5 Lessons from Curator's First 5 Years in Business

We are celebrating our five-year anniversary at Curator this week. I'm not someone who likes to spend much time in the rearview mirror — I far prefer to focus on what's next. But this anniversary for Curator, in particular, fills me with gratitude and the desire to really reflect back. So, I thought I'd share my 5 for 5 — the five biggest lessons I've learned in our first five years in business. This is, consequently, my longest blog post. Forgive me. I’m feelin’ nostalgic.

1. Passion drives your purpose  

You can't separate your personal passions and your work life and sustain success. You have to find a way to make a correlation between the two or work will feel like work and when it gets hard, and it will, you'll suck. I’m not saying if your love is cooking you need to work directly in the food industry. But I do believe you need to understand why you love cooking and ensure you’re drawing a link between that reason and what you do with your life professionally.

Perhaps you've heard the phrase, "if you don't know where you're going, all roads will take you there." I believe that to be true. When I started concepting what I really wanted Curator to be, I made the decision to focus only on lifestyle brands or companies that wanted to evolve into one. For me, cooking with my wife, eating out, traveling with my family, sitting in a beautifully designed space, enjoying a curated retail experience – those are things that bring me joy. It’s not so much the physical act of cooking and God knows it’s not the TSA line at the airport that I enjoy, but more so everything else that goes with it – sitting down at the table together, spending uninterrupted time together. I’m interested in the motivations that trigger consumer behaviors. Lifestyle brands allow us to do that.

That focus allowed us to acquire amazing clients like: Simon Property Group and Simon Premium Outlets, Whole Foods Market, Villa Group Resorts, Macy’s, Domino’s Pizza, Starwood Resorts, Washington’s Lottery, Safeco Insurance, Swanson’s Nursery, Smile Brands, Seattle’s Best Coffee, Allrecipes, Quadrant Homes, The CVB of Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, Mexico which allowed us to create The FOOD & WINE Festival in Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo with the amazing media partner FOOD & WINE Magazine. 

We are so thankful that we get to call the brands where we personally eat, shop, travel, and stay with on the road, our clients. It ain’t work when you love it.

In the spirit of transparency – this was a lesson learned for me. Ten years before I started Curator, I started my first “attempt” at an agency. It failed. I didn’t give the agency focus and I worked with companies I had little interest in, let alone understood. That lesson drove my focus on declaring exactly what Curator stood for, and what it did not.

2. Your culture is your company

I wrote a previous blog post on the best thing we ever created at Curator, where I shared our focus on culture. Once you understand your purpose as a company, I believe the next most important thing to intentionally create is your culture. Our culture is our identity. I don’t care how talented someone is – if they’re not a cultural fit here we don’t hire them. Ultimately, it is all about the people. Choose wisely. Our culture informs everything we do internally and externally. We have the taxidermy to prove it.

3. Awards are in the idea — sustainability is in the details

We have been fortunate to create some wonderful award-winning programs for our clients, including Best-of-Show campaigns. They are amazing and we take special care to showcase them on our site. What doesn’t get showcased, but what sustains our relationships with clients—and therefor our business—is in the day-in-day-out details of executing against a plan. I often remind our team that agencies rarely get fired for making one big mistake, but they do get fired for making a bunch of little ones. There are two disciplines at play in our agency: creating something amazing, and lofty, and behaviorally right so that a consumer wants to engage. That is exciting and takes a special talent to create. And then, there is the rigor it takes to drive the program forward on a daily basis. The reports, the media calls, the coordination, and ultimately the play making skills needed to keep things going when they go sideways. Curator is full of creative, detail oriented, Type As. And I am thankful for every one of our team members who toggle between their left and right brain with such seamless grace.

4. Buy Champagne by the case

Curator’s very first team member was Greta Smoke. After we grew from the two of us to eight, she and I were talking and I asked her how she thought things were going. She said we needed to celebrate more. She couldn’t have been more right. We were experiencing wins then rushing to the next thing. I remind myself of that conversation often. Doing anything worthwhile is hard work. And when you’re working hard toward a goal you need to stop and celebrate it when you hit the mark. I’ve learned it’s imperative. I keep all the champagne corks from all of our celebrations in my desk drawer. I write the date and reason for the celebration on the cork. On the hard days I pull a few out and remember how great it feels when we do it right. One of the vows I’ve made in this year’s Vision doc I share with the team is to pop more champagne in 2015.

5. You have to test the water with both feet

One of the greatest lessons Curator has taught me is the value of going all in. The conditions will never feel right. There will always be valid excuses to stop you. There are no guarantees. But you have to jump in with both feet. Curator has been the greatest blessing of my professional life. I get the joy of working with brands I love and team members I love even more. I know the company that we collectively created is special and I don’t take it for granted a single day.

If you’ll allow me one indulgence, I would like to thank all the team members who make and have made Curator what it is in our first five years: Ann Marie Ricard, Shawn Herron, Dan Miller, Greta Smoke, Lisa Kennelly, Matthew Robinson, Julia McGavran, Megan Andrus, Annie Zanin, Chelsey Allodi, Paul Balcerak, Jennifer Carroll, Noelle Ibrahim, Brooke Andersen, Megan Kamitsuka, Maria Loida and Anna Brown. Thank you.

To our first five, and many more!