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3 actionable insights with… David&Goliath founder David Angelo


By Kendra Barnett | Senior Reporter

December 9, 2022 | 9 min read

The Drum’s 3 Actionable Insights series asks top industry leaders to share their top tips for success and what readers should be doing today to drive personal and professional growth.

David Angelo headshot

David Angelo urges agencies and brands alike to “swing for the fence behind the fence” / David&Goliath

David Angelo came from humble beginnings in California’s Bay Area. With a father suffering from PTSD, Angelo says he was raised with the belief that “challenges are just a part of life.” After being expelled from his high school for truancy, Angelo took a job working in a local distillery.

After some years, he decided to pursue a degree in advertising at San Francisco’s Academy of Art University, where he felt he’d have the opportunity to pursue his dream of working in and around creativity. It wasn’t long before he was working at some of the world’s leading ad agencies on Madison Avenue, including DDB and Chiat/Day.

In November of 1999, he founded his own agency, David&Goliath, with a mission to “be brave” and “inspire people and brands to take on their goliaths.” 22 years later, the shop’s client roster includes heavyweights like Kia, Vizio and California Lottery.

Here are Angelo’s key insights for the industry, in his own words:

1. Start with your foundation

Be relentless about living your truth, whether you’re a person or a brand. Really, really focus on your truth as a human being. And from that truth, you can create a life that you’ve always wanted. You’ll never have to question if you’re on the right path.

It’s so easy to be something you’re not. And a lot of people don’t think about how important that is from a foundational perspective, because you’re focusing so much on the latest trends. Trends are temporary. If all I’m doing is trying to keep up with the latest trends, then I’m missing out on those really important foundational aspects and building a brand, building a company. Building a company is like building a house – you start with the foundation of who you are and you build out from there. I’ve seen a lot of companies and agencies go under because they missed out on that important aspect of building from the foundation.

I see this so often – people are like, “Why am I at this agency? Why do I work for this company?” And it all goes back to that notion of finding who you are and what you stand for – then align yourself with companies that believe in the same thing. And for founders: cast from those values, as opposed to just chasing the next great thing. When you do that, you’re not just building a company … you’re building for purpose.

[At David&Goliath], there’s a built-in mindset and belief system. It comes from the biblical story of David versus Goliath. It’s the scrappy, nimble, resourceful, brave entity that took on the big, audacious challenge. To call yourself that is one thing – to truly live it in everything that you do is everything. Our mission is to help people and brands take on their biggest goliaths and … be brave. It’s been the same philosophy since day one.

Our goal is to live our ‘brave’ ethos in everything that we do, from the inside out – because before you can ask a client to live their brand truth, you have to live yours. We have various initiatives [to live out our truth] – from our ‘10 Brave Ways’ that are posted on our walls and serve as a filter for people we hire and how we approach life, to our ‘Brave Stage,’ which inspires people to speak their truth to the entire agency. We have a nonprofit, Today, I’m Brave which started in Sierra Leone in 2016, where Ebola put schools in danger of being closed down. We created an educational curriculum for them as a means of championing our philosophy of being brave. Most recently, we launched ’Brave Camp,’ which is an initiative in Saratoga Springs, New York, where we brought pre-teen kids from Harlem to this camp to experience something they would have never had the opportunity to experience – a week-long curriculum centered around bravery. It’s going to be a four-year program.

[The takeaway is] don’t try to be all things to all people. Focus on who you are and do that extremely well. You may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but you will be someone’s favorite scotch.

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2. Challenges are the pathway to greatness

Too often I hear people complain about everyday challenges. You just have to come to terms with the fact that challenges are a fact of life. The minute you defeat one, another one is right around the corner.

Create a muscle that enables you to rise above those challenges and look at them differently. Look at them like the teachings that they are, not the pain that pulls you down.

I look at the brands I work with now [and how they’ve embraced challenge]. Take Kia, which has taken on challenges from [being the butt of] jokes from late-night hosts to the fact that they were predicted to go out of business.

And we looked at it like, “You know what, bring on those challenges. We’ll prove you wrong. We’ll prove that this small car company that everyone made fun of can achieve its dream and become one of the fastest-growing car companies in America.” I look at Kia Motors as a really great example of a brand that chose to look at challenges differently.

3. Swing for the fence behind the fence

You know that old phrase, ’Swing for the fences’? My philosophy is: ’Swing for the fence behind the fence.’

Don’t just settle for normal aspiration. Really champion your ‘dream higher’ spirit in everything you do. Shatter those stretch goals.

[And at David&Goliath], we’ve been able to work on a brand like Kia for 22 years and have record-breaking sales every year – and work on a lottery brand for the past 12 years and have record-breaking sales every year. That comes from a philosophy of fixing [problems], creating solutions and swinging for the fence behind the fence. That’s one thing that’s driven me for my entire life.

I really believe that when you aim high, there’s nothing you can’t achieve. That’s the founder’s perspective that I’d give to anyone out there who is getting into this business or considering starting their own company.

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