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Julia Briggs of Blue Star Design

Meet Julia Briggs, founder of Blue Star Design.
What is Blue Star Design?
We are an idea design studio specializing in graphic, web and social media design, brand identity and technology solutions for growing businesses. At Blue Star, we design, we market, we use technology to move ideas forward. We conceptualize, we create. We’re designers who understand business. We’re business people who understand design.
How did you come to be an entrepreneur?
I graduated from Columbus College of Art and Design in 1991 with a degree in illustration. Stepping out of college in the middle of a recession and watching my field get clobbered by the computer and stock photography, I opted to put illustration in my back pocket and jump into a wide array of design careers: advertising, publishing and social expressions.
Eventually, I picked up freelance and found it to pay better. My husband, John, encouraged me to quit my job and work out of the house. Nearly each project brought in the next client referral. In 2007, I landed a large opportunity, begged John to quit his marketing job to come help me, rented space and hired our first employee. Our second employee recently turned into an entrepreneur, too, so we hired a third designer, and have big plans to keep growing this year.
 Where did you find your first employee?
The opportunity I landed in 2007 was due to a local company downsizing their workforce -- eliminating their design staff to outsource the work. We won the deal and immediately called their top designer, Sue Harris. I begged her to come work for us -- and to keep doing the same work for the company that had just let her go. Sue has the most amazing work ethic, is the fastest designer this side of the Mississippi, and I swear she knows every great resource in the Cleveland area.
 Can you share a funny or amazing entrepreneurial experience with our readers?
Three years ago, as the economy was dying (or, on life support, at least), and new projects were getting a little scarce, we took a client to lunch hoping to land more work. I remember the entire lunch being dismal. The client kept saying they couldn’t give us work until they had content. It all relied on their sales team providing content for case studies they needed to bring in more business.
The client ended the lunch by saying, “If you could solve that problem for me…” John and I didn’t hesitate. We sketched the entire concept out on napkins and notebook paper in the parking lot of the restaurant. When we arrived back at the office, we called our web team and had a proposal to the client the next day. That was the birth of our product, CaseSnap. Within months we had built our second product, Flier Styler, based on issues we had heard from one of our hospital clients.
It was CaseSnap and Flier Styler that saved our butts that year, and now they are nearly 20 percent of our revenue. I never imagined crossing “The Blue Canyon,” where in the parking lot CaseSnap was born, would reap so many rewards.
What companies or founders do you admire and why?
I remember reading about Anomaly in Fast Company and felt they were describing us, although we aren’t as wildly successful yet. Anomaly embraces our core design beliefs. They address design problems more broadly as business issues. They blur the borders between providing traditional marketing services for their clients and working with clients as a business development partner. And like us, they develop intellectual property for both the company and the clients we serve.

I’m also a huge fan of 37Signals. They embrace our core business beliefs. Like us, they are designers first, built a series of product s around client needs, and have done it completely as bootstrappers.
 What’s next for you and your company?
We plan to continue growing. Last year we expanded our client base out of state and completed over 1,000 jobs. This year we are on pace to double that number. We just completed a significant rebuild of both CaseSnap and Flier Styler, bringing consistency to our products and giving us the ability to support significant growth in the number of organizations licensing the software.  We believe our products will approach at least 25 percent of our total revenue this year, giving us the ability to add dedicated resources to support and grow the business.

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