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Cowgirl Power with Gay Gaddis, Founder and CEO of T3

Episode 310
How do you bootstrap a business to success? Gay Gaddis shares how she did it with just a $16,000 check and her determination.

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Gay Gaddis is Founder and CEO of T3, an advertising agency dedicated to helping clients build useful brands and create meaningful relationships with their customers. T3 is now one of the largest, female-owned advertising agencies serving the Fortune 200, but it wasn’t always this way…

In the late 1980’s when the economy was suffering badly, Gay was working for an advertising agency and saw that things needed to be done differently. In order to save her job and the company, she decided to write a business plan that she was confident would lead them down the right path. However, when she tried to move forward with her plan, she met opposition from her boss. She was faced with a critical decision: stay with her current job or go someplace else.

“When I went home that evening, I realized that someplace else was going to have to be my place.” It was a critical decision for her as she withdrew a $16,000 check from her IRA to start what would become T3. 

Gay and her husband had 3 kids at the time and were strapped financially, so failure was not an option. Gay was determined to make the company work and quickly got busy securing new clients. To this day, Gay has never borrowed any money for T3 and has bootstrapped the entire business. 

Fast forward to 1992, Gay and the team at T3 were working with Dell, who at the time was still a fairly small-sized company. T3 and Dell grew up together in the coming of the Internet age and worked on their first online marketing campaigns together.

“We had been a results-driven agency from day one. That was my business plan, to measure everything we did. My concept was to get the great results but also do really wonderful, creative work that would delight people, excite people, and create those emotional connections.”

Her ability to marry both the data and metrics with creative and innovate ideas is what has continued to prove successful for T3.

Gay recently finished her first book, Cowgirl Power, to share her story as a woman in business. Gay grew up on a ranch, horseback riding as a young girl, and her book tells stories of women with grit and power living in the Old West, a traditionally male-dominated time.

In this episode, Chad and Gay discuss T3’s founding story, the sacrifices Gay had to make along way to ensure the company’s success, and how her cowgirl upbringing has helped her manage risk in business. 

Quotes from Gay:

“When you are an art major, you learn to take criticism. Because almost everyday you are asked to put your work up on the wall or show it to a group and you get critiqued and sometimes it’s not nice or it doesn’t feel good.”

“Over the course of my life I’ve found that I can take critique pretty well. And I continue to take those and seek them out, not the vitriolic ones necessarily, but the type of critique that can improve what I’m doing.”

“The other part of being a CEO, is that it gets tougher and tougher for people to really tell you what they think. You become intimidating at some point. Why would they want to put their career on the line to tell you something and be honest? I’ve always tried to keep an open dialogue with the people close to me and ask them to tell me what they think.”

[On not taking any investment for T3] “I only work for my clients. They tell me what to do and they certainly go to the boss but there’s no outside people goating me and trying to make me do something that I didn’t want to do.”

“Brands have to be useful. You have to DO and then SAY.”

“I didn’t know who I was when I first started in the advertising business and I got fired from my first job because I was in an introverted environment, and I’m an extrovert. I didn’t understand that about myself and I didn’t understand that about the organization I went to work for. I’m a people person, I love to talk strategy with people. I enjoy getting out there speaking, meeting with clients, and doing new business.”

“Always think about that customer experience from end to end. If you focus there, a lot of good things will follow because that is what it’s all about.”

Mentions:

Dell

3M

7/11

IBM Watson

SXSW

The Head and the Heart 

Capital Factory 

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