Jessica Walsh is a force of nature in the creative world. Her roots working under Paula Scher and her impressive rise to Stefan Sagmeister’s studio by the age of 25 marked her as a designer to watch in the early days of her career. Walsh hasn’t stopped turning heads for her work, her career, or her dogged determination to transform the design industry for the better ever since.
Four years ago, Walsh founded her own agency, &Walsh – a dream she’d had since she was a teenager. Egetiki & Walsh, works with brands ranging from New York institutions like Barneys and NYT Magazine to startups like Pet Plate and Lex, while maintaining leadership roles in the social impact platforms she pioneered: 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 starting her company and her hopes for a new generation of female founders in the creative industry.
When did you know you wanted/what made you want to start your dealership?
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 a huge number of leadership opportunities available to women in this industry and I wanted to be a part of the change I want to see.
How has starting a creative office enriched your life?
Being the CEO and Creative Director of &Walsh has allowed me to do more with the platform and my position in the industry. Promoting our creative work, building our diverse team and growing our business increases my productivity and gets me up in the morning.
You’re also the founder of two non-profit organizations – what’s it like to balance those responsibilities with leading your organization?
Our work through social impact initiatives such as Ladies, Wine, & Design and Let’s Talk About Mental Health gives me a sense of purpose. Even when I have a lot of work on my plate, which is most of the time, I find the energy to continue to not connect with other people and try to do some good in a sometimes dark world. I have also met and connected with many wonderful creatives who inspire me in various industries, including my own team members and even our clients.
If you could go back to the beginning of your business, what advice would you give yourself?
There are a few things that come to mind. I would love to know early on that everyone experiences imposter syndrome. I know now that even creatives at the top of their fields go through waves of self-doubt, hate their work, or question what they’re doing. It used to scare me, but now I think that feeling is great! It means you challenge yourself and evolve. In fact, I look for projects like this where some aspect of it is new. Whether it’s a new medium or a client from a different culture with something new to learn, anxiety is a powerful emotion that can act as a great motivator.
You should be really nervous when you are bored or overconfident with your work. That’s when you risk creating mediocre work or doing the same things over and over again. Instead of letting stress consume you, I advise you to channel the energy into motivation to work even harder to develop a great idea.
I would love to know early on that everyone experiences imposter syndrome. I know now that even creatives at the top of their fields go through waves of self-doubt or hate their work. It used to scare me, but now I think that feeling is wonderful.
What is the biggest challenge you have overcome in your founding journey?
Time is always the biggest challenge. I feel an obligation to give 110% to any project we undertake. Our clients entrust us with incredibly important projects, and we have to do the best job we can, which takes a lot of time.
But clients are only one part of what I do. I also oversee the business, finance, recruitment, sourcing, our team, social media, new business and social projects, and also try to do personal projects or have a life outside of work.
If I could choose a superpower, I would have more time to do all the things I want to do. Until then, I just have to be selective about what I take on or give energy to because if you say yes to everything, you’ll drown and end up doing nothing good for anyone.
What is your advice for aspiring female founders today?
One of the most important things in business is to focus on the content or product. To build a brand, it means putting all your passion, love and energy into creating a product, service or organization that is truly great and unique. It should be something you really believe in, something the world needs, or a differentiator in the market. If you are a creator, focus on your passion and craft. What can you bring to the craft that is uniquely yours?
The most successful people I’ve met put product, content or work before fame and money. The people I know who only set out to be rich and famous didn’t get very far.
Second, while you have to work incredibly hard to reach leadership positions, don’t forget to enjoy the journey. So many of us get caught up in the end goal that we forget to step back and appreciate the process, our teams, and all the incredible people you meet along the way. I’ve been guilty of this in the past, and it’s something I definitely want to focus on with this new chapter.