Shannon Hughes – Co-Founder of Spur Studio

[quote style=”boxed”]”Disconnecting from the world for a few moments is usually the best way to reconnect with yourself and your creative superpowers.”[/quote]

Shannon answered Montanaʼs siren song of steep peaks and endless adventure after graduating from the University of Vermont in 2002 with the ultimate in useful, in-demand degrees: a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature! As you may expect, she was instantly in-demand, hounded endlessly by a number of high power corporations looking for an expert in postmodern authors like Don DeLillo and Thomas Pynchon. She fearlessly turned them all down to pursue her passion for small scale, organic farming and found herself serendipitously living and working on Purple Frog Gardens in Whitefish, Montana. During her time in Whitefish she began working for then-gubernatorial candidate Brian Schweitzer who was elected to the Governor’s Office in 2004. Following Schweitzer’s election to office, Shannon moved to the state capitol, Helena, and worked in the Governor’s Office first on policy staff and later as a Marketing Specialist in the Office of Economic Development. At age 29, she got itchy feet and traded her steady job for an eight month stay in Peru and the intimidatingly wide open question: “now what?”…

She turned to her entrepreneurial side for answers. Combining a love of storytelling with a passion for unlocking the patterns and puzzles of data led to a career in marketing, most recently as Co-Founder of creative marketing agency Spur Studio and Marketing Director for the Innovate Montana project. Her strengths lie in crafting content and finding the eyes that need to see it (and doing her best to push her boundaries every day). These days her time is divided as equally as possible between exploring the mountains in her backyard on skis or bikes, researching and writing, gardening, and the steady hustle of growing a young business. Her most epic adventure yet is slated to begin in November, when she will begin the decades-long endurance challenge known as “parenting”.

What are you working on right now?

As of this morning, I’m writing copy for a real estate investor’s new property brochure, planning a new Spur Studio client meeting with the board of an urban farming co-op, spreading the word of entrepreneurial genius and innovation in Montana through and our social media platforms, getting ready to spend an hour “mentoring” (enjoying the company of) a third grade student at a local elementary school, and roasting a chicken. And this, of course.

Where did the idea for Spur Studio come from?

I met my business partner, Spur Studio’s Creative Director Kris Snider, several years ago while I was living in Helena and instantly developed an enduring friend crush on her. She’s so rad: her studio art has such a unique style, and her graphic design aesthetic is meticulous, modern, and inviting. I knew I wanted to combine her artistic skills with my business development experience, wordsmithing, and numbers geekery to start a marketing and branding agency that would give equal value to the art of design and marketing strategy/data crunching. It took 5 years for us both to be in the right place in life to kick things off – but we did, and it’s been awesome so far.

How do you make money?

We offer competitive rates for outstanding design and strategy work, and never half-ass anything. So far, our client base been entirely built on strong relationships and word-of-mouth referrals; we take performing to the highest level possible very seriously with each and every project. That, and we keep our overhead as low as possible. Call it bootstrapping or call it Lean – we call it “keep it in the bank.”

What does your typical day look like?

I don’t know that I have a typical day; I think that’s the beauty of being an entrepreneur and being in the marketing/branding industry. But, they generally all start with the ritual of coffee making (decaf now, of course) and end with reading a few articles from Fast Company or watching The Daily Show, with an outdoor exercise excursion thrown into the mix. A variety of work is sandwiched between all these activities. I also try to remember to connect with my partner and friends whenever possible.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I hash them out and give them a fair shake. Then I let time tell if they belong in the “suck” column or the “yes!” column.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

Search engines becoming sophisticated enough to recognize quality writing that is actually relevant to SEO keywords, and that consumers actually want to engage with. Automated SEO copywriting is the worst.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

When I was strapped for cash in Whitefish I worked as a cashier in a convenience store. One day, the manager actually accused me of stealing money from the safe. Then they realized that was a completely asshat-foolish accusation and made some silly excuse for their inane behavior. I was so shocked, I just went back to work for an hour or so before I realized I had no interest in helping people who operate like that and walked out. That day I learned to always trust in my integrity, and stand up for myself when the situation warrants backbone.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I would have taken more art classes in college. I stopped because I was afraid of others’ criticism. Now, I’d tell myself to get over it and make art with abandon, never mind what others think. That’s really the point of artistic expression after all, isn’t it?

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

Go outside. Be outside. Leave your computers, laptops, smartphones, tablets, and iPods alone – even if just for a few minutes a day and listen to your own thoughts. Disconnecting from the world for a few moments is usually the best way to reconnect with yourself and your creative superpowers.

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

I thought we could take on everything and conquer the world during our first few months with Spur Studio. We really promised a great deal in a short time to our first clients, and ended up almost burning out with all-nighters and stress. Lesson learned: we now understand how to deliver within realistic timelines that work for us and get our clients what they need.

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

Integrate rain capture systems with artistically designed residential vegetable gardens, then create a customized app the home owner can access for info on precisely what the garden needs at that moment in terms of watering, soil amendments, etc to thrive. Make it as easy as possible: everybody loves the idea of gardening and eating fresh food, but it’s the day-to-day maintenance and unknowns that tend to function as barriers for entry.

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?

I would want a collective return to simplicity, balance, and unbridled creativity. I think that could be the only answer to some of the monumental environmental and social challenges we’re facing as a planet. I would go about it by restructuring our education system to encourage less information memorization, and foster more productive applications for the abundance of information constantly being made available online. I would also head up a global awareness slogan to share the idea that “busy” isn’t better; meaningful interactions with your friends, family, and the broader community are what matter – that’s where beautiful ideas and action plans are really born.

Tell us something about you that very few people know?

I was extremely introverted well into my twenties before I found the confidence to let my voice be heard in my social and professional circles.

What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?

Basecamp; an online project management tool that makes it possible for Spur Studio to operate on the same page, even though we’re geographically dispersed. Google Hangout; free videoconferencing tools that work with multiple users – what’s not to love?, of course! Do you have any idea how many amazing, inspiring people there are in Montana? You should. There’s a lot more going on in Big Sky Country than great fishing and bison watching.

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

Paul Hawken’s “The Ecology of Commerce – A Declaration of Sustainability.” Seriously, folks, we’ve gotten ourselves in a real pickle here – let’s all start thinking creatively about how we can balance making money with protecting the type of world we want for ourselves and future generations.

Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?

Elke Govertsen and her team at @Mamalode; because they’re fun, authentic, and offer kick-ass content about the reality of parenting.
Yarrow Kraner, founder of Chisel Industries and HATCHfest; he’s always doing something inspiring and artistically very cool, and has a genuine appreciation for life and his work.
Dave Morin, founder of Path…and just another small town Montana guy kicking ass on a global scale.

When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?

This morning. A friend forwarded me BuzzFeed’s “26 Reasons Children are Really Just Tiny Drunk Adults”. Not sophisticated, but highly effective.

Who is your hero, and why?

I don’t really have one, nameable hero. My hero is an amalgamation of people in my life and public figures who spread creativity, support human rights, and have the audacity to break from the status quo.

When are going to stop procrastinating on the small details of running a business like organizing your paperwork and turning in your expense reports?

Soon…I swear it will be soon.

What’s next?

Funny, I was just going to ask you that same question.


Spur Studio’s Website:
Spur Studio on Twitter: @SpurStudio

Shannon Hughes on Google+:
Shannon Hughes on Facebook:
Shannon Hughes on LinkedIn:

Innovate Montana Website:
Innovate Montana on Facebook:
Innovate Montana on LinkedIn: