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Founder Focus: Steve Poppe of What’s the Idea?

founder focusFrom February 2014, Strat-Talking will be featuring freelancers and founders in a new regular feature called "Founder Focus" to talk through their journeys to being freelancers and/or consultancy founders in their own right.

The first edition of Founder Focus features Steve Poppe, Managing Partner of What's the Idea?

Bottom’s up. By Steve Poppe, managing partner, What’s the Idea?

Many brand consultants I’ve met have left great positions with ad agencies, striking out on their own with the goal of making a better living.  They’ve developed their craft so well they have a following, reputation and perhaps a client or two in tow.  It doesn’t hurt if they’ve written a book.  Their consultancies have launched from a place of power. This is not at all how I launched What’s The Idea?, my consultancy.  I have dabbled in brand and marketing planning my entire career. A defining moment in said dabbling came while with McCann-Erickson NY when appointed to an AT&T task force to help launch 15+ emerging business services. After McCann I became partner at a tech agency and where I introduced strategic planning. Then onto a web start-up as marketing director, where I started blogging about branding.  I launched the consultancy out of necessity after the web start-up went under.  I quickly found out from recruiters in the brand planning business that because I had not formal training, no big agency notches on my belt as a planner, I was impossible to place. I was on my own. I contend branding is about claim and proof. Proof and deeds. Deeds and experiences. All strategically organized and soundly managed.

So if I was on my own, I’d have to stop talking about it and start doing it.

My blog, named What’s The Idea?, already existed so the consultancy name was built in. I had a friend create a logo and was off. The most visible proof of my business was said blog. I share every day. (Note the word share, not post.) By sharing I am offering something of value. Some learning. When I am not working on assignments, I am doing business development.  That too is guided by the share principle. No me-me-me emails here. It’s all about observations, insights, and endemic category thoughts that are outward-facing. You might call it you-you-you-you. Over the years, this process and sticktoitiveness have yielded assignments on Microsoft, JPMorgan Chase, Heineken, Sunkist, ConAgra and Abbott Labs and agency work with JWT, BBH and Possible. This is the story of a bottom up consultancy, not a top down.  I love the way I got here. Plus, I’ve only just begun.  Every breath of every day is fresh for the engaged planner. And I just have to believe that when you start at the bottom, when you are self-taught and self-actualized, you have an edge. Lunch bucket stuff.  Underdog vs. overdog.  Stuff about which dreams are made, to go all corn ball on you. And when you understand how to make your own dreams, it’s not a far cry to know how to do it for your client. Peace. Steve can be contacted through his consultancy What's the Idea? founder focus Twitter: @spoppe LinkedIn:

founder focus

About GregDillon

Greg is the founder of strategy consultancy GD | Inspires and spends his days strategising for various design agencies and clients around the world - see more at He is also a prolific entrepreneur having launched - a website aimed at giving advice and insight to new, existing and veteran freelancers as well as commenting on all things strategic. Feel free to email him at: or follow on Twitter @StratTalking

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