After spending some time on the West Coast, Elisa Richardson returned to the concrete jungle to continue shaping her professional career as a communications strategist for the popular photo app startup VSCO in 2015. However, when VSCO laid off staff and closed its New York office earlier this year, many were left wondering what their next steps would be. Always a hustler at heart, Elisa didn’t allow this obstacle to stop her. She, along with three former co-workers (and now tight-as-glue girlboss friends), formed Eddie, a new-age creative agency that leverages the talents of female creatives to produce emotional experiences for big brands. In this interview with BAUCE, Elisa shares how she met her co-founders (Head of Marketing Anna Sian, Executive Producer Amy Kanagaki, and Creative Director Jean Shim) and why her diverse crew decided to start an all-female creative collective.
Eddie has a solid team of four super-rad female co-founders. How did you all meet each other?
Elisa: So we all met actually working at VSCO. I came on to run PR at VSCO. And actually Jean, Anna and Amy were already there. I had a manager that kind of introduced all of us to each other. I was working in PR and Anna was working on the marketing side. Amy was working on the production side and Jean was working in design. So I mean right off the bat all of our personalities sort of clicked, and we all really got along. We knew we had similar work, similar outlook on life and similar opinions.
On top of that we were fortunate to actually work on some hardcore launches and different events together. And I think from there we were like wow! Wait — we’re really great. Our dynamic is awesome and we are so diverse in our offering. Can we package this up and really make it something outside of VSCO? That’s how Eddie was born.
So, what is Eddie? It doesn’t seem like your typical ad agency!
Elisa: We are a creative collective. It really is like a new approach to an agency model I would say. We want to help different brands and companies kind of just continue to do cool things. Like for example, we’re currently working with Air Jordan on content for their website and all of the content is specific to this female voice. So we are commissioning female illustrators from our creative network and then a female copywriter. This doesn’t mean that every client we work with has to be “female” but naturally that’s what we lean towards since we are so under represented within the leadership of the space. I think that we all have unique access to creatives and creators and we’re figuring out how to leverage that. We are a new take on what an ad agency or branding agency would typically look like.
Starting an agency can be a challenge because you have to fill up your Rolodex with talent and clients. How did you find initial clients for your agency?
Elisa: We all came from pretty big badass backgrounds but I would say if you have met any one of us, the four of us hustle so hard. I came from a tech background. We all were used to working in fast paced environments. All of us were really enrolled at companies where you’re like moving quickly and meeting new creatives all the time. All of us are pretty engrained in our different communities too. Anna was born and raised in New York. I spent a lot of time out in California. Amy is from Australia and has a lot of connections there. Jean is Korean. So all of us have a really large, diverse network that we’ve kind of cultivated over the last couple of years.
What’s the one thing that makes Eddie stand out from other agencies, especially in a saturated creative market like New York?
Elisa: We’re not afraid to be offensive. I think that there’s an honesty and approach that we take that comes from us having to work at companies that you wouldn’t necessarily say had female-driven or female-dominant environments. The lessons that came with those experiences translated into the way in which we operate which is brutally honest, but it’s always in respect to the client. And I think to that extent we’re not afraid to say, “Hey Air Jordan, this voice that you have on your website is not attracting a female audience because it’s not female.” We help brands see the human elements and emotions they often miss. I think we really approach every client and every brand with the scope of what we feel about the brand and how can we help.
There are so many brands that we sit around and talk about and think “Gosh, they’re so dope, but we wish they were doing this.” It’s hard to say if that’s just our creative insight, but I think all of our combined experience helps us see a project through and see results that validate that our thinking is correct. We are the new kids on the block. We don’t have much to lose. We don’t need to make money with this — we just want to do some thing that matters. I think that’s what gives us an edge.
How are you making this agency work for you all financially? Are you bootstrapping? Did you raise money?
Elisa: Luckily, the idea for Eddie came before VSCO closed, so we already had the base of what a company looked like, and we were kind of ready to actually start bringing on clients which was exciting. The timing of it all really worked out. Each of us still have full-time jobs at ad companies for now. I think the understanding is let’s make this work until we hit a certain number in our minds. Once we do that, then we will make this a full-time thing. But in the meantime, all four of us are kind of have a main gig and this is our side hustle.
How are you balancing having a day job and building out an agency after-hours? Do you stay up late at night to get shit done?
Elisa: I mean it’s definitely a sacrifice. Like there are things that you give up — I go out a lot less now. But at the end of the day, we all really love this so much, and we see the vision so it’s not even an issue. I do think one thing that’s been great is that our communication has really stepped up and we’re so on point. One of us could say, “Hey, this is a crazy week for me at my main job — can someone please be the point person for this project?” and someone else will scramble to handle it. I’ve been really impressed by that. But I mean, me personally I work a lot of late nights and a lot of weekends. I feel like I’m never not working at this stage and it’s a lot. But, at the same time, I think as you get older you try to identify the things that make you happy and what moves you — which makes work not feel like work.
Do you think having a team is beneficial or more of a challenge than starting a business on your own?
Elisa: So, I actually started a PR agency when I was 24, and I ran it by myself. I did it for a year and I was literally able to afford my rent and my life in New York, but it was crazy. I have the natural talent to be able to get a client and service them well and do the actual PR outreach. But when it came to being your own finance department and hiring contractors and being your own HR department — it was a ton of work and I panicked! That’s actually what led me to go back in-house full-time at VSCO. The opportunity sort of landed in my lap and I decided to take it because I loved the company so much. But I think having team with four of us is everything I could have asked for. There’s this inherent, built-in support where we are like, shit this is crazy — but at least we have each other trying to go through the craziness together.
The strength of our team also speaks to our different skill sets. Anna and I are both really good at getting new business. Amy is good at holding us down and managing things. Jean kills it when it comes to design. I realized as a small business owner that there are skills that one person just doesn’t have and that’s OK; you know, it’s cool if you can identify those and work on them. I can tell you hands-down I’m never going to like finance. I’m never going to be super good at doing our books. It’s just not me. And at the same time, Amy can’t just go and talk to a reporter; it’s not her and she doesn’t feel comfortable. So I think having the different skills sets really, really help. For us, having a team ensures our success because we won’t let each other give up.