Welcome to our new column that explores the one element that almost every career decision is affected by—Risk with a capital “R.” Since every choice we make carries a risk, Good F***ing Design Advice co-founder Brian Buirge is going to examine both sides of the equation behind the decisions that creative entrepreneurs have to make. And joining him in this column is GFDA co-founder Jason Bacher who will be designing the visuals that accompany each piece. (Fittingly, the duo lead a workshop in The Art of Risk-Taking.)
In this second installment, Brian reflects on that time he and Jason decided to put the F-word in their company name and how, as years passed, what impact that has on GFDA's client business.
For the first few years of running Good F***ing Design Advice, I cringed whenever someone asked me what I did for a living. Telling someone you’re an entrepreneur can be a bit like saying you’re a future American Idol.
Good manners and social normalcy then, of course, bring about the inevitable follow-up question, “Oh, well, what’s the name of your company?”
My answer was always a sheepish, “It's uh…good f***ing design advice.” Which, in sticking with the analogy, was the equivalent of adding, “but, you know, I’m just scrubbing toilets until they call me back.”
I was naive in many ways as a young business owner, but, despite a few detractors, I was never ignorant of the stigma attached to the company name. While it clearly served its purpose of waking people up and getting them to pay attention to the messaging of our products, both my co-founder, Jason, and I constantly grappled with how to handle the name on the much more politically sensitive, client-facing side of our business.
Additionally, since we’d grown considerably in a short time, some parts sprouted into maturity while others lagged behind, causing our voice to crack and our feet to trip over themselves at the most inconvenient moments. The awkwardness of our growing pains occasionally left us with limited prospects in our client relationships. Although we had achieved international recognition in one arena, we were complete amateurs in others. More often than not, we found ourselves accepting suspicious, demanding clients, low budgets, and lengthy payment terms (One client took upwards of three years to pay the balance of an invoice, but what professional creative doesn’t have that all too familiar story?).
Since the majority of our early design consultation work was primarily acquired through referrals, our stopgap solution was to present ourselves simply as Brian and Jason — two guys who were getting their careers started. Thereby omitting any mention of GFDA for fear of losing the client. It was an exhausting recurrent problem.
For both legal and practical purposes, we discussed creating a separate entity for our client work, and even stumbled through some terrible conceptual ideas for how that entity could be branded. However, as the saying goes, the cobbler’s son goes barefoot. Ultimately we never actually addressed the issue directly. Fortunately, as time moved forward, it became clear that splitting ourselves was not necessary, and perhaps even ill-advisable.
Against all probability, it was possible for a business with the F-word in the name to develop into a state of maturity. The brand strategy grew with the business, and we did a better job of understanding and embracing who we were. That resolve began attracting clients who appreciated the skill and guts that came with our approach, and who genuinely wanted deeper insights into their cultural identities and practical applications of risk-taking in their work.
Does GFDA miss out on a clients because of the name? Absolutely…but, then again, who gets every client they go after? No matter what our name is, we have to be a good fit for our clients or the work suffers and everyone is miserable. It saves a lot of time and money to figure that out as soon as possible. Besides, nothing is more attractive than having the confidence to be yourself. That’s a risk worth taking.
More importantly, our workshops have helped so many other people discover their own cultures, and live up to their own visions, that I now look forward to saying that I run Good F***ing Design Advice. It’s either going to start an interesting conversation, or preemptively end a boring one.