Andrea Heuston is the founder and CEO of Artitudes Design, a 25-year-old experiential design firm in the Seattle area that works with Fortune 500 companies (Microsoft, Starbucks and Expedia to name a few) as well as startups and nonprofits. She started the business with a $5,000 loan from her Grandma Gerry that she used to buy a Macintosh computer and business cards and has never looked back.
Pre-COVID Andrea and her team specialized in designing and executing corporate events – from visual concepts, video, motion graphics and animation to presentation design to speaker training and support – for events from 5 to 50,000 attendees. These days they’re helping their clients pivot to virtual events.
She is a prolific voice on women’s and leadership topics in the workforce. Her LinkedIn article, “Never Apologize for Being a Strong Woman” is one of the most viewed articles on LinkedIn, with over 1.3 million interactions. “Leading Like a Woman” became the 3rd most viewed article on LinkedIn.
She is the host of “Lead Like A Woman” focusing on empowering women leaders to empower others through topical discussions and interviews with female leaders.
Andrea has been a member of various business roundtable groups for over 15 years. More often than not, she is one of the only women at the table. She’s learned how to stay true to herself, not emulate male leadership traits in order to fit in, but instead lead like the unapologetic strong, feisty woman she is.
Where did the idea for Artitudes Design come from?
At 24 I was running the creative services department at an energy systems engineering firm in Seattle when the company was purchased by a French firm and they had me lay off the entire team of seven designers and then laid me off. However, two days later they called me back and said we made a mistake – we need to do some rebranding and we need you and a team member to come back. I decided I didn’t want to put my fate in somebody else’s hands anymore, so I jumped in my car, drove 60 minutes to Olympia, the state capitol, got a business license, and the energy systems firm became my first client.
I also grew up with a father who had traditional values around gender roles, favoring female domesticity over entrepreneurship and leadership. He didn’t believe that women should be in business. The realization that I could run a company and I could do it well was also the attraction, motivation, and inspiration for founding Artitudes Design.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
The very first thing I do is work out. That usually means taking a walk outside or on a treadmill, and I try to make it at least an hour. That time is sacrosanct, and my executive assistant knows not to book any meetings first thing unless it’s an emergency or unavoidable. Then I usually check in with my team, have a conversation with the main players — my business operations manager, the VP of Creative Services and various project managers, just to see what we’re looking at for the day, how things are going to roll out and where I am needed. Based on that, I have at least two or three client calls. Other calls/meetings during the day could include new business pitches with the team. On Mondays we have an all-hands meeting and on Thursdays we have a leadership team meeting.
I also try to do some learning and have at least two learning opportunities a week on topics where I don’t know things or to push me out of my comfort zone. For example, I recently joined a call with the US Women Chamber of Commerce to learn about government contracting 101 because it’s not something I know anything about. I also took a class on how to negotiate from a hostage negotiator with the FBI.
I might also be prepping for or interviewing a guest for my podcast – Lead Like A Woman – where I focus on empowering women leaders to empower others by interviewing female leaders and sharing their stories and journeys.
I’m involved in a lot of groups — WBENC (Women Business Enterprise National Council), Women Presidents’ Organization, Entrepreneurs’ Organization and others. On any given day I might be involved in a meeting, networking event or class/seminar with one of those. These connections and conversations with like-minded peers have been invaluable to me over the years, both for my development as a leader and entrepreneur and in helping me grow the business and even avoid costly mistakes. It’s also created a network for me of amazing, strong, supportive, talented women who inspire me every day. Women who were, in part, the inspiration for starting my podcast.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I love ideation. We do a lot of ideation together as a team. During what we call our TBD Meeting (it stands for The Business of Design) people share ideas, we talk about them, brainstorm, decide what’s the strongest solution for a project or client and then how to flesh them out and bring them to life.
I’m also an avid reader and consumer of news and content. I pull information from as many different sources as possible including deliberately looking for those that aren’t always aligned with my current way of thinking. I’m constantly looking for new information, not to support the ideas I have but to show me new ways of doing things or inspire me to explore new paths and ideas.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I’m not sure if it’s a trend or a necessity forced on us by COVID, but as they say, necessity is the mother of invention, and I love what I’m seeing in the virtual event space. There’s so much exciting innovation taking place. There are so many ways you can re-imagine your content for a small screen, re-imagine how you brand, re-imagine how you have a conversation with clients. We are leveraging new technologies that create compelling and dynamic virtual events that more people can be part of. We’re no longer limited by geography for events or limited by the size or layout of a room and we’re doing things for clients that they would never have considered pre-COVID.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I practice time blocking. By dedicating a certain number of hours to just one task, you “block off” your time (and your mind) from other projects – and the myriad of other demands on your attention. I block time every day to answer emails and other communications. I block time for cooking. I even block time for exercise. It’s important for me to get each of those things done each day so I create space in my calendar that can’t be taken up by something else. It’s a nice way to be productive but also helps create your priorities.
Another thing that helps make me productive is relinquishing control of my calendar to my fabulous business operations manager Carrie, and some great tools. Carrie is automatically copied on all my emails and is in charge of my calendar and booking meetings and events. I have a tendency to double- or triple-book myself. By abdicating that responsibility to Carrie, I have a more efficient schedule that allows me to focus my efforts and energy on bigger picture things.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Success is a series of failures and it’s okay to fail. I have found over many years that my willingness to take risks is in direct relation to my ability to succeed. The more risks I take, the more I fail forward, the more successful I’ve become. I look at “failures” as a stair step to something greater. I believe that the only way to truly succeed is to have failed in the past.
Also, success in my eyes isn’t always about money. Rather, it’s becoming more comfortable in my own skin, being able to forcefully stand behind my ideas, and being able to listen without judgment, and rally around an idea in a tangible way. The economic success seems to follow as I grow through my willingness to fail forward.
I feel like over the years, as I get older, the sandpaper of life has smoothed out some of the hard sharp edges, and I’m a lot happier with myself, but I also give a lot of more grace to other people, and I feel like if I had figured that out earlier, I would have been much more, successful and happier.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Some people believe that life is just circumstances and we’re battling against them, I don’t believe that. I choose to be positive. It’s the only thing under my control. It’s a big part of my book that will be released in April 2021 —Stronger on the Other Side: A Guide to Getting from Victim to Champion. It’s about really believing that your destiny is up to you, that external forces are not at play because really, I can’t control what happens, I can only control how I react, and how I react shows my mettle, it shows my character. I’m the only one in charge of my own happiness.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I take care of myself first and foremost because I have been in a place where I’ve lost my health before, and I wasn’t taking care of myself, and if I’m not taking care of myself, I’m not worth anything to anybody, not my family, not my friends, not my community, and definitely not my business, employees and clients.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Investing in and building solid relationships. I am a connector at heart, and so I love to connect with other people. They may not be somebody I do business with ever, they may not be somebody I do business with right away, but there’s always a contact there that I can ask for a referral, or I can request to meet somebody else, so relationships are how I’ve built my business in a positive, genuine way. But you need to build them because you genuinely want those relationships, not just because you see those people as adding to your Rolodex.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Hiring has been my Achilles Heel and was the source of my biggest mistakes early on. My first hire stole from me, my bookkeeper/best friend helped, and my third hire was a disaster.
But I learned from it and we now have an intelligent process in place.
My first employee – the office manager – had been recommended to me by two different sources, neither of whom knew each other so I thought that was a good sign and she was a solid hire. She didn’t work out. It was only after I fired her that I discovered she’d been embezzling from me, and the bookkeeper—who had been my maid of honor at my wedding—was party to it, knowingly signing false expense reports. I signed a lot of checks not knowing what I was signing for. It was a lesson to learn, that I needed to be on top of finances and I couldn’t even trust somebody who I believed was my best friend. I now review all payments and sign all checks.
The third hire was an incredible interview. She did such a great job. I was so impressed with her that I offered her a job without checking references or doing a background check. It turns out she had been in jail and she had anger management issues. She threw a chair at a contractor working with us which almost resulted in a costly lawsuit.
Even though most of our people come to us through employee referrals, we now have a hiring process and always do background checks.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I think there’s a need for a tech tool that helps creatives collaborate virtually. In a small creative services firm like ours, our best work comes from collaborating on solutions and ideas for clients. The current tools that exist aren’t robust enough for virtual collaboration. We can see each other, talk together and collaborate vocally. However, the technology for whiteboarding together or creating together is lacking. Most of what’s available are built more for a quiet back and forth and don’t let you get loud and crazy in a virtual room together, and I think that’s necessary for me and my team for a really good collaboration and ideation. If any of your readers come up with something, please make sure they let me know!
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
The best $100 I recently spent was on a new light for video conferencing, I was in the middle of a meeting a couple of weeks ago with 40 people, and it was in the evening, and when the lighting went down, I evidently turned a weird shade of orange. So much so that a couple of people commented on it and suggested I should fix it. So, I bought a new video conferencing light and system, and I spent a little bit more money than some people do. It was around $90 but it is so fabulous and worth it.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Without a doubt, it’s Microsoft’s Office 365. We use it for everything. We use Microsoft Teams for collaboration, and we use SharePoint for storage. There’s so much about the Microsoft services that have helped me be productive, and my team as well.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I tell everyone to read Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success by Adam Grant. It’s a fantastic book and he’s an amazing author, I had my entire team read it and we did a book club on it. I also tell people I mentor to read it. It’s about giving personalities vs. taking personalities and how those who are givers initially might not look like they’re successful but over time they are. It talks about how you can work with each of them, but for the utter and most complete success is to turn to a giving way of being and to help your team do that as well.
What is your favorite quote?
This Dr. Seuss quote is one of my favorites: “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”
I spent most of my life trying to prove myself because I was never good enough in the eyes of my parents and worrying about how other people view me. But this quote reminds me that If I’m being authentic to who I am, I’m going to connect with the people I need to connect with, and the others don’t matter. It’s a reminder to me that those who love me, love me no matter what.
● Authenticity creates value in your business in your life.
● Building relationships is key to building your business.
● Don’t be afraid to fail. Setbacks fuel growth and future success.
● Invest in yourself and be a constant learner. If you’re not learning and progressing, you’re staying in the same place or going backward.
Carlyn runs the day-to-day publishing operation here at ideamensch and interacts with our awesome customers and entrepreneurs. She is likely editing this with a cat on her lap.