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Connie and Mike Ozan of Twist Creative

Meet Connie and Mike Ozan, co-founders of TWIST Creative, a design agency in Ohio City.
What is TWIST Creative?
Mike: TWIST is a brand design agency. From writing positioning statements and helping companies design efficient sales processes to designing logos or creating full-service advertising campaigns, we are a creative firm that specializes in helping our clients become brands that matter. Our team’s strengths are branding, copy writing, advertising, media relations, public relations, print collateral design, interior displays, way finding, exhibits and packaging. 
How did you come to be an entrepreneur?
Connie: I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit -- since I was in the fifth grade and had my own paper route. I learned at an early age that hard work and dedication really do pay off and I liked being in control of my future.  It was also rewarding to pay for things myself. I worked my way through college waitressing during summers and the school year.  

All along, I was very artistic, even as a child. I remember winning a regional “safety poster contest” in the sixth grade -- creating a raccoon and stop sign out of a cut paper collage. In high school I was awarded the job of painting the school district mural in the cafeteria -- from that point on I knew I wanted a creative career in art, business and design. I even told my professor in college that I would be opening my own business.

Mike: TWIST is my second entrepreneurial venture. In my early twenties I founded, raised funding for and managed a live music club. Out of the club sprang a small artist management group and production company. I’m a determined and deliberate achiever but I am also a passionate writer. I became an entrepreneur to test my creative mettle. All creative types know that you can push for your ideas, but to see them truly come to life you need to move them forward on your own.  

Why did you start your business?

Connie: I started my design career at a marketing firm called Market.al. Inc., I worked there for four years. It was a tremendous experience for me because I was the only designer for a long time. I learned how to design appropriate solutions quickly, manage print jobs and budgets, and work with clients. I also met Mike during that time. He was my biggest fan and cheerleader.
After four years, I set out to work on self-initiated projects in the Cleveland community. That’s when I started C Ratka Design.  After only two years of knowing each other, Mike and I were married and decided to join forces professionally. That’s when TWIST Creative was born. We saw an opportunity to merge both of our talents and skills. We felt we could make a difference in the quality of work that was being produced locally.

Mike:  We started TWIST because we wanted to marshal a new design culture in Cleveland. While today there are several good and emerging creative firms in the city, when we started TWIST there was really only one firm that we admired.

We love cities and (in the days before our two kids were born) we often chose to explore metropolises rather than head to the beach. In large cities we would feel stimulated and inspired. We wondered why was it that other cities were full of remarkable design in public spaces, on billboards, on bus shelters, etc. But here in our hometown we just were blanketed with the average. We started this firm to change that. As New York Times columnist Tom Friedman said, “Average is over.” We subscribe.

How did you come up with the idea?

Connie: Our first tagline was “Uniting Art and Message.” That was the original idea behind the TWIST name. Mike was, and still is, the genius behind all the writing and I was the designer -- adding visual meaning to the words. Over our 12 years in business, I’ve been able to work as a designer along with some of the best design talent in our whole region.  

What was the biggest surprise in starting your business?

Mike: I think the biggest surprise we have had in business is the love we get from the design community. We have built a culture that believes great creative can be built in an environment that inspires and feeds creative passions. We believe that you don’t have to be an ass to get and do great work. The design community seems to like that.

Connie: I think the biggest surprise is that “you never have all the answers.” Each day and year that passes is still interesting, challenging and exciting at the same time.  We believe one can never get too comfortable and one can never stop learning. We’re always seeking new sources of inspiration and opportunities to stretch our staff and ourselves creatively. In the same way, we strive to run our business as a professional operation -- continuing to improve all aspects of the business. Our business is like our family. We want to take care of our clients and our staff. We wear our hearts on our sleeves -- at least I do.
Where did you find your first employee?

Connie: She was referred to us by my college professor at Bowling Green State University. We find a lot of our design talent within the region, but we also get a regular amount of referrals from major markets. If feels great to attract talent from outside here to Cleveland. We’ve been flattered by some of the kind words spoken about us by agencies in major markets around the U.S.
Who was your first customer and where did you find them?

Connie: Cleveland Public Theatre. I lived in Lakewood for a short period of time and fell in love with the Cleveland Public Theatre and the neighborhood. I approached them and asked if I could help with posters and any marketing they might need. As an artist and a young designer, I saw it as an opportunity for freedom of expression. At the time, all I wanted to do was work on cool posters. They gave me that opportunity in the fall of 1997. I created the Danceworks poster that was used for a few years. Once Mike and I joined forces, we continued to work with CPT by rebranding the theater as a whole -- new logo, collateral material, theater posters, website and ad campaigns. We turned a $100 project into a project worth thousands more. This helped us launch our business and produce a body of work that was artful, clever and smart.  

What are some of the advantages to doing business in Cleveland?
Mike: Cleveland equals opportunity. Opportunities to contribute, collaborate, change and remake. In Cleveland you can see the impact of new ideas almost instantly.

What inspires you?

Connie: I’m inspired by beauty, quality and thoughtfulness in any form -- whether it’s a vintage book cover, a reclaimed piece of wood used as décor, a historic family photo or beautifully wrapped gift.
Mike: I love the fight. I love the fight. You have to in order to survive as an entrepreneur.  I am inspired by those who do even though everyone says they can’t, shouldn’t or won’t.
What companies or founders do you admire and why?

Connie: I’m inspired by Kate and Andy Spade in New York. They are a truly dynamic couple as well as entrepreneurs and artists. As a married couple and equal creative forces, they have created amazing brands in Kate Spade, Jack Spade and now Partners in Spade. All the while doing amazing work in everything they love: branding, advertising, films, books, art and interiors.
Mike: I have a lot of admiration for many creative firms like Duffy & Partners, Arnold Worldwide, Wolff Olins. I love Chiat Day, love Wieden & Kennedy. I also love George Lois. I admire these agencies because they do uncompromised creative work, they change things. But I also admire Donald Trump, Jack Welch and other boisterous leaders who take on big responsibilities and shoulder the burden of ownership.
There is a lot of excitement and a lot of terror that comes along with that burden. When I read their books I feel comforted, less alone and more sure that as much as it feels like I am doing everything wrong, I must be doing something right. As example I point to Donald Trump’s story about how, during a bad moment when all his loans had been called in, he realized that a homeless man he passed on the street was actually $9 billion richer then he was because of the debt he owed. People who know that type of burden and are able to shoulder it to get to a better place inspire me.

What’s next for you and your company?

Connie: I want to be make things again. I want to be hands on. I want to create things that are authentic and beautiful. I would love to try my hands at creating interiors out of vintage treasures.
Mike: We are ready to begin the work of emulating our heroes in a way that fits our market.

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