Caley Adams

Founder of Wildes District

Caley Adams is the Founder & Creative Director of Wildes District, an NYC-based design studio that specializes in emerging women’s and e-commerce brands. Wildes District works closely with founders to build meaningful experiences that span multiple touchpoints — including brand, web, app, print, packaging, and more.

Caley has over a decade of design experience working for some of the world’s most celebrated brands, including Chanel, The Row, Rolex, Warby Parker, Birchbox, Ralph Lauren, and Barkbox.

After spending years building larger brands, she turned her focus towards working with early-stage companies to help them navigate the many phases and challenges of brand development, from pre-launch to post-launch life and created Wildes District in 2017.

Today, she leads the Wildes District team and partners with founders to help build their brands from the ground up, with visually compelling but scalable design. Their clients include some of the most of the moment names today including Andie Swim, Aurate, Chief, Clare Paint, Coterie, Elix Healing, Kin Euphorics, and Margaux.

Where did the idea for Wildes District come from?

I come from a small town in Maine, and “Wildes District” is a certain area of the town. What’s fun about the area is that there are several “old wive’s tales” about how the area got its name — one involving a tale of a mischievous monkey that was rumored to have lived in the woods after its ship ran aground offshore. No one really knows, but the myths and legends about the backstory are fun to speculate about.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I start work promptly around 9 each morning — my 2-year-old kid keeps me on a pretty consistent schedule daily. I try to take calls with clients and team members in the morning, and tackle the hardest stuff first. Then, when I naturally begin to lose energy around 2-3pm, I tackle the lighter stuff like emails, texts, misc. items on my to-do list, etc. This helps me get the harder stuff done and out of the way first. As a business owner, I’m also logging on after hours a few nights a week to stay on top of everything.

How do you bring ideas to life?

We work in a very collaborative way and our process heavily involves our clients. We try to connect with clients at least once a week or more to be in constant communication, and iteratively show work and respond to feedback as needed. Relationships are the most important and most exciting part of running a business and I love being able to work closely with founders.

What’s one trend that excites you?

I am all for the wild maximalism happening right now in design. Anyone who knows me knows that I have a very lively, expressive personality — so I struggled for a while when the “ultra minimalist” look was so in. I love injecting color and personality into brands in ways that make sense for them. After all, what’s the point of investing in design if you’re using it to simply blend in with everyone else?

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I live and die by my calendar. Ahead of each week, I review my calendar and plan out when I’m going to do even the smallest tasks. This keeps me moving the ball forward and helps me stay accountable to myself. I adjust accordingly as the week goes on if things have to get too hectic, but the act of rescheduling a task in my calendar at least makes me hyper-aware of what tasks are getting prioritized and deprioritized each week. It forces me to acknowledge when and why things are not getting done, and hold myself accountable when I start to see patterns emerging. For instance if there’s one task that keeps getting pushed week after week, at a certain point I have to stop and ask myself if this is really a priority, or worthy of my time.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Stop feeling weird about being weird! For a long time I hid my true self behind a mask of “professionalism”. For instance, I love tattoos but I was always focused on getting them in areas where they would never be visible. I love heavy metal and rock music, but never wore my band T-shirts outside of the house. I have eccentric interests but never discussed them with people I had just met, out of fear of coming across too odd. I realized at a certain point that I should stop trying so hard to conform and embrace the idea that I could be me, and that I could have many dualities and facets of my personality that seemingly contradict each other, and that’s ok.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

The Harry Potter series is terrible, and Taylor Swift songs are pretty bad too. There, I said it!

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Take your “to do” list each week and divide it into thirds (three tiers). The first tier are your items that MUST get done that week – hold yourself accountable to these items, and make sure you do them above everything else. The second tier of items should be your “nice to have/non-pressing” items. These are things that are not as important, but would be great if you could accomplish them if you have the time. Your third and final tier should be your “de-prioritize list”. Ideally, if you are methodical about this approach, your tiers will continue to elevate. So for instance, if I don’t complete the items in tier 2 this week, they get elevated to my tier 1 bucket next week.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Find ways to “make a new pie”. In business negotiations, there’s this concept of the zero sum game, one person wins and the other person loses. You can imagine this metaphorically as a pie…if I have a whole pie, then have to give you half, I’m now only left with half a pie. We need to abandon this way of zero-sum thinking and think of ways to instead “make a new pie” where you can find mutually beneficial, mutually agreeable outcomes that don’t require the other party to lose anything.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Being an entrepreneur means that almost every week there are a series of failures, big and small. For instance, maybe you lost the bid on that project, or your work didn’t quite hit the mark for a client. The best way to overcome failure is to see it not as an “end result” or outcome, but as a single data point on a long spectrum that will continue to evolve. Often, failures can be transformed into something new and positive over time.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

There’s this Japanese concept called “Jubensha” which I’m super interested in – where people play interactive games that unfold in real time, kind of like a live version of clue. I would love to see someone build this into a concept for the U.S. market, where perhaps people can go to an interactive theater type space, dressed in specific costumes, and play out specific narratives in real time.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Jurlique Moisture Replenishing Day Cream. I got a facial recently and the facialist gave me the best hot tip ever…Instead of buying $250 La Mer cream, which I was doing, Jurlique makes a similar product with a similar thick texture and quality for only $100. I was instantly hooked.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Harvest is a really great tool for time tracking. It allows me to collect data about how much time is being spent on various projects, so I can better scope projects in the future. Quickbooks is also a really great tool for accounting and invoicing – it allows everything to be all in one place. Finally, Figma is a fantastic design software that allows for real-time collaboration and is super simple to use (unlike programs like Photoshop or illustrator, which are programs for power users), but also super stable and well-built/thought out (unlike Sketch, which is glitchy, and not built for advanced-level designers).

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Bargaining for Advantage” by G. Richard Shell. Shell is a Wharton professor who specializes in Negotiation & business ethics, and has experience working with the FBI’s crisis negotiation (hostage) unit. This book is insanely helpful to read and I’ve recommended it so many times to so many people. It outlines tactics and tools for negotiating — not just in typical business terms, but in everyday life. It really changed my outlook on interacting with people in the world more broadly.

What is your favorite quote?

Measure twice, cut once.

Key Learnings:

  • Planning is everything. Plan out your goals and tasks for each week, then divide them into thirds according to priority. Make sure you tackle your top items.
  • Don’t feel weird about being weird. You don’t always have to blend in — the things that are different about you can become your unique competitive advantages.
  • Go into negotiations and interactions with intentions of getting a “win” for everyone. It’s not a zero sum game.
  • Failure is not an end result, it’s a temporary state of being in an ongoing journey.