Small Business Week interview: 3 designer-entrepreneurs from 99designs

Kaitlyn Ellison

It’s National Small Business Week, and to honor the event we wanted to find out what it was like for our designers who run their own businesses. Clients aren’t the only businesspeople around here!

Read through our interview to learn from these three designers’ experiences and get inspired to create your own small business — or at least support the ones around you.

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Tell us about your small business!

thislooksgreat: I’m running an Android design studio called Theme Junky where we create awesome themes for popular Android applications. We mainly focus on keyboard themes, but we’re also developing live wallpapers, Launcher themes, SMS themes and other cool stuff to make your phone look amazing. I’m very happy to have a great team working alongside me.

DesignTRIBE: I have started a small business called DesignsTRIBE, a design studio based in Karachi Pakistan. We worked on a lot of different sorts of contests on 99designs, and turned that work into a small business 😉

hitron: Mine’s called eJump and it’s about the efforts, and I might say adventures, of a team of 9 designers and coders to create fabulous projects for our clients. I know that sounds a little bit cliché, but we love what we do and we want to do it well – it’s that simple.

We’re a team of two project managers, two designers, and five programmers, and we do everything – from design to implementation, testing and delivery. We’ve been lucky enough to find cool clients from more than 10 countries in the world, and we love working with such open-minded and entrepreneurial people.

How did you get started?

DesignTribe

Arsalan Hanif, also known as DesignTRIBE

thislooksgreat: I got started a couple of years ago when a friend of a friend needed some financing for his themes. I was initially hesitant, considering I was doing great with my freelancing career, but after results started being visible, I went for it.

DesignTRIBE: Actually, it was not as difficult as I thought it would be. I entered a logo design contest at 99designs, and fortunately when I won that contest it almost doubled the amount of a month’s salary. So I decided to work on the site full-time, because I knew it would help me achieve my financial goals. I worked really hard – 12 to 14 hours per day, and that was the real key to success for me.

hitron: It started from one man, me, Bogdan, doing design work for 99designs. But soon I understood that I wanted to be able to deliver more. I wished I would be able to create complete websites because I had in mind so many cool and useful functionalities that could not be done just through design. So I started to learn frameworks for developing websites. You probably know what happened next — as much as I wanted to do both, I realized I couldn’t do them well at the same time. The next natural step was to call in a friend of mine to help with the coding and development part of websites based on my designs.

Things started to evolve and we got more and more orders, and we saw that two people were not enough. So we hired another coder, and then a designer, and before we knew it we had evolved into a team of nine fun and creative professionals working in a cool office in Bucharest, Romania.

In hindsight I think it was all based on our desire to perform and deliver good work when the client wanted it. A strong team that gets along and works together for common goals, I think was another key to the secret sauce.

What is rewarding about owning your own company?

unnamed

, also known as thislooksgreat

thislooksgreat: Growth. I’ve always craved it and running your own business is like fathering a child, without all the sleepless nights and yelling. I like the fact that I can surround myself with talented people and that I can build something that impacts the lives of millions of users all over the world, all from an office.

DesignTRIBE: Well, for me the most rewarding thing is now I’m tension free about money. I love the easy work flow, and it helps me focus on my studies. Yes! I’m studying design at Karachi University.

Hitron: Being bossy? No, I’m kidding. It’s super rewarding when the client is happy, when he or she appreciates our work or send a thank you e-mail to the team that was involved. Or when the client sends a new task, starts a new project with us, or recommends our work to others. You get that cozy and fuzzy feeling of being appreciated and that you matter. Who doesn’t want that?

Any tips for designers looking to start out in business?

Hitron

Chis Bogdan, aka hitron

thislooksgreat: Even if you play your cards right, sometimes you’ll still lose. You have to take that into account and be prepared for it. Circumstances beyond your control always change and you can’t fight it. You can struggle with it and go bald, or you can diversify your ventures and have a good night sleep.

I’d also suggest you always gamble with your own money. I’ve taken a very small loan in the past just to get started, but from then on I never borrowed a penny. Save up and then start your business. If it fails, which is quite likely at first, it will be your money and you won’t have to kick yourself for dragging someone else down.
Lastly, make sure you don’t go crazy chasing someone else’s dream. The internet is full of billionaires under 30, under 20, toddlers and infants. It’s very easy to get caught up in the ‘game,’ become a workaholic, and define yourself by your business. You should never feel more at home at your office than your actually place. I don’t think that’s what life’s all about, but hey, make sure you make that choice rather than being swept up into a path by default.

DesignTRIBE: Yes! Do not hesitate to just start taking steps. Whatever you imagine for yourself can be real, you just have to start with what you can do and work hard to build on that. There’s no shortcut to success!

Hitron: My gut feeling would be to say “Just do it,” and that would be true advice, but there’s a bit more to it. Try to find your own ways of doing things, not just copying this or that success formula, because it will be hard to adapt. Find smart people, even smarter than you, and get them in your team. And of course — when all else fails, quality work will not, so focus on that. And always ask for feedback.

Have you started your own business? Tell us about it in the comments!

The author

Kaitlyn Ellison
Kaitlyn Ellison

Kaitlyn is part of the Community Team at 99designs.com. She grew up in Boulder, CO and went to school at Northwestern University in Chicago. When she's not blogging, she spends her time having adventures and being generally creative. She's all about having new experiences as often as possible!

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