The Funsize Story: Part 1

Aug 14, 2021

The Funsize Story (Pt. 1)

If you told us we had to put a label on the year that has been 2021, we would have a tough time of it. “Whirlwind” would not be cliche. But in a world where the pandemic refuses to go away, our whirlwinds look a bit different. It’s easy to point to the changes that have taken place throughout the design community (and the business realm at large): Companies have folded, others have risen in their place, departments have re-structured, offices are left vacant, others are coming back to life, etc.

More difficult to define are the personal whirlwinds we’re all spiraling through. As we crawl back toward “normal life,” we do it in different ways. Some of us have been yearning to be around folks again. Others are a bit more anxious about it and are proceeding with caution. Texas was beginning to feel pretty pre-COVID until the arrival of Delta. Now we’re all questioning, once again, what’s safe and responsible. The times, they are a ‘changin.

As a company, 2020–2021 has been an era of unexpected opportunity. The shifts in the market have opened up space for Funsize and we’ve grown as a result. So much so, that we were actually ranked the 2,325th fastest-growing private company in the U.S. by Inc. Magazine (we’re in disbelief).

The milestone made us pick our heads up and take a breath. These moments give us a profound sense of the passage of time. It had our longest-standing team members looking back on the past eight years asking: “How’d we get here?”

And so, to answer that, we decided to retrace our steps.

New Beginnings

Before the word Funsize had ever been uttered, there were two designers pursuing careers in New York City. Natalie at R/GA, and Anthony at Behavior Design (acquired in 2019 by Orion).

For Natalie, design was something she’d always done in one form or another. It was something she’d picked up from her brother. By sixteen, she was already busy making party flyers and one-off websites here and there for spending money. And by early college, she landed an internship at imc² in Dallas, where she first met Anthony.

Growing up with a graphic designer dad, Anthony had followed a similar path. After graduating from The Art Institute of Dallas, he entered the workforce right as the internet was exploding and his career in the early 2000s was a mixture of design gigs, agency employment and forays into agency ownership.

When his path crossed with Natalie, he already had his eyes set on where most of the design action was happening: New York City. Texas was old hat and he needed a new scene. So with a few bucks and two duffle bags of clothes, he took a leap of faith on a new position that he had coveted his entire career.

A Subway-Riding Anthony

In late 2006, Natalie followed suit. Things went swimmingly as their personal lives and careers began to grow in the Big Apple.

Fast forward a few years later, on a trip to Austin for SXSW in 2009, this happened (there’s also a video):

The Proposal!

They’d spend a few more years in New York before deciding it was time for a new chapter in their lives. The hustle was tiring and they wanted to slow down, buy a house, and be closer to family — things that are a little more difficult to make happen in New York. They looked back to their home state of Texas and easily settled on the rolling hills and growing design community of Austin.

Funsize: Not a Candy Bar

In Austin, Natalie and Anthony’s work lives looked different: Anthony had gone from agency ownership, to in-house, to freelance in the matter of a year.

Natalie was going steady with Fjord, working remotely. But the pains of remote life and lack of work friendships were starting to get to her so she began applying to other jobs (read her account of this life-phase here).

Queue the memories because that’s when it all started.

While Anthony was on the hunt for what was next, he interviewed with friend (now Funsize adviser) Peter Merholz, who was VP of Global Design at Groupon at the time. Instead of taking a job, he made a suggestion: What if Groupon hired Anthony’s freelance business?

At that time, Natalie had been interviewing for full-time positions. When Anthony came to her and showed her a spreadsheet of the project’s potential revenue compared to a full-time position, she started feeling like that was a possibility. Though they’d talked about working together a few times before and were already helping each other out on projects, the opportunity had never been so clear. She parted ways with Fjord soon after.

So now the question was: If they were going to be a little two-person business entity, what should they be called? They’d thrown around a few ideas before, but now it was time to get serious about it.

They made a list of top contenders and some funky ones that didn’t make the cut, like: Octagon, Ebb & Flow, Nowadays, Masthead.

“What about Funsize?” Natalie asked. Anthony wasn’t hard to convince.

Why “Funsize” though? What exactly did it mean?

They were mobile-focused and they did have a small team — so that kind of made sense. Anthony added, “It’s also an oxymoron because it sounds insignificant, but the clients we’ve worked with — HBO, MoMa, Business Week, AARP, NFL, Citibank, Verizon — were not insignificant at all”..

And so, in a 2013 contract with Groupon, a new contender named Funsize officially entered the arena.

Our very first space in North Austin

The work with Groupon went well. So well that they decided they wanted more help with more projects. This was a pivotal time for Anthony and Natalie because it got the wheels turning on how they would structure retainers going forward. That meant they could start adding a little more predictability to their work cycles, finances, and forecasting 3–6 months out into the future.

The groundwork for an agency was being laid, piece by piece.

The Groupon Team

As the Groupon work expanded, they needed more firepower. They added their first non-Armendariz to the crew: Rick Messer, a talented Colorado transplant and good buddy. Next, they took on their first apprentice (something we still do today) to learn the craft and help execute production.

With Natalie’s time free’d up a bit, they started to take on more projects, mainly with early stage startups in need of serious design help, small companies with big dreams.

Thanks to Anthony and Natalie’s network and a fast-growing track record, word began to spread and more opportunities emerged. Former agency owner and pal, Andre Jurgensen, joined the team — first as a freelancer and later full-time — to add another level of polish to the Funsize machine. He’s still holding it down with us to this day!

Andre in the olden days

Growing Up

In the midst of these business happenings, Funsize was starting to take shape as a brand. It all started to feel real when the team reached out to friend, Stu Smith, and his agency Sputnik Creative for branding help. From that engagement, the first Funsize logo emerged.

Stu also had another gift for us: The contact information for the building owner so that we could inquire about leasing the space next door to his studio. Everything panned out and we moved from our small office in a shared space into our own studio in an historic building in Downtown Austin.

The office became a thriving little organism of design creativity, right in the heart of Austin’s famous 6th Street.

Design events at the old Funsize office

With the earliest stages of business building behind them, Funsize looked to the future with excitement. We were a scrappy little tight-knit crew of friends doing good work together. In Anthony and Natalie’s eyes, they’d already accomplished what they’d set out to do. But some of the biggest years were still ahead. We’ll be covering that in Part 2, so stay tuned.

Funsize is a digital product design studio that helps inspiring product teams, small and large, uncover opportunities, bring new products to market, evolve digital products and services, and explore the future.

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