Russ Perry

Founder of Design Pickle

Russ Perry is the Founder and CEO of Design Pickle, the world’s most successful flat-rate graphic design service. Since its 2015 inception, Design Pickle has grown from 2 employees to over 500 globally, with thousands of clients and over 750,000 creative requests completed.

Russ Perry is the author of The Sober Entrepreneur. He and his wife, Mika, reside in Scottsdale, Arizona with their 3 daughters.

Where did the idea for Design Pickle come from?

Design Pickle was founded out of my need for reliable, fast, and affordable graphic design. I had an agency that did quite the opposite — we were unreliable, expensive, and slow. When that business did not succeed — no surprise there — I went into consulting. My clients still needed creative work done, and this was something I wanted to have done for me since I hadn’t done design work in ten years. I was struggling to find a resource that I could use, so I hired a project manager and a designer, and we decided to work on my consulting clients first. I noticed the system and everything that I was using for these clients was actually really automated and streamlined — which was a big change from my agency.

I put this into play internally with consulting clients, and finally had that “aha moment” where I said “you know what, I wonder if I can sell this graphic design system to others, and allow them access to this affordable, reliable, consistent graphic design.” And Design Pickle was born.

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

My typical day is: wake up, drink coffee, and practice my mantras and visualizations before I get out the door. Then I head right into either a run or a weight-lifting workout. We have a gym at Design Pickle, which is pretty convenient. From there, I go into a longer meditation, and then my days are basically blocked out. Mondays are for meetings, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are for creation and catching up, Thursdays are for more meetings and creation, and then Fridays are for closing out the week with my leadership team. My key for productivity is all about my ability to plan my day. I have a weekly printable I created to help — I look at my digital calendar every day, transfer that to my paper calendar, and create my action items and list of everything I want to accomplish that day.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I take action. Ideas are cheap, but what brings them to light is the willingness to just go. I consider my superpower to be my ability to take action and make decisions — I don’t need it all figured out, but I’ve learned that to move is the easiest way to create and build. Sometimes you’re right and sometimes you’re awfully wrong. If you’re right, you keep going. If you’re wrong, you change course. The ability to do this has allowed me to create faster and bigger than many of my peers, but the consequence is I’ve made many more mistakes.

So you have to be willing and okay with that. Whether they are financial mistakes, emotional mistakes, hiring mistakes, personal mistakes — you just have to be ok with them, because on the flip side, you’ll gain a lot more.

What’s one trend that excites you?

One trend exciting me right now is that in our current climate, people are seeing how solutions need to take shape and they’re taking actions on all fronts. People taking action, taking responsibility, speaking out, having their voices heard — I’m really excited to see where it all goes.

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

A habit that makes me more productive as an entrepreneur is my relentless attention to my calendar. Not only do I have a daily printable, but on my digital calendar, I practice time blocking.

I just spent the last two hours reorganizing my time blocking calendar for the rest of the year — this allows me to maximize every opportunity and every day that I have available. I can be obsessive about it, but for me, it’s something essential, like healthy eating.

What advice would you give your younger self?

The biggest piece of advice I would give to my younger self: stop drinking. I struggled with alcohol for a long time; I was an alcoholic. I’ve been sober now for over 6 years. I actually wrote a book called The Sober Entrepreneur chronicling my journey. I do believe if I had this advice drilled in my head a little bit earlier in life, things would have been a lot less stressful.

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

I think the key to most problems is in our inability to creatively communicate and communicate with emotion. I don’t know if many people would agree on this. People are so poor at communicating what they want in life, in their business, or in their organization, and for me, that is something that we could all do better — if we can communicate with more intent, a lot of the challenges we face in this world would be cleared up. I think we find ourselves in the deadlocks of politics and emotions because people aren’t communicating. They’re just going head-first into things; they aren’t able to step back. They’re fueled with emotions and so while intentions might be pure, they don’t get what they want because they aren’t able to take a breath to realize what it is they want to convey.

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

I cannot emphasize time blocking enough — manage your calendar, time block your days and weeks.

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

The relentless pursuit of paid advertising. If you are not doing paid advertising for your business, you essentially don’t believe in your business. Any business can benefit from paid advertising, from the B2B business, to the B2C business, to the start up, to the Fortune 500. It’s not always for direct conversions — which most people think of for paid advertising — there are so many ways to do it. This has helped Design Pickle grow; in fact, our entire growth model for the next three years is dependent on the ability to advertise and get our brand in front of the entire world. We do that on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and are looking at other channels we can explore while building a robust paid advertising team.

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

I closed my business. I didn’t sell it — I voluntarily closed it. It was hard; I remember crying as I threw all of our business documents in the dumpster on my very last day. It was just so filled with emotion. I overcame it by reflecting on all of the lessons from the things leading up to the closure — things that could have been done differently and better. I used that as fuel to build a different business — AKA, Design Pickle — that was the complete opposite of my previous ones, learning from all of those mistakes. I don’t regret the original business, because it gave me the insights and the “aha moments” to be where I am today.

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

I think the outdoor patio furniture business is broken. If I was to give business advice, it’s to think about how you could create the Warby Parker, the AWAY luggage, or Casper Mattress of outdoor patio furniture. I think there’s a huge market opportunity for a direct-to-consumer outdoor furniture brand — something that’s modern, high-quality, affordable, easy to buy, and not the cumbersome, clunky experience of what patio furniture is currently.

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

The best hundred dollars I recently spent was on my last date night with my wife. I think the key to our marriage — we’ve been married 11 years — is regular connection and taking the time for just the two of us. Because if you’re married, and your relationships aren’t powerful at home, then you can’t be clear in business or as an entrepreneur.

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

Slack. We don’t even really use email inside of our company — it’s all in Slack. Specifically, the Gmail integration — if you receive an email from an outside person and want to share it with a coworker, you can just click a button and it’s automatically posted to their Slack channel. It’s like our water cooler and how we run so much of our business, especially when we’re working remotely.

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

Deep Work by Cal Newport. If you aren’t focusing on how you can work deeper and smarter, you are missing a huge opportunity, and this book helps immensely there.

What is your favorite quote?

“You have to be selfish before you can be selfless.” I might have made this up, but it probably exists somewhere. You have to take care of yourself before you can take care of everything else — you can be Mr. or Mrs. Volunteer all the time, but if your own tanks are empty, you aren’t effective.

Key Learnings:

  • Turn your mistakes into ideas and action
  • Be strong and confident in your decisions to advance as an entrepreneur (and be ok with the missteps)
  • The best creation comes when you have your time managed and organized