What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?
Honestly, I never thought entrepreneurship was a part of my path. While working agency-side, I realized the authentic workplace I wanted to see didn’t exist for people like me, so I had to create it. I wanted a space where community, culture, and purpose were essential. I never could adapt to the redundancy of clocking in and out without any upward mobility, or inspiration.
Once I acknowledged that I knew what I was doing, my purpose became bigger than me. Entrepreneurship felt natural. I come from a family of entrepreneurs. Both my grandfathers’ and my father leveraged entrepreneurship to create community impact. One of my grandfathers was one of the highest donors to contribute to the civil rights movement through his business, while my father was able to support our family’s transition to America. When you look at their business from a profit and loss statement, it may not look successful. Understanding their why really made entrepreneurship more of an inspiration for me to grow and remain authentic.
What is unique about Authentique?
At Authentique, we don’t code switch, we challenge the status quo, and we prioritize showing up as our full, authentic selves. I instill in my employees to not just be a doer, but thinkers and doers. Authentique doesn’t operate as an emergency room like other agencies. While there are fires and we must move quickly, we want personal health to stay at the forefront of priorities. If something personal is happening, take that time to ensure you’re good because we want you to bring your very best to the table. These are just a few of the elements that make our agency truly unique.
What does success look like for you?
It’s simple. Being able to continue to not only grow but to maintain. Over the last 18 months, we have shifted our client base from working on smaller projects to bigger projects. Those seeds that I sowed over six years ago are finally coming to harvest now. We’re not having to chase business; folks are finding us. It’s happening from a relationship standpoint as well as a work reputation standpoint. If this continues to be the case, that’s success for me.
Success can be perceived differently than when you first started Authentique. Where do you see your company in the next 5 years?
This is always a tough question for me because where we sit today is not what I imagined. When I think about the next five years for the agency, I see Authentique growing. We have nearly 30 people now and we may double in size by then. More than anything, we’ll show up where we need to be present. While Nashville is our second home, our third home may be in New York, maybe Dallas, or even L.A. (Los Angeles).
Additionally, succession planning is critical because I may not sit in the same seat I’m in now. If there’s an opportunity for staff to grow and develop in the agency, subsequently moving up and that may mean I am no longer CEO and President. I may just hold one role. Lastly, figuring out where there are future growth opportunities within the agency because there are still some amazing people out in the world that need to be saved from their current work situations.
If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?
I believe that God does not make any mistakes. One belief I have stayed true to in my career was when I felt it was time to go, I left whatever job it was. However, if there was one thing I could have done differently, I would have started my agency earlier. There would not have been a gap between leaving an agency and being a brand marketing director. I had those conversations early on with Jelanii Reed (COO of Authentique) about what we wanted our agency to look like, at that point we should have started. We would have saved a lot of time.
Looking back on my journey, in hindsight, I needed that moment to breathe financially and clear some space for Authentique.
What kind of culture exists in your organization, and how did you establish it?
Our culture, primarily, is a safe space for people to show up as their full selves. To connect with all parts of their identity but also celebrate the differences and not suffocate them. That’s what makes our culture, along with people management. At Authentique, we have established a standard and expectation of high performance. I instill in my employees to always strive for above average. You wouldn’t want to receive an average review, right?
We always set the highest standard when it comes to the work we produce, the best or nothing, like Mercedes. As we continue to grow as an organization, we use a fine-tooth comb to keep the culture consistent. What does Authentique look like for a 20-something-year-old with only three to four years of experience? What does Authentique look like for someone that has been in the private sector or consulting for years and wants to come into the fold now? Those are the type of questions we must think about when it comes to our culture.
I see you have two offices, one in Atlanta and the other Nashville, can you expand on how you chose Tennessee as your second home?
Nashville is a special, growing place. Black people have done a lot in Nashville and continue to drive business there, without receiving much credit. When we thought about where Authentique’s next home would be, we looked at where our clients were.
Solidifying new business in Nashville came naturally after we immersed ourselves in the culture and people were anxious for something new. They valued a different perspective. Nashville felt very southern burrows, warm, and comforting. So, it was a no-brainer when we started to look at what was next. We spent a lot of time in Nashville and built great relationships over the last four years, working with the National Museum of African American Music. Moving forward, we will continue to consider what Nashville looks like as our headquarters versus Atlanta, from an institution standpoint, because there are differences. As we continue to grow and really understand the landscape in Nashville, and even myself as a business owner there, then we’ll start to see some change. But more than anything, we’ll make sure the culture remains the same.
How do you maintain viability in such a competitive industry?
Value over price. That’s what helps us remain very realistic about our agency’s level of effort to do a task. In my experience, I’ve noticed agencies will do whatever clients ask of them and just throw billable hours at it. At Authentique, we ask questions and challenge the why before the client spends their money, we know this is going to exceed their expectations, goals, and strategic imperatives for what they are trying to accomplish. That’s what makes Authentique
We also don’t believe in staffing against a single, large account just in case one day that business goes away for reasons out of our control. We make sure people are split across multiple business lines so it would take something catastrophic for us to fold. That’s not something we got right off the bat. There was a time we were moving fast and lost an account. I will never forget feeling like I was going to close the agency at one point. There are lessons in the journey we’ve had thus far.
What valuable business lessons have you learned along your journey?
So, I’ll give you a few. One is “trust but verify.” The idea is that you can trust someone at face value but always verify the information they provide. As they say in real estate, proof of funds. Verify that someone has the money to do what they say they want to do so you’re not wasting your time. Another is to let people shine where they are most comfortable but push them to grow in areas that they are not. If a team member is good at activations but hates the client services part of the engagement continue to let them thrive. However, give them other work to sharpen their client communication abilities so they always feel there is room to grow.
Finally, I would say hire fast but fire faster. When you have feelings of doubt about personnel, you may need to consider if they’re simply not a good fit for the company or if they are just not in a position where they can flourish or present their best selves. You must be willing to be open and transparent during those tough conversations so that it can remain a mutually beneficial agreement. Employees should benefit just as much from being here as the agency benefits from them on the team.
What business-related book has inspired you the most?
I’ve read a lot of books so it’s hard to choose one. When I first started the agency, the one that stuck with me was “Crucial Conversations.” It taught me that there is always work to be done.
There’s an evolution in how you can communicate. We just read this together as an agency and had a thorough discussion to learn each other’s communication styles to work together more efficiently. Some other books I have enjoyed include, “You Don’t Need a Title to Be a Leader,” which taught me to show up daily as a leader regardless of title or position. Although it’s a sales book, I would add “Trusted Advisor” as it communicates the relationship you want to evoke when it comes to prospects and clients. Ensuring that you build a relationship the right way, so it’s not just transactional.
Roy Broderick Jr | President & CEO Authentique Agency