Where will the new generation of digital talent choose to work?

An original art post card available at postcardsfromawesome.com, a new company created by BDW students

I just came back from a board of directors meeting at Boulder Digital Works. Established a couple of years ago, in part with some seed money from MDC and partners, BDW has a lot of support from the advertising and digital community in hopes that over time the school will train the kind of talent we all need to prosper in the age of digital everything.

While there are folks on the board from companies that include Apple, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft, the board also includes people from a number of advertising agencies, among them: AKQA, CP&B; Goodby Silverstein & Partners; Mullen; Modernista; and until recently BBH and TBWA, whose two representatives on the board went to work at Google and Apple respectively. (That’s another post for another time.)

In the next few months, BDW will graduate its first of three current classes enrolled in a 60-week certificate program (currently under review to become a masters degree-granting program).  As part of the board meeting, we had the pleasure of sitting through presentations from class number two, which shared with us five startup ideas for companies they had conceived and begun to build. I’m not supposed to share too much here so as to protect the “startups” that haven’t completed copyright registration or finalized URLs. However, I will say that a roomful of some pretty senior digital and ad agency folks were blown away.

As Chuck Porter said in summing up the board’s reaction, “Holy shit!” And holy shit it was. The teams presented clear, succinct ideas in no more than five minutes each  (let that be a lesson to your new business presentation team). They defined the market, the idea, how it worked and answered questions with the confidence of entrepreneurs on their second or third start-up. More impressively, the work they showed us had been conceived, developed and made ready for show time in three weeks.  In fact much of it had already been presented to Tech Stars a week earlier. Three weeks? Are you kidding me? I remember when it was three weeks to copy and layout for a print campaign.

Robert Reich, serial entrepreneur who teaches the startup class at BDW

But here’s the rub. When they were done, we asked the group of 20 how many wanted to go into advertising or work in an agency when they finished their stint at BDW. Answer? Not many. Virtually every one of them wanted to start their own company so that they could build something and reap the rewards. Repeat. They want to build something and reap the financial rewards.

This is what’s coming. A new generation of talent, ambition and digital chops. They’re the kind of people we all need in our agencies and marketing departments.

We have two choices. We can offer them opportunity to build things –products, platforms, services – with us, or watch them take their newly learned skills and passion somewhere else.

What is your company going to do?



  1. Why is there such a stunningly short supply of designers in Silicon Valley right now?…

    Rick, great ideas, but I have to touch on point 6 and the idea of agencies having a less rigorous skill-set demand than start ups. I think this could be a challenge for agencies attracting talent in the future. here is a whole new breed of talent out t…