SF Entrepreneurs Shed Light in a Dark Economy

Their names are PJ Pereira and Andrew O'Dell.

Their game doesn't involve playing by the rules, per se.

By definition, 35-year-old Pereira and 39-year-old O'Dell had it made.

Their high profile positions at a high profile advertising agency brought them the big accounts, big awards and big bucks.

It also brought them the kind of stability that allows for one to enjoy a good night's sleep.

That all changed on a flight back from L.A. in the summer of 2007.

"Creativity only flourishes with big ideas, we're talkin' BIG," explained a wide-eyed O'Dell.

Somewhere between "make sure your seat belts are securely fastened" and "please return your tray-tables and seat backs to their full upright position," Pereira and O'Dell had their big idea on that flight and nothing would stop them.

They would leave the comforts of their prestigious agency and start a company of their own that isn't based on mega profit.

If they made a buck, great, but the vision Pereira and O'Dell had was of a company with strong character and moral ground. One that would give back to its community before stuffing its own pocket.

While businesses across the country were crumbling under a damaged economy, they began to build their vision.

Pereira remembers the official "oh ---- moment" and described it quite well. In his thick Brazilian accent he painted the picture,"It was January 15 in 2008, we were sitting in a Starbucks with our computers and we just looked at each other and said, 'What did we do?"

The scary moment came and went, the duo moved forward.

Listening to these guys talk about their business model, or "belief system" as they prefer to call it, is a whole experience in itself.

It's like that scene in Jerry Maguire where Tom Cruise, portraying a super-agent on an out of control soapbox ride, writes his mission statement, "The Things We Think, But Do Not Say."

Except this isn't a movie and Pereira and O'Dell are actually running a successful business, in a dark economy, under the seemingly old school practices of hard work and good will.

Agency events are held at a venue they rent and operate called the Barrel House. Most of them are free and cater to local businesses and causes.

Big names have donated their time and money, most recently, Wyclef Jean and We Are Scientists.

No press.

No fee at the door.  Just cardboard boxes set out for people to donate, if they are able.

The Pereira and O'Dell spirit appeared to be contagious. Guests coughed up over 4 grand in those cardboard boxes for Wyclef's Yele Foundation, which benefits education in Haiti.

(Wyclef Jean's Barrel House performance included his first Tweet live on stage.

Wyclef's First Tweet

 The agency is expanding in business and reputation.

Some 40 people are currently on staff and the practice of cutting a percentage to various charities is catching on.

Muscle Milk, a recent client, was so inspired by their idea, it decided to match whatever Pereira and O'Dell donated.

The rules by which these two San Francisco entrepreneurs follow are the ones we were all taught in grade school.  Ones that inspired us to dream of being veterinarians or firefighters when we grew up.

Pereira agreed that it's easy to lose track of those "mission in life" pages in our individual playbooks, but so important to remember what they mean and to use them in business.

"This economy is tough, let's face it. All O'Dell and I have is our excitement, our love and our enthusiasm for this business and the difference that we know we can make in our community and that's worth fighting for."

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