Peter Kozodoy | Crain's Connecticut

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Peter Kozodoy


GEM Advertising was founded in New Haven in 2008 by Peter Kozodoy and friends Christopher Bartlett, a North Haven native who is the company’s CEO, and Alexandre Winter, its global brand ambassador.

The advertising agency’s original name was Global Entertainment and Media. The current name was adopted in 2013 when the company won a major Connecticut competition and officially became an ad agency. Based in the former Marlin Firearms factory in New Haven’s East Rock neighborhood, GEM Advertising also has offices in Boston, Chicago and Vancouver.

Kozodoy, a Massachusetts native who lives in North Haven, is also an author and speaker. His passion is communicating what he calls the “entrepreneurial values” of honesty and integrity to millennials and others. He is working on a book titled “Honest to Greatness,” which is to be published next year.

The Mistake:

Spending a whole lot of money and time on making a pilot TV show about figure skating not realizing others spend their money making the pilot if they like your idea. That was misstep No. 1. We figured if ballroom dancing could make a comeback then why not figure skating?

We were very enthusiastic but not as focused as we needed to be. We ended up making $800 segments for a cable provider. That’s not a lot of money and something needed to change.

So much of success is mental. You’re bouncing around like a pinball early in your career and you think that if you hit enough spots like in a pinball game then you’ll be a winner. But it’s not what happens to you physically that matters. It’s really about adopting a new mindset; what occurs to you mentally. My mind moves a little too fast sometimes. You have to slow down and realize what entrepreneurial values are even if you’re not an entrepreneur.

So much of success is mental.

The Lesson:

TV reps from around the state noticed the great writing and production quality of our $800 segments. We always believed in ourselves; that was important. What we needed was that mental adjustment to enter the next stage of growth. Every successful entrepreneur needs to do this.

We started getting into social media, graphic design and more stuff on the web. In 2013, we decided to call ourselves an ad agency and absolutely nothing happened physically to change our circumstances. But it was a mental adjustment. We were invited to pitch for a big organization and we won. That kicked off our success and we’ve been growing strongly ever since.

Our recent work with Jordan’s Furniture was a big deal for us and a big deal for Connecticut. Eliot Tatelman, CEO of Jordan’s Furniture, saw something in southern Connecticut and we helped him complete that. Warren Buffett was at the New Haven store’s opening, and I was super proud to be able to introduce him to my Junior Achievement kids. That’s something they won’t ever forget and neither will I. It was a very uplifting economic experience in a state that hasn’t had a lot of those lately.

I’ve made it my mission to help others understand entrepreneurial values, and authenticity and honesty are the major ones. It used to be that a business could say one thing then do something else. They can’t get away with that anymore. Authenticity and honesty are no longer options; they’re cornerstones. Business is becoming more transparent, which makes these values more important. If you can wrap your mind around them and live them then greatness awaits you.

Peter Kozodoy is on Twitter at @PeterKozodoy and GEM Advertising is at @GEMAdvertising.

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