Known co-founders: How to sustain a successful partnership

Duo behind one of Hollywood’s top marketing agencies share pearls of wisdom – and a computer

Known co-founders: How to sustain a successful partnership

As HR leaders transition from the back office to having a seat at the table, perhaps they can learn how to be an even greater partner by sitting under Brad Roth and Mark Feldstein’s learning tree.

In 2000, the duo founded Stun Creative, one of Hollywood’s top marketing agencies and production companies. In 2020, the company merged with New York City-based data science firm Schireson Associates and brand strategist Blackbird to form Known, of which Roth and Feldstein serve as co-presidents of the creative studios division.

Known’s revenue has grown 40% year over year since inception with household names as clients, such as Amazon, GrubHub, HBO Max, Pepsi, the NFL and many more. The company has six offices across the country, including in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and employs 450 people (many of whom are software engineers and data scientists with advanced degrees). It’s been a go-to destination during the Great Resignation, as the company says it received more than 35,000 job applications in 2021.

“You have to be able to delegate, trust and hire people better than you,” Roth said during a presentation at a business conference in Boston on Thursday. “Relationships are based on trust. There has to be a level of intimacy – it can’t just be about the work.”

The team started Stun with only five relationships, asking those folks in a “casual and unofficial way” if they’d be willing to give the pair a project. Over time, the relationships have become reciprocal, which is why they’re still intact, according to Feldstein. “We always look for opportunities we can bring to clients, so they win, too,” he said. “It gets old if you’re the person on the other end of the phone that keeps being asked for work.”

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After more than 20 years of working together (even sharing a computer screen), the co-founders realize what’s been the secret sauce in their partnership. They consider themselves very close friends, celebrating holidays and birthdays with each other and their families. Coincidentally, both of their second kids even had the same due date.

However, they live in different parts of Los Angeles, maintain different social circles and their children go to different schools. Although they’ve been co-branded throughout their careers, they aren’t inseparable. After all, familiarity breeds contempt.

“Our relationship is healthy because we’re able to break apart and have that separation and then come back with intensity,” Roth said.

Of course, business hasn’t always been rainbows and sunshine – they work primarily in the entertainment industry, after all. But having someone to lean on during the tough days, when you’re filled with doubt and pressure, has certainly been a blessing. Both men attribute their success to having a support system.

“With a partner, if one person takes failure harder, you can help ground them,” Feldstein said. “From day one, you have to establish equal dedication to the mission. One person can’t feel like they’re carrying the burden. We established we’re in this together from day one.”

“It’s like a dance – you have to feel it out,” Feldstein added. “What works for us will be different from what works for you. But when you find what works for you, stick with it.”

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