12 Lessons We've Learned In 12 Years

Kim McMullen
Flipside Insights

Today marks 12 years in business for us. A dozen years making great creative for good clients—no jerks. Lucky us!

Here are a few things we've learned along the road:

  1. Business isn't a one-way street.
    In 12 years we've teetered on the edge of bankruptcy and on the edge of stardom. We've struggled to make payroll and we've had enough in the bank to treat the whole team to gifts and good things. We've laid people off when we didn't want to but we had to and we hired people when we didn't have the money but we just knew they were special and we had to make it work. We cried. We laughed. We were duped. We were surprised. We were stressed out. We were on easy street. Business is a rollercoaster, baby.
  2. Team is everything.
    E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G. If you don't have good people who like working together, you have nothing. Many people have come and gone from Flipside since our humble beginnings. None of them left on a burning bridge. Build a great team, and the business will come.

  3. Nothing is urgent.
    If our business exploded tomorrow (we really hope it doesn't) and none of our deadlines were met as a result, zero of our clients would implode. 100% of them would find some other way to get the work done. Their stress level might be affected but overall their businesses would be fine. When we realized this, we stopped doing crappy work to meet arbitrary rushed deadlines, and started doing great work that takes a little longer but delivers long-lasting goal-crushing as a result. There are no fires, unless there's a fire. It's okay to pause and choose good work over fast work.

  4. Boundaries matter.
    We started this business with a line in the sand—NO JERKS. But a few slipped through the cracks. Because we wanted to be nice. And accommodating. And the money was good. And the project was almost over. And... no more. We will not be bullied. We start relationships with mutual respect, and if the pendulum swings, we leave. Because our line is in cement now. Great creative for good people. No jerks. We will not do crappy work. We will not work for people with hidden agendas. We will not be jerks and we will not work with jerks. And we'll happily tell you when you cross the line.

  5. Put your people first
    When you treat your team well, they like coming to work. When they like coming to work, they do good work. When the company does good work, we thrive. It's a no-brainer. For instance, if you're still giving people 2 weeks of vacation only because the law says you don't have to give more, increase it to 4. At least. Because they are people, not lemmings. And you're not a dictator, right?

  6. Give back.
    The best thing we ever did was decide to use our business as a vehicle for good. We did free work for non-profits. We started our own non-profits—Free Brand and The Great Sandwich Make, we volunteered as a team, we gave paid time off for teammates who wanted to volunteer. In 2010, our accountant said "You need to save money. Let's stop all this charitable nonsense." We smiled and fired him on the spot. He didn't get it. Even when we were renegotiating the lease to save a couple of bucks because we didn't know if we could pay the team on Friday or not, we never ever lost sight of this higher purpose and we never ever stopped giving. Because success is no fun if you're just taking. Giving is a winners' game.

  7. Coffee shops make great offices
    When we got rid of our office in 2013, naysayers called it Business Suicide. We called it Smart. Turns out, you don't need to show up to the same box every damn day to do great work. In fact, we had some of our meatiest discussions around the benched table at Lost + Found. We drummed up big ideas in the corner at Bean Around the World. And we met some pretty great folks too. Offices are boring.

  8. Bending the rules is good. For the most part.
    "Disruptive" has become a buzz word that we totally don't love because it's being carelessly used. Let's be disruptive. Let's push the envelope. Let's be different. This is all really good thinking—but only if disruption is the way to go. Only if it's fruitful and clever. We love bending rules. We love breaking molds. We love going left when the rest are going right. But we choose to bend only when going against the grain is smart. Disruption for the sake of disruption is dumb. Disruption for the sake of changing the game? That's the best.

  9. It's ok to say no.
    We made a logo once that our client directed the crap out of. And we kept saying ok, ok, ok, to every one of her whims. Until the logo became a clip-arted Frankenstein that was terrible, off-brand, not strategic, and all around the worst logo in the history of the world in our opinion. One of our teammates quipped: "Even Jesus would hate this logo." And we did it because we said Yes. And we all felt pretty gross about it in the end. From that day forward, we committed to pushing back for the sake of great work. For choosing to be confident that we know how to make brilliant things. To trusting our judgement and not being afraid to say "No, that's a bad idea and here's why." After we told a client recently that his idea was, quite frankly, terrible, he said "Well, that hurt a little but thanks for telling me. I only want amazing. Give me something amazing." And we did.

  10. Apologize when you fuck-up then fix it.
    We've made some pretty big, ginormous, mondo mistakes. Ones we wanted desperately to sweep under a rug. But elephants always make themselves seen. So we decided on this policy and it's worked for us this far: 1. Admit the mistake as soon as we know we've made it and apologize for it. 2. Don't defend it. It was dumb. 3. Have a solution on hand and in the works and on the go. 4. Fix it. Even if it costs alot of money. Even if you have to stay all night. Fix it.

  11. Don't eat your lunch at your desk.
    Space away from work is good for mental health. Nothing is so urgent that you have to pound back last night's lasagna while working on spreadsheets. Zero things are so important that you don't have time to move locations and chew in piece. Give yourseld space. Work isn't everything. And a little time away midday makes the time you're back in front of the screen more productive. Plus, you'll totally enjoy lunch more when you're conscious of eating it.

  12. Nice is a good thing.
    Before I started Flipside, my boss said "You have to stop being so nice if you want to move up. There are no nice people at the top." He was wrong. Be nice to yourself. Be nice to your team. Be nice to your clients. Be nice to your vendors. Be nice to students who call and ask for advice. Be nice to the cleaners and caterers. Don't be dick. Nice comes back in spades.

Want to work with us? Introduce yourself!

Kim McMullen

Kim gets up before the sun, drinks green juice on conference calls, says Bam! when she's proud of the team, and solves marketing challenges on mountain tops.