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You started Noise 13 less than two years out of school. How did you find the confidence to launch your business so soon? I think the confidence came from both growing up in a family-owned business and having that ‘big picture’ idea that someday I wanted my own studio. This confidence was supported by working for two design firms where I was responsible for more than just design work, doing everything from proposals and invoices to leading a team. I had also worked as a freelancer during school and was used to interfacing directly with clients. The main push to start my own business happened when I went on vacation and came back to realize I was underappreciated where I was, and I made the rash decision to quit on the spot. It was a really bad day that turned out to be the best decision ever.

What design work are you most proud of? Any of the projects where we were fully a part of the brand as a whole and had a great client/team relationship. Not all projects turn out exactly as you would have chosen visually, but when we are solving the client’s needs and connecting the end result with the consumer in a positive way, I feel the most successful. Recent examples would be the BAMO website, Eat Drink SF 2014, and two years of projects with Uber.

What inspired you to start the Pow.wow Network for female business leaders? Pow.wow came about when I asked my connections for help when I had to hire my first full-time employee. I had no idea what went into hiring someone, and I needed some help and advice. At that point I had had interns and even a business partner the first year, but never a paid employee. After chatting with a few friends who were also entrepreneurs, I realized we all had advice that could be helpful to someone else in my circle. I love to connect people, so with a few emails and calls, I had a dozen or so ladies at the first event. It just took this one gathering to know we could all benefit from meeting more regularly. Give it a name, invite the ladies to share wine and conversation, and you have a group.

What have you learned about female entrepreneurs through Pow.wow? Women tend ask for help less frequently than men. I think there is an overall feeling that we need to take care of ourselves and prove we can do it. Women also seem better at multitasking, and they seem a bit more open to supporting their peers even when they are in the same industry.

How does food inspire you as a designer? I just love food. I love the way it brings people together both over the table and in the process of the creation. Food and cooking is a process of taste, color, smell and the integration of care and understanding of where that food comes from. I can find inspiration in the colors and shapes of the stacks of beautiful food and the layout of a chef’s prepared dish. Cooking and dining is very similar to the brand experience. Everything—from the presentation to the smell to the service to who you are with—matters in the overall memory of that experience.

In San Francisco, we have an amazing food scene that prides itself not only on highlighting the goodness of the ingredients, but also with supporting a very collaborative environment for everyone involved in food: the farmers, chefs and peers. The kitchen is a machine, from farmer to chef to dishwashers to managers. It works best when everyone has the same vision and respects the function of each team member. I like to think that Noise 13 runs this way internally and with our clients. We are extremely collaborative and sort of like a family.

You also serve on the board of Slow Food San Francisco and Seedling Projects. How do these extra involvements feed your design work? Many of our clients live in the food and beverage world. Being a part of these other communities allows me to gain deeper understanding of the world that supports and surrounds their businesses. It’s also wonderful to see new products emerge and give back by providing insight to these budding businesses. As an example, at the Good Food Awards, there is an industry day in January when they announce the winners. I am able to sit one on one with the producers of these food goods and provide insight, feedback and advice on their branding, marketing and packaging. This goes back again to being a connector and collaborator. I love the access and overlap of my clients working together and then giving back to their industries. Since I love food, this is one way I can learn and give back all at once.

What makes for an ideal client? Ideal clients have both an understanding of and appreciation for how important the whole brand experience is to their business. With consumer brands, we’ve found that the daily life of the consumer needs to be taken into account as much as style does. The “life” in lifestyle brands is what we are turning our focus to more and more. Ideal clients are also looking to build an honest relationship with their customers and provide a product or service that I either want or would highly recommend to others. Because we spend so much time with our clients, we need to get along in personality and working style.

What would you recommend to a designer looking to start her own design business fresh out of school? Either get some freelance experience or work for another small firm willing to share its knowledge. Be brave. Learn to be ok with people saying no.

What do you wish you had known before you launched your business? I wish I was paying more attention to the internet bubble. That first year was amazing, then it all stopped. I wish I had asked for more help and support, as I encourage others to do now. I was a bit too stubborn and headstrong, but I think that also helped me stick it out through two major economic downturns.

Dava Guthmiller is the founder and head of design at San Francisco-based branding firm Noise 13. She is also the founder of Pow.wow Network and sits on the board of Slow Food San Francisco, Seedling Projects (Good Food Awards), the Visual Media Alliance and Get Gone Traveler. Guthmiller graduated from the Academy of Art University, where she has also been an instructor. Her specialty lies in brand strategy for lifestyle consumer brands.
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