Why entrepreneurship is the new women’s movement
Starting a Business
What it’s like to quit the rat race and follow your passion
with Dave Buonaguidi
When you’re 30 years into your career and feel like you’re on a conveyor belt to nowhere with no passion or purpose, it’s time to get off, however hard. Dave Buonaguidi, now an Artist, was at the top of his field in advertising. He had an impressive CV including founding the world’s first advertising co-operative, St Luke’s, working as Creative Director at Channel 4, founding top advertising agency Karmarama and much more.
After so long in the industry, when turning 50, Dave had an epiphany, ‘I thought I had about thirty summers left in this world and I wanted to use my time wisely doing what I love.’ Dave is living proof that even when you feel lost, you can find your way to true happiness and turn it into one of the most liberating, empowering decisions of your life.
His work ethic when founding start-ups in the city was ‘doing good and only working with good people’ after meeting so many ‘vile’ people in advertising, ‘I got the bug to do start-ups because I loved the urgency, the craziness and the hours that came with making everything happen and when you worked hard, you were honoured for it.’
There’s a reason Dave stayed at the top of his game for so long, ‘I was a good person so people liked working with me, but I soon realised that the agencies I was setting up were becoming exactly what I had worked so hard to avoid. I wasn’t interested in the awards or big dinners, I hated it all.’
‘It’s been quite rocky, it’s not been easy but I’m living my absolute best life, earning a living and making people happy. I wouldn’t change it for anything.’
Dave admits he learnt a lot in that world, ‘It won’t be a surprise to anyone but when you’re nice, hardworking and enthusiastic, people want to work with you.’ When Dave worked in big agencies, he described his colleagues as ‘lazy and obnoxious’ so when he took his small agency positivity to those environments, he found that everyone wanted a piece of him, ‘Suddenly everybody wanted to work with me, it’s infectious and your work only gets better.’
But with so many ideas swimming around his head Dave set upon learning a new skill and undertook a screenprinting course, which in turn gave him the freedom to finally find an out-put for all of his creativity.
He set himself the task of becoming an artist at home at weekends whilst working in advertising in the week. It wasn’t about the extra money he was making from selling his pieces that made him happy, it was the fact he was finally following his passion and making things for fun. Dave said: ‘I was going through a separation from my wife at the time, so I’d hide out at my studio. It wasn’t difficult to work weekends, mornings and evenings because my kids were at the age where they wanted to be out socialising. I was just their bank and taxi driver anyway.’
One day he decided he wanted to get out of his Monday to Friday job and focus on what makes him tick, ‘I just got sick of it. When you’re over 50 in any corporate business, you’re a dead man walking. I knew I was a target because I was earning big money and people think, “Why have someone on £100k a year when we could hire six people on £15k a year?” Even in my own business people were trying to get rid of me when I’d employed them and made them a partner. They’re all wankers.’
Dave even wrote a book about his exploits in advertising called ‘Blah, Blah, Blah’, that was a message to himself to get out of the business. When he was falling apart and making the same mistakes, he thought, ‘Why am I still banging my head against the wall doing the same thing hoping for a different result?’
After looking at his finances, Dave realised that he was making more money working weekends than he was doing in his five-day-a-week job and having way more fun and zero stress.
‘Every day feels like I’m on holiday now and I feel almost guilty because it’s so liberating, it feels like I’ve been released from prison because I’m finally free to do what I want to do. That hit me very late, when I turned fifty, and realised I only had around 10,000 days or 25 summers left. It’s hard to be lazy when you’re running out of time.’
Dave set himself a task for the year to become a professional artist and went on a screen printing course, ‘It was an interesting transition from being in my early 50s and running out of options. I know it was driven by a midlife crisis but I was in a horrendous marriage, a horrendous job, and I thought ‘I can choose what I do!’
Dave looked at things that were making him miserable and thought, ‘I’ve dedicated 35 years to business, I’m running out of time so I left my wife and made sure every single day I did something that made me feel good.’
Dave didn’t want to look back on his life and think he could have done so much more, ‘I like to travel, I don’t like to socialise, all I want to do is make stuff.’
Dave asked some galleries what art was selling during that time and set himself up to make art around maps, animals and pineapples, ‘I’m happier than ever, I live on my own, I work on my own in my own studio, I’m safe, I express myself and I can be creative without having to worry about what people around me are going to do to me.’
Although Dave loves his new good life, he does miss working with good people, ‘I get those horrendous moments of imposter syndrome where I can’t come up with any good ideas because I don’t have anyone to bounce ideas off, but I trust my judgement a lot more now and I became so disappointed with people’s behaviours.’ Dave lines up all his ideas on pin boards in his studio and is very disciplined, ‘A lot of artists can’t get their heads around stuff and don’t do anything.’
Although it’s not all been plain sailing, he’s found his good life, ‘It’s been quite rocky, it’s not been easy but I’m living my absolute best life, earning a living and making people happy. I wouldn’t change it for anything.’
1. Find what you love: ‘Once I realised that being an artist and screenprinting was the only thing I wanted to do in the whole world, I became obsessed with it. I was in my fifties without a clue how to sell or make work, but now I’m in my studio seven days a week and having a laugh. I ride my motorbike in and get to do stuff I love!’
2. Find your safe space: ‘When I left advertising, I rented space in a studio. It’s a safe environment, I can wear what I want, I don’t rely on anyone to help me do anything. I haven’t got other people trying to fuck me over. I have my own studio now, I work alone and it’s my lovely safe space.’
3. Make every day matter: ‘Every day feels like I’m on holiday now and I feel almost guilty because it’s so liberating, it feels like I’ve been released from prison because I’m finally free to do what I want to do. That hit me very late, when I turned fifty, and realised I only had around 10,000 days or 25 summers left. It’s hard to be lazy when you’re running out of time’.
4. Trust your instincts and be brave: ‘When you’re in a bad relationship, an alarm bell will ring and tell you it’s wrong, the same goes for work, but because you need money you live with it and then block it out with drugs or alcohol at the weekends. Listen to that inner voice and act on it. You have the ability to make the right decisions for you’.
Hear more from Dave
On this podcast you'll learn more about Dave's colourful career and how he ultimately quit it all to pursue his dream. It's straight talking, creative and expletive-ridden!