Rebel Pilgrim Turns Seven

Rebel Pilgrim launched exactly seven years ago today. On that morning, my partners and I sat patiently at Fountain Square in Cincinnati waiting for a wire from an investor to hit our bank account so that we could pay the initial deposit to get into our first office in downtown Cincinnati.

Eventually the money was in the bank and we got access to our new offices in the Gwynne Building. We had no furniture so we sat in lawn chairs in my future office to make our initial plans for world domination.

It was the day we had been anticipating for months. Our business plan was complete and we were ready to implement it. However, within eight months it was clear it wasn’t going to work. We had to make adjustments. Big ones. In some ways. we’ve never stopped making those adjustments.

Our founders have stayed together. We’ve worked hard. We’ve seen unimaginable successes and experienced heart-wrenching failures. We’ve had weeks where we thought we might not make it and weeks where we were sure we were invincible. We’ve picked up new members of our team who’ve changed the game and we’ve mourned the loss of friends who moved onto new things. As a leader, I’ve made mistakes that almost derailed us. I’ve also followed a few hunches that opened up things for us in new ways. I’ve learned that nothing is harder than starting a business from nothing. I’ve also learned that nothing is more professionally rewarding. Apart from being a husband and a father, nothing has taught me more, given me more, hurt me more or formed me as a more decent person than this seven-year experience.

This last year in particular has taught me at least three specific things:

1. Sometimes good things just take a long time to come to fruition. Our biggest new accounts that we landed in our sixth year were relationships that started in our first or second year. Sometimes the secret to success is simply not going away.

2. People need help telling their story internally as much as externally. 50% of our revenue now comes from helping organizations tell a compelling story to their own employees – or helping create story-driven cultures within corporations. I didn’t see this one coming, but it makes sense. The companies that tell the best stories are the ones who live within a great story already.

3. Our clients are our best salesforce. I’ve known this in theory for a while, but now that we are in our fourth year of steady growth, it’s clear to see that most of our great opportunities come from our most satisfied customers. For us, no amount of marketing or cold calling can compete with one fully energized, impassioned Rebel Pilgrim fan.

Above all, I’ve learned that business, at least our business, is about the people. It’s all about people. It’s about seeing each other with empathy and optimism. It’s about truth-telling with grace and tongue-biting when it’s no longer helpful to speak. It’s about wanting others to have what you may never get for yourself only to realize that there is more joy in giving than receiving. It’s forgiveness and compassion and hope.  It’s about the story we get to tell together. It’s that moment when our clients become part of us and we join hands, minds and hearts to tell a story that sparks hope and action. That’s what it’s all about. That’s what it’s always been about.

Thank you to everyone who has joined us for all or part of this journey. I can’t wait to see where we go next. And, among other things, I’m quite grateful to have office furniture now.