The Art of Storytelling: How Kelsey Specter is Connecting Brands to People
Kelsey Specter, Founder of Wild Side Design Co., is on a mission to craft immersive brand experiences that connect and captivate storytellers and audiences.
Learning design on her own, Kelsey was able to gradually build out the brand services she could offer clients. Now, Wild Side Design Co. is an award-winning, full-service creative studio that crafts brand experiences for conscious companies.
We asked Kelsey about the experiences that paved the way for launching her company, the most rewarding and challenging moments of her journey, and the lessons she hopes to share with others starting out in entrepreneurship.
Q: Tell us the story behind your company’s founding: How and why did you start working on Wild Side Design Co.?
A: I never planned to work with design, strategy, or even marketing—it was a child of necessity that grew into a passion. After graduating first in my high school class, completely disillusioned by the American education system and suffering from burnout, I decided not to go to college—much to the despair and disapproval of my friends, families and mentors. Instead, I booked a one-way ticket to Brazil with $600 to my name, hoping to figure out my own way in the world.
While searching for opportunities to make some money, my now-husband and I began to teach ourselves web and graphic design. Everything we learned came from Google, YouTube, or trying things out for ourselves. We found our first clients by going door to door in our local neighborhood, and cold-selling salons and restaurants. Back then, we used to charge $150 for a website. Eventually, our quality improved and we decided to focus on American clients who understood the value of branding, betting early on Pinterest ads to extend our reach, and slowly expanding and refining our offerings. Since then, we've had the privilege to work with celebrities, multinational NGOs, award-winning beauty brands, and more.
The agency has been an amazing point of contact for learning and networking with other business owners. One connection in particular has led to the co-founding of our very own retail planner brand, Smart Planner Co, which received four seven-figure buyout offers in Q1 of this year alone. You never know when a client can become a potential business partner.
Q: What problem does your business solve?
A: Most often, existing brands come to us after a few years in the market, once they know their offering is valid but they're ready to grow. They're usually at a stage where they're looking to gain more clarity and purpose in their offerings, raise their prices, pitch their business or product to investors to raise additional capital, secure wholesale or retail partnerships, expand their products overseas, reposition themselves for a different market, or just professionalize their overall brand image. We help them come up with a tailored plan to achieve their goals.
We have clients who come to use for one-time projects, and we have ongoing partnerships that have been thriving for more than five years now. This includes everything from brand strategy and positioning to visual identity to product experience design to website and ecommerce. We have a unique approach combining psychology and Jungian archetypes, market data, design principles, and as we like to say—a pinch of magic!
Q: What are some of the most meaningful impacts your business has had so far?
A: The biggest shift for us as an agency was when we made a commitment to our environmental and social initiatives. We wanted to not only work with brands we resonated with, but brands that were actively making a positive impact. Simultaneously, we joined 1% for the Planet and became Patron Sponsors of The Rainforest Trust. Living in Brazil for the past seven years, environmental protection is very near and dear to my heart. Incorporating that into our agency was a crucial turning point in our positioning as a brand. Because of this, we've been able to partner with so many amazing brands to get their mission and initiatives out into the world. We want to be a part of the new wave of conscious brands and make sure their voices are heard.
Q: Have you ever felt like you’re “different”? If yes, in what ways has this contributed to your journey as an entrepreneur?
A: I was always the black sheep of my family, wanting to do things differently than everyone else. With my fierce independent streak, I preferred to learn by doing and teaching myself, and would often lose patience with the more traditional public school system while also finding myself addicted to achieving within its parameters. I eventually chose to not go to college, which was very controversial. I wanted the freedom and opportunity to make it on my own, without an institution behind me.
When it came to starting a business, it was a huge advantage to have that mentality. The lack of dogma or curriculum to adhere to was so liberating and made the whole process feel like a grand adventure. I was able to discover the methodology and approach that worked for me, from experience and from the proven results of that experience. It also taught me that there is no "normal" in entrepreneurship. Those who are normal are forgotten. In order to make an impact, you have to be different. You have to take risks and to look at something that makes most people uncomfortable and see your potential there.
Q: What’s been the hardest and most rewarding part of your entrepreneurial journey?
A: You're more likely than not doing things the wrong way. Let me rephrase that: it's impossible to get it "right." That doesn't exist. There is only doing your best and figuring it out, and you will make mistakes—lots of them. It's unavoidable. In the beginning, I was so caught up in perfectionism that it got in the way of growth and progress. I struggled—and still do—to relinquish control and delegate, to organize myself and plan for the long term, and to change course when emotionally invested in a plan of action that I knew wasn't going to get the result I wanted. I made more than a few costly mistakes, putting my trust in the wrong people, not having contracts in place before starting work, and more.
But once I accepted these limitations and realized that everyone struggles with these obstacles, it was almost a rite of passage. It made it easier to work on improving them. I guess the lesson is that the journey is the destination.
Q: What’s the biggest misconception that others have around entrepreneurship?
A: I think there's a certain glamor associated with being an entrepreneur, like it's this dream lifestyle where you make your own hours, only do what you love all day and don't answer to anyone. And while that is somewhat true, it's often the very opposite of glamorous—crazy hours, no boss to help when things get beyond your scope, having to learn and wear all the hats. I read once that entrepreneurs are the only people who ditch the 40-hour workweek to work 80 hours a week. And there's some truth and humor in that. Also, even when it appears we have things figured out, the truth is we really don't. We're always a work in progress and often feel we have no idea what we're doing!
Q: We dare you to brag: What achievements are you most proud of?
A: Whenever our clients succeed we celebrate as if their achievements were our own. We've had clients go on to get Emmy nominations, primetime TV features, international beauty awards, Forbes profiles, and more. For me, one of my favorite moments is seeing our designs on shelves—the result of a labor of love between our team and our client. I have a collection of all the client packaging and product designs we've done over the years, and it's an amazing feeling to see how far the reach and impact of our work is. Recently, our planner brand, which has sold over 200,000 copies to date, was nominated as the Best Productivity Planner of 2021 by Forbes, which has to be the icing on the cake.
Q: What would you tell your younger self if you were to start your entrepreneurial journey all over again?
A: First, be patient and resilient. One year from today, you'll be glad you started today. It seems like you might not be making progress, but it's because you're in the thick of it and can't see the forest for the trees. Second, don't aim for perfect—aim for finished. You can revise and perfect as you go along. It's more important to just get it launched and then go from there once you have real data to guide you.
Q: What’s next for you and your company?
A: As an agency, we're looking to expand into more educational content. A lot of people want to know about our method such as brand archetypes and using psychology in brand design. And so we want to help people to learn and apply these principles on their own because they're universal. We love our clients, but we can only take on so many at once. This expansion allows us to expand our reach and to impact a wider range of people and businesses around the world.
As an entrepreneur, I'm taking my experience building successful brands for other people and putting it to good use. In Q4, we'll be inaugurating an eco farm hotel in rural Brazil. And in parallel, I'll continue to work on our multiple other business ventures and investments. The diversification is good for my retirement and for my adventurous soul!
Kelsey is a member of Dreamers & Doers, a private collective that amplifies the entrepreneurial pursuits of extraordinary women through thought leadership opportunities, authentic connection, and access. Learn more about Dreamers & Doers and subscribe to their monthly The Digest for top entrepreneurial and career resources.
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.