Alison and Chad Paris of Parisleaf: Purpose as a Guiding Principle
How many companies have you worked for that have gone to the trouble of figuring out your personal “love language” to be sure you’re getting appreciated in the manner most meaningful to YOU? We’re going to guess NONE. But one exists, and it’s called Parisleaf, a branding and design agency run by our delightful podcast guests Alison and Chad Paris. Alison and Chad discuss their guiding principles in running their agency, including the wonder that is G-RICE.
- Alison and Chad were almost grade school sweethearts
- The origin of Parisleaf name, and how they designed a process to give back to the environment for every order
- They were the cobbler’s children for a while at the beginning of their agency; they were helping clients figure out and live by their core values, but they weren’t doing it themselves
- Their values acronym: G-RICE: gratitude, responsibility, integrity, candor and excellence. Also, there is no G-RICE police.
- How they try to find out each employee’s “love language” at the office, so they can give them gratitude in the way they can feel it best
- Empathy is a big part of their client project process
- Their client process isn’t rocket science (but their people are rocket scientists!)
- What brings Alison joy as COO, and how Chad complements her in what brings him joy!
- Ivan, Alison and Chat discuss the distributed office model. What’s better: real high-fives or emoji high-fives?
- Which commute is faster: Alison’s three-minute drive or Ivan’s climbing two sets of stairs to his attic?
- The challenges of being a couple running a company together
IVAN STEGIC: Hey Everyone! You’re listening to the TEN7 podcast, where we get together every fortnight, and sometimes more often, to talk about technology, business and the humans in it. I am your host Ivan Stegic. My guests today are Alison Paris and Chad Paris, co-founders of Parisleaf, a branding and design agency in Gainesville, Florida, whose mission is to guide courageous brands, illuminate curious minds and grow communities by design. They are a dynamic husband and wife duo that serve as the CEO and COO of the company, respectively. I met them in Bend, Oregon at Owner Camp. There is definitely a trend in the series of episodes in the podcast. So, hey guys! Welcome to the podcast.
ALISON PARIS: Hello. Welcome. Thank you so much for having us.
CHAD PARIS: Yeah, thanks for having us.
IVAN: It’s wonderful to be talking to you both at the same time. I’m not sure how it’s going to work out, so maybe I’ll say each of your names when I’m directing a question, but if I don’t say a name, just feel free to jump in.
ALISON: No problem.
CHAD: Sounds good.
IVAN: So, usually I start at the beginning and work my up to where you guys founded the agency and we talk a little bit about the agency. So, I’d like to start with you, Alison. Where are you from? Where did you grow up?
ALISON: I was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and spent most of my formative years in Marietta, Georgia. That’s actually where I grew up, and it’s also where I met Chad.
IVAN: Yay. [laughing] So, you went to something called the Wheeler Magnet School?
ALISON: I did, yes.
IVAN: Why that particular school? Was it just the one local to you, or was there a reason you went there?
ALISON: It was actually the local school. I lived within the district, but I was really lucky because they offered the Magnet program for advanced math, science and technology, which were areas that I was interested in and excelled in. So, I had the opportunity to participate in that Magnet program. So, we had a really large high school, but I was in a pretty small cohort. There were about 100 of us in our class, as compared to, I think, over 1,000 in our entire class at the school.
CHAD: Where the rest of us normies were.
IVAN: [laughing] So, you guys actually met in high school?
ALISON: We actually met when we were eight. We were on the same swim team, so we’ve known each other quite a long time, kind of ran circles around one another through the years growing up and then kind of reconnected towards the end of our college career.
IVAN: And, we’ll get to college and how you guys got there. I want to know and hear more about the Wheeler Magnet School.
IVAN: What did you love doing there? It sounds like it was very attractive to you to be at that school.
ALISON: Yeah. So, I really was always attracted to topics and subjects that challenge me, and science and math were definitely high on that list. So I really appreciated the Magnet School because I was given the opportunity to take about eight years’ worth of science in four years.
ALISON: Yeah. Every semester I would take a different science course, and I was able to advance my math classes as well. Just an opportunity to try out a bunch of different topics and, I was able to take a genetics course, and I was able to do an internship at the CDC one semester. It was a really powerful opportunity at such a young age.
IVAN: And then you were able to apply the science knowledge that you learned there at the University of Georgia while studying the Communication Sciences and Disorders. Right? Did I get that right?
ALISON: You did. Yes. CSD, yeah, that was my major in undergrad, and I had a focus in neuroscience which brought me to my graduate degree at the University of Florida.
IVAN: So, neuroscience is the perfect background for an agency, right? Because it’s all about emotion.
ALISON: Yes, exactly. Well, at least the area that I was interested in.
IVAN: Was that the plan?
ALISON: That was never really the plan on paper. I will say that I’m immensely grateful for the kind of crooked path that has led me to my current position at Parisleaf. I think I never really saw this, if you had asked me when I was at Wheeler Magnet, if this was going to be what I did professionally—I always envisioned myself being in academia, but I gave academia a solid try. I was there for five years, at the University of Florida, and it just never felt right. Whereas, the work that I was doing at Parisleaf always felt like my true calling and where I brought the most value. So, I ultimately joined full time in 2013, left the academic trajectory at University of Florida and came over to Parisleaf full time, and I’ve been here full time since 2013.
IVAN: So, at Parisleaf full time since 2013. Let’s go back a little bit, Chad now, and talk about where you grew up, and where did you come from, and how you ended up meeting Alison when you were eight. And, do you remember that day when you were eight years old? [laughing]
CHAD: [laughing] I do very well, but I say we just keep this thing focused on Alison. I’m enjoying you interviewing her. I’m just going to kick back here, Ivan. This is awesome.
IVAN: Well, I suppose we could keep going that way, but I’m sure our listeners want to hear from you too, Chad, and then we’ll kind of wheel our way back. How’s that?
CHAD: Sounds good. What about me? What do you want to know?
IVAN: Where did you grow up? In Georgia? Or, was it somewhere else? And, how did you end up meeting her at eight years old? What were the circumstances?
CHAD: So, same place actually. Our neighborhoods actually backed up to each other. So, we grew up in different neighborhoods, but Alison lived in a smaller neighborhood, so all of the kids from her neighborhood would come over to our neighborhood to join our swim team. So, yeah, we were on the same swim team together in Marietta, Georgia. It was really cool. I can’t say that I necessarily remember that day, but I can’t lie, I remember my eight-year-old self seeing Alison’s eight-year-old self, and being like, That is a hottie. [laughing]
IVAN: [laughing] That’s awesome.
CHAD: I could hear you blushing, Ali. [laughing]
ALISON: [laughing] You got me.
IVAN: After that fateful day, you obviously went to the same high school as Alison, as you guys had mentioned earlier, but your paths kind of diverged at some point?
CHAD: I wouldn’t say we went to the same high school. I mean, we did technically. We were on the same campus, but totally different experiences. I was with the normies, the football players, the baseball players, and Ali was with the nerds. It was a very different high school experience. I went through, I think, two years of science in four years, where she went through eight years of science in four years, so...
IVAN: [laughing] That’s a little bit of a difference. Wait a second, Chad—are you a jock?
ALISON: Don’t worry. I took enough science for both of us.
IVAN: Okay, good. And then you ended up at the University of North Georgia, which is not the University of Georgia.
CHAD: It is not the University of Georgia. It’s actually a feeder school for the University of Georgia. And so, the plan was actually to eventually get into UGA, but my formative years in college kind of disagreed with that. So, I ended up putting four years into a two-year degree, and ended up following my career path instead of continuing on with college. It worked out pretty well. All of our friends were coming out of school at the height of the recession, so, I really just decided to focus on my career early on and jumped right in. It worked out well.
IVAN: And you studied business, right? So, your background is in the business of making it rain, I guess.
CHAD: [laughing] Yeah. You could say that I studied business, but I just did business. I went right to work. I studied business more under mentors than in school and in books.
IVAN: And then you worked a couple of jobs before starting Parisleaf. I always thought that you two got together and then started Parisleaf. But the way Alison described it earlier, it sounded like you were only full time after it had already been founded. So, can you guys take us through what actually happened there in the formative years?
CHAD: Ali, do you want to take this one, or do you want me to?
ALISON: I’m happy to take it. We actually did start Parisleaf in 2010. It was my second year in graduate school, and I supported the business on nights and weekends, and I managed all of the operations, financials and processing. We did a lot of print projects at that point in time, so that was my role. Chad, obviously was working full time in the business, curating and developing relationships and bringing in more opportunities, and yes, I was that crazy student who also had a full-time job outside of what I was doing at the University. I was involved part time up until 2013 and then in 2013 I decided to come in full time.
IVAN: Were you guys sitting around the table one day and said, “Okay, let’s start a business.” Or did it kind of just happen?
CHAD: It kind of just happened. What had happened was, Ivan, I was working at a marketing firm here in town, and that was after leaving a pretty large tee-shirt manufacturer that I was working at, a screen printing manufacturer, out of Athens. And, I had lost my assistant and so, around that time—Ali and I both grew up playing team sports, I’m not the only jock here. We always had this team spirit about our relationship, and it always had kind of been such a perfect fit. It was like, everywhere where I was broken, she fit right in. Well, she’s not broken anywhere. Our strengths and weaknesses played really well off each other.
And so, what happened at the marketing firm, I lost my assistant, and this firm had promised me an assistant, so I didn’t have to do as much administrative work, which really wasn’t my strength. Details and organization process, none of that.
So, I ended up going through a series of assistants that didn’t work out. Long story short, I approached my bosses and said, “Listen, I’d really love to hire Alison as my right hand.” And they said what any reasonable business owner would say which is, “You’re out of your mind.” Insert a few expletives there, and so I think it was pretty soon after that—it might’ve even been that night—that Ali and I were on a walk around our community, and we thought to ourselves, We could go off and do this on our own. We don’t really need to work for anybody else anymore. And, so, it wasn’t really around the dinner table—it was on a walk and then lightning just kind of struck us, and here we are.
IVAN: What city were you in were you were doing that walk?
CHAD: We were here in Gainesville, actually. So, I tell people often, Parisleaf is really Gainesville inspired. There were so many young entrepreneurs at the time. We had a lot of cool startups coming out of Gainesville—23, 24 year olds—and we thought, Why not us? We could do it.
IVAN: It’s a nice part of the world to do that, as well, and the cost of living is manageable as well.
ALISON: Yeah, absolutely.
CHAD: It was perfect. Yeah. And that was a big driving force too. We didn’t have much to lose. It was like we’re not too far from the ground floor of zero, so, if this doesn’t work out, it’s not going to be that hard of a fall.
IVAN: Tell me about the name. How did you guys come up with Parisleaf?
CHAD: Ali, you want to take that one, or shall I?
ALISON: I can take that one, sure. So, Paris is our last name, obviously, and we knew we wanted to—we started this business really with a desire for a healthy work environment. That was really one of the core values when we decided to go into business together. We really wanted to create something special that lit us up, and that we enjoyed coming in to work to every day, and it really had that kind of familial sense of love and connectedness. So we decided really early on that we wanted the name "Paris" to be a part of the name. The "leaf" part was actually kind of interesting. So, when we first started Parisleaf, we were focused primarily on print as our business model. And so, because of our understanding of the industry, and understanding of its impact on the environment, we felt it was only appropriate to make sure that we were giving back, and so we built this print and plant model where for every print job that we process, we would also plant about 10 trees for every order that was placed with us.
ALISON: So, that’s where the "leaf" came in. We did a pretty impulsive domain search, and kind of landed on "Parisleaf" being the name, and it’s just kind of stuck as our business has continued to evolve and mature into today, a full-fledged branding and creative agency.
IVAN: And, obviously you have concerns and are interested in giving back to the community and to the environment, and so it still fits?
IVAN: We were just talking about your name on the last episode of the podcast with Jeff Archibald from Paper Leaf.
ALISON: Wow. Yeah.
IVAN: [laughing] I had to make sure I wrote things down and didn’t screw that up so that I knew which one was which. I know it’s easy for you because you deal with Parisleaf all the time, but when you see it on a list, and it says Parisleaf or Paper Leaf . . . When you hear that episode, I think it comes out pretty soon here, your ears may be burning.
ALISON: I’m excited to listen to it.
CHAD: It’s a funny story. I think we actually came across Paper Leaf when we were still heavy in digital, which was kind of the next iteration of Parisleaf. And, I want to say we came across them, and we were like, “Oh my God, this is just freakishly similar.” [laughing] Small world. And it was pretty wild running into them. We’re like, “Hey, we know you guys.”
IVAN: [laughing] I know, that was pretty nice. That was really great. So, I love that you guys talk about positive emotions and positive memories for your clients. I love that you focus on writing and designing everything, that you’re essentially end to end, and that you think about the mission, and the vision, for everything you do with your clients. I’d love to know how long it took you to hone your own mission and your own values, just so that you could feel comfortable applying these to your clients. And, I think Chad, I want to direct that question at you.
CHAD: Sure. I think that it took quite a bit of time. I mean, we had a set of core values that we developed probably four or five years ago. And it was really interesting because we designed them, we printed them, we put them up on the walls, they looked super pretty, but nobody lived by them, really. We talked about them occasionally from time to time. When we were having a tough business decision, we would remind ourselves like, Oh, don’t forget sustainability. (something that’s core to us); authenticity is really important, we want to make sure people can bring their best and their worst selves to the office. But it wasn’t really a huge driving force for us, until probably about two years ago.
It’s really interesting, because we had built this process, or at least started to build this process, to help clients find their mission, vision and values, or what we call, purpose ambition, and values. And then one day we were like, “We’re tired of taking care of everybody else’s house, we need to kind of get our own house in order.” I think it was partial jealousy [laughing] like, “Wow, this is working really well for our clients. We should consider doing this for ourselves.” It’s just a classic case of the cobblers kids. Agencies always take care of themselves last. But, as a coach of mine says, “You need to lead yourself well,” and it’s kind of hard to give away something you haven’t got yourself.
IVAN: Did you notice a change internally after you started really living your own values?
CHAD: Yeah. It took time. It definitely took time. Part of it was we had to really assemble the team around the values and the values around the team. We had built a set of what I consider to be kind of aspirational core values, but I don’t know if we had the entire team onboard yet. Whereas now, I think everybody is fully onboard. We talk about it all the time. Our acronym is G-RICE (and we can talk about that in a second), but now it’s something that really drives us every day. I like to think we talk about it on a daily basis. I don’t know if that’s entirely true, but I would say, at a minimum, our values are coming up at least every other day—or at least I would hope that’s the case. But it’s something that we’re always trying to improve and embed and make sure that our values, our purpose and our ambition are all driving forces for our day-to-day business decisions.
IVAN: Ali, what is G-RICE?
ALISON: G-RICE stands for our five values. And I do want to expand on that a little bit, what Chad was saying, because I think it’s important to talk about using your purpose and ambition statement and also your core values, to make strategic hiring—and sadly, firing—decisions, I think by evolving our core, kind of brand messaging, and really owning it and metabolizing it for ourselves, it strengthened our ability to make really strategic decisions about who we bring on our team, and as a result, the conversations are so much easier, making decisions as a collective are so much easier because we just bounce it off of our values, which are gratitude, responsibility, integrity, candor and excellence. So, that’s where the G-RICE comes from.
IVAN: How do you know when you're not living up to those standards and who’s policing them?
ALISON: I think we’re quite a self-policing team. We are very open with one another, and we really turn to one another to hold each other accountable, so if we feel like one another is kind of out of line with our values, we’re very quick to bring that up, in a really kind and empowered way. So, there’s not necessarily one person with the policing badge on, making sure we’re having these as our core values. I think it’s somewhat easy—and I’ll knock on wood as I’m saying it—it’s easy when you hire and fire for your core values, because the teammates who are ultimately on your team end up embodying those values. So, it’s not as much as a policing as it is like we’re a team doing this together.
IVAN: So, there’s no G-RICE police? [laughing[
ALISON: No G-RICE police. No. [laughing]
CHAD: We are all G-RICE police.
IVAN: I think you’ve both hit the nail on the head when it comes to values. At TEN7 we talk about it as living above the line, or behavior that’s above the line or below the line, and it stems from work that we did on our own values, and a problem that I ran into in that I was the center and the arbiter of any disagreements or issues that we had. And that puts me and whoever the leader of the company is, in a bad position, where especially small things have to be taken care of.
And that usually means that here isn’t a collaborative trust between the team members. Because if you had that, they would be able to deal with these things on their own. So that was kind of the genesis of the issues that we had, and once we went through the whole mission/vision/values process, and our "why" statement, that kind of fixed itself. So, I think you’re right. I think you don’t need a policeman. I think if you have a team that functions at a high level, like our teams do, it’s kind of self-policing.
ALISON: Yeah. And one of our values is responsibility, right? So, the expectation is—and I will say I’ve witnessed this in Chad—he’s an amazing leader, and when there’s any problem that bubbles up, he without question takes full responsibility, even if he had little to no involvement in whatever manifested. It’s actually a really beautiful thing to witness, because it’s contagious, and you see that trickle down, and I see that now in our team taking ownership for things. You know, you can point fingers all day, but owning your part in the puzzle, it almost brings down the boundaries, and allows you to get to a place where you’re moving towards a solution faster.
CHAD: Yeah, it makes it a lot easier. It keeps people from pointing fingers and blaming each other as opposed to going, “All right, how could I have done this better? What could I have improved on?”
IVAN: It gives people permission to take that responsibility, doesn’t it?
CHAD: Yeah. Absolutely.
IVAN: I do love G-RICE now. I’m trying to come up with an acronym for our own values now. So, can we go through those again and maybe tell me what each one of those values means to you in your day to day?
ALISON: Yeah, absolutely. So, the first one, "G," is gratitude. It’s so important to express gratitude. It makes for a healthier work environment and a more pleasant environment to foster creativity, and helps people feel seen in the value that they bring on a day-to-day basis. So, we’re really, really passionate about gratitude in our office, and we go so far as to try to understand each individual's love language, specifically, how they best receive love in a work environment. Because for some, it’s words of affirmation, for others it may be a hug, a visible touch, it could be an act of service, you could get their car washed, or send a cleaner to their house.
There are unique ways in which you can express gratitude to one another. It’s just a core of the communication style that we expect internally, and it’s also how we communicate with our clients, and how we expect our clients to communicate with us. So, when we model that gracious communication to our clients, it actually fosters a healthier communication exchange and less bumps along the way as we’re working on projects.
CHAD: To add to that, as far as gratitude is concerned, it was actually kind of an aspirational core value. Like I mentioned earlier, it was something that we weren’t necessarily embodying at the time. One of the things we were doing was, we were catering lunches Monday through Thursday. And so we had teammates who were complaining about the lunches we were catering. And so, we really felt like, this is something we really want to aspire to have more of, and so, even at the time, it wasn’t something that was super authentic to us, again, it was one of those things that we wanted to aim for.
As far as "responsibility" is concerned, Alison hit the nail on the head perfectly. When something goes wrong, really taking a step back and asking ourselves, How could we have done this better? And even celebrating mistakes, which leads to excellence, which I’ll come to in a second.
Integrity is a given. That’s something that is just standard. You want to make sure that you are not only doing business the right way, but also that you are honoring yourself, or we are honoring ourselves, and what’s authentic to us.
"C" is candor, and that is what we call "candor led by love." I wouldn’t say it’s really easy to be honest, again. I’d say at least for me, that was a stretch. I’m not as likely, believe it or not, to sit down and say, “Hey, here’s how we could’ve done something better,” but it was a great way to keep us from holding things in, and to really hit things on the head, and that was actually inspired by one of our clients, whose core value is straight talk.
And then the last one is "excellence," really just striving to get better every single day. I think the greatest example of this is, the founder of Spanx talks about how when she was growing up, her dad would always ask her and her brother when they would get home from school, "What did you fail at today?" What she learned from that was failure is not only okay, but that it’s important, that in order to strive for excellence, to get better you have to fail every single day. Yeah, I just wanted to add those.
IVAN: Did we get through all the letters? I think we did.
CHAD: G-RICE. All the way.
IVAN: G-RICE. I love it. [laughing] I love this focus on empathy. You guys speak about each other so nicely and so empathetically. It’s behavior that I think all leaders should be modeling. I’m sure your team does the same thing in their interactions with each other, and it’s obviously something that you’re thinking about and that you’re selling to your clients. I think my question is, is empathy hard to sell? And, I don’t know who is going to answer this one, because it’s a tough question.
CHAD: I don’t think it is. The people that are leading the process have to be empathetic. What that means is that we have to be a vessel. We are here solely to be a mirror. We are not here to come into the process thinking we know all the answers, or that we have any kind of predispositions. So, I don’t think it’s something that’s really hard to sell at all. We’re basically coming to them and saying, “Hey, we’re not going to be arrogant. Is that okay with you?” [laughing] It’s just a nice added bonus that, we’re not coming to our clients saying, “Hey, we know all the answers.” We’re saying, “Hey, we have a process, and that process will tell us what we need to understand." No, I don’t think it’s hard to sell at all, and honestly, it’s not even something that we necessarily lead in with, it’s something that I think is just felt by our clients.
IVAN: Can you take us through the process you just mentioned? What’s your process? What does a new client experience of the process look like?
CHAD: It’s interesting because we actually have a slide in our introductory pitch deck, if you will, that says, "our process isn’t rocket science." It goes back to that last answer. It’s the people behind it that are rocket scientists. Right? They are not only brilliant, but they are naturally empathetic people. So, for us, it’s a very simple process: discover, write, design. And then we do that again when we’re in the digital process. We do it again if it’s a larger print job that we’re working on, or video. But that is the tried-and-true method that we have found that works every time. It gives us the inspiration that we need to know in the research phase of discovery. Then we write the message. The words give us the inspiration that we need to figure out what the visuals need to look like, and then we go from there. So, it’s just been one of those things.
We had what we called the "five step branding process," or something like that, and it was something we picked up from a book called Built to Sell, and while it was not something we were necessarily trying to do, to sell our agency, when I listened to it—or actually I listened to it, I hate reading—I was really inspired by this idea of having this super tried-and-true method, but ultimately we dropped the five steps and we just came right back to the simplicity of discover, write, design.
IVAN: There’s something to be said about a simple process, that you don’t have to think about. Something that’s natural and that evolves from kind of what you would do, evolutionarily speaking. You’re trying something, you’re refining it, you’re testing it, and then you’re going back to trying it again.
ALISON: Scientific method. [snickering]
IVAN: [laughing] Thank you Alison, that’s exactly what I needed to hear. Of course, it’s the scientific method.
CHAD: I’m getting off the call now. I don’t even know what that means. [laughing]
IVAN: [laughing] That’s awesome.
CHAD: I got to give Ali a lot of credit on this one, because I think it was just something that she really drove into us, just simplify the process, and just make it really, really easy. And that makes it really easy for our clients to understand, especially when we’re not coming in, pitching rocket science and data. That is a major part of our process, data, but we’re just not having to get too technical. It’s very, very simple.
IVAN: Process is sometimes a killer, but in this case, I think it’s not. And, kudos to you guys for being able to distill it down into the basic essentials.
Alison, you’re the COO, right?
ALISON: That’s correct.
IVAN: So, your day to day is operations, it’s making sure everything is running correctly, maybe keeping a reality check in place for other executives in the company. What’s bringing you joy these days as the COO?
ALISON: It’s a great question. What brings me joy every day—and I talk about this when I answer the question, "What’s the favorite part about your job?"—it really does happen every day. My job, as I see it, is to create a loving and healthy working environment that allows individuals on our team to excel and do their best work. And so, when I see my teammates excelling and doing their best work, I know that I’ve done my job, and, so that’s what brings me joy. I get to witness that pretty much every day and it’s actually really a beautiful thing.
IVAN: You guys all have an office in Gainesville, right? So, you’re seeing these people every day in real time, right? I know I talk about that like that’s a weird thing, but I haven’t been doing that for a couple years now, so I’m just kind of asking about your day to day, it’s actually in person, it’s not a distributed agency.
ALISON: Yeah, that’s correct. We do have one teammate on the West Coast, up in San Francisco. He is helping with our business development out there. So, we don’t get to see him as much, but we do have pretty consistent check-ins with him, and he is actually going to be joining us in just a few weeks, for some time here in Gainesville, so that’ll be nice. But, yeah, everyone else is located here at our studio in Gainesville.
IVAN: We were talking about your possibility of expanding to the West Coast the last time we saw each other. Chad, how did that expansion—I would guess it’s an expansion, right?—how’s that going?
CHAD: It’s working out really well. I think it was an experiment that we thought was going to, on one hand work really big, really fast, and on the other hand thought, or, it could be the exact opposite, it could be really small and take a long time. And I’d say it’s fallen in the middle. It’s been reasonable, I would say.
We’ve had pretty aggressive goals, and Corey—if he ever gets a chance to listen—is really just doing a phenomenal job, especially considering it’s kind of a pivot in his career. I’m just really proud of the work that he’s doing out there, and yeah, I think doing a great job helping us open up into some new and bigger markets. Gainesville’s amazing, but at a certain point, we kind of outgrew our market. We kept going back and forth, but ultimately decided it was time to expand into a bigger market, while keeping our roots here in Gainesville.
IVAN: How do you guys feel about the whole distributed remote worker model that so many companies have adopted these days?
CHAD: [laughing] Ali?
ALISON: Ha ha. Well, it’s a great question. I think . . .
IVAN: And, please, be very honest.
CHAD: [laughing] It’s terrible. We only think fools do it.
ALISON: No, no, no.
IVAN: [laughing] You know, I do still think that too, so, I wouldn’t be surprised. [laughing]
ALISON: [laughing] I think you have to be really intentional in making that switch, or setting up your business as a distributed model, and it just takes a different skillset to manage individuals without having that day-to-day physical eye contact and checking in with them. At the same time, we’ve had a relatively wonderful experience working with our teammate on the West Coast, and it’s allowed us to dip our toe.
With that being said, I think knowing our personalities, Chad and I, and our values, for us, it’s really important for us to have that physical space that we walk into every day and feel connected to the people we’re creating and supporting and doing work with. So, for us, I don’t see it necessarily in the future for us, although who knows, and especially just as technology continues to support those needs, who knows what the future holds. But I think right now, it’s so valuable to us to be able to spend time physically with our team. The work we do is very personal and very deep with our clients, and so having that connectedness I think is super important for us to be able to support our clients.
CHAD: Yeah, it’s a really hands-on process. I would say—and Alison feel free to correct me if I’m wrong—but I would say it’s something we’re open to. But I think our preference is that we like how things are going right now. You know, to your previous question, as COO, Ali is on the floor every day, constantly tapped into the pulse of Parisleaf. I’m out of the office, around town, in meetings, upstairs, downstairs, in the conference room; I’m just not as plugged in.
And, I think that’s such an important part of the culture, is just the ability to continuously keep your finger on the pulse. While California is working out really well, it’s definitely taking more energy, more effort, to stay connected, to stay plugged in, to keep coming back to the culture. Whereas when you’re here in the office, watching it every single day, seeing the living, breathing example of it every day, it’s a toss-up. It’s funny, I was much more open to it years ago, and I think that over the years, I’ve just really enjoyed the benefit of being able to work with the people that I just so dearly enjoy working with every day, and seeing their faces and giving them high-fives. There’s a lot of benefit to it.
IVAN: We have emojis for high-fives you know.
CHAD: Not the same at all. A digital high-five. Oh, my God. [laughing]
ALISON: Not the same.
IVAN: [laughing] I think you’re right about having to be intentional about being completely distributed in a remote company. The way you guys feel about being in person right now, I felt for about nine years of TEN7, and I was probably more militant than the two of you about it as well. I was quite interested in always being in one place. But, like you said, Ali, who knows what could happen, and sometimes there are changes and things that you can’t control, that just make you think differently. Although, I don’t see the commute to the office being a big factor in Gainesville as much as it is here in Minneapolis, with snow being a problem for eight months of the year. So, I don’t think that’s going to cause you guys to not go to the office.
CHAD: Sun is our problem 11 months out of the year.
ALISON: My biggest complaint in my three-minute drive to work is that my AC doesn’t really fully kick on until the last minute as I’m pulling in and parking my car. [laughing] So, that’s the biggest complaint you’ll have from me regarding my commute. [laughing]
IVAN: My gosh, that’s awful. I think the only thing that’s a better commute could be going up the stairs to your attic. That’s like the only better commute than three minutes. My goodness.
I have a couple more questions for you before we wrap up here. I saw in a description Chad, of your bio online, that you value what’s not being said above all else. And that 90% of what is being said, is not the actual spoken word. Now, I understand how a person’s body language could tell you things that are not in the words that are being used in the conversation, but how does this work for a company? What do you mean by, you value what’s not being said above all else?
CHAD: This actually, I think, parlays perfectly off your last question around the distributed team. Here we are, we have a relationship, a pre-existing relationship, and we’ve already met face to face. When I hear your voice, I can imagine you, I can see you laughing even though I can’t see you right now, I can imagine it. But I’m not sitting right in front of you. I’m not able to see your facial expressions, your body language. There’s so much that’s missing in your communication right now.
I’ve always been fascinated by people. I think it was either going to relationship development, business development, strategy, consulting, or psychology. I’m fascinated by people, and I think what people are not saying is fascinating to me. I like to live in the awkward and the uncomfortable. So, as an example, when somebody crosses their arms, they’re protecting themselves, they’re defending themselves.
There’s something that is not being said, and I like to live in that kind of gray area of saying, “All right, what’s really going on? Because I could clearly see that there’s more to the story than what you’re telling me in your words." I’d say that’s probably the greatest example, but you can really take that to the extreme.
IVAN: Final question, for both of you. Is there an off switch? Like, what do you guys do on the evenings and weekends? Are you still doing Parisleaf stuff, and how hard is it to focus on not Parisleaf? And, this is for both of you, so, I don’t know who wants to go first.
CHAD: I would say it was a much bigger issue at one point, particularly when we were early on, probably after our first few years of infancy. We kind of hit a point where the startup glow had kind of worn off, this thing had turned into a real business. And, I think that’s when it was a little more difficult and harder to turn off, because it still required so much of us. But, today, Ali and I went on this incredible adventure race this weekend, and it was so cool, and it was so good for our marriage, and for our partnership, and just such a great team-building experience.
So, doing things like that, getting to experience nature, or, well, it’s really just nature, frankly. [laughing] It’s like, what else is there? It’s just nature. We love being outdoors. We also bought a house—I don’t know, what was it Ali, about a year and a half ago?
CHAD: About a 100-year-old house—we love working on that thing together, and just seeing what other cool things we can do to make the house feel more like a home, and so that’s a lot of fun. And, then, we've just got a really great community.
But to answer your question, I don’t know. We do a pretty good job of turning it off. Sometimes we don’t. But if we ever feel like there’s not enough connection time for our marriage, I think we do a pretty good job of just taking a step back and going, “Okay, we need to do something for the marriage, and let’s go check in and spend some time to just focus on us.”
ALISON: Well said. I agree with everything Chad said. I think one of the tools that we do utilize more on a daily basis is, if we are together, say for example, so Wednesday night is our date night, and we usually go out to dinner, and that’s in the middle of the week, so it’s kind of hard to disconnect from the flow of work, and all things going on around the office. And more often than not, the first ten to fifteen minutes, we kind of let it out of our system, and then one of us, without question, one of us always says, “Okay, let’s turn off the work and transition, let’s talk about something else.”
So, we are good at holding one another accountable for that, and we do spend a lot of time intentionally disconnecting. We'd probably benefit from some more, but travel is another way that we try to give ourselves a little bit of distance. I think, for us, at least, over the past nine years, the best way that we can truly disconnect is by going out of the country. It seems to be just geographically, when we go to a city that’s close, we just still are tapped in and connected. But for whatever reason, the second we cross international borders, it enables us to feel like we can truly disconnect.
IVAN: There’s something about Belgium and Amsterdam and Germany and Italy that just can do that for you.
ALISON: [laughing] Yes. Among many other countries.
IVAN: [laughing] Absolutely. Well, it’s been so amazing talking to both of you. Thank you for spending your time with me. It’s been a great pleasure.
ALISON: Yeah. Thank you so much. We really enjoyed the conversation.
CHAD: Thanks for having us, Ivan. It was awesome.
IVAN: My guests today were Alison Paris and Chad Paris, co-founders of Parisleaf, a branding and design agency in Gainesville, Florida. You can find them online at parisleaf.com and on social media as @parisleaf, except for Instagram where they are @parisleaf_team. You’ve been listening to the TEN7 Podcast. Find us online at ten7.com/podcast. And if you have a second, do send us a message. We love hearing from you. Our email address is email@example.com. Until next time, this is Ivan Stegic. Thank you for listening.