience to anyone who knows what to do with it. After all, someone gave it to you. And if you were able to channel that knowledge into success, then you owe it to the next generation to keep it going. 

11. Build something that's bigger than you. 

Don't just build a company; build a culture that's bigger than one person. Help people overcome their biggest Goliaths. Both professional and personal. Who knows, it might just last 20 years or more.

12. Scrappy is everything. 

There was a point in our lives when we made something out of nothing. Go back to that scrappy spirit and never lose it. Because no client will ever say, "I wish you were less resourceful." 

13. Celebrate Super Bowl in Vegas. 

There's no better place to watch your Super Bowl spot with your team than Sin City. Especially when one of your clients is a casino hotel and serves the best all-you-can-eat buffalo wings. 

14. You are not for everyone. 

Nor should you be. There will always be people who get you and people who don't. The key is to have a clear idea of who you are and never waver. 

15. Share your culture with the world. 

Create an inspiring culture that transcends the walls of your agency. If you do it right, no Goliath will be safe, and the power of your agency can have an even greater impact on the world. 

16. Always extend your agency parties one more hour. 

And sometimes two. I mean, come on. When you are a challenger brand and have a name like David&Goliath, people tend to work a little harder. Take care of them.

17. Build a place where future lifelong friends can meet. 

When you foster a culture with a no-asshole policy, you attract like-minded people who actually like each other. So when employees do leave, they leave with more than a great portfolio of work.

18. Don't ever forget the people who stood by you during your greatest challenge. 

The people who say "Trust me" are usually the ones you shouldn't. The ones who are by your side through your most trying times will show you through their actions. 

19. Let your employees trash-talk you in fantasy football. 

Then crush them on Sunday.

20. Never rule out the impossible. 

If a kid from a blue-collar neighborhood who got kicked out of high school can create a successful agency that lasts two decades, anyone can. You just need to believe.

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David Angelo
David Angelo is the founder and chairman of David&Goliath.

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