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9 Years Old & Feeling Grateful

by Gage Mitchell | May 15, 2018 | Advice

Last month Modern Species turned 9 years old. In human years that means fourth grade. In business years we're somewhere between 39 and 58—because 50% of businesses die within 5 years, and 75% close within 10 years (According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). So as we sit here, one month into our 10th year, all I can feel is humble, yet somehow proud, and grateful to still be going strong.

Why I feel humble.

I had a crazy idea to start a sustainable brand design studio, so I went to a small business entrepreneur class at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. In that class I met Annemarie Maitri, who was about to start a sustainable bake shop. We connected instantly, became class buddies, friends, and eventually collaborators when her bake shop needed a brand and I needed a client to launch my design studio. It started out as Gage Mitchell Design and was operated out of the spare bedroom in our apartment above Hempen Goods on Willy Street. Soon after launching I was overwhelmed with deadlines so my wife, Jen, decided to join the company as my partner. Since then we've worked with tiny start ups in various states and countries, to mid-size companies serving a region or two, all the way up to giant companies serving an international market. The fact that the one little idea that sprouted in that business class could bring us to what we are today day blows my mind. I feel both tiny and big at the same time.

Why I feel proud.

While it's weird to use humble and proud in the same post, I can't describe it any other way. When you start a company it's like giving birth to a business baby. When that baby grows up to be an adult and goes off to do amazing things, it's a pretty exciting thing to watch. Since we launched we've gotten to work with amazing mission-centric companies at all sizes, we've collaborated with awesome people from around the world, and we've done work good enough to get attention from a wide range of blogs, magazines, books, podcasts, and award judges. While we're far from anything resembling a peak, it's hard not to look back on all that we've done, all that our clients have accomplished, all that we as individuals have become, and not be proud.

Why I feel grateful.

I'm extremely grateful for starting this business at the bottom of the economy—which taught us to be scrappy and helped our small (less expensive) studio grow while larger agencies stagnated. I'm grateful for Annemarie of Bloom Bake Shop for taking a chance on a brand new studio and for committing to sustainability as much as we did. I'm grateful for Andy Radtke of Organic Valley for seeking out a values match over the prestige of working with a big, famous, established agency. I'm grateful for my wife, Jen, who got a job to pay the bills while I started this company and then quit her job to help me grow it when we got busy. I'm grateful for every client who chose us over whomever else they were considering. I'm grateful for the collaborators and employees we've worked with over the years for saying yes to working for purpose over (big) paychecks. I'm grateful for loving business, design, sustainability, and food as much as I do because it's proven to be a great combination of expertise considering the sustainable food market has been exploding for a while. I'm grateful for the privileges that have helped me get where I am—being a white male without kids has certainly helped—and I vow to use that privilege to make the world better for those less fortunate. I'm grateful for so many things that I could write an entire post about it (and maybe I will), but for now, I'll just say thank you. Thanks to everyone and everything that kept this idea alive for 9 years, and hopefully a lot while longer.


Stay hungry. Stay foolish. And cheers to 9 crazy years! 

Gage Mitchell is the Principal / Creative Director at Modern Species. For more posts from him, click here.

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