The finale to our B-Side programming this year was a panel discussion featuring five local agency owners ready to share their personal stories about starting and running a creative business—the challenges, the rewards, as well as the unforeseen disasters. Below are their answers and discussion points from the panel.
We’re very excited and thankful to all of our panel members that participated! Thank You!
How did you know you wanted to start your own business?
Ray- kind of fell into the business.
Mihali- Mihali was a hybrid-designer and went to law school. It wasn’t until a year and a half in law school was not for him. When he joined AIGA he really “found his people”. He knew early on that he wanted to be an entrepreneur.
Janet– Flowed in and out of roles and jobs that were boring and finally left her “real job” and started fat cat strategies.
Bev– worked for a company but wanted to choose the clients and wasn’t fulfilled by the work. Thought “I can do this” and started freelancing and finding clients that had the same vision and goals that she does.
How did you choose a business name?
Bev: Started business with intent of husband going into business with her. Used their names at first and then shortened it to R&M. She would have started with a different name if things had started differently, but the name is just a piece of the puzzle and remains.
Janet– Sat at last full time job and just searched for available domain names. Probably wouldn’t pick the same domain name. Likes the name because it’s memorable, short, easy to spell.
Mihali: Mihali is Greek and wanted a name that’s rooted in Greek and had true meaning to him.
Tobias: Friends kept telling him he was really good at taking complex issues and making them work. The word “complex” kept coming up. He loved everything that made up the word. a lot of thought went into the color and the name and the spelling.
Ray: Him and his cofounder decided they wanted something between 5-9 letters. At the time, they had three main services and came to the word “cubed”. Cuberis was what they ended up with because it’s easy to remember and find.
What has been the best thing about having your own company and being your own boss?
Bev: People. I get to work with incredible people.
Janet: Enjoys hiring younger designers and nurturing them and loves to see them grow. She also enjoys deciding and planning where the company goes.
Mihali: Setting policies when family is important. Allows employees to leave when their supposed to and not work late and he gets joy from cultivating the culture and be able to not be confined by rules. Also likes being able to pick projects he wants to work on.
Tobias: Relationships with staff. Loves seeing interns start knowing nothing and growing exponentially. Sense of community& team.
Ray: When he started he was most passionate about being able to design projects he wanted. Now he’s proud creating jobs and seeing a finished project that he can give every person in his office credit for.
What is the downside of owning your own business?
Ray: He was challenged with stepping outside design and learning the business side of things and growing his company smartly. He had to learn to say no.
Tobias: Learning how to say no, feeling guilty with not being able to help everyone, choosing projects wisely and realizing he can’t do everything. Had moments that knocked him down and humbled him and learning how to ask for help. You need to learn how to pace yourself and learn that everyone does things differently and you need to respect that.
Mihali: Realizing you have to learn from failure. He has a passion for family but many times it’s hard when you own your own business not to let the business take all your time. You need to make sure you pay attention to details- it could be there different of an 80 hour work or 800 hours of work.
Janet: Learned the lesson that she can’t just power through situations. She said she could point to a million things she shouldn’t have done, but her biggest mistake was doing business with clients she shouldn’t have and ignoring red flags.
Beverly: The best thing about running a company is the people and the worst thing is the people. The biggest struggle was realizing that people aren’t always going to work out. You can’t save everyone and you need to admit that sometimes relationships aren’t going to work out.
Janet: assumed every employee liked the structure of her business but had to learn from her employees what they really wanted and still learning every day.
How do you make your hiring decisions?
Ray: a company needs to make sure they have a long term need for an employee and that they fit many needs of the company. They like to really detail the position and hire in a three step process: 1) one-on-one phone call to see if it might be a good match (2) Setting up a meeting (3) taking the person out to lunch and seeing how they fit in with the entire team. His advice- do your homework. The questions that you ask are the most important thing. Know the company and know the job description. Prepare yourself to ask questions “what does the job entail, what does the day to day look like” and take the personal touch afterwords- write a hand written note or leave behind.
Tobias: He says he tries to turn his BS meter on. Doing homework is the most important thing you can do before the interview. He wants to know what people’s real motivation is- what truly motivates people- not what they think he wants to hear. He loves hearing peoples background stories and how it impacts their design and process. To get to the interview you need a well written resume, portfolio and good branding. You need to present yourself well before you even get into the office. Professionalism and being genuine is important. There’s a chance it might not work out and it shouldn’t work out and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Mihali: He starts with screening, then interview, then lunch as well. He loves humor. Don’t go all out in a five piece suit but don’t roll in without showering for three days. He likes to ask questions that involve thinking in an interview- if someone doesn’t even try and answer the question they probably don’t work out. Don’t show up late- show up early. The majority of hires are the ones that had small touches- one knows he grew up in Greece and asked about fishing there.
Janet: Apply how you’re asked to apply. If you’re supposed to fill out a webform but just email your resume instead, that’s not ok. A lot of people are hired through internships. You need to show your willing to learn. She respects people that have had jobs and experiences no matter how unrelated- server, dishwasher, etc. Just share what you learned.
Bev: Social presence is important. Pay attention to what you’re doing and saying online and on social media. Authenticity matters. If you’re not a match for our agency, it’s ok. Don’t say things you think will impress us, just be yourself and you and the right company will come together. She likes when people contact them even when they’re not hiring. Do not ask to have coffee or just drop by. Her suggestion is to follow her company on social media and interact and be engaged with thier social media online. Introduce yourself without imposing your will.
Other mentions about hiring decisions:
- Engage with the team- the owner is not always the one hiring.
- Show up to events.
- Don’t stalk them.
- Respect the process.
- Act appropriatly.
- Don’t ask questions like “what do you guys do”
The finale to our B-Side programming this year was a panel discussion featuring five local agency owners ready to share their personal stories about starting and running a creative business—the challenges, the rewards, as well as the unforeseen disasters.
We’re very excited and thankful to all of our panel members that participated! Thank You!!!
is the Founder and CEO of R+M, a brand experience agency focused on companies that positively impact the way we live through innovation in health, well-being and social responsibility. With more than 25 years in the marketing industry, including 20 as a senior executive, she is valued for her brand strategy, sales and marketing alignment, lead generation and communications planning expertise. Additionally, R+M achieved B Corporation certification having met rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency. Alongside leading companies such as Patagonia, Seventh Generation and Method, R+M is committed to use the power of business to solve social and environmental problems.
Beverly earned a Bachelors of Environmental Design from the College of Design at North Carolina State University, graduating Magna Cum Laude and first in her class. She is also a member of the first graduating class of the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, a residential high school for gifted and curious minds.
Ray Parrish is an artist at heart. After graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2000 with a BFA in Studio Art and a BA in Media Communications, he entered the world with a newfound love for interactive media and design. In 2003 Ray co-founded Cuberis, a web design firm that allowed him to fuel his design passion and serve a wide range of clients in the quickly growing Durham, NC area. Over time, Ray grew a team of talented folks that were just as passionate about their crafts as he was, and today Cuberis creates digital experiences for clients globally using open-source solutions and strategy-driven design.
After partnering with clients across many industries, Cuberis found museums and cultural institutions to offer the most rewarding opportunities to play in a world where art and interactive design intersect. The entire Cuberis team now works tirelessly to create digital bridges between the public and the inspiration, knowledge, and experiences that can be gained from museums and other cultural organizations.
Mihali Stavlas is founder and CEO of Mellonaid, an analytical + creative driven agency in Raleigh, North Carolina. At Mellonaid, Mihali helps clients capture and recreate their brand’s story by encompassing the full spectrum of all its touch points: identity, collateral materials, advertising, marketing, user experience, web design and interactive media.In addition to overseeing Mellonaid’s daily client strategy, Mihali also serves on the national AMA Professional Chapters Council and hosts a marketing radio talk show out of California called This Week in Marketing powered by wsRadio. Mihali lives in Durham, NC with his wife Laura and their two children.
Tobias Rose is the founder and principal of Kompleks Creative—a downtown Durham marketing and design firm with a heavy focus on exploring innovative creative solutions for their clients. Tobias is also an adjunct instructor at UNC-Chapel Hill and has served on a number of non-profit boards. A staunch supporter of Durham’s economic development and diversity, Tobias is committed to participating in initiatives to help Durham continue to grow
Janet Mobley is the Founder and Managing Partner of FatCat Strategies, LLC in Raleigh, NC. She started the company in 2002 in a spare bedroom in her house with a vision to provide comprehensive marketing support services to local businesses. In the years since, the vision has not changed, but the location and staff size have. Now, the company has eight full-time employees and up to four interns (depending on the semester) and is located on Hillsborough Street near NCSU.
During a typical day, Janet splits her time between working on client projects and running the business. Her client responsibilities include account management, project management, copywriting, content marketing, strategic planning, and web maintenance. She and her business partner, Jessica Berry, share responsibility for day-to-day operational tasks like bookkeeping, business planning, HR and more. Janet has a BA in English from NC State University. She grew up in Charlotte, NC, and moved to Raleigh in 1990.