I met Alex Bogusky at the FearLess Cottage earlier this year and discovered that we have a number of things in common: we share a deep interest in climate change, the food system, and early-stage venture investing. We have some differences too: he has a ranch and I do not, he has built a $1 billion company and I have not, he took a big turn off of the professional highway and I am still on it. Alex, his wife Anna and friends Rob Schuham and John Bielenberg have launched a new social entrepreneurship platform called COMMON that is part incubator and part creative community that enables collaboration to find better solutions to pressing social problems.
Our similarities and differences raised a lot of questions for me. Midlife decisions are a major source of interest for many, myself included, and I had a few questions for Alex about the path he choose.
You were at the very top of your game, you could have taken the easy road and the money–why did you get off the train and carve out a new path?
There are probably dozens of answers to that question and some are as random as “I never planned to be in advertising forever,” which is absolutely true. I loved it but I never felt like it was the only thing I needed to do with this life. If I dig a little deeper I realize I stopped loving the work a couple of years before I left. Don’t get me wrong, I still loved the people and the place but I didn’t pop out of bed with the same verve as I used to. I spent twenty plus years doing that job because I could make every year a new adventure by reinventing youth marketing, social marketing, online creative, digital planning, product integration, event integration, etc. In the end I didn’t have the love to reinvent anymore. The path I was headed down was that of an uninterested guy pulling down a huge paycheck and contributing very little. Advertising has enough of those guys. I didn’t want to be one.
Your new venture is called FearLess, tell us what FearLess is trying to do?
We tell true stories (as we see them) around issues where most people dare not tread for fear of offending those in powerful places. The beauty of FearLess is that it is small, scrappy and independent. We see ourselves as a kind of grassroots media company that also consults for a select group of cultural mavericks.
What are you afraid of?
Nearly everything, but I continue to see improvement and I very rarely let fear get in my way anymore. The name of my new venture is actually FEAR LESS. It’s a reminder to do what we can to fear less because we believe fear is the enemy of all things worthwhile. We say, “As the fear leaves your body it creates a vacuum. We recommend filling it with love.” That was the inspiration behind our FEARLESSLOVEMORE shirts.
What have you learned from this experience?
I’ve seen people or groups of people in a position of power take advantage of others. It makes me angry that we are all so used to it that we still think it is just the way things are, despite all the progress that has been made. I’ve learned that men are especially ready to accept injustice. Mothers, however, have the power and the guts to save the world as they save their babies. This goes for fathers too, no doubt, but dads have more work to do in this area.
You’re a quiet, understated guy. What are you really passionate about deep down?
I have faith combined with a very long view of life on earth that makes me optimistic for humanity. And by that I don’t just mean our survival, but also the slow and steady progress of those highest of qualities in each human being. I’m confident we will see our own compassion become the most powerful force on earth.
Why did you decide to work with your wife Anna in this new venture?
For much of my career we worked with each other at Crispin Porter + Bogusky. Not enough people know that she was a huge part of many of our early successes, but after a few years she wanted to commit to being a full-time mom. Now our kids are older and we have the chance to work together again, it seemed ideal to get the team back together.
When you’re time is up, what do you want your obituary to say about you?
He died of spontaneous combustion out on his bike somewhere. There was no trace.
What advice would you give people at the top of their game who are unhappy doing what they’re doing?
I’d suggest making a hobby out of the thing you wish you were doing. Those kinds of hobbies have a way of turning into new careers.