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Know Thyself, Trust Thy Gut. Taking the Leap from Established Ad Agency to Emerging Startup.


Nell Goddard '14
Nell Goddard '14

“This is the right address, right?" The restaurant (or was it a bar?) that my now CEO James suggested for our meeting was nowhere to be found. I had scurried out of my agency job a tad early and excitedly raced to the Lower East Side to hear more about James’ company, Fohr Card. It was the Thursday before Labor Day and there was an excited energy in the air as New Yorkers started to flee the city. I was nervous.

Truthfully, I was not sure I was ready to leave my job at Merkley + Partners just yet. I was hired as an assistant media planner a month after graduating from Hamilton in June 2014. I had graduated with some idea of what I wanted to do. Definitely New York City, and definitely advertising—like my mother had done, and my grandfather had done, whose Mad Men-era stories fascinated me to no end. Merkley was the best job out of college I could have asked for.  It was established and respected, but not as frighteningly large as an Ogilvy or Havas. It was educational and challenging, without causing me to pull my hair out or discourage me. I made some lifelong friends there, with a close-knit office culture not unlike Hamilton’s.

But, after two-and-a-half years of media planning for Mercedes-Benz, I was ready for a change. I began noticing how intrigued I was by the account managers and sales reps from the media outlets we were working with, from GQ to NBC to Bon Appetit. I was fascinated by their roles and the skills required, from the public speaking during pitch meetings, to the confidence and hospitality needed to order shared plates and wine for a client dinner. “I could do that,” I started to think, and then, “I think I want to do that.” And so I began to open myself up to new opportunities—to start talking to people I knew on the sales side, and of course, to my Aunt Colleen.

I am pretty sure that Aunt Colleen is my fairy godmother. She’s one of those people that you meet and wonder how she does it all. How I often wonder, did she rise to the top ranks in her 25-year advertising career, while traveling the world and maintaining an enviable social life? I trust her opinion on everything: from what book to read, to how to ask for a promotion, to where to stay in Rome. So, when she told me I needed to meet James Nord and hear about his new company Fohr Card, I did just that.

When I finally made it into The Ludlow House, James and I sat down at a table and he ordered a margarita, and I followed suit. The conversation flowed casually when to my surprise, James leaned into the table and said, “So listen. We have an opening on the sales team and need someone to start quickly. You don’t have any experience in sales, and you don’t know much about influencers yet, but no one does. We can teach you those things. I think you might have what we can’t teach, and what we’re looking for. And I think you should join us.” I put my margarita down in shock. Well, that escalated quickly. Is this for real?

We walked outside and I told him I would let him know as soon as possible. I walked all the way across town, my head spinning. At this time, Fohr Card was a small startup with 12 employees. It was a three-year-old company and all that I understood at the moment was that they were a directory of bloggers that brands could access to create content with. They had just launched a campaign business where Fohr team members would fully execute these brand-influencer partnerships. In short, I had a lot more questions than answers.

But I couldn’t shake the gut feeling I had that this could be something big, the feeling that I was in the right place at the right time. It was not unlike the feeling I had when walking around the Hamilton campus for the first time. I dug in and did my research on the company, and the growing influencer space. I talked to my parents, and my brother. In the end, I took the leap. I left the safety net of my Merkley job and jumped into the unknown. The startup factor was scary, but after sitting down with James and hearing his passion, his vision, and his confidence in what Fohr Card was doing, I decided to accept. Three years, two promotions, and 22 new colleagues later, I cannot imagine the alternative. A small company can mean big opportunities. 

What I would say is this: as you graduate Hamilton and enter the professional world, allow yourself the breathing room of taking a chance, and saying yes to an opportunity even if you’re not 100 percent sure. Have confidence in yourself, in your curiosities and your interests. There is no better time to take a chance on a career path. Of course, do your research, talk to those you trust and those in your field, but in the end, have the courage to trust your instincts. After three years of working with 100+ clients from Walmart and Victoria’s Secret to MLB and The Four Seasons, my career in advertising has accelerated in a way that I could never have predicted when sitting across that table nervously sipping my margarita. Grab that opportunity, take that chance. Know thyself, trust thyself. Dive on in.

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