BS+Co. is celebrating 3 years, and this is only the beginning
Originally published on October 20, 2021
Just a few weeks ago, BS+Co. celebrated its third birthday. In honor of this milestone, my husband, Matt, bought a cake. Because you have to have a cake when there’s a birthday — otherwise, did it even happen.
I could hear all of our kids shouting and playing throughout the house as we sang happy birthday to my little company. I was elated. And I was also fucking exhausted.
So much was happening all at once:
Bob Dziewulski had agreed to be my business partner, as well as BS+Co.’s president. Courtney DeLaura had also been promoted to our VP of services. And Liz Murphy had agreed to join the company as our head of brand and content.
And all I could think at that moment was, “I survived.”
I had made a million little decisions and choices over the past three years, many of which I only see now in hindsight, that led me to this moment.
I didn’t realize I had been climbing a mountain. Or that when I reached this specific summit — this milestone — that Bob and Courtney and Liz would be here to meet me, to show me:
“Well, shit. Other people believe in this vision, too — and they want to be a part of it. They want to grow it.”
It’s funny, though. For so many years — much of the past three, in particular — I looked upon the word “growth” with disdain, like it was a dirty word. But recently, I’ve learned that the spirit of that word changes entirely when you’ve built something that’s worth growing.
Like when you’ve baked the most miraculous apple crisp the world has ever seen. So, of course you should put whipped cream on top. It would be a crime not to.
I really hate the fact that I have to wear shoes
There are very few things in this world I truly despise, but having to wear shoes is most definitely at the top of that very short list.
That’s why, on that day three years ago when I called Matt at home and said, “I need to talk to you,” and he said, “OK,” and I said, “I need to quit my job,” I did so wearing slippers, while sitting on my desk in my office at a coworking space in Sturgis, Michigan.
Neither my declaration nor my slippers were a surprise to him.
He knew I had been asked more than a few times over the course of that year to compromise my integrity — but that day was the final straw. I was tired of the lying. I was tired of being asked to advocate for everyone except our clients — you know, the people who were paying us to help them — and having that be considered a win.
I was also tired of having a front-row seat to the complete erosion of my mental health — as well as the mental health of so many people that I worked with — all while company leadership continued to talk about how great everything was.
So, as I looked out the window at the snow falling and said, “I need to quit my job,” it only took a single beat for Matt — a stay-at-home-dad to our (then) five children — on the other end to say, “OK, what do you need from me to do that?”
Four hours later, he met me outside of my office in the snow with his truck.
He had found a job as a welder, and he started in two weeks.
Looking for the next agency job didn’t interest me
Fundamentally, I just didn’t believe in agencies.
I still don’t.
I don’t believe in the structure. I don’t believe that most of the agencies I had known throughout my career truly gave a shit about what they produced or the people they purported to be serving.
Agencies hurt people.
Some may say that’s overdramatic. But I would challenge anyone who thinks that to call up the average marketing agency client, so they can hear first-hand how stressed they are because of their agency. How behind they are because of their agency.
I also knew I didn’t want to go work in-house somewhere. I didn’t want a boss — which is a blessing for all of you bosses out there, because let me tell you, I am a horrible employee.
Yes, I’m good for the bottom line and I’m fantastic at making clients happy. But I’m also not someone who just blindly says yes and leaps off a bridge if someone in company leadership tells me to. And, to be frank, the leaders I had worked for up to that point … I expected most of them to be better than they actually were.
Here’s what I do believe
I believe a human being who genuinely wants to help and create value for others can.
A few weeks later, I finally gave my notice of 30 days. And I spent those 30 days laying the foundation of what would one day become this — BS+Co.
I felt numb. I felt excited, but not excited in the way you might expect for someone who had declared to the world — or at least her family and a few friends — that she was starting her own company.
Even as I marched forward with my planning, there was always a disconnect for me. Boston, New York City, Los Angeles … those are cities where you try to build a marketing business. Not a small town in Michigan with fewer than 11,000 people, where the largest employer was a factory.
I also didn’t do any of the things I knew others expected of me. I didn’t create a business plan. I didn’t even know where I was going to find companies to service. I didn’t possess anything other than this calling deep within the core of my being that told me I had to do it.
I’ve always said “I never wanted employees,” but it’s all I’ve ever wanted
I hid that truth from everyone — even from myself at times — because I was afraid of it, and I wasn’t sure how I could make that happen. Most of all, however, I had been told in a variety of ways by different people I had trusted that I was not worthy.
That I was too much.
That I was too friendly.
That I was phony.
That I was a catalyst for negative change.
To be fair, I don’t know how to do anything small. I’ve always been driven to do good, to build something that’s worthy of existence, that doesn’t hurt people. To create space for those with a like-minded calling to help others to do so alongside me. And I haven’t been quiet about it.
But you can only hear things like, “You need to tone it down,” or “This is what people really think about you,” for so long before those words start to leave scars. Before you start to wonder:
So, when it came time to file my paperwork to start my company a little over three years ago, I filed as “Britt Schwartz and Co.”
And one week later, I changed it to Denver + Finn.
I wish I could say I made this 11th-hour change because I didn’t want to be accused of egotism by starting a company under my own name. OK, well, that was part of it. But the truer answer is I feared that if people saw my name — if they saw me — they would reject it.
Denver + Finn was a brilliant, exciting identity crisis
As I write this, our website says, “Denver + Finn was the proof-of-concept test to see if company leadership would be open to working with marketers in a slightly different way.”
That is absolutely true.
That first year, when we operated as Denver + Finn, was thrilling. I was learning what we needed to serve our companies and we were building our infrastructure and learning how to operate as a business. I was also developing and nurturing our collective model, then in its infancy, so our companies had access to a deep bench of experts they would have otherwise never met.
The Denver + Finn period was a time of growing and listening and learning.
I wish I could go back in time and tell myself, “Pay attention to what you’re doing right now. This is so special, breathe it all in. This is the foundation of everything you will become and are today.”
Of course, I didn’t pay attention. I didn’t breathe it all in.
It was too big and outside of myself, and I couldn’t quite put my arms around it yet. It was a time of faith and risk — lots of risks, so many risks — and waking up every morning ready and willing to jump off a cliff into the unknown.
I was also still afraid. Even though I know I possessed the same conviction I have today (and have always had) during those early Denver + Finn days, I was still keeping myself put away in a box in many ways.
I was hiding behind a name that wasn’t my own, as I swore off growth or the idea that I would ever hire full-time employees.
But at the start of 2020, I did finally reverse the mistake I made of not putting my own name on my business and BS+Co. was (re)born. It was scary, but I did it.
And by then, I was celebrating 1 year as a one-woman show
It was exciting. And I was sharing that excitement with a woman I had admired so much for so long.
Stacy Willis is a powerhouse of a human, unwavering in her commitment to do right by the companies she serves — and she and I immediately clicked when we met working together at another agency.
People used to joke that they would see a thought begin in my brain and end in hers, but joke’s on them — that’s what was actually happening.
Then, fate intervened. I found out I was pregnant, and I couldn’t do it all on my own. And, because of Stacy, I didn’t have to. I wasn’t alone anymore.
But that isn’t the only thing that made Stacy special. She was the first person outside of my family and friends to say that this is something worth aligning on.
Technically, on paper, we were still two completely independent companies that had decided, “Hey! Let’s double our power and work together because it’s mutually beneficial!” But, in reality, it was much richer and deeper than that.
Stacy has been, and always will be, the sole possessor of a simple, yet powerful milestone. She was the first person outside of my family and my circle of very close friends to see what I was doing and say this was something worthwhile. I don’t think I will ever have the words to express my gratitude for that.
Then in October of that same year, we hired Alyson, BS+Co.’s first official full-time employee.
Hiring Alyson Wuamett changed everything
Hiring Alyson was an absolute no-brainer. She’s absurdly talented and, at that point, we needed another experienced marketing all-star in-house to guarantee our companies were getting the dedicated focus and support they needed.
But that’s when a switch flipped for me.
I was no longer a contractor. I was an employer.
In the blink of an eye, I went from being responsible for my own welfare and supporting my family to being responsible for someone else. For their welfare, their family. Yes, it was up to Alyson to make sound financial decisions, but every two weeks, I was responsible for making sure she was paid on time.
That may sound like a small thing, but it’s not.
Because, leaving aside the paycheck piece of it, I was also now responsible in part for her finding fulfillment in her career.
For so long, I had been building this business brick by brick, with a day-by-day mentality. I could no longer do that with Alyson on board.
Soon, most of my waking moments were spent asking myself:
Am I building a place Alyson wants to work at?Am I building a work environment where Alyson is excited to come to work each day, even when it’s stressful?What will the next three years look like? What about the next five?
I must be a crazy person because I kept charging ahead trying to answer those questions even though I was terrified.
All of my experiences to that point had shown me that when people, even those I deeply admire, try to grow companies … that’s when things go wrong. That’s when those work environments that were so traumatic to myself and others began to manifest themselves.
It felt so wrong that I wanted to do this. But I did it anyway.
And that’s the same potential energy, the same momentum that led me to chase down Bob Dziewulski until he agreed to work with me and, ultimately, become my partner at BS+Co.
Bob Dziewulski, BS+Co.’s new president
On paper, Bob doesn’t seem like a real human being. Growing up, he was an accomplished soccer player. He’s a philosopher. He’s an entrepreneur, having started two of his own software companies by the age of 27.
He’s been a city planner and a business analyst. He’s an investor in small start-ups and in property. At the age of 36, he went to law school. By 2020, he was an attorney with his own firm, and had recently been named a 2020 Mid South Super Lawyer, a distinction based on both peer recognition and professional achievement
That’s when I met him. And I knew in that first moment we were meant to build something together. I knew that Bob was someone that I wanted not just in my business, but by my side.
It took some convincing (see: relentless harassment), but it was so worth the effort. Even before becoming our president officially, Bob brought a level of sophistication to BS+Co. that we didn’t have before.
I’m so excited to see this vision of BS+Co. have a life outside of my brain. I see his vision, I see his passion for what we do and the people we do it with. That is not something I could have put into a job description and posted in Indeed.
Bob was meant to be here at this moment and I was just intelligent enough to see it and fight for it.
“It’s funny that, a year and a half ago, this is not a path I would have chosen for myself. Now, I can’t believe there is a version of my life where I’m not doing this. My partnership with Britt is a deep friendship bonded over business and compatible character flaws. I follow her because her super powers are different from mine. She plays chicken with the universe and wins.
Looking ahead, my goal is two-fold — first, to help us construct a workplace for employees where there is a clear and purposeful distinction between meaningful structure and bureaucratic bullshit, and we are tirelessly pursuing the former and eradicating the latter whenever it is uncovered. Every day, I am constantly questioning how we can better support and build up our employees, instead of innovating new ways for the company to extract more from those who have chosen to work at BS+Co.
Second, and equally so, I want us to always be building toward something that is meaningful for the companies we serve. They come first here. At the end of the day, I will always consider myself a student of what it takes to grow an organization in a way that is healthy and authentic. I do that for us and, more importantly, I do it for our companies.”
– Bob Dziewulski, president, BS+Co.
Courtney DeLaura, BS+Co.’s new VP of operations
Courtney is another gem, and I feel so very honored that she agreed to be our VP of operations. Before BS+Co., Courtney had always worked in-house. She had spent two years as a creative director, and seven years as a director of communications and partnership marketing. Public relations, national campaigns, celebrity partnerships … you name it, Courtney has done it.
Beyond her sterling qualifications, Courtney’s superpower is her uncanny ability to hold people accountable while still making them feel safe and protected. Her leadership is apparent in literally everything she does. She drives everyone around her to elevate what they do and is very comfortable with setting those expectations.
Also, as someone who has only ever been “on the other side” (in-house, working with agencies), Courtney knows better than anyone else at BS+Co. the precise experience we are trying to provide — the exact opposite of what most companies experience when they work with a traditional agency.
I knew Courtney was the right — and still the only — person I trusted to take care of our team on her first day of work. She came into a mess of an office, and she immediately began to lead alongside me, planning how we were going to fix it.
She was flexible and direct. She was kind, fun, and yet someone I wanted to take care of me. And I knew that if I felt that way, that my future team would, too.
“I am building something different here. I want to create a workplace where our people feel fulfilled; where the work environment is joyful and empowers our people to develop in their careers, where achievements are celebrated.
Most of all, I want to create a place where our companies feel safe, where it feels like a sigh of relief whenever they interact with us. Where they know we have their backs, and that their success and their growth is more important than the success and growth of BS+Co.”
– Courtney DeLaura, VP of operations, BS+Co.
Liz Murphy, BS+Co.’s new head of brand + content
I’ll be honest, the words “brand” and “content” make me want to puke. It feels so disingenuous to say things like, “We need a better brand!” or “We need to create content!” But I also know these two things are sacred and should be treated as such.
Our brand isn’t a thing, it’s who we are. Our content isn’t built to “drive leads and traffic,” it’s a pure reflection of our intention, our purpose, our voices.
Liz’s resume speaks for itself. She’s an expert content strategist, writer and keynote speaker. She’s built complex written and video content programs from the ground up, both in-house and in an agency setting. She’s also a passionate coach for brands struggling to find their voice, to have their messages and big ideas breakthrough.
But Liz’s superpower is that she is a mirror, and she holds you accountable for everything in that reflection. Even the parts you don’t see, willfully or otherwise. She doesn’t do it to point out flaws. Instead, when you talk with her, you feel seen. You can’t hide, so don’t even try.
But it’s OK, those flawed parts of you are accepted and understood to be a part of what makes you you.
I knew when I met Liz when we were working together many years ago at IMPACT that her calling and my calling were meant to be, some day, intertwined. I didn’t know how or when, but I knew. I am so glad I was patient.
“Ever since I said yes to being a part of BS+Co., I have woken up every single morning with one thought in my head: This is where I am meant to be. I will do my best and most profound work here. These are my people. Together, we are not just going to say we’re going to do something different — we are already doing it.
I’m excited to bring light to the incredible voices and bold visions we have on our team. They’re so busy focusing on our companies — as they should be — that they don’t have the time or the space to do that for themselves. BS+Co. has always had an authentic, deeply rooted culture and sense of self, and I cannot wait for the rest of the world to see what I see.”
– Liz Murphy, head of brand + content, BS+Co.
There has always been a bigger picture
Even when I didn’t acknowledge it, I knew that the bigger picture was there, infused into every decision I made.
Sometimes I could see very clearly that I was planting the seeds in this garden with purpose, and other times it was as if I was saying, “I have no idea what I’m planting or why I’m trying to create a garden in the first place.”
It feels like a contradiction to say that, but it’s true.
When I think about those early days, I truly was not thinking this is where I’d end up — with Bob and Courtney and Liz and Alyson and everyone here who now is as much BS+Co. as I am. But just because I had to push through my own roadblocks constructed out of fear and insecurity does not mean I was not robbed of my desire.
What we’ve created thus far is incredible and beyond the wildest edges of my imagination. It was never my plan or my focus or what I was driving toward.
Instead, I was obsessed with creating a space for myself (and now others) where all of the bureaucratic bullshit so many of us have resigned ourselves to as the cost of doing business in this industry was removed.
On some days, living our ethos and saying no to all of that bureaucracy and bullshit feels incredible. And on other days, it can feel awful.
For example, last summer I made a mistake
My ego and I had a very productive meeting one day, in which we decided we didn’t need a hiring process. You see, processes — all of them — were bureaucratic bullshit, and what do we not stand for? Bureaucratic bullshit. (We painted it on our wall, so I can’t turn back now.)
As a result, we hired the wrong people. And I had to fire them.
I shared that story with all of you previously, but what I didn’t talk about at the time was the heartbreak of it all. The true and ugly, raw heartbreak of knowing that I bore all the responsibility for that situation.
Still, looking back at that time, it was one of the easiest decisions I have ever made because that experience underscored in Sharpie who we are not.
We are not people who willfully abuse trust. We don’t hide things. We don’t turn a blind eye to big problems or things that scare us, we run straight at them as fast as we can. We don’t put our needs ahead of those we are supposed to serve.
Yes, I am focused on building a sustainable business, where we’re financially sound with a healthy profit margin.
But it will never be at the expense of our ethos or our values. I will burn my own house down before I build the thing I swore we’d never be, and that should scare people a little bit.
What’s incredible though is that we are being more vocal about who we are now and we fucking mean it. Every single person at BS+Co. embodies this in their own way, to the point that when Bob or Courtney or Aimee or Jennie walks into the office each morning, I can literally feel the ground quaking beneath their feet.
It was all there 3 years ago
Even when I was gripped with fear and worried about what people might think if I put my real name on something, the desire behind BS+Co. was always there. Fully formed, yet rough around the edges, seeking the light.
This desire to create something very deeply rooted in the culture of industrial and agricultural communities — a place where you come in, you do your work and you are fully empowered to become an artist in your craft.
There’s no one trying to wring every ounce of “productivity” out of you, there is no sleight of hand. Instead, you feel comfortable. You feel safe. You feel like you’re with a group of people you trust, fellow masters of their own craft, who share that desire.
All of it has always been there, since that day I looked out the window at the snow and picked up the phone to call Matt. I see that now.
That’s why I never wanted employees, but it’s all I’ve ever wanted.
That’s why I said I never wanted a business partner, but it’s all I’ve ever wanted.
And to everyone at BS+Co. — Victor, Jennie, Aimee, Connor, James, Alyson, Heather, Carla, Bex, Michelle, Stacy, Liz, Courtney, and Bob — I may be very good at overcoming my fears and pushing through to the next step. But where we’re going, I can’t do it alone. And I don’t want to.
Each of you was chosen because you belong here. Because we are not just building something different, you are different. Every single one of you, in your own unique way, is special.
It isn’t my dream anymore, it’s ours.
It belongs to each and every one of you, equally and unequivocally.
My promise to you is I will continue to guard our ethos with my life. I will continue to make the decisions required, no matter how tough, to empower you to feel like you are safe and trusted. To feel like you are always enabled to continue to refine your craft.
As we look ahead now, this story is not about what I am going to build anymore. That chapter is now closed, finally and fully.
Now, it’s about what we are going to build together.
And that’s all I’ve ever wanted.