Sunny Bonnell – Co-founder of Motto

[quote style=”boxed”]”Do not be a slave to the ordinary”[/quote]

Sunny Bonnell is a branding expert and serves as the co-founder and creative director at Motto. Motto is a comprehensive branding firm that helps visionary entrepreneurs and companies build inspiring brands using their most powerful asset: their purpose. Sunny thrives on inspiring others to pursue their passions and pushes both herself and her clients to reach beyond their threshhold to achieve success. Sunny was named one of GDUSA’s “25 Creatives to Watch in 2014” and has been featured on MSN Business, CBS News, American Express, and various print and online design publications.

Where did the idea for Motto come from?

Motto was born from my struggle to find purpose in life and business. My co-founder and I were a few years into successful design careers when we realized we’d lost our passion for our work. That revelation inspired us to radically alter the way we approached business and worked with clients. We discovered a simple idea: that having purpose is the most meaningful asset for any brand. So we created a branding and design firm that builds brands around purpose.

Motto is more than our name; it’s a symbol of who we are and what we stand for. Historically, mottos were war cries of sentiment, hope, and promise. Today, mottos serve as a rallying call — a reason to exist. Our motto, “Lead, never follow,” is an expression of our purpose: to help our clients find their path and create brands with greater impact. We believe brands that embody a deeper sense of purpose have a significant advantage over those that don’t — they have something to say, something to stand for, and something to believe in.

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

I’m an early riser and a late-night muse. I am a textbook hustler, but very structured. No one could ever accuse me of being lazy. I tend to get up, have a cup of orange juice, and start working. I love what I do and enjoy the craft of branding and design. My days are filled with email/Skype communication, conference calls, client texting, creative brainstorming, and design work. I also travel a good bit since I work on-location with clients to help them with their brand strategy and positioning problems.

How do you bring ideas to life?

In order to bring ideas to life, you must be visionary, brave, able to fail (and get back up quickly), and able to see something all the way through. I rely on my intuition in that I can see a brand come to life before it exists, but I have to pull myself back. My process is never linear — it’s a brew of ideas, words, sketches, creative direction, and painting the picture for those who can’t see what I can.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

I hope it isn’t just a trend, but rather a movement: women entrepreneurs. When Ashleigh and I started Motto, we were young entrepreneurs, and the trend was just beginning to unleash. It was an exciting time for us; it’s an exciting time for us now. We’re seeing more women reaching out to us who are leaving corporate jobs, making products in their kitchens, creating innovative services, and bringing them to market. It’s inspiring; I’m proud to be a face in that movement.

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

I show up. In every aspect, I commit myself to the things I choose to do.

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

The first job I ever had went terribly awry. I was 12, working underage (I’d told them I was 16), and slinging ice cream for the Dairy Queen up the street. On my second day, the manager said I was “in charge of cones.” After he left, I decided spinning ice cream was not my thing; I wanted more power. I promoted myself to drive-thru and worked the window. It got better because my parents came through to get ice cream (strike two because they had no idea I was even employed) and sat in the drive-thru in disbelief. The manager came back; to put it mildly, he was not amused. It was a pivotal moment when I realized I was born to be an entrepreneur.

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

I would have asked for more help along the way. I had to learn that I didn’t know everything. It was okay to acknowledge that I didn’t. There are so many people in business who understand the type of person you have to be to build a business. They’re willing to share their insight, help, and guidance — all you have to do is ask.

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

Do not be a slave to the ordinary.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

We crafted a unique point of view, positioned our company around it, and developed a brand manifesto to guide our strategic and creative decision-making. It has helped Motto stay true to what we believe in and make the right decisions for our company. By staying focused on our purpose, we’ve been able to attract businesses that believe in what we believe in and make the work more meaningful and profitable for not only us, but also our clients.

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

You can’t be the best-kept secret. There were times when we waited for opportunities to come our way and failed to actively pursue them. We felt overwhelmed, and it led to a sense of paralysis. When we ran up against financial issues and felt the pressure to be something remarkable, we had to make a choice. We had to either go out and hustle or watch the world spin madly on. We decided to work 16-hour days if needed. Whatever it took, we would do it to make a difference with our work.

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

A few months ago, I returned from a nine-month cross-country road trip. We started in South Carolina and drove to California, stopping in different cities to meet some of our clients, go to conferences, and experience the adventure we’d always wanted. We carried our 27” iMacs and laptops, and I kept thinking, “Surely, there’s someone who makes a case for this.” I did a little research and found a handful of companies that made carrying cases, but they weren’t exactly stylish. With so many companies making cool cases for laptops, iPads, etc., it would be great to see that same thinking and design sensibility applied to a case that fits a larger monitor.

Tell us something about you that very few people know.

I grew up in a small mountain town. I was raised on gospel and bluegrass, and I started playing guitar when I was eight years old. I can play the guitar, banjo, dulcimer, drums, and piano.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

1. Basecamp: We manage our clients and projects on it, and it’s a great tool for communication, scheduling, collaboration, and file management.
2. Skype: We work with clients worldwide, and Skype is an invaluable tool for connecting and communicating.
3. Afterlight: Photo editing at its finest.
4. FreshBooks: We use this for online billing.
5. Clarity: This is great for scheduling hourly consulting sessions.

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

I’d recommend “The New York Times Guide to Essential Knowledge.” To be fair, it isn’t a quick read, but it’s brimming with all you could possibly want to know, from the history of astronomy to Judaism. It’s for those of us who are insatiably curious.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the author of “The Danger of a Single Story,” tells a compelling story. I came across Chimamanda after reading a few articles about her. Her story is inspiring.

Beverly and Dereck Joubert, photographers-in-residence for National Geographic, moved me with their journey and life in the African bush. I watched a TED Talk with Dereck and Beverly, and they brought tears to my eyes. I became friends with Dereck, and Motto helped with the Last Lions effort.

David Hieatt, the founder of Hiut Jeans, has ambition and purpose that’s more than inspiring — he’s truly captivating in how he weaves story, purpose, and business together. His brand is a perfect example of a business living its motto and expressing it in the world.

Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks, wrote a book, “Onward,” and I was so moved by the power of his writing. At times, it’s almost poetic. It impacted my way of thinking and supported my intuition that purpose is truly a way to lead not only small businesses, but large companies as well.

Jenny Holzer, an artist, inspired an essay I wrote in design school — it focused on her life and work. She’s perfected the art of truisms; I just love her style, rawness, and beautiful expressions.


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Motto on Twitter: @wearemotto