During my time as a business owner, the most valuable resource outside of my team was the network of other owners in my field. The digital agency industry has a great community of owners that aren’t shy about sharing their struggles with each other. This community helped me feel like I had people to talk to when things were confusing or frustrating. One of the people I turned to the most in this community was Anthony Armendariz of Funsize. Anthony was always there for me when there were things that couldn’t be discussed with my team.
I’ve always admired Anthony’s studio and philosophy about business. We had the opportunity to sit down this year and recap how Funsize has grown and develop a remarkable culture that attracts the industry’s best talent. Below is a recap of our chat.
How did Funsize get its start?
My experience at Evernote helped me understand that while I love digital products, my actual strength is client service design. I left Evernote to start a freelance business to merge the two.
During this time my wife, Natalie, was working for FJORD but she began exploring opportunities in Austin. Meanwhile, she was also helping me with my projects. I realized that though we had never formally worked together, we’ve always helped each other. We were the perfect match in terms of complementary skills needed to run a small business. I sat down with her and asked, “what if we did this together?”.
Natalie came up with the name Funsize, we registered the business, and opened a bank account within a week. Natalie drew our first logo on a Post-It note on our home office door and Funsize was born.
Within another week, we had our first major client, Groupon. We rented office space with Dan at 5by5 which would force us to not only take it seriously but also create boundaries between work and home. Within a month, Rick Messer took a chance working with us and we started building a team.
Funsize isn’t your first agency. Anything you’ve done differently this time?
I’ve been designing professionally since 1999 and about 75% of my career has been spent self-employed. I began as a freelance generalist and then started 39Argyle with one of my best friends, Steven Ray, to focus on a distributed agency with a pure focus on native mobile design.
Later, I started Funsize and somehow convinced my wife to quit her wildly awesome job to start a business with me. Funsize is a product and service design agency. We focus both on helping our clients design their business and service, as well as their digital products, which is our current expertise. We’re currently 10 members who all work together in one location in Austin, TX.
Each experience has been equally challenging and rewarding, yielding a diverse portfolio, and helped me learn entirely new—and all radically different—skill sets. When Natalie and I founded Funsize, it was really the first time in my professional life where I had enough previous experience to provide me with a clear vision. I also had very strong supporters and mentors like Greg Storey and Dan Benjamin to help push me along in those first weeks.
We set out knowing exactly the type of design agency we wanted to be, what we wanted to be known for, why we mattered, why we were different, our ideal clients, and the type of work we wanted to do. This framework provides razor sharp clarity on all decisions we make.
The thing that I’ve done most differently with Funsize is using design thinking and design approaches and applying that to our services, process, employee experience, and our client experience. Focusing on the people, employees and clients, have been the most impactful. That’s what makes us truly unique.
People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. — Maya Angelou
There are tons of people and companies that can create good design. The only thing that matters is the experience that you can provide to your customers and the people that you work with. Period. For me, personally, my role at Funsize has been exponentially different than ever before. Formerly a heads down designer that does all the work and gets all the credit, I’ve had to learn that my job was to build a team, let them lead, help them grow, and create a culture that can yield great design work.
Earlier this year you posted an awesome write up of all the things that happened at Funsize in 2015. Give us the quick version. Where is Funsize now, after 3 years of growth?
We started out with a desire to be a husband and wife company. When Sputnik did our branding, I remember telling you (Stu) that it was just gonna be the two of us but that we were gonna do big work. By the end of the first year, we were 6 in size.
There’s currently 10 of us in our “fampany” and we function as a well-oiled machine. Though we’ve grown, we’ve stayed true to our vision, culture, process, and values. We’ve been pleasantly rewarded with the opportunity to work with the best design team and group of client partners around the world. Check out the Funsize 2015 Annual Report if you wanna read about all the exciting things we did last year.
Agencies by their nature can have lumpy cash flow (some months can be great, while other can be awful). How do you plan for this to make sure you’re always able to keep the doors open?
We started out by self-funding. We locked in a 6-month retainer contract with our clients that provided an operational runway to be able to work with contractors and to also ensure that Natalie and I could cover payroll for at least 3 months. This inspired our retainer model which has allowed us to keep months of operational cost in the bank at all times. If we lost all of our clients today, our team would still have job security for 3-6 months. We then secured a bank line of credit to cover a month’s overhead, allowing us to be less cash heavy and give raises all around. The next phase for us is to secure financing with Able so we can use the funds to design and build out our new design studio next year.
What is Funsize’s secret sauce?
Our unique process and sales strategy is part of it but I won’t get deep into that here. Check out our Hustle Podcast or our stories on Medium if you’d like a little taste. We share a bunch but we prefer to keep the sauce secret and make it a big surprise you discover once you hire us or come work with us.
Actually, I believe that our secret sauce is the intentional experience design of our business itself. We treat our company like a software product. We’re the business, and our client partners and employees are the users and customers. We use design methodologies to plan, research, ideate, execute, survey our “users”, and iterate. And most importantly, our willingness to be fearless by constantly changing and improving everything from top to bottom.
We’ve started a series at Able called #dearfounder. Do you have a word of advice for new or young founders just starting out in business?
I have so much advice to share but I’ll try and summarize in a personal ‘Top 10’ list.
- Create a clear vision and stay true to it,but don’t be scared to change or pivot as much as you need to design your own success.
- Put yourself on payroll on day one. Next, get a line of credit to cover payroll or an Able loan to cover operational overhead before you need it. If you can, get a business credit card as soon as possible. You want financial coverage before you need it. If you wait until you need it, you’re already dead in the water.
- Be innovative with the way you sell work and engage with your clients. Agencies aren’t going away but the expectations are radically different. If you’re willing to work the way your customers need you to, you could be wildly successful. Be prepared to be a failure statistic if you don’t.
- Realize the true value you can add to the company personally and create the ideal position for you and your business. Don’t put yourself in a role where you are unhappy or have too many priorities. Hopefully you’ll create a clear role for yourself with a singular priority.
- Hire people that are better than you. You never wanna be the most talented person in the room.
- If you don’t like selling, hire a business development lead immediately. A great business development expert can change your life in an incredible way. I wish I had made this hire in our first quarter versus our third year. Sometimes it takes time to get a groove going, so start early!
- Invest in diversity, collaboration, and teamwork to create exceptional experiences for your employees and your clients. This is how revenue and value are created.
- Design your financial operations. Do your bookkeeping and taxes with an online provider like www.bench.co. No, Quickbooks and Xero are not your only options. Create delightful invoicing and payment experiences for your clients by using tools like www.bill.com that make sending and receiving payments bearable. You’ll get paid quicker and your clients will love it.
- Create an agile company for the sole intention of changing and improving constantly. As soon as you stop improving, you’re behind the curve.
- Create an advisory board of mentors that you trust to help you make decisions quickly and confidently. You can pay them for a quarterly meeting or buy them a fancy bottle of Scotch. You’ll be surprised as to how much other owners want to help other owners.
Anyone who thinks Experience Design or any other word for user-centered design is the future, is already behind their competitors. — Andy Vitale