Episode 105: Adam Kleinberg, Traction on the Best Book He Never Read, Tai Chi and Building a Successful 21st Century Agency

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Anyone with this as the first line of their bio promises a great interview: “Stir (never shake) a spoonful of charisma, a jigger of positive energy and a mind as sharp as a freshly plucked lemon and you get close to the cocktail that is Adam Kleinberg. Adam is CEO and a founding partner of San-Francisco-based Traction, a creative agency with a digital core.”

Suz and Adam get together at Traction, with the cable cars clanging outside in the background, and talk shop, life and general silliness. Hear about some of Adam’s clients including Alibaba, Adobe, Apple and LiveScribe. Find out why he left Tribal DDB to start his own agency and what he thinks of the newest agency models.

Adam wants to be remembered professional as “the guy who started a truly great company.” Find out how he’s creating a TGC and what the impact has been of being named “#1 Interactive Agency,” by B to B Magazine.

Suz and Adam riff on everything from cashmere cuddle piles to Tai Chi in this very entertaining episode.

Transcript

Susan Bratton: Welcome to Dishy Mix. I’m your host Susan Bratton. Hey, thanks so much for joining the show today. I am live and on site with someone you are definitely going to enjoy. Adam Kleinberg is the CEO and founding partner of an independent agency out of San Francisco called Traction. He’s got some traction and you’re going to get to know all about that. I’m here live with him, and before I let him get his lips around the microphone you’ve got to listen to this. Here’s the first line of Adam’s bio: “Stir, never shake, spoonful of charisma, a jigger of positive energy and a mind as sharp as a freshly plucked lemon and you get close to the cocktail that is Adam Kleinberg”. I say my people, drink up, drink up. Welcome Adam Kleinberg.

Adam Kleinberg: Thank you. Thank you Susan.

Susan Bratton: Did you write that yourself?

Adam Kleinberg: I did not write that myself. I kind of blush every time I hear it ‘cause it’s kind of goofy, but it works for me.

Susan Bratton: I love it.

Adam Kleinberg: I was on this, this business development cruise a couple of weeks ago, the Marketing Forum cruise…

Susan Bratton: Alright.

Adam Kleinberg: And this guy from Dreamworks sits down next to me for a meeting and he says, “I can’t wait to meet you.” And I was like, “You couldn’t wait to meet me. I couldn’t wait to meet you”, and, you know, it’s like, “Why couldn’t you wait to meet me?” And he goes, “Because your bio, everyone’s talking about you on the ship.”

Susan Bratton: I love it, “a freshly plucked lemon.” It took me three times by the way that have been edited out to get “freshly plucked lemon” out of my lips, and I’m a pretty damn articulate girl, aren’t I?

Adam Kleinberg You are.

Susan Bratton: So Adam, it’s so fantastic. You and I met at iMedia in, last year, late last year, and it was love at first site, we totally hit it off, we had a rockin’ time together…

Adam Kleinberg: We did.

Susan Bratton: We’ve been out to dinner, I’ve got to meet your beautiful way, someday I’ll get to meet those gorgeous children. I’ve come here today to see the temple of Traction. It’s a gorgeous space, I’ll be posting some photos on the blog. So the first thing I want to do is I want to get an of Traction. Lets get some, lets get a level set on Traction, Co. You have fantastic clients, super impressive list. I saw on your site you’ve got Ali Baba, alibaba.com here in the US. You have Adobe, you have Apple – that’s impressive. You’ve done work for Virgin Mobile, Camelback – I ski with those of course – Claire Dubois, Walmart, B of A… You’ve, how did you do it? You came from nowhere and you got this incredible client list. Tell us the story.

Adam Kleinberg: Well, you know, we literally started the agency back in 2001, which was, up until now, probably the worst time in history of advertising agencies to start an advertising agency, and…

Susan Bratton: Obviously not for you.

Adam Kleinberg: It worked out great for us. I think it’s a great time for companies to be more innovative and passionate and excited to go out and stake their claim, ‘cause there’s a lot of opportunity there. And we’re kind of seeing it again as we kind of hit our next level of opportunity for Traction. But, you know, we’re a creative agency with a digital core. You know, we were founded by a couple of creatives and a programmer.

Susan Bratton: You and Theo.

Adam Kleinberg: Me and Theo and Paul.

Susan Bratton: And Paul, okay…

Adam Kleinberg: You know…

Susan Bratton: I just got to meet Paul, yeah.

Adam Kleinberg: You know, we started the agency and we had been around at a couple of different agencies and we were seeing a disconnect between how agencies were integrating. You know, we saw agencies working in silos, traditional here and interactive over there as kind of two distinct bodies not talking to one another. And we all met back in like 1997. We were all just like, you know, crazy kids starting the internet, you know, starting to roll up our sleeves and play with it. And I started my first blog in 1997, and it was called Outrage, I used to write about whatever pissed me off. That weekend I would go to the bar and I would scribble on a cocktail napkin about whatever kind of crazy topic I could come up with and I would hand code it in HTML…

Susan Bratton: Oh wow!

Adam Kleinberg: And then, you know, we all met at this agency Think New Ideas, which was run by Adam Curry, the ex VJ…

Susan Bratton: Yeah.

Adam Kleinberg: And…

Susan Bratton: He’s with Mevio now.

Adam Kleinberg: Yeah, him and his partner Ron Bloom I think is over there right now.

Susan Bratton: Yea, Ron. That’s right. He’s chairman.

Adam Kleinberg: I work for them. And, you know, that was a interesting agency. It was kind of a visionary agency ahead of its time I thought. You know, we had the same team working on major e-commerce implementations for companies like Avery and SGI, the first four A’s into the internet, and at the same time working on, you know, designing logos and, you know, flash ads and online banners and doing like the first experimentations with online. I was, I started, I was a designer…

Susan Bratton: You were a flash designer, right? Wasn’t that your thing?

Adam Kleinberg: I was a flash designer…

Susan Bratton: Yeah.

Adam Kleinberg: in like ’98 I was doing flash, I was on flash three, you know, and was like one of the few San Francisco flash gurus back in the day…

Susan Bratton: Mm hmm.

Adam Kleinberg: You know, I’ve since been out gurued in that department, but…

Susan Bratton: Hey, I have a question: what the hell do Adam Curry and Ron Bloom know about the interactive agency business?

Adam Kleinberg: They know how to sell I guess.

Susan Bratton: Uh huh, interesting.

Adam Kleinberg: Yeah.

Susan Bratton: Hey…

Adam Kleinberg: But, you know, they had a vision there. I think, you know, part of that was cashing out, but…

Susan Bratton: Okay, so yeah, I always wondered about, I always wondered about how those guys were in the agency. They didn’t come from the agency visits, they had an ad agency, it seemed kind of crazy. You also started the Tribal DDB offices out here before you started Traction, you had launched that division of the company. But that was kind of where you felt like the silo thing, the integration wasn’t happening fast enough, right?

Adam Kleinberg: Yeah, definitely. I mean I was, it was a great story, I was recruited, I went to Thailand for the millennium – and we can talk more about that later if you want – but went to Thailand and my partner, Theo Fanning, called more, or sent me an email while I was on the beach in Ko Chang and said, “Hey, I got a new job for you when you come back.” And we had been recruited, basically they wanted to have us be the core creative team for the San Francisco office of Tribal DDB, and we started that company. It was very frustrating there. I mean we were doing some interesting work. I mean we were like launching Clorox online for the first time, so…

Susan Bratton: That’s a big account for them.

Adam Kleinberg: You know, answering questions, really good questions at that time, about, you know, what is the place of a consumer package good online. You know, what does Fresh Step Kitty Litter need out of a website, or Armarol, you know, what does that look like…

Susan Bratton: Or they have barbeque sauce. They got a wide range of products, yeah.

Adam Kleinberg: Yeah, and what can we learn about their customers through this digital space. But what we found really frustrating that the way the creative was done was, “Here’s a picture of a print ad, go do something.”

Susan Bratton: Make that into a website.

Adam Kleinberg: Make that into a website.

Susan Bratton: So if you were at a, at the digital branch of a traditional agency and you were frustrated that you weren’t getting the budgets and the level of integration, you left and you started Traction, are you getting the level of integration work that you’d hoped for now or are you still just getting relegated to the digital budget as its created within the organization? Has anything changed?

Adam Kleinberg: Well we have changed and I think we have, we’re a different kind of agency…

Susan Bratton: You’ve just caved, you’ve caved to the…

Adam Kleinberg: No, not at all.

Susan Bratton: Anybody that knows anything about Adam, he’s not a big caver…

Adam Kleinberg: We’re not a caver, although…

Susan Bratton: There’s not so much caving happening.

Adam Kleinberg: You know, here’s something that’s really interesting. I went back and I went on the way back machine and I found…

Susan Bratton: I love that name.

Adam Kleinberg: our company’s first vision statement that we wrote in 2001…

Susan Bratton: Ohhh…

Adam Kleinberg: And, you know, I’ve actually talked about, oh we kind of went through this struggle for a long time where we argued and debated amongst ourselves, “Are we an advertising agency or are we an interactive agency or are we a web design agency?” And we were good at both, so we kept doing both…

Susan Bratton: Yeah.

Adam Kleinberg: you know, and we kept winning work in both and, you know, winning some of these great brands and doing great work for them, which led to other accounts, and we had no business development, it was all word of mouth and referrals and customers who went on like, you know… Walmart.com came to us as a former B of A client, Adobe was from a former relationship with Macro Media. Our client Message Systems is a former client…

Susan Bratton: How’d you get Apple?

Adam Kleinberg: Can’t talk about that relationships, it is a little bit…

Susan Bratton: They don’t let their agencies talk about it.

Adam Kleinberg: No, they don’t, they don’t.

Susan Bratton: They’re tough, aren’t they?

Adam Kleinberg: They are pretty tough.

Susan Bratton: I saw, I saw the logo on your website and I wondered if you were going to tell me anything.

Adam Kleinberg: No. They had a competitive pitch a couple years ago and we won an assignment and we’ve continued to do work with them, we continue to do work with them, but I can’t talk about it.

Susan Bratton: Okay. You know it’s funny, one of the questions you, that you answered, I forget what the question was I asked, but I remember the thing that you answered was that it’s really annoying to you when you do a pitch and you don’t win the pitch, - cause, you know, you can’t win them all – that sometimes you haven’t even gotten a callback. You haven’t even gotten anybody willing to call you up and say, “Oh yes, thank you. You could go to hell.” Wasn’t that what it was, that you were, it was like, “How could that possibly be that I can’t even get a phone call back?”

Adam Kleinberg: Yeah, you know, it’s really interesting, I know a lot of your listeners are probably from the publishers side…

Susan Bratton: Or the agency side.

Adam Kleinberg: Or the agency side.

Susan Bratton: Yeah.

Adam Kleinberg: And at the last iMedia Agency Summit, which was like a week ago…

Susan Bratton: Okay.

Adam Kleinberg: I was at there was a debate, or a conversation going on, a panel discussion between publishers and agencies and what were some of the frustrations with RFP’s going out and…

Susan Bratton: Right, same thing…

Adam Kleinberg: and agencies not getting back and not letting, you know, and what I found really interesting was that…

Susan Bratton: It’s everywhere, isn’t it?

Adam Kleinberg: It’s just shit blows down hill, you know…

Susan Bratton: It’s not just yours. Yeah, right. Who’s at the bottom, the publisher…

Adam Kleinberg: My father was a plumber and he taught me that, so I know that firsthand.

Susan Bratton: Exactly. Well tell me one, I know you’re consumed with Ali Baba right now, you’re doing alibaba.com so that might be the one you say, but when I ask you to think about your most favorite project you’ve ever done and a piece of work at Traction that you’ve been most proud of, what comes to mind?

Adam Kleinberg: Probably the Live Scribe Ram Launch.

Susan Bratton: Ooh, what’s that? Is that that cool pen?

Adam Kleinberg: That cool pen, that smart pen…

Susan Bratton: Oh my god, can you get me a free one?

Adam Kleinberg: I probably can after that plug.

Susan Bratton: Really? Whoo, lets talk some more about how fabulous Live Scribe is. Live Scribe, Live Scribe. Totally, totally ho myself out for a free pen, that’s so bad isn’t it?

Adam Kleinberg: Well, it’s an amazing pen…

Susan Bratton: It’s a totally cool pen…

Adam Kleinberg: It’s an amazing pen.

Susan Bratton: People are loving those things.

Adam Kleinberg: Yeah, and it was a great opportunity to, you know, take this amazing piece of technology that records audio and synchs it with the written word, right. So you can now go back and tap on a word on a piece of paper and it will play back the audio that was recorded, right, at that moment. Or you can upload that digital asset and click on it, it’ll play the audio that was recorded at that moment. But it also does all these other amazing things, right. So, you know, it’s, you can draw a calculator and it works. You know, you can write “Take me to the airport” and it’ll repeat it in Japanese and you can hold it up to the cab driver. You know, so there was a lot of opportunities there, so we really…

Susan Bratton: Yeah, right. How would you decide what to focus, what to feature, so many attributes.

Adam Kleinberg: Yeah. So, you know, what was really exciting was the client was really on board with digging in and really getting to know their customer. So we did some very interesting ethnographic research, we went into classrooms at Cal and observed students taking notes. And we saw this moment of fear, you know, when the teacher, the professor said, “This is going to be on the test.”

Susan Bratton: Yeah.

Adam Kleinberg: And they started to panic, like…

Susan Bratton: Yeah.

Adam Kleinberg: scribbling it down…

Susan Bratton: Right.

Adam Kleinberg: Meanwhile, the one thing that he’s, you know, like he’s saying is on the sly…

Susan Bratton: Yeah.

Adam Kleinberg: right, it’s the one thing they don’t have to scribble, so they’re not listening, they’re not learning…

Susan Bratton: Just freak out.

Adam Kleinberg: They’re freaking out about missing something…

Susan Bratton: Yeah.

Adam Kleinberg: And that drove us to this kind of, you know, what we look for when we’re coming up with a brand idea is a hidden truth, right, something that you…

Susan Bratton: That’s your insight.

Adam Kleinberg: Yeah, what’s the hidden truth? What’s the thing you always felt but never articulated? So with Live Scribe it’s that you’ll never miss a word. And then we had a very successful brand launch for them, you know, launched it to college students across the United States…

Susan Bratton: So that was their first market.

Adam Kleinberg: Yeah.

Susan Bratton: Uh huh.

Adam Kleinberg: And, you know, had like a, you know, for a brand new product, brand new brand, like huge lift in awareness, like twenty four percent, they sold a whole lot of pens. I can’t release those numbers specifically, but… And, you know, really just great work. We came up with this creative concept of restless mind syndrome. You know, it was kind of like this fake disease and came up with a professor character to kind of, and…

Susan Bratton: That’s clever.

Adam Kleinberg: you know, and on TV, it was in store, in Target, it was online, it was in Face Book, you know… It just, great campaign, won a couple of awards, and it was so much fun to make and we had…

Susan Bratton: That sounds fantastic. So here’s my next question: what do you get if Kindle and a Live Scribe have a baby?

Adam Kleinberg: I don’t know. What, Susan?

Susan Bratton: I have no idea. I just though you’d come up with something really good. But I think, ooh, what if you put those two together in a dark room. You have your Kindle, you have your Live Scribe, what’s going to happen?

Adam Kleinberg: I know, it’s like a little…

Susan Bratton: They’re going to call the white board that automatically prints everything to your computer and they’re going to get together, some alcohols going to be involved. Okay, we’ve got to be serious here. So this is a serious question.

Adam Kleinberg: Okay.

Susan Bratton: You told me you wanted to be remembered professionally as the guy who started a truly great company. What are you doing about that?

Adam Kleinberg: I’m doing a lot. I’m being really thoughtful in how I grow this company, and I think, you know, my greatest challenge in the years… You know, it’s interesting, a couple years, you know, six years ago, you know, was still, you know, a hands on designer, you know, and we had a very different model here and as we’ve grown and, you know, every time we’ve reached kind of a new lever of growth I’ve had to redefine myself, and what I see as my next pre-challenge is making sure that the vision that we have, that, you know, like I said, I found on that, on the way back machine that is still true to everything we said we’d do today and we believe today despite all of the, you know, web design agency, advertising agency, confusion along the way when we’ve really kind of reconnected, there’s a vision that we’ve been true to all along…

Susan Bratton: What is it?

Adam Kleinberg: And… Well the vision is that everything is interactive. It’s all about the experience. You know, it’s all about, you know… What we have here that’s different from other agencies is that we have both a very established practice of human centered design, user experience design, and we also have a really great brand in advertising design, and we try to bring those two together into kind of an approach that we call brand experience design, and you ask us, like, you know, what we are, we try actually to avoid it ‘cause it sounds kind of buzz wordy, but brand experience designers, and that’s really what we’re designing, you know… Every point of contact between a brand and a consumer… You know, we’re not, I’m not saying we do everything, we don’t do PR, right. But we do what we’re good at and we outsource the rest for sure. But, you know, we’re taking that really holistic approach and we’ve even come up with an approach to communications design, communications planning that we’re calling engineered marketing, which is really about how do we… You know, the funnel doesn’t exist anymore, right. The marketing funnel is now…

Susan Bratton: No, the funnel is now shot full of holes, right?

Adam Kleinberg: Yeah, it’s a maze, right…

Susan Bratton: Or a siv.

Adam Kleinberg: So what do you do with that, right, when you have… I think there’s an e-marketers study that was, last year that said 60 percent of consumers now rely on word of mouth for how they make purchase decisions. That’s up from, quite drastically from a few years before. I don’t want to throw out a statistic because I don’t have it specifically, but I believe it was in the range of 30 percent a few years earlier…

Susan Bratton: So twice as much.

Adam Kleinberg: Yeah.

Susan Bratton: Mm hmm.

Adam Kleinberg: So that means you’re in a world where contributors to your brands story are as important as purchasers because purchasers are relying on contributors to how they’re making purchase decisions. So you have to really think through all of these things and not, you know, one of the things when we were frustrated about the lack of integration we were seeing, it was that, you know, here’s a print ad, use the same photo and the banner ad. That’s not integration. Integration is thinking like where are people going to go, what are the opportunities, what are the possibilities, how are they linked together, what are the metrics that you’re signing to get down and on track and optimize all of these things and how is everything working together, because every time a customer comes into contact with your brand it’s part of an overall brand experience.

Susan Bratton: So it’s planning, but it’s planning in the web world where so much of that contact is either IRL – In Real Life – or something that’s a touch point on the web that is something that a classy corporation is just getting their hands on, that change, right?

Adam Kleinberg: So we’re doing print, we’re doing TV downstairs, we’re even doing packaging, but we see them all as part of a brand interaction. So we’ll think about, you know, how, where’s that print driving someone online and where’s that, you know, so how is that just part of… We’re just doing wire frames that extend beyond the page out into the ether.

Susan Bratton: Mm hmm.

Adam Kleinberg: You know, interactive is, just goes beyond digital. I think everything is interactive.

Susan Bratton: Absolutely. The more experiences, the better. We’re going to talk about some of your experiences when we come back from break. I am your host Susan Bratton and we’re with Adam Kleinberg of Traction. Stay tuned. We will be right back.

Susan Bratton: We’re back, and I’m your host Susan Bratton and I’m with Adam Kleinberg. Adam’s with Traction and we’ve been learning about his business, and one of the things that I wanted to talk to you about Adam was something I sent you just before the show. I saw it on my iAdvertising list, they were talking about this new agency called Agency Nil, agencynil.com that essentially says, “We’ll do the work and then you can pay us what you think it’s worth. You don’t have to pay us ahead of time, we can just figure it all out.” And I sent that to you, and I know you’ve had a chance to look at the site. What did you think of that?

Adam Kleinberg: I think it has a place. I think it’s interesting and I, you know, commend those guys for doing something different, you know. I’m actually an interesting person to ask about this…

Susan Bratton: Okay.

Adam Kleinberg: because when we started Traction we had a different model ourselves…

Susan Bratton: What was yours?

Adam Kleinberg: We were originally not Traction Corporation, we were Traction Cooperative. And we were originally going to be a network of freelancers who threw each other work. And a lot of the work that we did for the first two years was for other agencies, some of what these guys are doing. While we didn’t not get paid – or, you know, these guys are not getting paid either, they’re, you know, certainly, you know, putting limits on how much free work they’ll do for sure, or I would imagine they are…

Susan Bratton: They better be.

Adam Kleinberg: They better be. You know, I think what they’ll find is that they’ll get some traction with that. You know, they’ll certainly get a lot of calls, and it’s kind of a no-brainer for a certain kind of client who’s maybe a smaller client with a limited budget. But, you know, as you grow an agency what you’ll, what I’ve found - ‘cause I’ve grown this from, you know, four to upwards of thirty people now running around downstairs - you know, the structures and processes and costs associated with the agency business, a lot of them have evolved over time because they’re kind of necessary. You know, you do, when you work with a real client, you know, have to have conference reports because you have to communicate well. You do have to have, you know, an approach that, you know, articulates your strategy or you’re not being strategic. You’re using creative as a litenace test for strategy and then will find over time frustration because as you get more and more up the value chain in a client size, the expectations are greater. And I think agencies are going to need to move up the value chain in their client’s eyes and be more partners in crime with their, or in the ward with their clients…

Susan Bratton: I have a quick question for you. Are there any agencies that you keep an eye on, whose work you admire, that you just keep your ear tuned to? Or are you just so busy in your own stuff right now? Which is a fair answer.

Adam Kleinberg: Honestly, I read voraciously…

Susan Bratton: Mm hmm.

Adam Kleinberg: but I don’t follow any one agencies stuff…

Susan Bratton: Mm hmm. You just keep it all rolling forward.

Adam Kleinberg: I do…

Susan Bratton: Yeah.

Adam Kleinberg: I do. I mean, and my reading list, I listen to your podcast…

Susan Bratton: I love that, thank you.

Adam Kleinberg: I really do. You know, you were teasing me this morning on the phone. Everyone, Susan was teasing me this morning. I said….

Susan Bratton: He totally deserves it, I’m sure.

Adam Kleinberg: I did. I said, “I’m really excited to be on your, to meet with you today”, and she said, “Oh, that’s cute.” So I had to just bust her balls a little bit about that.

Susan Bratton: You can, a hundred and ten percent.

Adam Kleinberg: Alright.

Susan Bratton: So, we were talking about the, you know, kind of the inherent costs of having an agency infrastructure, and one of the things I asked you about was the 21st century business and what you think was the key issue. And you said, after much thought, you could’ve answered it a number of ways, but you said that this kind of international collaboration, the fact that we’re going global and we’re going to have to find ways to work with people all over the world. I thought that was a really smart answer. You know, anybody could’ve said sustainability or some other things, but the collaborative economy. Are you leveraging the collaborative economy now in your business?

Adam Kleinberg: We are in a limited fashion. I mean, we’re using open source technologies. Like we just created an agency dashboard to leverage existing IP, where in the past we were, we’d actually created a custom a dashboard for agency/client management and we still use that; we call it Tractionet and it’s kind of a proprietary tool we’ve developed, but… And we had this whole roadmap that we were using, and now we’ve brought in interesting, you know, an IP from Zimbra and one from Click Time and one from Merlin and we’ve created a custom dashboard mash-up that, you know, allows us to take all these existing IP’s out there, and while that’s not necessarily, you know, collaborating with someone on the ground in China, I think, you know, we’ve looked for opportunities, I’ve been exploring partnerships with partners around the globe to work with. What’s really interesting is our client alibaba.com…

Susan Bratton: Oh yeah.

Adam Kleinberg: You know, we’re launching…

Susan Bratton: Are they based in Beijing or Shanghai?

Adam Kleinberg: They’re based in Goju…

Susan Bratton: Uh huh.

Adam Kleinberg: which is near Shanghai.

Susan Bratton: Yeah.

Adam Kleinberg: And, you know, it’s such an amazing company, right. They’re connecting… They basically, they have 38 million members, right, like people all over the world. I went on their website… So alibaba.com is a marketplace that helps you find the perfect partner for your small business, to supply or make anything you want. So when we were pitching the business, you know, I actually went on their website to explore the experience, and I went on and I saw a button that said “Get a quote”. So I clicked on it and within in 90 seconds I filled out a request to have 2,000 cashmere sweaters made, just to see what would happen.

Susan Bratton: You just want to fill up this room with cashmere so you can jump in it like the ball thing at McDonald’s, I like that.

Adam Kleinberg: Well it’s kind of like the (unintelligible).

Susan Bratton: Tactile dome, I love it.

Adam Kleinberg: You know, I figured that would be a good, you know, way to soften the blow if we didn’t win, but we did. But, you know, I had literally within between that day and the time of the pitch three days later, I had 43 people, real people at companies and, you know, broken English, you know, like, but typing to me, you know, like, writing emails to me saying, “I have a factory in China. I would love to make that”, “I have a factory in Bangladesh,” “I have a company in Italy,” “I have a company in India”, all wanting to make my sweaters. And it was that easy, right. So when you’ve got a world that is that easy…

Susan Bratton: Yeah.

Adam Kleinberg: and people don’t even know it.

Susan Bratton: So Ali Baba, you, I know you recently won Number One Interactive Agency from B To B Magazine. Did you get Ali Baba because of that or before that, and how…?

Adam Kleinberg: It was before that.

Susan Bratton: Oh, okay. And so has that been a big thing, small thing? You must be proud.

Adam Kleinberg: I think it’s a pretty big thing, you know…

Susan Bratton: Yeah.

Adam Kleinberg: I’m pretty proud of it. You know, B To B Magazine named us the Number One Interactive Agency in the country for 2009…

Susan Bratton: Huge. How’d you do it?

Adam Kleinberg: You know, edging out Digitas, which was, you know, I was pretty, it was kind of nice to see, like, Traction 30 people, Digitas 3,000, it was…

Susan Bratton: Why’d they choose you?

Adam Kleinberg: I think it was a combination of things. One is we’ve done some really innovative work. We’re doing a lot of I think smart work around social media and how to plan strategically. We just did for SAP for example. We’re doing a lot of social media work for Adobe. You know, how do you have a social media strategy that’s effective and uses this kind of engineered marketing approach across channels, not just like, “What are we doing in Face Book? What’s our iPhone app?”, but how do we really think about how to effectively engage across social media?

Susan Bratton: Okay, we could do a whole show on that.

Adam Kleinberg: Happy to do a follow-up.

Susan Bratton: Nice, okay.

Adam Kleinberg: Yeah. ‘Cause we do have a very interesting approach there I think. You know, we’ve done some really interesting user experience work on the side of, you know, some of our banking clients…

Susan Bratton: Mm hmm. B and A.

Adam Kleinberg: Yeah. And we grew existing accounts, you know, the quality and caliber of accounts we had. We had New Business Winds, we increased our revenue significantly. I know last year, 2008 was a rocky year, but it was our best year ever…

Susan Bratton: Wow! So you’re basically hitting on all cylinders and really doing great work in the B To B space.

Adam Kleinberg: We’re doing… Yeah, but we’re not a B To B agency…

Susan Bratton: I know…

Adam Kleinberg: You know, that’s the thing.

Susan Bratton: But they recognized you, which was great…

Adam Kleinberg: Yeah.

Susan Bratton: for the work you did in the B To B space.

Adam Kleinberg: Yeah.

Susan Bratton: That was cool. So we’re going to rap up the show, but I have two things I absolutely have to talk to you about. I asked you what the best book was you ever read, and you little contrarian, what did you tell me?

Adam Kleinberg: Well I said it was the best book I never didn’t read, and it was, it was a gift, you know, like…

Susan Bratton: Slacker.

Adam Kleinbert: Yeah, well I was, but, you know, I’m not into all these foofy books, you know, but…

Susan Bratton: Oh, you know what, right underneath my microphone is the David Data Way of the Superior Man: The Spiritual Guide To Mastering the Challenges of Women, Work and Sexual Desire, and you told me before we started this that you read my mic stand book. So Mr. Foofy…

Adam Kleinberg: It was a gift. So…

Susan Bratton: That was good, that was good. The best book you never read was…?

Adam Kleinberg: The best book I never read was Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow. And I, like 15 years ago when I first came out of college, I, you know, I graduate from Cornell and I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I got a job as a travel agent, which thank god I got out of that industry. But one of my clients at the time kind of heard me talking about wanting to be a designer and, you know, I’d always been an artist, it was kind of like, I used to paint back in college, I was into photography a little bit, and she sent me this book. She said, “You got to read this book.” And I never even read the book because I felt like I didn’t have to. It just sat there on my bookstand and it said everything it had to, and it encouraged me to take the plunge and just go for it. And I said, “You know what, I’m a young man, I’ll figure it out, and, you know, by the time, you know, a decade from now I’ll probably be pretty good at it”, and I literally just kind of jumped in and I started teaching myself, and I, you know, literally walked into my first job knowing nothing except having the confidence that I could do something. You know, I remember going to my interview and, you know, I was like, “I never done this before, but, you know, I know I can”…

Susan Bratton: Yeah, I think that’s why you have that confidence, because when you put your mind to something you put all your energy into it and all your focus and all your attention, so it’s going to work.

Adam Kleinberg: Yeah.

Susan Bratton: Yeah, that’s just, that’s your nature is to do that…

Adam Kleinberg: Yeah.

Susan Bratton: You’re passionate, but you’re passionate on whatever that one thing is you’re doing in that moment and you do that really well. I wonder if that’s because you practice Tai Chi. I wanted to end the show with the Tai Chi work that you do. I’ve got you in my mind in your little pajama thing, hi yahhhh…

Adam Kleinberg: Oh I’ve got this brilliant routine….

Susan Bratton: You do? Tell us about it.

Adam Kleinberg: Every morning I get up, I go for like an hour walk or a 45 minute walk, I listen to a Dishy Mix podcast of course…

Susan Bratton: Like that…

Adam Kleinberg: Yeah. Well, you know, I do…

Susan Bratton: Thank you.

Adam Kleinberg: that’s the thing…

Susan Bratton: I appreciate that.

Adam Kleinberg: And then I climb to the top of Bernal Hill… I don’t know how many of your…

Susan Bratton: Bernal Heights.

Adam Kleinberg: your listeners have ever been to the top of Bernal Hill, but it’s definitely hands down the most beautiful view in all of San Francisco. And I climb up to this mountaintop and I can see everything from the Golden Gate Bridge beyond Candlestick Park and I do Tai Chi for another half hour, you know, and I take a class and…. It’s really interesting, you know, I kind of got into it ‘cause I was dealing with running a business and feeling a lot of stress and…

Susan Bratton: Yeah.

Adam Kleinberg: You know, I was kind of getting up in the morning and my head was spinning and I was starting, on a scale of one to ten I was a seven in the morning, you know, and by the time I got to the office I was at nine and I was driving everyone crazy and, you know, I started wearing Birkenstocks and that got me down to about six and a half briefly. But then…

Susan Bratton: The anti stress shoewear.

Adam Kleinberg: But then I got into this Tai Chi think and its been, its had an amazing impact on my life. I mean…

Susan Bratton: It’s hard.

Adam Kleinberg: It’s hard to try…

Susan Bratton: It looks easy…

Adam Kleinberg: It’s very hard.

Susan Bratton: You know, it’s like you’re just waving your arms around a little slowly, but man, the control that it takes, it’s downright…

Adam Kleinberg: Well it’s all internal, right…

Susan Bratton: It is, it’s very core…

Adam Kleinberg: It’s an internal martial art.

Susan Bratton: Mm hmm.

Adam Kleinberg: It’s all about like really…

Susan Bratton: A lot of attention…

Adam Kleinberg: Yeah, and…

Susan Bratton: mindfulness…

Adam Kleinberg: Yeah, and, you know, it’s about letting go so much, you know…

Susan Bratton: Tell me about that.

Adam Kleinberg: and, you know, really letting everything out of your mind and just being present in your body as you’re going through these motions, and you know, the choreography that’s involved with it is almost distraction from, you know, what you’re really after, and I think, you know, my teacher, Master Chu who’s just brilliant, he talks a lot about, you know, how a lot of Tai Chi gets very caught up in the form and the choreography, but it’s really about letting go. And, you know, there’s a power there, you know, there’s a reason that, you know, that for over thousands of years, like, you know, the Chinese, you know, came up with this concept and evolved it and… It’s almost so hard to explain, you know, but what I get out of it is a reset…

Susan Bratton: Mm hmm. It’s an act of meditation…

Adam Kleinberg: It is a…

Susan Bratton: It’s a body based meditation.

Adam Kleinberg: It’s a big part of it, but it’s so many things. It’s also kind of like a feeling of energy, you know, and feeling…

Susan Bratton: Getting your Chi going…

Adam Kleinberg: Getting your Chi going.

Susan Bratton: Mm hmm.

Adam Kleinberg: And, you know, I get to reset my Chi in like this beautiful inspirational place every morning and, you know… I mean it’s funny, like, Russell Quinn, who’s the general manager here and I work very closely with, you know, he can literally tell…

Susan Bratton: The days you’ve done it, the days you haven’t?

Adam Kleinberg: Yeah.

Susan Bratton: Uh huh.

Adam Kleinberg: Like I’ll come in in the morning and he’ll be like, “You did your Tai Chi today.”

Susan Bratton: He likes you better. That’s fun, and it goes really well with the bulb thing too.

Adam Kleinberg: Yeah.

Susan Bratton: It, very grasshopper.

Adam Kleinberg: Thank you, thank you.

Susan Bratton: I love that. So I hope you’ve enjoyed Adam as much as I do. You can tell what a terrific guy he is. I also hope you picked up in the background the cable car clanging ‘cause we’re right on Hyde and Larkin… Are we on Hyde? I think we’re on California Street and Larkin, right in downtown San Francisco, and if you pick it up you can  hear them in the background. I think I’m going to take on, I’m going to take a cable car back to my car.

Adam Kleinberg: There you go.

Susan Bratton: Yeah, that’ll be a fun ride today. So you’ve gotten to meet Adam Kleinberg, the CEO and founding partner of Traction, and I am your host Susan Bratton. Adam thanks so much for coming on the show.

Adam Kleinberg: Thank you.

Susan Bratton: It was a lot of fun. Have a great day.