21 Career Questions with John Young - Agency Builder + Cult '80s Band Member
John leapt into the online world as it formed and established himself as one of the true leaders of the digital age, building amazing agencies Tribal DDB, Modem Media-Poppe Tyson and Full Contact. The roster of brands John has worked with is equally impressive: Disney, Pepsi, Microsoft, McDonald’s, Budweiser, Hasbro, Sony, IBM, Unilever, Universal Studios to name a few.
Currently, John is investing and helping grow new ventures at the forefront of media, entertainment and technology – in particular, leading companies in Interactive TV, Gaming and E-Sports, E-Commerce, as well as all kinds of Mobile-Social platforms, products and communities.
21 CAREER QUESTIONS:
1. What would the headline of your biography be?
"Stagedive". Ideally, it’s the story of an awkward art punk pushing his way through life, taking huge leaps and making amazing things happen without breaking any bones.
2. What is your mission / goal in life?
Life seems filled with such nice zig-zaggy surprises and happy accidents. I’m having a blast wherever it goes. And there are simple principals I try to live up to: Do good. Be nice. Try harder. Create great stuff. Keep learning. Help others. Spread love. Bring sunshine. Have fun. So far, these guides have served pretty well.
3. What do you love to do?
I love to make stuff. I love putting things into the world in a big way. It really doesn’t matter what it is… art, music, ads, apps, brands, businesses or simply tonight’s dinner. I feel honored anytime I have the opportunity to create and make things happen. It’s even more fun when you can collaborate and create with others.
4. What were your “aha” moments - when you realized you were exceptional at something?
When I was about 4, I realized I had a knack for making things. And consequently I began exploring self-expression in all kinds of messy creative ways. My 4-year old self soon realized that if I worked hard enough and collaborated with the right friends, we could pretty much do or make anything we imagined.
Later on in life, I helped build one of the first digital agencies, Poppe.com (now Digitas) and after that, created Tribal DDB, which still stands strong. There were so many stunning A-HA’s during that time it’s ridiculous. We were one crazed team rushing headlong into the digital age – so many things hadn’t been created before or even imagined. We cranked out stuff like the very first banner ad to some of the biggest most successful viral campaigns and events ever (such as Whassup and Pepsi Stuff). We didn’t wait and ask for permission or listen to people who said it couldn’t be done. We just did it.
5. What keeps you up at night?
Dreaming about what’s next. There’s so much possibility out there. So many things haven’t been invented yet. Who has time to sleep?!!
6. What historical / business figure do you most identify with?
Walt Disney. He was an amazing artist. An innovator and technologist. A wonderful storyteller and audience builder. A terrific businessman too. But more than anything, Walt had really keen insights into what makes people tick. He was an avid student of human nature.
7. What is the trait you most want to improve in yourself?
I’d like to keep getting younger. I once worked at a theatre company with an 85-year old woman named Sally Weida who was the youngest person I’ve ever known. She was insatiably curious and open-minded and as a result, her world was always vibrant and interesting. I’d love to always be as young as Sally.
8. What are your unique talents?
I’m addicted to the future. I totally embrace what’s next. And I believe all of us who are responsible for building companies and brands need to have at least one foot in tomorrow. In fact, it’s our job to create tomorrow. So far, I’ve been pretty good at that.
9. Have you had to change the road you were on?
“Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads.” – Dr. Emmett Brown.
My career has been anything but a straight line. Fearless or foolish, it’s more like a bunch of squiggles, spirals and curly q’s. I’ve gone from the music business to brand design to advertising to digital and now, private equity. Truth is, none of it really made much sense at the time. But step-by-step, one thing does indeed build upon another. And every once in while you get a glimpse of everything you’ve accomplished so far and…well, that’s a nice moment.
10. Which brands / businesses do you admire the most?
It’s easy to admire the big juicy successful brands like Apple but I like the feisty upstart brands like, er, the old Apple. Hoist your pirate flag and insurrect the status quo. Yeah yeah yeah !!!
11. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
“When I was a kid…” Childhood is an endless spring of inspiration.
12. What is your greatest career regret?
In terms of career, I don’t have regrets. My career continues to surprise me in wonderful ways I could never expect or plan. Of course there are things I wish I could do or had done better. In particular, I wish I’d thanked more folks along the way. I’m so appreciative for all the smart talented nice people I’ve had the honor to work with. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I simply can’t express enough gratitude.
13. When or where were you happiest in life?
I’m pretty darn happy right here right now. I’ve met the love of my life. My career is zooming off in new directions. The future is filled with boundless opportunity. What’s not to love about this very moment?
14. Which talent would you most like to have?
The gift of gab. I have such admiration for folks who are natural talkers.
Growing up I was a painfully shy yet pretty imaginative kid. All those crazy ideas had such trouble expressing themselves in words – so they came out in other ways. Mostly art and music. Still, I’d love to be able to walk into a room full of total strangers and hobnob like a real pro.
15. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I’ve built some pretty extraordinary agencies and had the honor grow some amazing brands. Along the way I’ve hired a lot of very capable people, many just starting out in their careers. To me, there is nothing more satisfying than nurturing creative talent; helping people learn, grow and exceed their own expectations. And nothing makes me prouder than seeing their careers take off in all sorts of surprising ways.
16. What is your most treasured business memento?
Experience. Until you have it, you really have no idea how valuable and useful experience can be. Unfortunately grey hair seems to come with it.
17. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
To me, negativity is misery. NO is such an idea killer. I absolutely love the positivity of YES, the powerful compounding nature of AND, and the infinite possibility of WHAT IF. NO? Don’t care for so much. The unfortunate reality is some people are real downers who suck all the inspiration out of room. Life is too short to work with pessimists, naysayers and jerks. I try to avoid them whenever possible.
18. Do you care about money?
I wish I didn’t have to care about money but yes, money helps you create great stuff on a massive level. Recently my career took another fascinating turn and I’m presently investing private equity in growing companies and brands at the forward edge of media – ventures like interactive tv, games, esports and all sorts of mobile social digital goodies. Capital… meet creativity !
19. What is your defining characteristic?
In astrology, I’m apparently a Double Leo which I’m told means I’m just a big old curious kitty cat.
20. Who are your favorite business writers / bloggers / people?
I’ve got a huge appetite for new ideas and I used to love spending evenings browsing through bookstores (before the darned Internet changed all that). In high school, I was a big Marshall McLuhan fan. Buckminster Fuller too. Then I became acquainted with all sorts of creative revolutionaries and digital pioneers like Bill Bernbach, Stewart Brand, and Nicholas Negroponte. Today just about everyone is a pundit and that little info stream has turned into a freaking media torrent. Thanks a lot Marshall!
21. Who is your hero in real life?
I am so fortunate my life is filled with extraordinary everyday heroes. From my parents and siblings to my friends, teachers and workmates to my loving fiancée. In thousands of ways, ordinary and awesome, they’ve added richness to the lives of everyone around them (especially my own). I’m in constant awe of their courage, creativity, kindness and generosity.