Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi, my name is Alessandro Fard of CreateApe. Create Ape is a full-service digital agency that specializes in user experience design.
I have been a digital designer for over 22 years. I got into the tech space early on in my life as my mom worked at a start-up when I was in high school.
About seven years ago, I transferred the consulting business that I had started early on in my career to become more of an agency format.
Thus Create Ape was born. UX principles are built into the DNA of everything that CreateApe does. This is allowed us to have sustainable and impactful success year-over-year, which gross metrics clearly show.
To that end, our revenue has grown between 50 and 100% year-over-year for the last several years.
We currently generate around $350,000 a month in revenue, with indicators showing that next year will be similar to the past.
What's your backstory and how did you develop the idea?
My interest in video games was the initial prompt, but over time I gravitated towards Web and never really looked back. I had a decent part-time job during college with a company called crave online.com, which was bought by fox atomic. I was making good money at that stage and decided to pursue it as a career.
As soon as I was out of college, I worked for GSN and Sony. From then on, I worked with many companies such as lynda.com, LinkedIn, true car, Zynga, etc. I’ve been fortunate enough to work on many other brands in my career, which helped lay the foundation for success with my agency.
One of the biggest challenges in any digital project is having a solid foundation to build off of. This requires research and aviation led by industry standards, best practices, and experience. As we grew as an agency, we began to see that it was one of the most overlooked aspects of a project, and this caused issues with products created down the road. After years of trial and error, we developed a new product, the Create Ape Jungle Guide.
This has set the tone for the company and continues to provide impactful, measurable, and highly noticeable results for our clients. It is the foundation for the user experience, design, and development we have become known for.
By the time we officially launched the agency, I could carry many clients and contractors into the new agency.
Take us through the process of building the first version of your product.
Our core services are user experience, design, user interface, design, web development, and optimization. While we do provide other services, we try to focus on our core wheelhouse.
When we first started tackling design, we focused more on the look and felt and less on the “Why?”.
While we still found success, I quickly realized that as a UX designer, we had to find a way to show clients that answering the “why” question would be instrumental to their success.
That is why we created the jungle guide - a very detailed, tried-and-true process that seamlessly and painlessly allows our clients to quickly fulfill the research and ideation phase of the projects that they are working on and continues to build a foundation that they can leverage in future projects and other departments such as marketing, Branding, etc.
Like most things, the original version of the jungle guy started out tentatively. We took the research and ideation phase of any project and started to build out common touch points that exist, and share commonality no matter the project. From there we started to add to it by finding ways to streamline, the things that were unimportant and double Downing on the very impactful things.
Over time, we ever find the jungle guy to its current iteration, which is normally, efficient and impactful, but has consistently provided amazing guardrails for our clients and their project success.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Launching the business was relatively easy because I had been running my consulting services for almost 10 years before starting to create Ape. By the time we officially launched the agency, I could carry many of my clients and contractors into the new agency.
That said, building the consulting business was a challenge for me personally, I had to slowly find the time to build out the business while working full-time for companies during my office hours and still managing my relationships with loved ones and growing a family. There were many days when the struggle was genuine.
I remember in 2010, living in Century City, California, coming home from work, being with family, and after everyone went to bed, working in a closet until 12 a.m. for my clients. I would rinse and repeat this for years. But I always knew that it will pay off one day, and I did.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Since officially launching the agency, what has truly helped us stand out from our competitors, and helped us attract, and retain customers is our almost reckless embrace of the idea that we are partners with our clients.
Their success is our success, and we are aggressive to make sure our clients are successful not just for the duration of a project, but setting them up for success for months and years down the road.
This has allowed us to not only retain clients but have a very significant word-of-mouth referral network.
We've also started to find ways to formalize the wonderful feedback we got from clients utilizing services such as clutch.io to showcase reviews that are third-party verified.
This has also helped us reinforce some of our core values, such as transparency, being set up for success, and accountability.
While I would love to say that we had a brilliant marketing plan around the landing, pages, and social media, the reality is that it is just not true. For most of our history, our clients have come due to my network and Word of mouth.
Essentially we rely on our clients' goodwill to share our work. This is both good and bad. It's good because I believe it shows how much value we add to clients that they go on their own accord to promote us and it's bad that we're missing a huge opportunity for marketing our services.
This is now changing, as we are starting to tentatively depart feet in the water around PBC marketing, utilizing conversion-centric, landing pages built to be persona specific.
For example, we are currently working on a landing page that is targeted toward existing product teams within larger companies that need help with overflow work. We are also targeting product directors who do not have internal teams and need outside resources to help execute the product roadmap for the company.
So far this is been met with some outstanding success.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
For the last five years, we have grown a minimum of 50% year over year with many years being close to 100% in growth. While that is wonderful, it is also been challenging to continue to embrace our core values, promote our unique remote, corporate culture, and stay at the cutting edge of design trends, and ideas.
As we look towards the future, even in a slower economy, we see very positive indicators, across the across-the-board. We are working with larger brands and clients some of which are fortune 100 and we are very grateful for the trusted place in us.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Over the last several years, I realized that growing the company to 20 employees was probably the most challenging thing we ever had to do. It forced us to start thinking like a company unified around common goals. They forced us to truly understand our values and how we wanted to promote them. Ironically, growing past 20 full-time team members has been much more manageable.
Another thing that ironically helped us tremendously was the Covid pandemic. While there is significant uncertainty, going into the pandemic, it caused business trends to gravitate towards a more substantial digital footprint, which positioned us to be at the right place at the right time to accommodate those client services.
For me, what helps me the most is finding the balance between work and life. Knowing when to take breaks, knowing when to burn the midnight oil, and remembering that often your "inbox” will never be empty, so do not struggle in vain to empty it, but set daily goals to accomplish the larger ones.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
The platforms we use for business day in and day out are slack and Suite for communication, clickUp for Project Management, FIGMA for design, and Toggl for tracking on time. We also use HubSpot as our core CRM and keep an open mind to new tools as they come to market to see if they can provide value in the day today at work we do.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Some of the recent books I’ve read that have been relatively influential have been Start With Why by Simon Sink and Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. I also find that guy still green, practical wisdom from the Bible daily, which I find surprising as I get older. You wouldn’t think to find sound business advice there, but there you have it.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
My advice for anyone getting started in the industry or who wishes to pursue a similar endeavor would be the following:
Plan: Not just at a high level, but every day, what goals you want to accomplish. You may only sometimes get them done, but you will be massively surprised at how much it helps structure your journey and impacts your success.
Be flexible: sometimes, you’ll have to pivot, and I find that when you stay rigid, you break often. But if you’re relaxed, you can roll and get back up.
Stay positive: it’s incredible to me how some days things can seem so positive while others can seem very negative just based on how rooted I am in focusing on staying positive. There is always a silver lining, and positivity is normally healthy for you and your business, but a lot of times helps you find the right path to resolve problems.
Seek advice: One thing I wish I had when I first started was a group of individuals I could have leaned on for advice, ranging from a corporate set of questions to process questions to past experiences. Now, as I have grown and enlarged my network of like-minded entrepreneurs, I can lean on them, and they are on me for a collective knowledge base that is incredibly valuable.
Lastly, take your shot. You might mess up, but at least you took the shot. You need to take it to know if you would have made it and nine times out of town. If you keep shooting, eventually, you’ll make it. I believe Wayne Gretzky said you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Currently, looking for a business development manager, project manager, Senior UX designer, and web developer. If interested, look at our website and check out our open positions.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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