Co-Founders of Hi Noon Skyler and Kelsey

An unexpected journey: Learnings from two creatives who quit their agency jobs to start a studio, together

Hi there! I’m Kelsey (waving) and this is Skyler (also waving) and we’re Hi Noon Studio. Before we dive in, I just want to quickly introduce us. We founded Hi Noon about a year ago when we both decided to leave the comfort (and timely paychecks) of agency life and start a design studio together. Here’s our story.

Pt. 1: The Agency 

We met at Emerson Stone, a design agency located in Boulder, Colorado, back in 2018. We spent a year working side by side there on a variety of projects as graphic designers, coffee runners, website designers, and hand models. 

I can confidently say that we would not be running our studio the way we are without our agency foundation. Most of our process was created from the principles and experiences we had at design firms we’ve worked at over the years. At an agency, we learned how to present work, talk to clients, work quickly, and how to juggle multiple projects at once.

Pt. 2: Quitting

This part is pretty self-explanatory, but not so easy. It’s hard to know exactly how or when it’s time to break out of the cocoon and quit, but what I can say is: be nice, respectful, and thankful. Then shake hands (or elbow bump) and peace out of there.  

Skyler left first fair through the rough seas of freelance alone. The idea of starting a studio together had floated around a bit before he left, but it always felt like a long-term, maybe dream, more than anything real. Within a month of leaving, he had too much work to do alone, and we decided that “maybe someday” was coming now. So I left (well, kinda . . . buy us a few drinks and we’ll tell you the full story) and together we joined forces.

Kelsey Hill co-founder of Hi Noon with block quote

Pt. 3: Starting Our Own Studio

We had to play a lot of catch up through the first months; we had work to do and couldn’t focus on logistics. It was months before we set up an LLC, got a tax ID #, signed an operating agreement, or even had a website; we barely even had a name. My advice to anyone, including my younger, naive self from a year ago, is to get that sh*t figured out first. 

Instead, we asked the deep questions. What are we? Who are we? Are we a studio? Agency? Firm? Solo artist? As a tight-knit team of two, “agency” felt too big, and “firm” was a little too fancy for our Target lifestyle. We felt that “studio” suited us nicely. 

Pt. 4: Becoming Known in the Design Community 

The typical way, which works pretty dang well, is to attend design events in your area. For pre-Covid-10 times, that meant finding Creative Mornings, Meetups, grabbing coffee with a design agency in town, or, maybe attending a design conference in your area. The atypical way, for a newbie designer to get to know the community, is to create your own event. That is what Skyler decided to do about a year into arriving in Boulder, at the quite naive age of 24. After getting a sense of the design community in Boulder and Denver, he felt that Colorado needed its own design conference. So he created Matchbox Design Fest, a day dedicated to Colorado creatives. Through organizing Matchbox, we were able to get to know not only the community but the heads of agencies on a uniquely personal level.

Skyler Sun co-founder of Hi Noon with block quote

Pt. 5: Getting/Keeping/Growing Clients

This is the good stuff, this is what pays the bills, this is the section you skip to. It’s not just about who you know, it’s about what the people you know think of you. We can trace almost every client we have today back to a designer in town, thanks to Skyler taking the time to get to know our creative community. As a two-person studio, we can take on projects that are too small for the bigger agencies, and we are extremely grateful for that. For us, no project is ever too small, especially since we’re still starting out. You never know what that tiny project could lead to or who your client is connected to. Referrals and good client relationships are massive to not only keeping your client list alive but also growing it. 

Pt. 6: Always Keep Learning  

We still have a long way to go and goals we want to achieve. With every project, we are constantly finding new ways to present work, explain our process, and make sure our clients feel heard. It’s truly a never-ending process. If you are thinking about starting a design agency, I think, the biggest recommendation I have (besides all the prep work) is making sure you pick a partner in crime that balances you out. I’m extremely lucky to have Sky as my co-founder. We push each other to do the best work we can, respect each other, evenly distribute responsibilities, and have a clear and open line of communication. Starting a design studio is hard work, but being able to create with your best friend (as a full-time job) makes everything worth it. 

Love always, 
Hi Noon