How Daria Gonzalez and Olga Svitelska built Wunderdogs: a tech-focused creative agency based between San Francisco, Seattle and London.
01.04.2020 | Share — Twitter Facebook Copy link
We recently caught up with Daria Gonzalez, co-founder and CEO at Wunderdogs - an independent creative agency that launches and scales innovation led businesses across the world.
What led you into your current career path?
I studied Architecture for 6 years in college. However, after having spent a few years working as a junior Architect while I was still at school, I realized that I was, in fact, a pretty shitty Architect. I lacked passion for detail, discipline and patience. So I decided I should do something else (I also lacked determination). Unable to resist my love for music, I ended up launching a small company that organized music shows and designed decorations for music festivals across Europe. Back then I lived between Moscow, Berlin and Barcelona. My life ended up pushing me in many directions, from running a live show booking agency, to squatting in Siberia with a pack of reindeer breeders as a travel journalist, to attending Stanford Business School in California and becoming an investor in early stage tech products in Silicon Valley. What kept the fire burning throughout all of these 10 years of discovery, was my passion for all things new, great stories and great design, and my love for travel. I ultimately left my cushy investor job to start Wunderdogs - a fully remote agency that works with innovation-driven companies to help them brand and launch novel tech products, whether it’s a financial solution for Sub Saharan Africa, online education programmes in San Francisco, or a robotics company based in Taiwan.
We started in 2017, with just the two of us (fun fact, my business partner Olga was also 8-months pregnant at the time). In 2020, we are 12 full time members and a 10-people development team.
How do you keep in touch with the creative world and community and how does the creative scene look like in your city?
We are very close with our local chapters of AIGA -- American Institute of Graphic Arts, the largest association for creative professionals in the U.S. The folks keep us up to date on important local events for the creative community -- we organize events with AIGA ourselves, dedicating them to topics such as bridging the gap between design and tech, getting a creative job in the technology industry, launching a business based on your design product or amplifying voices of women and LGBTQ+ creatives. We also volunteer to mentor and judge the works of students at CCA -- California College of Arts based in San Francisco.
Wunderdogs are lucky to have a presence in what we consider some of the most creative cities in the world -- San Francisco, Seattle, London, Sao Paulo… the creative scene in these places is very vibrant and almost overwhelming -- we try to speak about it in our monthly newsletters, sent to our community on the last Wednesday of each month, it covers things like best places to work from when travelling, up and coming local artists and the new innovative businesses we get a chance to work with.
Daria & Olga – The founders of Wunderdogs
Branding for aza
What creative(s) do you admire for their work? Have you collaborated or thought of collaborating with other like-minds?
Woah, so many -- there are so many talented creative people out there! I follow lots of other agencies, big and small. Talking about a close circle of friends and collaborators, Wunderdogs is part of a large network of West Coast agencies that specialize in research, strategy, branding, production and integrated marketing called Fast Forward. We work together to help normalize cannabis as a business and a market in the US where medical or recreational cannabis is legalized -- “Fast Forwarding to the point where Cannabis is mainstream”. We’ve worked on a few great projects together, one of them being Brand Strategy and a Marketing Platform for BASA Collective -- one of the oldest dispensaries in San Francisco.
Wunderdogs has a great sister agency called Quality Produce, led by Christian Averill (former VP of Communications @ BitTorrent) and Nathan Slavik (LA Times Editor). We join forces to take on larger, more marketing-focused projects. Another of our favorite partners is industrial design firm Nonfiction Design, the creators of Human Inc. headphones and Trio - tremor management wearable. Last but not least, LA-based AE Studio, aces of complex software and product development that includes machine learning and NLP. All of these incredible partners have complementary services to ours as well as incredible teams that results in mindblowing collaborations.
What’s your favorite hack to get work done?
Leading a team that works across various time zones naturally helped me organize my days in a quite productive way. Everyday of mine is divided in half, with client and team calls in the AM and time for strategic and creative tasks in the PM. My hack lies in between: I take a long lunch break to do my favorite sport -- every day I run, swim or ride my longboard around the lake. It gives me a powerful energy boost, lets my brain re-focus and allows me to let go of a typically hectic morning. It also gives me a sense of accomplishment even though work might be slow or dull that day.
Another hack to get the work done -- if I can, I do my best to not wait until the last minute -- being ahead of my deadlines allows me to delay completing my task if I feel exhausted or uninspired.
What's your work space setup?
I have to travel down to San Francisco very often -- to meet with our clients, catch up with my team and speak at events. What is great about having a remote creative agency is that one day you may have a chance to rebrand a space that used to be a catholic church and turn it into a community center with lots of space for you to work from. Whenever I am in San Francisco, I have my meetings and work from 906 -- our forever-favorite clients -- a space which hosts incredible events and has its own coliving we also worked on.
My home office in Seattle goes outdoors every time I can catch a nice sunny day in the city (which is rare) -- great perk of remote working!
Event space and community center 906 in San Francisco
Co-living 908 in San Francisco
Daria's backyard office for when it's sunny in Seattle
What are your top favorite apps you like to work with?
Slack - for quick team communication
Notion - for task tracking
Evernote - to not forget any ideas that pop in my head during the day
Readymag - for creating our agency’s beautiful interactive portfolios
Adobe pack - for quick sketching and visual brainstorms
Notion & Slack
What creative or non-creative challenges do you face at work?
Running an all-remote agency has a long list of challenges -- some of them I was aware of when I started, some of them I am still uncovering. Complex schedule; working long hours; building a trustworthy brand for our agency when some potential clients still can’t get over the fact that we don’t have an office; having to constantly come up with new ways to run our process because the agency market is so overcrowded and challenging; learning how to grow your business beyond referrals and using all technology tools.
But all of these challenges are so interesting and solving these problems excites me -- especially because as a founder, I am building a company I’ve always dreamt of working for -- creative, encourages travel, encourages self-learning takes on new clients and challenges and does something differently every day.
What projects are you most proud of and excited about? Are there any side-projects you work or worked on?
Aza -- previously known as BitPesa, Aza is the largest non-bank currency provider in Africa. We were asked to define the new brand architecture, strategy, name and visual identity for the umbrella company and its three products. The identity we crafted for Aza is global yet rooted in African heritage - we recently learned it is being very well received in Asia - it also helped the company land additional $15M in financing.
BASA -- one of the oldest cannabis dispensaries in SF. We created brand strategy, visual identity, designed and built and upgraded the online store and drafted their creative platform for marketing activities.
Zeitgold -- one of the leading fin tech startups in Germany, based in Berlin. For Zeitgold we conducted a strong visual identity revamp. Starting with just a logo and one color (talking about our "faucet" metaphor), from which we developed a complete identity including marketing collateral and a website. We were engaged to help the company elevate its brand before their (now, successfully closed) $12M Series B.
Basa Posters Set
What’s your morning or evening routine and habit after work?
Before delving into my morning and evening routines, one important thing to note about Wunderdogs is that, as we are fully remote - we are everywhere. After Olga and I launched the agency, we decided to never go into an office ever again. I live in Seattle, Olga is based in San Francisco and our strategy and copy teams are located on the West Coast. Our Head of Client services, Oliver, is based in London with the Creatives distributed between Sao Paulo in Brazil, London and Moscow. Our development team is in Kiev, Ukraine. Our clients are also spread across the globe which has led to us working with multiple research teams in different countries. They help us build brands that culturally fit their markets across all five continents. So, as one might imagine -- as an agency, Wunderdogs never sleeps.
Unlike Wunderdogs, I value my sleep very highly (8 hours per night, minimum). My morning starts at 6AM, with an internal battle of not checking my Slack and email until I have had breakfast and made myself a cup of tea. I start working at 7AM and I make sure to be completely logged out by 6 or 7PM. Having a full-time remote team across 6 time zones can bring a lot of anxiety and a fake feeling of constant urgency -- as every time you log in, you receive a hundred messages. My evening routines are very calm, I cook, read, play video games, eat tasty meals or draw -- everything to clear my head and rest well. Every other weekend, I make sure to have a full day or even a two-day hike in nature; other times I love exploring Seattle in all it’s quirkiness. Seattle is the best place in the world for nature lovers who like some days a little gloomy. It’s also the US capital of indie comics and pinball bars (together with Portland, Oregon) -- so, plenty of things to do here.
What does a typical day look like?
I spend most of the day at the office and not every day is the same. It depends on the kind of project we are working on and the stage, but generally the days I deal with constant feedback and reviews. We talk a lot about the details of the projects and some days can become a bit intense. The working environment is great and it’s constantly changing; it could be quiet for a long moment and suddenly be loud, there are fun moments and super stressful moments as well. Sometimes we laugh a lot and sometimes we argue, but that’s the great thing about this team that we are like a family, I know it could sound like bullshit, but it is true.
A typical day at Wunderdogs starts at 10PM San Francisco (8AM Moscow) -- with our art director Natalie, who is currently based in Moscow, checking the updates on creative tasks and giving feedback to our design team.
At 12AM San Francisco (9AM Kiev), our development team picks up all of their web development tasks and client feedback from the day before.
At 3AM San Francisco (10AM London), Oliver - our Head of Client Services - comes back from his morning run and starts drafting our client emails, sending the ones that are in his time zones and scheduling the ones to US clients. This is a picture of Oliver. He thinks he is the rightful Earl of Clare.
At 5AM San Francisco (9AM Brazil), Thalita -- our design lead in Brazil, logs in to connect with Natalie and continue working on her projects. Here’s a snapshot of Thalita and her cats in a workplace.
At 6AM San Francisco, Olga starts her work day by checking-in with our development team and a trip to kindergarten. Here is a picture of our junior designer, her daughter Misha -- we call her Wunderpup.
At 7AM San Francisco, I log in to read my emails and prepare for team and client calls. Due to time zone differences, Olga and I have to pack all our team and client calls between 8AM and 1PM PST, leaving the second part of the day for large strategic and creative tasks. This schedule keeps me very productive. The only pitfall is that I’m now hyper every single morning, which makes me act somewhat crazy if I don’t have to work.
By noon, all our teams except West Coast and Brazil, log off -- our creative team is left to make progress on design tasks and help with implementing quick fixes following client feedback from the morning. After the last call is done, I go for a run around the lake and a slow lunch. Our team is getting together on rare occasions, such as team retreats or catch ups when we are in each other’s city.
The second half of my day is introvert’s paradise, peaceful and quiet, with almost no calls (unless a client project is on fire). It finishes around 6PM, when I leave a quick recap of my day in our team #goodnight channels on Slack and log off. The next day Wunderdog’s day starts in 4 hours.
Can you share some current projects you are working on?
These are some snapshots of our recent work in progress - brand strategy, brand identity and a website for a Silicon Valley-based online education provider Sophos Learning.
Any advice for ambitious creatives starting out?
Sometimes, you don’t find your biggest passion and strongest asset until later in your career path. It is important to always keep trying new things -- through changing clients and jobs, through taking on challenging projects and side hustles. Say Yes to everything - use as many opportunities to learn and explore as you can. If there is something you would really like to do, make time for it. Do not beat yourself up if achieving consistency is challenging and your projects last for longer than you expected – you’ve started them to learn and be happy; don’t doubt -- everything you do to learn will later pay you back, in most unexpected ways.
And one more: when trying new things and starting out, it is okay to feel like an impostor -- it means you are doing something new -- and merely by trying new things, you are already so far ahead of so many.
Anything you want to promote or plug?
If your readers are designers who work in the office, we’ve released a couple of productivity tips for when working from home, in reaction to COVID-19; or best practices to follow when interviewing for a remote position (at least with us).
We also always are always interested in amplifying our design network with talented designers all over the globe for stand alone projects and when we hire full time. If you are interested, please send your portfolio to [email protected], with your name and your design focus in the title.
If you’d like to know what we are up to, we have a fun Instagram and Newsletter!
"Working with innovative brands, you learn to be flexible and agile, and to reinvent yourself, everyday, just as they do."
Quote by Daria Gonzalez