July 26, 2022

Building Purpose-Driven Brands that Shape Culture with Willow Hill Ep. 80


Willow Hill is an entrepreneur and award-winning creative director at the helm of building the purpose-driven brands of tomorrow. As the Co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Scout Lab, her clients include Wix.com, Adidas, Venmo, and scaling start-ups such as Ritual, Maple, Wilde, and more. Prior to Scout Lab, she built and launched Airbnb's global brand, introducing the Airbnb re-brand to the world via major global campaigns. Drove adoption of the Airbnb brand into hyper-growth in the US, Europe, and Asia-Pacific. She is also a creative advisor as well as an LP at the Airbnb Angels fund. 

As a passionate creative leader, Willow speaks on building brands designed for the next generation. Speaking topics include: Building environmentally sustainable brands, Designing for Gen Z and Beyond, An indigenous approach to creativity and more. Her work has been featured in Forbes, The Disney Channel, Ad Week, Nylon, Rolling Stone and more.

Where to find Willow Hill

Website: https://www.scoutlab.com/


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This episode is sponsored by Entire Productions- Creating events (both in-person and virtual) that don't suck! and Entire Productions Marketing- carefully curated premium gifting and branded promo items. 

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Transcript
Willow Hill:

Anyone can create a logo and like you just mentioned a logo is not a brand. We can say it a hundred ways. But ultimately the people that make up your company and your customer base are your brand in so many ways.

Natasha Miller:

Welcome to FASCINATING ENTREPRENEURS. How do people end up becoming an entrepreneur? How do they scale and grow their businesses? How do they plan for profit? Are they in it for life? Are they building to exit these and a myriad of other topics. We'll be discussed to pull back the veil on the wizard street of successful and fascinating entrepreneurs. My book RELENTLESS is now available everywhere books can be bought online, including Amazon and BarnesAndNoble.com. Try your local indie bookstore too. And if they don't have it, they can order it. Just ask them the reviews are streaming in. And I'm so thankful for the positive feedback, as well as hearing from people that my memoir has impacted them positively. It is not enough to be resilient. You have to be RELENTLESS. You can go to TheRelentlessBook.com for more information. Thank you so much. Willow Hill is the co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Scout Lab, a full service purpose driven creative agency. She's also a Forbes next 1000 entrepreneur and has been featured on the Disney channel at Princeton Design Week can and more, we talk about her past career at Airbnb, what her company specializes in and how she shares the responsibilities with her co-founder in running the business. Now let's get right into it.

Willow Hill:

So many different things collided to create my life of entrepreneurship that I have now. So where do we even start? Airbnb, first of all, was an absolutely incredible experience. I was early on building their brand and I got to really have a front row seat to the incredible entrepreneurship of Joe, Nathan, Brian, the founders of Airbnb. I think in that experience had a lot of exposure to what entrepreneurship leadership and really taking big risks meant in a world where you're looking at something like, how can we create a new economy, which in the case of Airbnb was about creating, not just a new platform, but really an entire sharing economy, something most people had never even thought of or dared to participate in previously. And with Scout Lab, I had really honed my ability to build brands and specifically build brands with purpose. And I was really fortunate after Airbnb to meet my co-founder Caitlin Barclay in New York City, who also had a really interesting background in expertise that really gelled with mine. And between the two of us, we saw an opportunity. So it was 2017. There was a really big need, quite frankly. So the timing was one of opportunity because I think we saw that there was so much need for purpose and for brands to really step up in a way that they hadn't previously. We looked around, we saw multi-billion dollar brands making egregious mistakes. Culturally, you had Pepsi appropriating black lives matter. You had Bic painting products pink and charging more. And all the while the majority of the market that's purchasing. Products and services doesn't resonate with brands and that's women. And we saw that there was a bigger hole to fill. And so we were called to this not only by way of expertise, but also in some ways, by way of duty. We just, we know that our expertise and where those need, really met. And so we, after meeting a bottle of wine from an introduction from a friend, we started Scout Lab. The next, that night, we decided during our session together that we were gonna start this company, we showed up. At a little coffee shop. The next day we started working and we haven't stopped since, and it's been five years.

Natasha Miller:

Okay. So amazing story. And I have so many things to say, but first, before we get into dreamers and doers, which I wanna talk about, I see that you say on your website, think of us as the brand therapist for your identity crisis. We build brands that advance humanity forward. Talk to me about that.

Willow Hill:

So there's two pieces here. The first is the identity crisis, which I just love because I work with founders every single day that have really, really big goals and really big visions. But oftentimes feel really inhibited by their ability to get there because they don't know how to translate that excitement and that feeling into something that is contagious to the rest of society, which is really where we come in to help be those translators of the vision, to be the oness that can bring an idea from being that seed of an idea or that seed of a product into being something that's widely adopted and loved and shared. And I think that is where we talk about the joke of the identity crisis is we can refine and shape a vision. There's always gonna be a seed of something. It needs to be authentic, and it needs to start obviously with the founders and the founding team, but we're there to help. And then the second piece advancing humanity forward is always been a part of who we are and what we do and is really fundamental to, I think, what differentiates us, which is we're here to build 21st century brands. We are here to really help. I think the move us ahead from a mass consciousness perspective and say, we understand that we live in a capitalist society that does not mean that purpose and profit cannot coexist. And in fact, in order to reach your market, millennials and gen Z, they need to, and the numbers prove that, which I think is one of the most exciting things for me and the most exciting time to be a part of being a creative problem solver. Couldn't be a better time. Your time is now.

Natasha Miller:

I agree with you. I have a 26 year old daughter, and if there's not something that is contributing to society along with her purchase, she won't consider it for the most part. Right? So we have a really educated and enabled body of people coming up into the world and Scout Lab is going to address their buying needs and their conscientiousness and make the world a better place. Hopefully it sounds like. And let's talk about, okay. Before Dreamers and Doers, looking back now on Airbnb, after that was your baby and looking at what they're doing now, and I'm not asking you, do you like what they're doing now, but how does it feel when you're a baby then gets taken to other places by other people?

Willow Hill:

Oh, it's actually one of the most incredible feelings I would say to be able to watch something that was once an idea or once something that I had to overly explain at a dinner party or to my family.

Natasha Miller:

What you're gonna sleep in? What?

Willow Hill:

You wanna, you wanna sleep, work somewhere, convincing people to sleep in strangers bed. So moving from that, you know, this idea of like airbed and breakfast to a common household name is something I'm really proud of. And I think the team that is there today and that has taken the brand forward has done so in such an incredible way, and really done an incredible job. Obviously there's pitfalls to any major brand, but ultimately watching what Airbnb has done in the refugee crisis, watching airbnb.org and everything that Joe Gebbia has done with that, I'm really proud to have been a part of the organization and really proud of the team that's there today, still carrying it forward.

Natasha Miller:

That's cool. All right, you and I met in this great community that a past FASCINATING ENTREPRENEURS guest founded who? I just think she's just, I don't know. She's the cats, meow. Her name is Gesche and it's Dreamers and Doers. And you just let me know before we started this interview that you did the branding-design thought process. And again, listeners branding is not your logo, but Willow will explain that a little bit more. Tell me about how that came to be and some of the thought processes that happened to create that it's so much deeper than what we can do in this interview, but just a little bit would be great.

Willow Hill:

So I got introduced to Dreamers and Doers in, I believe 2017 and the entire concept around entrepreneurs, really coming into a space where they were in communities supporting one another really widening the circle for everyone was something that I really aligned with and the vision and everything that Dreamers and Doers stands for was really aligned with Scout Lab. Right? They are advancing humanity forward in the most pur ways. So getting to be a part of that experience was really powerful for me. One of the things that I noticed early on as being a part of the community was that the visual identity and the way that it was articulating itself, wasn't up to the potential. That I was seeing and the other members and specifically in the leadership, because once you're inside and you can absolutely attest to this Natasha, there is such incredible talent and such deep knowledge and a wealth of information. And again, just like endless power there. So I had just started a conversation there with the founder early on, just about, "Hey, what are some ways that we could maybe take a look at evolving this brand to really meet not only where you are today, but where you're going in the future, because what you've created is so vast and has really outgrown where you were visually and from a communication standpoint." And she was really excited about it as well. We jumped in a few years later, actually, I think it took maybe two years before we actually started the project together. We rebranded during the pandemic, which was a whole another story. If you want to do a full rebrand digitally and never get to beat in person, that's a crazy process. We can talk about another time, but we were really able to collaborate in a way that I think yielded incredible results. And what was really interesting was when we looked at the brand identity, the first place that we started was not the visuals. And this is really important to our rebrand process. We look at the values, we look at the vision, we look at how we're communicating and we very closely tie our strategy to our visual identity. And this is something really unique that we do. But I think it's really important because anyone can create a logo. And like you just mentioned a logo is not a brand. We can say it a hundred ways, but ultimately. The people that make up your company and your customer base are your brand in so many ways. So they've done a really incredible job at highly curating and being thoughtful about people who are there to give and receive and be very open, making sure that everyone knows that the world is not a pie, that there is more abundance for everyone than there is scarcity. Starting from that point was where we jumped off of originally, which ended up yielding, like I said, the most incredible results, an absolutely stunning brand. That's only continued to attract more of the really high caliber community that they have today, like yourself.

Natasha Miller:

Have you ever thought that you should write a book that you should write the story of your life to help other people learn from your experience? Please go to MemoirSherpa.com and learn how I can help you write, figure out your publishing path and market your story, your memoir, to a best-seller status. How long can Dreamers and Doers count on the current? I wouldn't say the internal elements of their brand, because that's going to stick around. How long do you think the external, the visuals will remain and stay current for them or any brand that you work with and how, and when do you go about adjusting or tweaking?

Willow Hill:

Oh, wow. This is such a thoughtful question. I'm so glad you asked it because there are a lot of different ways into building a brand. One is more trend based. Which I think is a little bit of what you're talking about. And then one is more long term, right? So whenever we're building a brand identity, we wanna start with the core elements that we know will meet a more long term vision. So when we're talking about your vision, when we're talking about things like your logo and your word mark, and these core fundamental pieces, those need to be able to last you 10, 20 years if not longer. I mean, if you look at the Coca-Cola company, maybe not as much in terms of values aligned with where we stand, but thinking through that word mark, and just how powerful it's been, there are elements of your brand that can and should last. And that's where we start. So we start thinking long term with that said there are always gonna be pieces of your brand that you want to be a little bit more flexible. And that's where brands are really lucky today because you can play in places like social media and TikTok. There's so many extensions of your brand where you get to be more exploratory and you get to be more playful and you get to really evolve with some of the trends. But I would say that the core pieces of your brands should be more long term. And if you're doing it right, you should be able to, again, not have to refresh your brand every three to five years, because that's definitely not worth the investment in my opinion.

Natasha Miller:

Right, so as a designer, you are looking at a logo. Let's talk about a logo right now and you're thinking, okay, this embodies all the values, the culture, what we want. Our guests are audience to perceive us as, and then you think, okay, we know that these colors and this design trend is really hot right now. But how can we use it in a way that in 10 years, when that color palette looks antiquated or that design shape is so dated that we can pivot and recreate in the newer fashion or one that's more stable because Dreamers and Doers for instance, has a very, very specific look and it's not out of style.

Willow Hill:

Yet.

Natasha Miller:

Right, but it will be. So, what do you have in mind? The flexibility of what you'll do with that mark.

Willow Hill:

So as a creative leader, whenever I'm speaking to designer, strategist, copywriters, the thing that I want everyone to know is that we can use trends to inspire work, but we cannot lean on trends to create the body and the soul of what we're doing. And I think that's really important because to your point, if you're using the same pop color that everyone is using right now within or what is it pantone of the year within the next two years, it might feel dated. So the way in, and this is part of our process, we actually start by building out consumer personas. And this is where holistic creative strategy comes in beyond just thinking from a design perspective, who is your customer? What is it that they're looking for? How can we start to think from the perspective of what their core needs are rather than think about what the specific trend is right now? And this is actually something really interesting that we've even seen with Dreamers and Doers since rebranding, we've seen a, quite a few follow on brands that have. Pulled I'll call it inspiration from where Dreamers and Doers has taken their brand, which of course is, a to an extent, a compliment, we will call it. But I think it's important to note that if you do anything well, there will be follow on brands. Oh, of course, of course. Which is just kind of the way, but as you think about evolving, so let's say. It's been 10 years, it's been 15 years and you need to update and modernize your brand. That's definitely something you can do while keeping that same soul. We call it a brand refresh. If you will, something that makes it a bit more modern, a bit more updated and can speak to your audience as it is today. I think the important part is that you don't lose that same initial intention and soul and that you're not refreshing that every year, because that's when you're gonna start to lose that brand association there needs.

Natasha Miller:

And so like McDonald's and Google and all of these other big companies they've tweaked their logos. I remember when Instagrams was tweaked, people were freaking out right.

Willow Hill:

Burberry, right. Burry moved from such a beautiful word, mark. In my opinion, to something that was a follow on, same with Saint Laurent. Like you're you see?

Natasha Miller:

Oh gosh, you say Laurent. I mean, we can't, how can you lose the okay.

Willow Hill:

My heart-

Natasha Miller:

Anyway, but they're tweaking them a little bit, but now like the slack logo looks like the Google local. They all look the same. To an extent, some of them, but like McDonald's and Google the tweaks. If you're looking at design, they're very subtle in some ways. And sometimes you can't like, they're almost, you can't distinguish unless you're seed them side by side. Okay. We went into a rabbit hole. Let's get out of there. So you're a co-founder and your role right now is COO. What does that mean for you day to day?

Willow Hill:

Absolutely. So my role as co-founder and chief creative officer is really to lead the creative vision of Scout Lab and our clients. So making sure that we are again, delivering on what our mission is, which is building brands that advance humanity forward and on a day to day basis, that looks like collaborating with other founders that have big visions to either expand into a new market that maybe they haven't been able to reach before drop a new product like Casey. We just did a collaboration with them in Olivia Rodrigo to bring them to the us, which was, uh, really incredible through dropping a sustainable line of products. Working with founders that are starting from the ground up, maybe they just raise their series A they're series B and they're ready to actually have the level of Polish that they need to attain the customers that they're looking for. So a little bit of a range there, but ultimately setting that creative direction and then collaborating on a higher level with founders that have that similar vision to advance humanity forward in the category that they're in.

Natasha Miller:

So you're really interacting with your perspective and current clients and forgive me, I thought it said COO, but it's CCO. So on the flip side, Caitlin is the CEO. And I would imagine that she is more involved in operations systems, processes, hiring, firing the business side.

Willow Hill:

So, and this is one of the really beautiful things about our partnership. Caitlin is also deeply creative and that's part of why we came together in the first place. So on any given day, I'll be picking up the phone to call her, to get her perspective, which is really important that we continue that kind of creative collaboration and spark, but yes, she does run the business side and then has also been really fundamental in expanding our business into additional categories. So as we've grown in the last two years, we've also launched a PR division, which Caitlin spearheaded, like I mentioned, which is now run by Patrick Mahoney, who coincidentally used to be a client of ours. Which is really fun. He was at plenty previously and then opened doors. So we kind of snagged him over to our side and then Sarah leaders who also runs our PR division now. So really thinking about what does the long term of the business look like? How and where are we expanding strategically to be able to further serve our clients in the categories that we're in.

Natasha Miller:

That's great. So you don't have to, well, I'm gonna assume that you don't do you have to figure out job descriptions, how to source and qualify people to work for you. Interview them onboard, hire them, develop them. Is that something that you have to do in your role?

Willow Hill:

Oh, Natasha. So I would say so as a co-founder having built this company from the ground up, that has always been an element of my role at most stages of the business. I think it's important that founders stay involved with the people aspect of their company, because people are your company at the end of the day. So well, hiring and all of that can be some of the hardest part, honestly.

Natasha Miller:

It's the hardest part. I talked to so many entrepreneurs when you get down to the question and actually I have a question for you next, but it doesn't have to have this answer. It's not sales, it's not pipeline. It's the human beings, keep going.

Willow Hill:

It is the human beings. It's the most important part. And for creative work like ours, the people behind the creativity is what fuels innovation, ideas, design, all of it that comes together. So for me, as a creative leader, getting to work with our team every day is actually the most fun for me. It's the part that I love the most and honestly, getting to cultivate people and grow talent is one of the most rewarding experiences that I've had in being able to unlock and unleash their potential as well.

Natasha Miller:

So you guys have success, you have, you're a growing company, but the reality is no matter how successful I'm happy and wonderful everything is there's always gonna be challenges today. What is the number one biggest challenge that you are facing and trying to figure out in your business?

Willow Hill:

Number one you want the top three? No, I think you're absolutely right. There's always gonna be challenges. And for us at different stages of the business, those challenges have varied. So one of the things that we've found to be challenging is how do you compete as a business with the Facebooks of the world or the Googles of the world who are throwing cash at employees and for us. The answer has been to realign with purpose and to make sure that we're building a more 21st century workplace, right? So flexibility, trust, leaning into the things that can help us maintain and retain talent has been really huge and a big growing, uh, growing pain, but opportunity as well. And I'm sure you would say that's been for other companies as.

Natasha Miller:

Is the number one challenge, then finding the right talent, the best talent to work in your organization?

Willow Hill:

I would say overall, that's been one of the biggest challenges another, and I would say more recent has been really understanding and working with individuals that may appear to be purpose driven, but at the end of the day, they aren't. And for us, that's a big one where you really need to align with the right people honestly, and be good partners. And so for us, that's been something that's been really incredible where we get to work with, you know, the Dreamers and Doers of the world. But then at the same time, I've also had the really challenging ones as well. And so that's been another big growing experience is to learn as a founder, how to decipher between who appears to be purpose driven and who is really just kind of using that as a flag.

Natasha Miller:

Sometimes you can't tell until they're in your organization and I've learned so many different hiring methods that have been really good, but at the end, it's getting them into your organization and seeing what they do. That's really the only way to tell. So it's frustrating, but it is a reality of being human. So what is the number one strategy for growth you guys are leaning on right now to build your company?

Willow Hill:

So our number one strategy for growth up until this point has been our networks. We've leaned very heavily into word of mouth. We've been really fortunate that a lot of our past clients have been really supportive and spoken well of us and helped us grow organically 20% year over year. We're now at a point where. We're ready to move beyond that. And so we're starting to tap into all types of other tools working on our own marketing, working on our own PR, which is something- It sounds hilarious. But as a creative agency, for me, I've been so heads down focused on the work for so long that it's time to take some of our own advice and really focus on our own brand as a company. Yes. The hardest part, you know, this

Natasha Miller:

Absolutely and when you started this company, did you and your co-founder talk about your exit plan, exit strategy? Is that something that ever came up and is it something that you are thinking about now?

Willow Hill:

If we knew half the things we knew when we started Natasha.

Natasha Miller:

I know.

Willow Hill:

When we started, we were so incredibly energized by the vision that was in front of us, that we did not talk at all about what that exit was going to be. That wasn't part of our initial conversation. I think, as we've grown as a business that never took on funding, we completely boots dropped ourselves. And like I said, we've grown 20% year over year. We've. Built an incredible client base, but it's hard, right. Building a company without funding. And you've talked to a lot of founders that have gone that way. We ultimately know that the path to success for us is the same regardless. So, because we're not taking on funding, we grow to a point where we have the opportunity to sell. And that's a beautiful opportunity or. We have the opportunity to sell because we're doing so well and we can choose not to. And I think that path to freedom is the same for us either way. So we really try to stay focused on what our more incremental goals are that are in front of us. And then again, like focused on the quality of work that we're producing.

Natasha Miller:

For more information, go to the show notes for, we are listening to this podcast. Wanna know more about me go to my website, OfficialNatashaMiller.com. Thank you so much for listening. I hope you loved the show. If you did, please subscribe also, if you haven't done so yet, please leave a review where you're listening to this podcast now. I'm Natasha Miller and you've been listening to FASCINATING ENTREPRENEURS.

Willow Hill Profile Photo

Willow Hill

Willow Hill is an entrepreneur and award-winning creative director at the helm of building the purpose-driven brands of tomorrow. As the Co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Scout Lab, her clients include Wix.com, Adidas, Venmo, and scaling start-ups such as Ritual, Maple, Wilde, and more. Prior to Scout Lab, she built and launched Airbnb's global brand, introducing the Airbnb re-brand to the world via major global campaigns. Drove adoption of the Airbnb brand into hyper-growth in the US, Europe, and Asia-Pacific. She is also a creative advisor as well as an LP at the Airbnb Angels fund.

As a passionate creative leader, Willow speaks on building brands designed for the next generation. Speaking topics include: Building environmentally sustainable brands, Designing for Gen Z and Beyond, An indigenous approach to creativity and more. Her work has been featured in Forbes, The Disney Channel, Ad Week, Nylon, Rolling Stone and more.