Author: Peter Kang

Agency Journey Episode 42 (Y17M9)

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I’ve been enjoying a biography of Walt Disney, Walt Disney: The Triumph of The American Imagination by Neal Gabler. I’m about 80% through and one of the things that struck me is how, for the first twenty or so years of the business, Disney struggled financially and came very close at multiple points to losing it all as an animation/movie studio. The financing of animation movies was risky business and it took a combination of […]

Agency Journey Episode 41 (Y17M8)

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This cycle may be familiar to many agency operators: when you don’t have enough work, you scramble to ramp up your business development efforts while cutting back on recruiting; when the tide turns and the work starts pouring in, you scramble to ramp up your recruiting efforts in order to have the people to deliver on the work, all while neglecting or cutting back on sales and marketing efforts. It often feels like we’re 2-3 […]

2023: An Annual Review

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This marks my third annual review in this format. Check out 2022 and 2021. In 2023, I turned 40 years old. I reflected on four things I want to consider as I enter a new decade of my life: gratitude, courage, service, and discipline. Looking back on the year, I’m once again warm with feelings of immense gratitude. It was a wonderful year, filled with challenges, new beginnings, learnings, and sweet memories. Highlights International Travel: […]

Agency Journey Episode 40 (Y17M7)

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Another year comes to a close – another year of countless decisions, experiments, and initiatives. Like any other year, we made plenty of mistakes and did things that were either inefficient or straight up wasteful. And while I’d like to think we learned a great deal from these experiences, I’m also sure that we’ll continue to make mistakes in the future. My hope is that we can avoid making the same mistakes over and over […]

When Agency Business Operators Get Blindsided

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This was originally posted on LinkedIn on November 30, 2023. If you run an agency, you’re going to get blindsided. Here’s a sampling of some painful blindsides we’ve had at Barrel: A long-time client that previously assured us that a large redesign project was ours suddenly informing us that they’ve decided to go in a different direction, feeling that a change was needed. A new employee after their first day on the job stops coming into […]

Agency Journey Episode 39 (Y17M6)

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On my mind during this year’s Thanksgiving weekend has been the feeling of how fleeting life can be. I’ve seen family members get older and enter different stages of their lives. It’s very possible that with some, we may only get a handful more holidays to spend together. I’ve been feeling it with my three young boys – it was just a few years ago that none of them were here and now they’re such […]

Control What We Can Control

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This was originally posted on LinkedIn on November 22, 2023. Another gut-wrenching loss where we were “finalists” for a new client engagement… Except that these outcomes are no longer so gut-wrenching. In fact, other than a momentary “ah, too bad”, we’re on to the next opportunity. It wasn’t always like this. I remember the days when an email from a prospect informing that they’ve “gone in a different direction” used to send our leadership team […]

My Personal Finance Snapshot (November 2023)

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What a difference 15 months makes. Since my last update in August 2022, my life has changed in ways that I did not anticipate. We welcomed a new child, moved out of Brooklyn, and traded in 3 mortgages plus a car payment for 1 mortgage and 3 car payments. Overall, personal finances are in good shape with monthly expenses going down and liquid savings going up. I won’t try to predict what the next 12-18 […]

Agency Journey Episode 38 (Y17M5)

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October’s been an action-packed month. Every week has felt like a full-on sprint. Thankfully, my energy level and health has held up, and overall, I’m feeling calm and optimistic. With just a couple months to go in 2023, I’m feeling immensely grateful. There were lots of challenges this year and many things didn’t go our way. However, we also learned a lot, made important improvements, and didn’t get discouraged. I don’t really have expectations for […]

From 2 Contacts to Many More

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There’s an activity that the Barrel partners have been doing for a while: reaching out to a couple of contacts per week. These have typically been former clients, industry acquaintances, other agency operators, investor types, old friends and classmates, etc. It’s been a practice we’ve kept up weekly since 2017. In recent months, we decided to up the number. We went from 2 to 4 for a few months, then from 4 to 6 for […]

Agency Journey Episode 37 (Y17M4)

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I’m taking some family time this month as we welcomed our son Xander. As a result, I’ve not been as involved day-to-day although I’ve kept up with emails and checked in with my Barrel partners. There’s a lot of down time with a newborn, especially the late nights when I’m rocking the baby for a few hours giving Mel some time to sleep before the next feeding. These moments have been good for catching up […]

Levers to Achieve Project Profitability

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A couple of notes: The following tips apply mostly to fixed fee design or web/app development projects. However, aspects of these levers can apply to any kind of services business. Achieving profitability on your projects doesn’t necessarily mean your business will be profitable. Other factors like overall team utilization, sales & general admin expenses, and non-billable staff can determine whether or not your agency is profitable. Profitability on projects is a good measure for how […]

Agency Journey Episode 36 (Y17M3)

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This past month has been about gearing up for some major personal changes in my life. After 16 years in Brooklyn, we’ve relocated to Hudson Valley as our family gets ready to welcome child #3. I’m excited about the move but will also miss various aspects of city living, being a quick e-bike ride from anywhere in Manhattan, and meeting up with people in-person on a near weekly basis. Just four years ago, we were […]

How Well Do You Know Your Agency Business? Try These 25 Questions

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The Barrel leadership team has been working with a CEO/business coach this year. One of the most valuable takeaways from our sessions with him are the questions he asks about our business. It’s humbling how often we don’t have a clear answer, but with each session, we’ve been able to improve our knowledge of the business and install systems to better retrieve answers in the future. The following are 25 questions (not exhaustive by any […]

The Agency Cold Start Problem

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For our design agency Bolster, we’ve been looking to find our way around the agency version of a “cold start problem”. In tech, a cold start problem (as popularized by Andrew Chen’s book on the topic) is the conundrum that startups face when trying to achieve network effects with their product. For example, for Airbnb, their cold start problem was trying to get both enough host inventory and guest interest at the same time in order for each […]

Agency Journey Episode 35 (Y17M2)

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I spent the last full week of July in Spain on a family vacation. We stayed an hour outside of Barcelona. I loved the view we had from the home we rented, a sweeping panorama of trees with the Mediterranean Sea off in the distance. I thought more than a few times what it would be like to live and work in Europe with primarily American co-workers and clients. Being 5-6 hours ahead means that […]

How Much Cash Reserves Makes Sense for An Agency Business?

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How much cash in the bank makes sense for an agency business? Some agency owners I’ve talked to say enough cash to cover at least 3 months’ of expenses. I’ve also talked to ones that have enough to cover a year’s worth of expenses. Some serious amounts. I like having cash in the bank. Especially in a higher interest rate environment, having cash is a good place to be and provides a sense of security. […]

Agency Journey Episode 34 (Y17M1)

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At the start of the month, we briefly acknowledged Barrel’s 17th year of being in business. I posted something on LinkedIn and after work, poured myself a glass of white wine. On one hand, it’s just another day, month, and year in the business – I like to think that we keep our heads down and continue working hard. On the other hand, every additional day, month, and year is a blessing and a privilege […]

Resisting Complacency in Business

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Complacency Has Its Roots in Success “Companies usually fail because of the incompetence and arrogance of a complacent management team, not because they struggled to predict the future.” (Scott Davis, Carter Copeland, and Rob Wertheimer, Lessons From the Titans) In Lessons From the Titans, a book about large industrial companies and their various ups and downs as businesses, the authors share a story about Boeing. The aerospace company, with great focus on driving efficiency, achieved financial […]

Reassessing My Definition of Success

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Definition of success (Green-Wood Cemetery lake)

In 2010, we moved into a new office a few blocks away from the Flatiron District in Manhattan. Coming from a small, dark room at a co-working space, the new office felt like a dream come true. We had a conference room, a private office for me and my Barrel co-founder Sei-Wook to share, and an open area for about six employees. I distinctly remember talking to Sei-Wook after our move and saying, “This place […]