Russ Perry of Design Pickle: ” All I had to do was make more money, and that I was never going to save my way into wealth”

Design Pickle hasn’t disrupted the creative industry with the work that we create — but with how it is consumed. It’s in the way the service is purchased and the experience offered. And when we look at most real, positive disruption, it’s not that it’s some miraculous invention of something incredibly new. It comes in altering the […]

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Design Pickle hasn’t disrupted the creative industry with the work that we create — but with how it is consumed. It’s in the way the service is purchased and the experience offered. And when we look at most real, positive disruption, it’s not that it’s some miraculous invention of something incredibly new. It comes in altering the way an existing product or service is delivered, the methodology, the price, and the experience — that’s what consumers end up being hungry for.

As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Russ Perry.

Russ Perry is the Founder & CEO of Design Pickle, a global, flat-rate creative services company. Under Perry’s leadership, the company has grown its network from 2 creatives to 500 globally, completing over 835,000 creative requests since its 2015 inception. Perry resides in Scottsdale, Arizona with his wife, Mika, and their 3 daughters.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

My back story started as a hungry creative entering the workforce at the age of 22. I decided I wanted to work for my dream company: Apple. After working as a sales rep in college, I kept thinking about how I could potentially have an incredible career there. However, the Arizona Biltmore retail store was the only Apple location in the state at that time. I ended up taking the job and was totally into it — but soon realized my growth was limited to a retail store manager position. At the same time, I found out I was going to be a father. Although I couldn’t move to California and explore other opportunities, I knew I had a deeper responsibility to take care of my family.

I started to entertain ideas for my own business, and really started to pursue it. I got a couple lucky breaks from friends who needed help, and before I knew it, had a fully-fledged creative agency here in Tempe, Arizona. I wouldn’t say it was easy; I wouldn’t say we were successful. After eight and a half years, I unceremoniously closed the business. It left a very big void in my life — I didn’t know what the hell I was going to do, where I was going, or how to figure it out. But after some reflection, I realized my skill set was working with creatives and helping clients.

In December of 2014, I was poring over business books and podcasts when I had a thought: what if I pulled inspiration from food and streaming subscriptions, and created a subscription model for graphic design? By leaning on my previous experiences, I created a couple processes, user models, and financial plans around a subscription graphic design company. Lo and behold, Design Pickle was launched in January of 2015.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

The work we’re doing at Design Pickle is disruptive on two fronts. The first is this industry we’re carving out called the subscription workforce. The way we see it, a subscription workforce takes the best of the W-2 employee, a 1099 contractor, a freelancer, and a marketplace model. We look at this concept as the next evolution of how to get creative help — the last time this construct evolved was in the early 2010s with marketplaces, but there hasn’t been any sort of shift since then.

Design Pickle was created to give people access to creative talent in a new way. It allows anyone to build a relationship with creators in order to grow their business. It’s flexible, it’s timely, it’s consistent; you can scale up or down, you can pay more or less depending on what you need. At the end of the day, we disrupt in the sense that there really is not a lot of downside or risk in choosing what we do and how we do it.

The second is pricing and the way our packages are structured to help businesses. Our flat-rate plans are anywhere from 400 dollars to 1,000 dollars a month — you’re not getting billed by the hour, or for every time you request a revision or new project. For the creative industry, this is a gamechanger.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I wouldn’t necessarily classify this as an actual mistake, per say — but it is a funny story. When we were planning our first event as a company, I decided I was going to hand out pickles dressed as…well, a pickle. It was approaching summer, and I obviously didn’t want to give people hot pickles — that would be a terrible first impression.

I started thinking about getting one of those old-school popsicle carts to keep the pickles nice and chilled. This bulk ice cream store in Southern Phoenix, where all the ice cream truck owners buy their supplies, happened to have a vintage cart I liked. The owner said I could rent it for 25 dollars. I was sold.

A few weeks later, I was told that the cart was 25 dollars — along with a 300 dollars purchase of ice cream. Now, if you remember as a kid: ice cream trucks don’t sell the highest quality ice cream, nor did I need 300 dollars worth of ice cream or Sonic the Hedgehog pops (or whatever they sell nowadays). So I did the math. 300 dollars of ice cream is useless, but maybe I would do more events and need this cart — and that’s 600 dollars. Turns out, the cart was 650 dollars to buy, and boom, the price was there. I decided if Design Pickle failed, I would just lease this cart to people on Craigslist…but that’s a whole other story.

Long story short, the lesson is to have a plan and pay attention to the details. Thankfully, this particular plan worked out in our favor, and we now have a very symbolic token of Design Pickle sitting at the front of the office. It easily could have been a disaster, though — I could have been handing out Bomb Pops along with pickles at the 2015 Infusionsoft Conference.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

Mentors have always been important to me. I find mentorship in books, in one-on-one coaching relationships, in peer relationships — I’ve explored all of those. I’ve done work with lots of the major mentor groups, from the Entrepreneurs’ Organization and EO Accelerator, to Vistage and the Young Entrepreneur Council.

Most recently, I joined a men’s coaching program led by a man named Garrett J White. He’s a pretty polarizing guy, but someone whose focus on personal development has helped me tremendously over the last five years. He helped me recognize the notion of professional growth being a reflection of personal growth, and that was the big aha moment for me. I couldn’t grow as a CEO and as a leader until I was willing to grow as an individual and confront the reality that I had some areas needing improvement. I had to stop and think about how I was going to reinvent myself.

As someone who always worried about what others thought, I never wanted to inconvenience anyone. I wouldn’t even send a wrong order back at the restaurant. Coach Garrett pinpointed this as an issue, and told me I’d never have the life I desired if I wasn’t willing to be confident and certain in it. He helped me realize the restaurant is not going to care if you ask them to get you what you ordered — you just need to send it back.

That’s a small, silly example, but it actually was symbolic of how things were going in the rest of my life. Adjusting this simple behavior and mindset added up to a larger trend of me working on getting clarity in my life — what I wanted, and what I wanted to create personally and professionally, then being very persistent about that. Relentlessly focusing on it. The better I became at the process — getting clear on what I wanted and then going after it — well, this magic thing started to occur where I started to get more of what I wanted. Ideas I put down in my journals started to become a reality, and it just became a self-perpetuating cycle.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

Design Pickle hasn’t disrupted the creative industry with the work that we create — but with how it is consumed. It’s in the way the service is purchased and the experience offered. And when we look at most real, positive disruption, it’s not that it’s some miraculous invention of something incredibly new. It comes in altering the way an existing product or service is delivered, the methodology, the price, and the experience — that’s what consumers end up being hungry for.

Entrepreneurs, business owners, and creative people in general sometimes want to disrupt things for the sake of disruption. They envision disruption as doing something so different and so unique for the novelty of it, or because they believe there must be some way to make it better. That’s when it becomes not-so-positive.

It’s like taking a classic recipe, completely changing it, and keeping one ingredient. Well, the reason it’s a classic recipe is because people love it as is. If you make another cake and it only includes cheese, but you’re like “it’s a new way to look at cheesecake,” it’s not groundbreaking. Cheesecake is cheesecake for a reason.

If you had a cheesecake subscription company, though, you’re offering people the chance to get cheesecake any time they need it, with an app that delivers in 5 minutes or less! You’re changing the way the cheesecake is delivered and how people consume it, and that can only be seen as positive disruption. Plus, who doesn’t want endless cheesecake?

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

One of the best pieces of advice came around when I was struggling financially. I was trying to budget and save every penny, and was taking all these financial classes on ways to manage your money. One of my coaches said that all I had to do was make more money, and that I was never going to save my way into wealth. It was pretty shocking, but it made a ton of sense.

Here I was trying to decide if I was going to buy a 5 dollars bag of bread or 3.85 dollars bag of bread, but I could just go out and make 10 dollars with the amount of time and energy it took me to make that type of decision. Obviously, there is some common sense in spending and budgeting. As a business owner, I discovered it was and is much more important for me to focus my energy on building that — because more value for clients means more potential revenue for the company.

Another piece of advice is that business is the result. Inside of someone’s business or professional career, your professional success is the end result of what you’re doing as an individual to personally improve — with your mind, your heart, your spirit, your relationships, and your body. A lot of people stunt themselves because they think there is no growth left to do. They think they know what they want, their skills, their weaknesses — they’ve diagnosed all of it, yet they struggle to grow their business or as a professional because they’re not willing to be vulnerable and assess themselves. It’s about being able to acknowledge you may not know everything; it’s about seeing the gap between where you are and where you want to go. Being able to see the gap and creating plans to get through it is what ultimately leads to the professional success people seek.

Last word of advice: meditate. I know this is probably something repeated a lot, but meditation truly is a workout for the mind. It helps with focus and practicing presence, which allows for more productivity and less stress. I meditate every day around 20 minutes; it has been extremely instrumental in my growth.

Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business. Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?

Good, qualified leads come from good, smart advertising. If you’re not willing to pay for advertising to promote your product or service, you don’t have very much confidence in what you’re doing. The first step is to evaluate if you provide actual value. The second step is to evaluate where your prospective leads live, breathe, eat, and exist online and offline. Then, you pay to get in front of them and offer something that could be seen as too good to be true — because it’s disruptive.

At Design Pickle, we use a lot of social media advertising (you might have seen our ads!) because our ideal, qualified clients aren’t entering “how do I design XYZ” in their Google searches. Our qualified clients often have a full-time, in-house creative or an agency already, so we look to social advertising to disrupt their scrolling — usually through a bit of humor and envelope pushing copy — and (not so) subtly say, “Hey, we know you already work with someone, but here is another option for when the time is right.”

There are a lot of arguments around organic growth or taking more creative approaches. But to me, leveraging sophisticated advertising platforms to get your product or service in front of your exact target audience is well worth the spend.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

This year, we launched FreshStock, a stock subscription platform where you can download original stock assets, vectors and templates. It all started with us realizing there is a huge void in diversity of stock asset libraries, and wanting to combat this by creating a library to properly reflect the world around us.

In so many stock asset libraries, the quality is lacking. You can have 5 million assets, but if most of them are junk, what does it matter? We decided to break the mold by going with a quality over quantity approach — we have around 30,000 assets as of now.

Just like Design Pickle, the library uses an unlimited model — there are no credits, no download caps, and no restrictions. Our mission is to be the most diverse and inclusive stock asset library out there, so it’s been an exciting journey and we look forward to watching it grow.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

Cal Newport is one of my favorite authors and bloggers. He’s a Computer Science professor at MIT. He has written many books, but the one that comes to mind now is called Deep Work.

Deep Work is about the ability to get out of this reactive cycle of email, text, and the constant bombardment we all face these days. He explains how to put yourself in a state of complete focus, creativity, and creation to allow yourself to produce work with substance and depth.

This book has been incredibly profound for me — so much so that I remodeled my office. Newport talks about having a physical space that serves as a trigger for this state of work; you should be able to use it knowing it’s free from distractions. So, adjacent to my office, we built what we call the Churchill room (inspired by Winston Churchill’s war rooms in London). It’s just a windowless, dim, white board-filled room, but it allows me to focus solely on creating and building without any outside noise.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“You have to be selfish before you can be selfless.” You have to take care of yourself before you can take care of everything else — you can dedicate yourselves to others all the time, but if your own tanks are empty, you aren’t effective. I touched on it earlier — in order to grow as a leader, you have to first look at yourself and your own habits across all aspects of life. I’ve taken this to heart throughout my journey.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’ve alluded to this above regarding personal development, but I’ve adopted a daily system of healthy habits called the “Core Four” and I recommend it for anyone struggling to achieve a healthy work-life balance.

Core Four is essentially a game you play with yourself — you keep score of daily actions in four major areas of life that we all struggle to balance. Body, being, balance, and business. Your goal is to hit 4 points each day, 2 points for each category. And they’re simple tasks, honestly, but also life changing. Body: Eat something green and sweat. Being: Pray or meditate and journal. Balance: Make deposits of gratitude to those you love. Business: Learn something new and teach it to others.

Again, it’s not difficult, and you can’t beat yourself up for scoring lower on some days — but I think it reveals the discipline that you lack or that you need in your life and reveals any major distractions. You can knock out everything by 8am and then have the momentum you need to have a successful day.

Speaking specifically in terms of a movement, I think implementing this mindset is where a lot of businesses miss the mark. Employees are overworked, burned out, and are not encouraged to make time for themselves. Whether it is immediate or not, the business will reflect this.

But if leaders showcase their dedication to these habits, it trickles down. Employees are excited and invested. The company culture becomes a direct reflection of this, and everyone wins.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can stay up to date with all Design Pickle and FreshStock happenings through our social media channels (@designpickle or @getfreshstock), check out for updates through my lens as a creative CEO, or follow me on Twitter @russperry.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Thanks so much for having me!

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