In Savannah, where can you find a multi-disciplined team of strategic designers & creative puzzle solvers? What about a multi-disciplined team of strategic designers & creative puzzle solvers with about with 16 years experience working with some of the world’s top brands?
Easy. On East Hall Street, where the headquarters of Paragon Design Group is nestled.
The self-described “multi disciplined design firm, owned by creative enthusiasts, driven by excellence, fueled by wheat thins” is a one-stop shop for both excellence, an obsessive commitment to client satisfaction and all things branding, web design, web development, motion graphics and print design. Plus, it is a company run by–and not that we are biased–some of the coolest people you’ll meet in Savannah.
We were lucky enough to steal some of Principal + Head Strategic Focus-izer, Susan Isaacs for a one-on-one interview about Paragon’s rise to a company that focuses on both the local and global. And lucky for us, we also were there on the same day that the newest member of Paragon came on board-Lead Design Mercenary, James Donaldson’s brand new baby.
Creative Coast: Talk to me about your decision to start Paragon in Savannah?
Susan Isaacs: My partners Phil Joyner and Andrew Davies and I all went to SCAD together in the ’90s. We’d been talking about the fact that we wanted to save Savannah, we loved the town. We did what everybody does, which is you look around to see where you might be able to get a job when you were done, but we really didn’t find any opportunities here. SCAD at the time was really coaching their students that when you graduate you go to New York, you go to L.A. We just decided we were going to take this completely different path. We had no idea what we were doing.
We did no market research. I don’t recommend it as a way to start a company.
Creative Coast: Well something worked exquisitely.
SI: We just loved Savannah so much, and loved the culture. This town has something about it that’s really special.
So–we officially started Paragon in August 16, 2001. We had no connections in the business community because we were students, and we weren’t from Savannah. But we built a few little connections and were able to make to get a couple tiny projects.
In September 2001, we immediately were hit with all the projects drying up and we had a rough first couple of years because it was very hard for us to feel like we could make any traction and we would talk to people about what we did. Believe it or not, a website in 2001 was a hard sell. Phil and Drew actually had jobs working somewhere else and I waited tables when I could, so it was a rough start. This is the part when the Creative Coast comes in.
The Creative Coast was a way that we connected to people who were like us and had ideas for creating businesses and people who became clients of ours. We really boot strapped the company and got to also feel like we were part of building something new in Savannah. We’re a small team of six people and now we’re in location shifts. There are only two of us here, and two in Austin, Richmond and Asheville are the two-other people. But Savannah as the home base and starting the company in Savannah was a good decision for us.
We felt like once we got going and hooked up with the Creative Coast, the creative community, and the tech community, we were part of a nurturing environment. Now while we rely on that community less to survive, but there’s something great about being a part of it and helping other people who are trying to do the same thing.
Creative Coast: It’s been so interesting in talking with all the different folks who’ve said the starting part of the course has its difficulties, but for the most part it’s easy, because you’re excited and it’s new. Sustaining that is harder. I’d be curious to know what the sustaining strategy Paragon has been.
SI: In so far as the creative community here, when we were new, most of our work, was whatever small projects we could get, was through that community. Still, it was hard to get. What we did as a necessity is we reached back to our networks back where we were from. Andrew and I are both from the Caribbean. We started talking to people we knew down there and began having international projects early on.
We realized that that’s probably the most sustainable moving forward is really to try to foster both, obviously your local network, but also clients outside of Savannah. I think it really helped us understand more why, forget making money and all of that. If you are a person who loves a town like Savannah, you have to do that. The economy here on its own really can’t support, because we don’t have the critical mass. We really liked the idea of what we do bringing outside money into our community. Now we still have quite a few local clients, but most of the work we do is for clients who are all over the country and international.
Creative Coast: One of the things that comes up in so many starting out stories, is for the desperate need for mentorship. New folks coming in or even just looking at Savannah and being unsure. “Do I want to start a business here? What are the incentives?” What would you would say to someone who’s maybe thinking about Savannah as the place to start their business?
SI: It depends on where you are in your career. If you are somebody who is from another city, you have an established reputation, you have your own network, what Savannah gives you, I mean that’s not the case in terms of you having been somewhere else, but Savannah gives you is an incredible lifestyle opportunity. It’s a beautiful city to live in, it’s really affordable compared to other cities, the community here is really diverse. It’s like a metropolitan city, but it’s in this really tiny package.
If you live in New York, you might have a terrible experience, and you have to accept that is how New York is, end of story. I think for all of us at this company, we are the type of people that it matters to us that if something needs changing, we contribute to that. To me it’s one of the strongest things about this town. There’s always going to be things that will frustrate you. If you’re coming from a town somewhere else and this is like you’re moving to a small town, I think what you’re going to get immediately is the community, the opportunity to actually make a difference.
It’s much easier than when we first started out, both Savannah and with the appreciation of what we offer. If you’re just starting out, what you have to do is, you have to find mentors. You have to show up. That’s the most important piece of advice I ever got. It still works, and I tell students all the time. Showing up means even if you’re uncomfortable, even if you feel socially awkward, you must keep showing up until suddenly everybody knows who you are, they recognize you as part of the community. That can really tip the scale for you also. You will discover things that you didn’t even know were possibilities for your venture. You’ll find people who are like minded or have ideas that can fit well with your own and you can collaborate and that’s really, I think, a really important part of starting out. You also have to be willing to put in the work.
By that I mean, a lot of the people who are starting things in this town tend to be creative people because of SCAD. They don’t have a realistic sense of what business means. They think it may be glamorous, and out the gate you’re going to make great money and you can charge a lot and all of those things and this is where mentors come in, because mentors can say, “Okay. Here’s what you need to do, and you need to salvage and prove yourself to be reliable and do good work and smart all these things.” If you’re just starting out, you really have to be honest about who you are, what your capabilities are and what your strengths and weakness are.
To learn more about Paragon, visit: https://www.iamparagon.com