How intrapreneurship and an unfulfilled dream led me to NYC

Nancy Duarte

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Nancy Duarte

A night image of the Brooklyn Bridge with skyscrapers behind it

When my Creative Director, Dan, said he needed to move back to New York to be closer to family, I assumed he would become one of our many remote employees. But he had bigger dreams.

He kept jabbering persuasively about the huge opportunity for our firm there, buzzing around town telling others we had a presence there, and dreaming about leading a big creative team there. Wait, what? I had pictured him working from home with his little son under his feet. Because, frankly, opening an office in New York was not on my to-do list.

I’d heard too many tales of other CEOs who spent days on planes flying from office to office, and it never sounded fun to me. So, for three decades I avoided a multi-location model, instead opting to get all of our work done from California. But something started to shift during my conversations with Dan about his move back east.

Dan has all the classic attributes of an entrepreneur—passion, fearless risk-taking, and an innovation mindset—plus, he’s amazingly persuasive (thanks, Duarte Method!). Every time he’d try to make his case, I’d say, “No, Dan, my dream is not to have an office there, but I’m open to chat every six months or so.”

Six months later, Dan was back again, saying, “Really, Nancy, the talent here is exceptional and it’s easier to recruit them than in California, plus three more of our huge clients opened offices here.

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As a fellow entrepreneur, I could see all the upside he was talking about. Having a presence in NY would clearly make it easier to serve the east coast offices of our tech clients while helping us grow our reach into other industries that we’ve been handling from afar, like Financial Services, Insurance, Healthcare and Pharma.

Plus, the upcoming launch of my new book, DataStory, would be a perfect springboard to start a storytelling movement in those industries that are more dependent than ever on data for decision-making. Yet this particular decision wasn’t easy for me. I needed to search my heart to find out if I could make a deeply-felt commitment to another city on another coast.

If I was going to commit, I needed to really commit. Then, in early 2018, I accidentally found a personal connection with New York that touched the deepest part of my heart.

One night, I was researching my ancestry online when I discovered a whole batch of historical articles about my great great Grandfather, J. Ward Childs. I’d heard my parents talk about him before, but I’d never heard these stories.

It turns out that in the late 1800’s he lived in Brooklyn, where he spent 14 years at the Bowery Mission serving New York’s most vulnerable and broken souls. When he died suddenly of “the grippe” at 56 years old, an obituary in the New York Tribune described him this way: “Gentle and tenderhearted, and deeply spiritual in character, he was permitted to do a great work in the position he held, and it will be hard indeed to fill the place his death has made vacant.”

Wow. My ancestor had touched hundreds of lives, and yet his own was cut short. I realized that I was the exact same age he was when he died… and we had other things in common, too.

Like me, he was entrepreneur, starting a streetcar advertising business before finding his greater purpose in helping the poor. Like me, he believed it was his duty to not only do well as a business owner but to also do good in the world. It hit me like a bolt.

Maybe I’m called to plant my roots in New York, and perhaps even continue his work in some way.

Besides, Dan already had recruited a rock-star Art Director , taking Duarte’s east coast team up to six people (we have 10 now). So I was only pretending that our New York office was not real. My husband, Mark, and I decided to make a trip back east to visit the team in Brooklyn.

Together, with Dan and his wife, we took a stroll to the Brooklyn bridge. Dan pointed at the New York skyline in front of us and said, “Just imagine each one of those lit windows is a potential customer who needs our help.” It was a dazzling vision. The next day we had a toast with the New York team and declared it a “real office.”

My only criteria for their workspace was that it would have a picture of J. Ward Childs hanging somewhere.

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It’s been quite a journey to bring Dan’s dream to reality, and we’ve both learned a lot. Here are a few lessons from our path to expansion:

Listen to passionate employeesIntrapreneurship is a real thing and it can make a real difference in your business. Dan said all along that we’d find amazing talent in New York, and when my VP of HR ran some stats in LinkedIn’s Talent Insights tool we found out how right he was.

For instance, there are 60,965 designers in the talent pool of New York and only 22,077 in entire Bay Area. We’ve already recruited some magical unicorns there and we’re gaining more, thanks to Dan’s persistence. When an employee wants to do some heavy-lifting, let them, because it requires a lot of passion to get buy-in and resolve to pioneer something within an established organization.

Live by your values: I am glad we accidentally started small because early on there were kinks to work out with our process and purpose there. Every small decision had the potential to make things easier or harder as the office grew.

Whenever I’ve had to make a tough decision about my business in the past, I’ve always gone back to our values because they help me discern what feels right for us and what doesn’t. But I wouldn’t always be there when Dan and the team needed to make a hard call. Thankfully, Dan carried the values from Duarte’s HQ with him and he’s embedding them into the culture there so it will stay true to who we are as a company.

Let them take risks: While our two offices share the same heart, they aren’t the same place. New York city is not like the Silicon Valley. At all. The people, companies, and ways of working are different, so my team needed autonomy to solve client problems in a different way.

I gave them permission to innovate new ways of working, design new processes, and groom the talent to meet what the market needs there. As co-leaders of the office, our Creative Director and Client Services Executive are working together to shape a firm that delivers Duarte magic with a local flavor.

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This team is coming together at the perfect time because more and more companies are realizing that “soft skills” are critical for business success. With a strong presence on both coasts, we’ll be better able to help companies across the country master the art of effective communication.

Thanks to Duarte’s rockin’ East Coast team, Duarte is now serving up Golden State communication innovations with a “New York state of mind.”

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