5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO: Dava Guthmiller, Founder and CEO, Noise 13

“As a female business, owner I have made it a passion to highlight, support and connect other women for success. From founding the Pow.wow Network, a women’s group focused on helping women entrepreneurs and innovators, to hiring and mentoring many women within Noise 13, it’s important to support each other as women are finding their voice and power in the business world.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Dava Guthmiller, founder and CEO of the award-winning, San Francisco-based branding agency Noise 13, where she’s led the design and strategy for companies such as Uber, Tile, Planet, Twitter, World Wrapps, and more. Dava is also the co-founder of In/Visible Talks, a newly-launched design conference about the creative process that brings together makers of all mediums to share the raw, real stories and process behind their craft. Dava is a board member for Slow Food California, and advisor for Get Gone Travel and Good People. She occasionally gets her hands on fine art, interior design, and design instruction. Her work has been featured in top design publications including HOW, and Communication Arts.

Yitzi: Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

From as early as I can remember, I worked with my entrepreneurial dad in his automotive repair shop, and custom car restoration. It started with washing cars and organizing tools; eventually doing the bookkeeping and beyond. I learned an immense amount about owning and operating a small business though that experience. But I also developed an insatiable love for design — this was after all, the hot rod biz! From going to swap meets, sifting out vintage parts, and ogling the car builds and designs — I learned that the best designed was usually the best quality. An importance lesson I’ve carried into Noise 13 and everything we create.

Taking that passion and grit — along with my dream for one day owning my own businesses — I launched Noise 13 just two years after graduating college. And while my road to success has been bumpy, I’m so proud to have built Noise 13 into one of San Francisco’s top branding firms.

Yitzi: Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Just one year after launching Noise 13, I brought on two design interns and moved into a new office — but we didn’t yet have a conference table. So in our soon-to-be conference room, we would sit on the floor every afternoon and discuss projects. (It was very casual to say the least!) One day we were discussing a new project, suddenly heard snoring and realized one of us took the recline to the next level! We were laughing so hard it woke our fellow teammate from his nap. Those early start-up years were so fun and truly set the open collaboration and chill vibe in which I still run the company today.

Yitzi: So what exactly does your company do?

Noise 13 is a women-led brand strategy and design firm. We help companies create or update their branding from the inside out using a lifestyle lens. We start by uncovering people’s desires and expectations and finding ways to authentically engage. We create beautiful, thoughtful designs that tap into human emotion and bring out the unique characteristics of every brand.

We pride ourselves on creating amazing disruptors from reimagining the perfect wine country getaway to branding the coolest new tech to creating a from-scratch concept where fashion meets function.

My other (newly launched!) venture is the In/Visible Project. Our mission is to bring people together through conversation on the art of design — like our upcoming conference, In/Visible Talks! This one-day summit, launching in San Francisco on January 11, will bring in a stellar list of global speakers, including graphic designer Kelli Anderson; London-based artist Morag Myerscough; VP of Experience Design for Autodesk, Maria Giudice and more inspiring folks.

Digging wildly deep into the creative process, the talks will uncover the insights, imagination and connections that can only come from the human mind. (aka our greatest super power against tech to stay relevant in this ever-increasing AI world). The conference brings together makers of all mediums — from architecture and typography to products and graphic design — to share the real stories/thinking/play/and process BEHIND the design.

Yitzi: How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

As a female business, owner I have made it a passion to highlight, support and connect other women for success. From founding the Pow.wow Network, a women’s group focused on helping women entrepreneurs and innovators, to hiring and mentoring many women within Noise 13, it’s important to support each other as women are finding their voice and power in the business world.

Yitzi: What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why?

1 — It’s all about who you know — use your network.

After starting Noise 13 I realized that all those connections I had made while in school, waiting tables, or just being myself as a connector, were how I found the best clients. It still takes me a lot to ask for help, but I know my network is a huge part my success.

2 — Embrace change, even plan for it. I like planning, and hate being lost. But, between the economy; quick changes in the design industry; and my ever-changing team dynamic, I have to get used to rolling with change, looking out for it, and be flexible enough to adjust quickly.

3 — Don’t just watch your numbers, understand them. It’s great to check your P&L and set goals, but you really need to understand what those numbers mean for your business. Where can you be flexible? When is it ok to make less profit to invest in the future?

4 — Delegate quickly. Even though you can do it all, doesn’t mean you should. I thought I could do it all on my own in the beginning. But there are great people who know their jobs way better than me. It’s good to understand what’s needed for new roles, but hire people who love to do the things you don’t. Keep the jobs where you excel and are excited.

5 — Take care of yourself or you won’t be able to take care of others. Women need to work on this the most. This means managing stress and keeping yourself healthy and energized. If you are a mess then there is no way you can support your team or your customers.

And one extra one — from my dad, which I learned a long time ago:

Keeping your existing customers and employees happy is so much cheaper than finding new ones.

Yitzi: Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this…

Wow, I have a long list! But tying back to my love for car design, it would be amazing to meet Mary Barra, chairman and CEO of General Motors. In a male-dominated industry, she’s shaking things up and making big changes. My first car was a ’69 Chevy stepside pickup; my hot rod builder dad was all about American cars; and I’ve seen first-hand a ton of those companies produce bad design, reinvent themselves, or outright fold. So I’m super intrigued how Mary is bringing a new view and process into this older industry and stepping it up.

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