May 3 2019

What I Learned From Starting A Business

David Schwab, Thought Leadership, First Call

Almost fifteen years ago, I saw a problem in the celebrity endorsement marketplace. Agents and marketers of celebrity talent did not fully understand how brand CMOs and their teams constructed business programs. Conversely, many brands and marketing agencies did not understand what made talent tick and what drove them to say YES as part of a marketing deal (outside of financial considerations). I wrote a business plan to solve this problem. It led to the creation of a business within Octagon, named First Call, a celebrity acquisition and engagement shop. The clients were brands, non-profits, and their agencies, and we partnered them with people of influence (yes, influencer marketing has been around for a long time), when and only when, it made sense.

Collectively, the business partnered more than 10,000 celebrity deals including PHA's fruits and veggies influencer campaign in which former First Lady Michelle Obama was the honorary chair with 75 actors, comedians, athletes and digital influencers. We created the Ronald McDonald House celebrity advisory council toolkit, and cast celebrities for Super Bowl, Grammy and Oscars commercials….and many more. Recently, we moved First Call into ITB, a fantastic-company recently acquired within our Octagon Sports and Entertainment Network (OSEN) to create a robust entertainment-marketing offering. The group has the expertise to solve the next set of problems in the world of talent, culture and content. I will now go and create the next idea, the next business within OSEN.

With that, I thought I would share my five necessities and lessons I learned from creating and running a decade-plus long service business.


When I look back to why the business worked, it starts with the realization that we found a “need area” and a problem. Most brands and agencies readily admitted they needed help. Some did not know how to cast and find talent. Others did, but did not know how to evaluate the talent’s audience (there was not always social media you know). Many clients needed guidance on how to effectively negotiate a partnership and create value-driven programs with measurable marketing tactics meeting the program objectives. The main element to remember is… Always solve a problem.


There is no shortcut for hustle, and if you ever find one, please let me know. The first few years after launch included a lot of hallway walking (and talking). There was no shortage of planes, trains and automobiles. Be it in person or through technology advances like video and text, I learned to be present. Remember, besides team brainstorming and employee management, you can take phone calls, emails and text on the road. Get out of the office. Take advantage of social mediums like Twitter. The information sharing is non-stop. Follow the smart ones. Learn from them. Go act on what you learn.


When sitting with potential clients or casually meeting peers through friends, there will not always be a need for what you are doing (or selling). That is OK. Absorb it. Many of you are going to be working for the next 30 or 40 years (sorry to spill the beans), so remember that not every conversation will be a transaction. Learn about them, their personality, what makes them tick, what they read and watch, and even details about their family and kids. This is my favorite part of every conversation. Listening to how people think, act and live. Take notes in your outlook contacts or however you track conversations. In the future, when you see something topical, in the news, while shopping, participating in a 5k charity race or just watching TV, ping them. Help them. Play the long game. Be the person they wake up wanting to talk to first. Build a relationship. Life is long, so act accordingly.


This was the hardest lesson for me. Sometimes I thought I had a solution for a client that was a “no brainer”, but it was met with a no. It was frustrating and it took time for me to realize it was their brand, their product, their choice. Keep listening and iterating, and through conversation and trust you will get to a common place that makes sense. Always remember, you work for them. Side note: I had a similar frustration when I started using Twitter. I would tweet thoughts I believed were relevant and shareable, but the tweets would receive little reaction. I learned how to understand my followers better, in order to share information that was interesting to them. The lack of traction is on me, not them.


We have all heard the saying, “keep your eye on the prize”. While true to focus on running your day-to-day business, we must look to the future too. Technology and innovation rapidly advances businesses and customer needs. If you do not evolve, your current business will suffer. Make sure you continue to change in-line with your current….and future clients. You might even realize this is not in your skillset and you need someone else on your team to lead this effort. If I look back, I wish I focused on this earlier than I did.

Today’s buzzwords include “influencer”, “content”, “commerce”, “technology” and “venture”. I am now trying to uncover the problem in this intersection not yet solved. It is time to get out the pen and paper and write the business plan all over again, this time with a bit more knowledge.