In the second part of our interview with Clint! Runge, co-founder of creative agency Archrival, we discuss challenges in starting a business, developing client relationships, and the entrepreneurial hustle. To learn more about Archrival and their work visit archrival.com.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in the beginning and how did you overcome them?
C!: Age and experience are definitely the first ones. People don't want to give you money if they don't trust you, and if you're young and inexperienced, it's hard to trust you. That was one of the first challenges we had. So we had to go prove ourselves. I went from small business to small business and just tried to sell myself by saying, "Whatever you're doing now," if say the budget was $500, "I will find a way for you to get a better return out of that $500." Not everyone did that, but there were a few people who said, "Ok, here you go." [Laughs] I got paid in burritos, bottles of water from the gas station... there are a lot of good stories that came out of that. It was less expensive for them. I was willing to do that. It was after I had some wins, I had to prove that I could do this at the highest level. That meant I had to start entering award competitions to see how it compared to other big agencies. First year, we got one little award. Ten years later, we were winning them all. That was a process of checking ourselves and seeing where the level of excellence is. Now I don't enter award competitions at all. While it was good for us early on, to prove our credibility and to use as a benchmark to keep driving, at some point it becomes ego-driven and self-centered. As soon as I realized we had won everything at a high level, we were done. We don't need to do it anymore because now it's just self-serving.
Archrival has offices not only in Lincoln, but in Portland and Los Angeles as well. Could you talk about the factors that made it possible for Archrival to expand in these areas?
C!: It's not like we're pros at opening other studios; we don't know what we're doing. It's like anything- try your best and figure it out. We opened up a shop in Portland for two reasons. First off, Adidas is based there. We saw a great opportunity with them. I knew where they were and where we were, and knew we could build a relationship with these guys. We had a few projects with them, I saw the groundwork happening, so if you're going to build the relationship you have to be there. The second reason was talent. The first part of Archrival's history was us becoming more talented through our experiences and challenges. We ended up getting pretty high up, but the brands were starting to work with were getting even higher. Our talent level was matching the brands and companies we were working with, but then we were high up working with Red Bull and Adidas. It's hard for someone in the Lincoln market to come in and immediately execute on things because the talent pool isn't here. There are fewer people. In Portland there are a lot more agencies and people that have worked with really big brands and really big budgets and know how to tackle those problems. We felt like we had maximized what we had here. Of course, we are still bringing people through the pipeline and growing them up, but we needed more people to come in and start effectively doing the work right away. Another reason that grew out of that is that people get restless in Lincoln. For some young adults, if you've never traveled or gone other places, you eventually want to move somewhere else. People have really been enjoying their career with Archrival but at some point wanted to leave Lincoln. Now it gives them a place to go. So we've had five or six people just move. They stayed with Archrival and just moved from Lincoln to Portland. It's a win-win. They experience something new but we still retain them as a teammate. As for Los Angeles, that is where Red Bull is based- they're in Santa Monica. We probably should've done it years ago. Seeing the success we've had in Portland, we decided we need to start this in LA. as well. In Portland we have a physical studio, we're actually moving into a new one in April. In LA, we’re just in a coworking space until we can figure out the dynamic there. LA is so different because it is difficult to travel if you live there. So, if you have people live in different parts of LA, where do you want to build the studio? What would really work is everyone lived in the same area. But, for right now we use a coworking studio.
Archrival has developed relationships with some big names such as Adidas, Red Bull, Intel, and more. With this experience under your belt can you recall what it was like approaching bigger clients early on and how it compares to the way you interact with larger clients today?
C!: I've always been confident that I could help people, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't intimidated early on in my career. I didn't have that wealth of experience. I'd say that I faked until I could make it, and now that I've made it, I feel that I can walk into anywhere and feel that I have something of value to offer. Before, it didn't feel quite that way. Before, I felt more like a vendor asking, "What do you need me to do?" Now, I walk in as a business partner saying, "Tell me about your problems and I'll tell you what I can do." So that's how it's shifted over time. Here's the irony in all of this: before, I told you didn't want to go into architecture because I didn't want to wait to get through the hierarchy. The truth is, I did the same thing. It still took fifteen years to be able to do something. I just took a different path. I didn't want to wait, I was naive and wanted to do it then. Well, yes and no; I was doing it in a way, but really it still took fifteen years. [Laughs] I find a lot of value in trial and error, forging your own path, and the entrepreneur game. It's been fun and a lot of lessons have come through it, but I always look back to the way I thought. It still happened, it still took time, and it's because you need that experience. I was kind of naive, but at the same time if I wasn't naive I wouldn't have had the ambition to go do it.
Advertising and architecture have some obvious differences, but both professions employee creativity and design. From a creative standpoint, in terms of process, how would you compare the two professions?
C!: Well, I don't want to speak for architects, but my observation is that there are a lot more boundaries and limitations. I feel that I can go pitch something that on the outset looks crazy but it's grounded in a lot of meat. There are lot of reasons why this would work. I get the sense that architects are working with different boundaries. For example, budget constraints seem to be tying them down in some ways. I feel that architects are capable of so much, but because of limitations and the realities of certain situations they always feel like frustrated creatives to me. [Laughs] I don't want Archrival to be full of frustrated creatives. I want people to have the ability to fully maximize their creative potential. That's not to say we don't end up with frustrating situations too. We have budgets and other things that hold us back, but I feel like we've been able to win more than we lose. Architecture is also in some ways very serious because you're dealing with such a high level of money; advertising is temporary, but architecture is permanent. There's a grounded seriousness around architecture. In advertising, not to say it isn't serious, but because this is temporary, even if they're spending a lot of money, it's going to go away in six months. We're running this campaign and then it's gone and we'll try something else. With a building, you kind of have your one shot to get it right the first time. I think that's where it starts to encroach on creative freedom earlier in the process than I would like.
Based on your experience, what is the most important piece of advice you would share with emerging professionals today?
C!: Hustle. There are a lot of things built into that word. When you hustle, you are engaged in whatever you are doing. You are really engaged. There are so many people in the world who have jobs and professions who don't hustle. If you care more, you're going to get more responsibility, you're going to earn the trust of people, and you're going to move further along faster. There are so many people who just phone it in; it shocks me. It shocks me, how many people act like, "I just have job." If you hustle, you will fall into something that you're passionate about. You care, you're developing skill sets, and you're working harder. For the young, entrepreneurial minded person, you will rise faster above the crop if you hustle.