Jessica Walsh is a force of nature in the creative world. Her roots under Paula Scher and her impressive rise to become a partner in Stefan Sagmeister’s studio at the age of 25 made her a designer to watch early in her career. Walsh hasn’t stopped drawing attention to his work, his career trajectory, or his stubborn determination to transform the design industry for the better ever since.
Four years ago, Walsh founded her own agency, &Walsh – a dream she’s had since she was a teenager. As head of &Walsh, she works with brands ranging from New York establishments like Barneys and NYT Magazine to startups like Pet Plate and Lex, while maintaining her leadership roles in the social impact platforms she has been part of. the pioneer: Ladies, Wine & Design And Let’s talk about mental health.
Walsh recently sat down with Creative Boom to share the insights she’s gained since founding her agency and her hopes for a new generation of female founders in the creative industry.
When did you know you wanted/what prompted you to create your agency?
One of the reasons I started &Walsh is that only 0.1% of creative agencies are founded by women, and the numbers are even lower for women and non-binary people of color. There are an abysmal number of leadership opportunities for women in this industry, and I wanted to be part of the change I want to see.
How has starting a creative agency enriched your life?
Being CEO and Creative Director of &Walsh has allowed me to do more with my platform and position within the industry. Moving our creative work forward, building our diverse team, and growing our business boost my productivity and wake me up in the morning.
You’re also the founder of two nonprofit organizations – how does it feel to balance those responsibilities with your agency leadership?
Our work with social impact initiatives, such as Ladies, Wine, & Design and Let’s Talk About Mental Health, gives me purpose. Even when I have a lot of work on my plate, which is more often than not, I find the energy to keep connecting with other humans and trying to do some good in a sometimes dark world. I’ve also met and connected with many wonderful creatives who inspire me across different disciplines, including members of my own team and even our clients.
If you could go back to the beginning of your activity, what advice would you give yourself?
There are a few things that come to mind. I wish I had known early on that everyone suffers from impostor syndrome. I now know that even creative people at the top of their field go through waves of self-doubt, hate their work, or question what they do. Before, it scared me, but now I think that feeling is great! It means you are challenging yourself and growing. In fact, I look for projects like this where some aspects are new. Whether it’s a new medium or a customer from a different culture with something new to learn, anxiety is a strong emotion that can be a great motivator.
You should really be nervous when you are bored or overconfident in your work. This is when you risk creating poor work or doing the same thing over and over again. Instead of letting anxiety consume you, I advise you to channel energy into motivation to work even harder to develop a good idea.
I wish I had known early on that everyone suffers from impostor syndrome. I know now that even creative people at the top of their field go through waves of self-doubt or hate their work. Before, it scared me, but now I think that feeling is awesome.
What is the biggest challenge you have overcome in your journey as a founder?
Time is always the biggest challenge. I feel an obligation for any project we take on to give it 110%. Clients entrust us with incredibly important projects and we have to do the best we can, which takes a lot of time.
But customers are only part of what I do. I also oversee business, finance, recruiting, resources, our team, social media, new business and social projects, and also try to do personal projects or live outside of work.
If I could choose any superpower, I would have more time to do whatever I want to do. Until then, I just have to be selective about what I do or give energy to because if you say yes to everything, you’re going to drown and end up doing nothing good for anyone.
What is your advice to aspiring founders today?
One of the most important things in business is to focus on content or product. To build a brand means putting all your passion, love and energy into creating a truly great and unique product, service or organization. It should be something you truly believe in, something the world needs, or a differentiator in the market. If you are a creator, focus on your passion and your craft. What can you bring to your profession?
The most successful people I’ve known prioritize product, content, or work over fame and money. People I know who have decided to be rich and famous have never gone too far.
Second, although you have to work incredibly hard to advance to leadership positions, remember to enjoy the journey. So many of us are attached to the end goal that we forget to step back and appreciate the process, our teams, and all the amazing people you meet along the way. I’ve been guilty of this in the past, and something I really want to focus on with this new chapter.