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Good reputations and a little money helped these entrepreneurs open their own ad agency.
October 1, 2006
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/167892

What: Advertising agency
Who: Mark McGarrah and Bryan Jessee of McGarrah/Jessee
Where: Austin, Texas
When: Started in 1996
How much: $1,000

When Mark McGarrah and Bryan Jessee decided to start their own ad agency in 1996, they had nothing to go on but their savings, wits and reputations. As senior officers at a large national agency, the two knew their career paths had reached a fork in the road. "We knew we weren't ever going to own a piece of that company," says Jessee, 45.

"We just decided one day to see what happened if we hung our shingle and went out on our own," adds McGarrah, 43.

With just $500 each, the founders incorporated their new agency, working out of Jessee's bedroom. In September 1996, they found a tiny office space and sent out press releases and T-shirts with their company logo to major media outlets, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Although the marketing stunts got their message out, it was their well-respected reputations in the ad industry that landed them a job assignment from a New York City-based hotel group on their first day in business.

"It was like the very first minute we opened our doors, we got a phone call," Jessee says.

"I don't think we spent all that much money," says McGarrah. "And it just turned around so quickly for us that I don't think we felt any pain."

That initial job was followed by business from Seiko and InteliData, enabling the company to grow to six employees within 45 days. Now that the company has 42 employees, 2006 sales are projected at $50 million.