With nearly a decade of proven experience dedicated to Branding for the Built Environment™, Candice is the founder of Nimble. A Design Consultancy — a studio committed to helping commercial real estate and hospitality clientele realize and extend brand stories that express story, engage all senses and turn visitors into believers.
As Founder and Creative Director, Candice leads the people, practice and progress of Nimble. pushing her team and her clients to think big and always pursue what’s next. She also spearheads the interiors consulting practice — working directly with clients and project teams to orchestrate branded environments that engage and excite. Her skillsets are as wide as they are deep, with credentials and a track record to match.
Since Nimble.’s formation, Candice has directed the launch of over 100 new brands, led nearly 80 property repositioning campaigns, and traveled 40,000+ miles to bring innovation and consistent brand exposure to projects in 21 US markets and internationally.
She is a 2017 graduate of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Program, a proud SCAD Grad, a wife, and a mama to the sweetest little, the Chief Nimbler., Landon. When she’s not in the studio, you can likely find her refilling her creative tank through abundant travel, or back in ATL mentoring fellow creatives through AIGA’s RiseUp Program.
Shantel: Hi Candice, welcome to the Imagine More Podcast!
Candice: Hey Shantel, great to be here.
Shantel: Yeah, we're certainly very excited to have you on the show, and glad we got connected. We are eager to learn about your entrepreneurial journey, how you got started, how you think big picture, and imagine more, and to kick things out do you mind sharing with our listeners a little bit more about Nimble.?
| THE ELEVATOR PITCH |
Candice: Of course. Nimble. is a multidisciplinary design studio dedicated to what we've coined as branding for the built environment. So essentially we direct full service campaigns for clients in commercial real estate and hospitality across all facets of brand strategy and positioning, digital marketing, and then on the 3D side, signage, design, and interiors consulting. And really our mission, why we exist, is to direct connected branded experiences that express a deep story, engage all senses, and turn visitors into believers and in turn, brand ambassadors for the projects we lead.
Shantel: Wow! That's amazing. I mean, I first have to recognize, your elevator pitch I feel like you have down pat, and you have an exquisite way of explaining exactly what you do. So kudos to you on that.
Candice: Oh, thank you. I get asked that a lot, so had to find a way to summarize it briefly.
Shantel: Can you touch a little bit more, like the history, how did you get started, why did you start this company?
Candice: Yes. My background, I went to SCAD for interior design actually, and focused my studies mostly in Savannah, but was graduating 2008/2009, so in order to get a head start on the job market moved up to Atlanta to finish my senior year, and during that time was highly focused on just getting a head start on what can I do first outside of college. The class before me had a lot of difficulty getting into the job market, and knew that was something that I really had to get in front of, so moved up to Atlanta, did a bunch of odds and ends, did a lot of freelance side hustles, did some internships and fell into an internship with a commercial real estate company that I just didn't know I'd fall in love with commercial real estate, but I saw it as a relative industry to what I was doing at school, so I actually ended up staying with that company through graduation. They hired me on full-time, and I stayed with them for five years and grew during that time from intern to their national design lead. And really just had the opportunity to focus on leading marketing initiatives for them, developing brands for their projects, working a lot on business development. Then about halfway through my tenure with that company fell into a few projects where I could bring my interior design experience back into the mix, and seeing the connection between what can happen with branding and how to extend that into place, I knew when I had that opportunity for that project it was just this connection to design that I just couldn't oversee. It made me reflect on some of my prior projects where I was really focused on branding and digital marketing, and then we were kind of outsourcing the architectural design aspect of the project, and there was always a missing link on how do we tell a brand story in a physical place, and having the opportunity to just kind of flex that muscle and use that project as a guinea pig to explore really found my niche into what I knew I wanted to do most, so was able to do that a little bit more through that company and then naturally kind of found myself in a place where I can't do both forever so gravitated towards forming Nimble. at the end of 2014.
Shantel: So was there a, I mean I imagine you were very busy and that could have been a factor in the tipping point, but was there something, like you woke up one day and you said, "Okay, I have to quit this full-time job to start this," or was it a gradual, you kind of freelanced for them for a little while? Can you talk a little bit about that transition?
Candice: Yes, of course. Through that first project, and just seeing how the clients, the company's clients could connect the value ad of having somebody on their team that was kind of a natural creative director and a connector of details beyond traditional branding and marketing into what they were spending a lot of capital on, I just saw it as this opportunity to kind of do more of that and started working with the company's clients on the company's projects, and then also kind of as an outside consultant helping the same clients in projects where the company wasn't involved, and so it was kind of a natural progression of what I was already starting to explore. So the tipping point just became at this time I had a then 18-month-year-old son, I was traveling a lot for both the company and for this consulting that I had started, and just had to find a way to be a little bit more sustainable and intentional in what I wanted to do most, and so had conversations with the company and my transition period off of my full-time role with them to founding Nimble., and they were very supportive, and a lot of the clients' relationships stayed and grown through that transition period, and I was able to actually stay on with the company as a mentor support for the six months following.
Shantel: That's amazing! At the beginning you kind of touched on trying to get ahead of that employment issue and the struggles with finding a job and, you know, it's closely tied, I imagine to that real estate and the economy and everything happening there, so then choosing a business and deciding to niche into real estate, have you ever felt like there was a risk in being very finite in who you'll be serving? What are your thoughts on that?
| GROW YOUR KNOWLEDGE BASE |
Candice: Yeah, that's a great question. I feel like I found my grounding and understanding of branding and marketing really through the lens of one industry, just working full-time in that industry and then transitioning to a very similar industry. For us it's been about diversifying our skillsets in not just commercial real estate but for hospitality ventures. So what we do as far as understanding brand strategy and then how to translate that brand through tangible brand expressions, marketing materials, digital marketing, and then how do we brand a place and connect things like signage details and wave finding to that place, it really goes hand in hand with more than just that one industry. So we've had really the pleasure of working with restaurateurs, breweries, like minded industries who need the same services, but are in kind of a different playing field in terms of how much capital they have to spend, who their audiences are, and what's most important for them. So it's been really interesting to get to grow that side of our knowledge base for hospitality-minded ventures as well.
Shantel: That's really neat. Yeah, I was going to ask, at the beginning did you get pulled in a lot of directions of people saw the great work you were doing, and then they wanted it for their business in a completely different industry and if so, have you had to turn people away? But it does sound like there's the hospitality and the real estate piece.
Candice: We've come to that, yeah. When we first got started, like any business you have to have a lot of yes’s to get to the point where you can confidently say no. So that was probably our first two years. For Nimble. starting out, it was myself, and I had pulled an intern who was working with me at the prior company and so we had a steady workload day one just because again, we had a consulting, somewhat a natural progression of consulting practice that left through that company and kind of turned into Nimble. And so I think week one I was in a co-working space with my intern, planning travels to Florida and California where our two first projects were located, and it's kind of never stopped from there. But definitely in the first year it was forming relationships, saying yes to people who we knew could connect us to other people, and maybe taking on a few projects that no longer fit the filter that we have for being really competent, and here's our expertise, and let us help these companies and do it in a more intentional basis. But we had to go through those experiences to get to that point.
Shantel: And even now that you're in that point, do you sometimes, a particular client may kind of slide through those filters, and halfway through the project you're like, "Oh gosh, I should have picked up on these things, there were red flags, they're not a good fit," and had to part ways in the middle of a project?
| BE CONFIDENT |
Candice: Yes. Those are hard conversations, and I think as an entrepreneur you reflect on that, or even a studio manager, you reflect on that and you try to find the red flags before getting started, but it's just like an interview process. You're not always going to catch that on the first or second conversation. So for us, being really confident in our rates, being confident in the types of projects that we do best at, being vocal about that on the front end, and if we do get in a situation where we know that the client is, their preference based opinions are perhaps leading the project versus the strategy that we set forth at the beginning, we try to put these milestones in place where we can continually reflect back on the strategy and what we agreed to, kind of stepping stones to getting to the project, but there have certainly been a few that we've gotten to a point where either party just thinks that it's not a good fit and then we have to have those harder conversations.
Shantel: Those are not fun. Not fun at all.
Candice: They never get easier or less awkward.
Shantel: No. I went to this really fascinating, kind of neuroscience workshop, and it talked a lot about reprogramming situations that make you stressed or cause some anxiety, and trying to help kind of reframe the initial feeling of that gut thing where, you know, when you just tense up when you see an email come through or something. It was really fascinating, but that was kind of what I tried to focus on, because it's just never fun to get that tough feedback, or to have to have those tough conversations, but it was reassuring to know another business center also feels like it doesn't get any easier as the time goes on.
Candice: Yeah, I feel like they set you up for success in long run though. For us it's all about reflection, so having clients who are not a good fit, or projects that just aren't a good fit, all of that kind of tees us up to a conversation point with our in-house team and we can kind of go through these hurdles together and try to put processes, and like I said, structure in place to try to avoid that just by being confident in what we're saying and how we're positioning ourselves for our clients to find us.
Shantel: Absolutely. Any bad thing or challenging moment, I would never take it back, because it's certainly all moments we've learned from and grown, and created by our process. So I certainly agree. So you touched on team now. At first it was you and the intern. How has your team evolved?
Candice: The projects that we take on, they range, but they touch a lot of facets of design. So for that reason and for the reason that a lot of the times when we're working on things like signage and interiors consulting, we're ideating for a set time, we'll say three months, and then there's the implementation stage. So our projects on average are 18 months long, and so when we started Nimble., or when I started Nimble. in late 2014 the projects we were just starting then, just like any other project, they have some kind of hurry up and wait phases. So the first 90 days are so critical to us getting something strategized, positioned into market, and from there it kind of ebbs and flows based on the scope. So for us, got it started in 2014, month two we were able to hire our first full-time designer who's still with us today, and then it kind of naturally progressed as our project span grew and as we hit certain milestones in those projects where we needed more hands on deck. So between 2014 and 2015 we grew from myself and the intern to a team of four, and then essentially added one more every year, and currently we're at a full-time team of six, and we have some outside collaborators that we work on depending on the needs of the project.
Shantel: That's really exciting. Speaking of hiring and finding those great teammates, and I think actually rewinding a second, that someone's been with you for the whole four years I think is a true testament to your leadership and ability to find the right fits for the roles on the team. Is there anything that you've learned in the hiring process, bringing on a new person every year, that you would recommend for people starting businesses or in the phase that you were in?
| HIRE FROM A TEAM PERSPECTIVE |
Candice: Yeah, I think finding the right fits and finding the right culture fits are so critical to the success of a small team, small team really defined is probably anyone under 20. For me in my prior career, I was the only one for the first three years and really it fit me well in the sense of I like to wear a lot of hats, I like to explore, I like to essentially find my strengths and weaknesses and improve constantly, but it also becomes an overload issue and of course isn't the best thing for the project or the client. So because of that experience and knowing what I was best at and what I could delegate, I think it really set me up for understanding what type of team do I want to build when I started Nimble. So the first thing we needed was a designer, so somebody who could accompany me on projects, who could really start to learn about real estate first and foremost, which is pretty critical to onboarding for our company, and then also learn how to handle thing, how to speak about what we do, how to be educated on how to talk about it, getting the right terminology. All those things are building blocks to building a person who is going to be sustainable and a value add to the company beyond their personal skillsets and I think finding people that are willing to learn, and willing to observe, and listen first, it's so critical to building that foundational team who's going to stick with you for four years or the longterm. So for us, how we focus on hiring is really by identifying what skillsets do we need to add to our team at any given time, and for us it was focused on designers and then that skillset focus to having a project manager, and then this year adding somebody who could focus on brand strategy and copywriting. So we really look at hiring from a team perspective and conduct our interviews from that same team perspective, and invite our entire team to sit at the table and really hear the potential recruit speak about what's important to them so we can learn about them and really weigh that against what are our core values as really a studio first and then through the lens of Nimble., and what does Nimble.'s clients need to continue to be successful.
Shantel: Are there any interview questions that have been really great, kind of yea or nay, or like a filter question for potential candidates for you?
Candice: I would say that my interview style is pretty fluid. I like to talk about the person first and foremost. I tend to pick up a lot of questions based on their experience, and design experience could be design-focused or it could be jumping ship from another industry in total. So a lot of the questions I asked are just based on what got you to this point that you're here sitting at the table now, and also for us, because we are so focused on two specific industries, making sure the candidate did their homework, making sure they understand when we say branding for the built environment, that they've done their homework and understand what that means, and what's going to be expected of them. Our designers aren't just graphic designers, they're really focused on designing for any medium. So making sure that they understand really what's going to be asked of them if they are a team player, or if they are a candidate chosen to be on our team. So I think setting expectations during the interview process for me has been the most valuable because it lets them know we work hard, play hard, and this is what's going to be expected of you, and making sure that they're up for that challenge, and that that's going to fit their lifestyle and what's important to them as well.
Shantel: I love that you also have everyone on the team involved in the interview process. Have you ever been crossed with a situation where you may love a candidate but someone else speaks up that they don't, or is it typically kind of joint collaboration and approval?
Candice: You know, as far as how I interview and the question you asked me a moment ago, that's what came top of mind. We also have a list of really 10 questions that we focus on for those group interviews, and going through those questions, there typically is a pause point at four candidates, if we feel like they're not going to be up for the challenge, that's typically what it comes down to. And that could be based on their personality fit or their experience to date. We want to add, like I said, skillsets to our team, so I think had we had a situation where I preferred one candidate and the team had a different opinion, actually not yet. Because I think that the 10 questions that we use to filter tend to get us on the same page with "Hey, really what are we looking for here," and the best fit for the team next.
Shantel: Mm-hmm, that's great. Well I'd like to rewind a little bit. So you were at that inflection moment in your life, 18-month-old son, about to take a risk and start your own company. Did you have a lot of influence in growing up around other entrepreneurs? Were you the first in the family? Was this something supported by friends and family, or something that people were a little wary of?
Candice: You know, for me I think I've always been most harsh on myself. I grew up in a small town in northern Kentucky, was the first in my family to ever go to college, worked really hard to get scholarships to be able to go to SCAD, which I did a lot of research on and knew was the best school for me. So I've always been a self starter in that sense, but my father was also an entrepreneur, he started his company at 17 years old, and it's the only thing he ever wanted to do. So I definitely had that hard work and stamina built into me from a young age just observing my dad and being able to go to job sites with him and so forth.
Shantel: That's amazing. Was that in a similar industry, or completely different?
Candice: Completely different. I'm the only artistic one in my family. My dad, he graduated high school and went into geothermal heating, which is heating under the ground. So he is very technical, very savvy at that, but as far as where I got creativity from, I think it's just always been innate to me. I've always been fascinated with being able to come up with ideas in my head and express them on paper, and then once I found that I could do that and think spatially, interiors was the only place I wanted to go.
Shantel: Nice. I'd love to talk a little bit about vision. It's almost been five years. When you started the company did you think, "Okay, I'm going to grow a team," or did you think it would be an independent company and just you? What was your vision then and has it changed quite a bit from where you are now?
Candice: Yes, so starting the company I knew that I needed to do something that was more sustainable for my family. That was the mentality of jumping from what I was already doing with the two roles and really focusing and being intentional in how I wanted to spend my time, but going into that first month knowing I was faced with the first challenge that entrepreneurs have of starting to think about building a team. I knew from there that I wanted to put some framework in place for myself as far as how did I see Nimble. growing from not just that first month and first year, but for the next 10 years. How did I see myself growing Nimble. and what was going to be the most, kind of critical points for us. So I always thought about Nimble. being a team because I was faced with that challenge right away, but I also see Nimble., the name Nimble. really comes from a place of creative process, and thinking about design as not just the physical, what's on paper, or what are you looking at, but what is the strategy behind that. So Nimble. of course by nature means you're quick, agile, efficient, but for us it also means a team that's small, it's focused, and it's multidisciplinary. You have a team where you can have a conversation with them and they can execute that as well. I never saw Nimble., or I don't see Nimble. being a large agency. So that's helped me filter, like I said, the types of skillsets that we need to add to our team, knowing that for every project it's still kind of an all hands on deck experience, and I think that's what our clients, it's one of the things they value most.
Shantel: That's great. I think just hearing a very clear vision where you don't want to be too, which also helps make it easier to know where you want to be. And this is kind of coming from a question of something that I've just recently experienced. I'd love your opinion on this. But as the team continues to want to grow personally and professionally have you struggled at all with finding a balance on how to do that without losing them if you kind of intend and want to stay small?
| ROLES THAT EMPOWER |
Candice: That's a great question. After our first year I had a reflection point when we started, our core focus shifted for a lot of our projects, being that 2D branding and marketing side, to getting a lot more signage design work. Signage design as a specialty is so new, so I really had to think about what was I calling my team, what were their roles, and how could I set them up for success knowing that they needed to learn something now, they needed to pick up the signage design and experiential design experience that I had and I needed to teach them that. So giving them roles that really empowered them to know that they could be that and more. So yeah, I think 12 months in we switched kind of the hierarchy of our organization from graphic designers to brand designers, and senior brand designers, and really have that mentality when thinking about our team. As far as what stepping stones they have to grow, I'm always focused on what our team's individual skillsets are and how we can help those shine on a daily basis, or by giving them certain side projects, whether for Nimble., or just to explore and grow, to keep them focused and to keep them motivated and creative, regardless of what our week by week workload looks like. And I think by doing that and empowering that, and we also have some benefits in place that support that, we have a professional development stipend that allows our team to really have a budget every year that they can spend how they see fit, going to workshops or creative conferences, or learning a new skillset, or picking up some side classes. We really just want to continue to let our team explore creatively and grow personally so they can go professionally as Nimble.'s clients and project load changes.
Shantel: I love that! We've recently in this last year as well done what we're calling a continued education fund, similar to that stipend. And we're excited to see how that continues to evolve in this next year. We've kind of changed the ante a little bit and now they have to kind of present what they'd like to do, and they invest in themselves and we reimburse them after, after kind of a report on how it went or what they took away from it, which was a little bit different from what we did this year, so eager to hear how that shifts next year.
Candice: Absolutely. That's very similar to how we set ours up, and this is the second year that we've done it. It's interesting to see where each individual plans to spend their stipend because you would think it's growing an existing skillset, but in our case I think half the team chose to pursue something new. So they really use that as leverage to explore during the workday, something else that they want to learn, not just focusing on what they're already striving in.
Shantel: Yeah, that is really interesting. Is there anything that's still on your plate that you one day can't wait to pass off?
Candice: Plenty. For us, I think the biggest milestones or the biggest hires that have helped support me focusing more on what I love, which is interiors consulting, and of course growing business development and mentoring our team would be our project manager who we hired two years ago, and then our newest hire who focuses on brand strategy and copywriting. So taking off those two big hats, it's very refreshing and I'm glad that we have now team members who can really focus and thrive in those specialties. But what I'm still focused on that I cannot, haven't found the go button yet to hire somebody full-time would be a studio manager, somebody who's just focused on the day to day, the admin side that's just, it feels too small to have somebody fully focused on it, but I'm sure if I was very conscious of my time, I know I'm still spending too much of it on those activities and I think that would be it. And then from there somebody who's kind of wholly focused on accounting that's full-time.
Shantel: Yeah, those are two things that I also, is not a strength of mine either, and was certainly very excited to pass it off. So would the studio manager be kind of a hybrid between an operations COO and an office manager? Those types of duties?
Candice: There are so many small tasks that could easily form somebody his role. It's just about for us, like I said, finding the right person, and probably for me, articulating everything that I do now on paper, which seems like a hard step for an entrepreneur to find time for to make sure that it's a sustainable role and a measurable role as well.
Shantel: Certainly. Well I'm excited to recap with you sometime when you've passed that off and how that's going for you. Candice, just a couple more questions. I think the first one that comes to mind is for listeners that are interested in starting something, or just recently started something, is there anything reflecting back that you wish you would have known when you first got started?
| LEARN DAILY |
Candice: I think as an entrepreneur you can feel really confident in your personal skillsets, and those skillsets taking you far, knowing that you can get clients and keep clients just by being innately good at what you started and what you ventured out to do, the hard part as an entrepreneur is really figuring out how to scale, and of course figuring out all the operational things that have to be in place for you to have processes and sustainability measures there that are going to allow you the time to grow. So I think the advice I'd give to somebody looking to start is just to be prepared to learn daily, be prepared to slow down in the beginning because there's so much that you have to learn and focus on, and make sure you're building processes as you go. Don't wait until you get to a certain growth point to have somebody else dictate what those processes are.
Shantel: That's great advice. This might be an impossible question, because I know it's very difficult to turn off and unplug as a business owner, but do you have any techniques or kind of routines and systems so that you can truly unplug and be present with friends and family, or just when you need a break personally?
Candice: I would say that that shift of having unplugged time I've had to become accustomed to. I'm one of those entrepreneurs who has been working full-time since they were 15 years old and truly enjoys every second of it. Having and growing a family has put a different perspective on it, and for me it's not really this idea of balance, it's more about being really present with where I'm at, at any given time, and by nature Nimble. affords me the ability to travel for projects, and so I think my favorite time during my work life is what I call plane time. So unplugging, getting on a plane, traveling to wherever our project is, and really allowing myself to be offline during that time to focus really on whatever it is that's on my mind, whether that's writing lists, or whether that's writing a reflection piece, or just not doing anything and really reflecting on the pleasure in everything that is kind of on our plate at any given time. And then the same is true when we travel with family, just trying to be really focused on family during that time, but I think travel is one of my favorite things for that very purpose because it gets you out of a place where you feel like you're in it and allows you to be a little bit more reflective.
Shantel: I like that a lot. I always try to connect to the wifi and it's always crummy, and it never works anyway, just makes me frustrated, so I appreciate that advice. I'll have to try that for sure.
Shantel: Well how can people get in touch with you, learn more about your journey and your business if they were interested?
Shantel: Wonderful! Well thank you so much for carving out the time to connect. We really appreciate it.
Candice: Absolutely. It's been great. Thanks Shantel.