The plot twist…that moment in a story when an event or experience dramatically shifts the future direction of the storyline and all the characters involved. I’ve always found these moments fascinating in real life, and so I started this new, recurring series—called “The Twist”—where I talk to entrepreneurs and explore the plot twist that led them to start their businesses.
Every entrepreneur’s story starts somewhere—mostly from humble beginnings. This month, we meet Jon and Stacey McClure, the co-founding couple of Co-motion—the newest branding studio in the Indianapolis area—who are just beginning their company’s narrative.
We recently met at Co-motion’s space—presently doubling as their home—to chat about why they made the jump, what they’ve learned so far, and how they co-mingle their working relationship and married relationship.
Joe: Let’s get to know you guys. Who are you? Where’d you grow up? Any siblings? All that good stuff.
Jon: I grew up in Brownsburg, Indiana. No siblings…just my mom, dad, two cats, and a dog. Growing up, my dad was a photographer so I think I get my artistic side from him.
Joe: What did your mom do?
Jon: She was a physical therapist. It’s safe to say I get my social skills from her.
Joe: And you, Stacey?
Stacey: I grew up in Marion, Indiana. I have one sister—a senior at Purdue. My mom was an English teacher and my dad is a CPA. I think I get my analytical side from my dad and my creative side from my mom. It’s a nice mix.
Joe: And you both went to Ball State?
Stacey: We met at Ball State when I was a sophomore, and Jon was a freshman.
Joe: How did that come about?
Stacey: We met in Art History class. We were good friends for eight months before we started dating.
Joe: What was it about Ball State that led you there?
Stacey: I originally went to Ball State for architecture and was in their program for a little over a year. Then, I decided it wasn’t really the lifestyle that I wanted, so I looked into advertising and visual communication. I talked to professors in both areas and ended up majoring in visual communication.
Jon: My experience was a little different. I didn’t go to Ball State for design originally. Growing up, I thought I would end up in sports marketing. But when I took a business class my freshman year, I quickly realized it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I enjoyed drawing as a kid, so I enrolled in a few fine art classes, which led me to visual communication. And the rest is history.
Joe: No formal art training before college? Interesting. How about you, Stacey? Did you have any sort of art background before you got to Ball State?
Stacey: I took a Drafting/CAD class my senior year of high school. We were assigned a variety of projects—designing houses and commercial properties. My claim to fame was that I competed in the state competition for Drafting/CAD and won first place! I went on to Nationals and did awful. Pretty much dead last.
I think architecture allowed me to balance creativity and math. It was a little scary when I left architecture to go completely fine art, because I was nervous about not getting to use my analytical side.
Joe: Is that math side still strong within you?
Stacey: Yeah. I think that’s how we divide our responsibilities with Co-motion. I enjoy bookkeeping while Jon likes new business.
Joe: When did you tie the knot?
Stacey: We got engaged the last semester of Jon’s senior year. (I had already graduated.) And we married two years later.
Joe: Talk a little about your career before starting Co-motion.
Jon: During school, I interned with the Indiana Pacers and Sandpaper Studio. Following my internships, I met Josh Miles from Miles Design at an AIGA Portfolio Review. He hired me as an intern for three months and then I was promoted to designer. I was fortunate to work alongside talented designers, like Brian Gray, who taught me the ins and outs of branding. When Stacey joined Miles Design a few years later, we both became senior designers.
Stacey: After graduation, I worked at the Indianapolis Museum of Art as a Production Designer. I worked with their in-house design team, mostly creating marketing collateral. Toward the end of my time there I got into exhibition design a little bit. After a year at the IMA, I was approached by Publicis. I took a job there and for three years gained advertising experience and learned a lot about broadcast, radio, and out-of-home campaigns. I didn’t have a ton of branding experience when I went to Miles Design in 2014.
Joe: What brought you to Miles Design then without that experience?
Stacey: I had always wanted to do branding and a spot eventually opened up at Miles Design. Josh called me in for an interview and offered me a job that night. I started a couple weeks later.
Joe: You two always talk very casually about working together. But that’s so fascinating to me. I’ve been married for a long time, and I’m still not 100% sure if Lindsay and I could work together. Did you ever see it as a concern or has it always been a natural experience?
Stacey: I feel like in Indy there are a lot of creative couples—whether it’s two designers or designer and writer. Jon and I have always collaborated with each other on our projects. In every job, Jon would bring something home, and I’d give him feedback. And vice versa. It was nice to get a fresh perspective. And I think that collaboration was what led to the idea of what if we did this ourselves?
Joe: How did you eventually get to a point where you decided it was time to make the leap and start your own business?
Stacey: I think every creative gets to the point in their career where their position starts to move more toward a management role and less toward design—at least in our experience. We loved being able to mentor the MilesHerndon design team and see them grow as designers. But for us, we still have a huge passion for executing the design. Getting to be the person that’s creating and building client relationships is also really important to us. Co-motion allowed us to get back to that.
Joe: You’ve got to have one foot in both worlds—as a manager making it whatever you want and still getting to do the work.
Joe: And so you’ve now been doing Co-motion for two months?
Jon: Yeah, two and a half months.
Joe: Lindsay and I had a great time working with you to come up with your business name. I never did get to hear the backstory on why you chose that name. When you think about the term “Co-motion,” what’s it mean to you?
Stacey: I think you and Lindsay had pitched 11 names total and halfway through you decided to toss out two of them because we were really excited about the other ones. You guys did such a good job. And one of the names you tossed out was “Co-motion.”
I don’t know what it was, but the second Lindsay said it out loud it seemed perfect. I hate to use the word “disruptive” because it’s such a buzzword—but it felt disruptive. It had a lot of energy to it. I think the idea of putting companies into motion through collaboration—two people working together. It just seemed to hit on all the things that we were looking for in a name. Just even saying it, it still puts a smile on our faces.
Jon: Yep, that one clicked. It sounded right. It felt right. It seemed like who we are as people. I remember it was almost instant. We looked at each other and were like, that’s probably going to be it. That just feels right. And Co-motion was the winner!
Joe: So when somebody works with you, how does that play out? What do you naturally gravitate towards? What’s your sweet spot of skills and how do you divide them up when you’re working with a client?
Jon: It’s weird because we both do almost all the same things. On any given day, Stacey could do new business, and I could do new business. She could design logos, and I could design logos. Sometimes we even send files back and forth. It’s tough to say. Outside of a couple areas, we do almost the same thing. I think in meetings though, I’m more of an extrovert and Stacey’s an introvert.
Stacey: Jon is the person that says, “Let’s go to the moon!” I’m the person who says, “Okay, but if we’re going to the moon, we’re going to have to take these things. We’re going to have to leave by this time.” We compliment each other really well. I feel like, between the two of us, we bring all of the personalities of an agency—but in two people instead of a team of 10.
Joe: You two equals 10 personalities.
Stacey: Yes, exactly: Two people. Ten personalities.
Joe: And there’s your new tag line! So in all your collaborating, are you both open to input or do you ever find yourselves quick to defend your work to the other person?
Jon: We’re both competitive people, so sometimes we’re quick to defend our work. But we both know at the end of the day that when we collaborate we come up with the best product. As designers, we’re emotional. We’re passionate about what we do, but we always put our clients’ needs first.
Stacey: We both had mentors who said you should never present a problem if you don’t have a solution. I think that has always stayed with us, especially in design. When you’re looking at someone’s work, don’t just tell them, “This isn’t working.” Say, “This isn’t working. Here’s why it isn’t working, and here’s how you can fix it.” I think that’s really improved our collaboration.
Joe: You already said you’re only two and a half months into this, but what have you gleaned already?
Stacey: We’ve been very fortunate to have great friends and acquaintances connect us with people who want to partner on really awesome projects. It feels weird to say that we haven’t learned anything yet. But before we started Co-motion, we spent a lot of time absorbing as much information as we could on what to do and what not to do.
Joe: Talk about that prep process. What were some of those things you got from others?
Stacey: The obvious one is saving money. We made sure that we saved enough money so, if we didn’t have a project for six months, we could float along.
Jon: What I think we noticed right away is that promoting ourselves is the toughest thing to do. It’s tough to dedicate billable time to self-promotion, but we have learned that we need to treat it as a client. This includes building a full website. Right now, we have a landing page (shoutout to Allen Pieper of Oldspeake), but not a full website. It’s on our to-do list.
Joe: What kind of fears did you have going into the launch of Co-motion?
Stacey: We didn’t have any fear. I think Jon and I are both self-motivators. We’re both 100% committed to making this work no matter what. For us, success is the only option. I think the excitement of what Co-motion could become propelled us more than fear did. It was more about the possibility of what we could build, how we could build it, and how we could evolve it 10 years from now.
Jon: The only challenge we thought we might encounter was transitioning from a full-time job—where you’re surrounded by people—to working from home. We set a goal for ourselves to attend one social event every week to make sure we stay connected to Indy’s creative community.
Joe: Currently, you work out of your home, you live in your home, sleep in your home. How do you stay inspired and not get stuck in a rut?
Stacey: For me, I love to travel—going different places and having different experiences. In order to feel inspired, I have to get away from the computer. Our house has also become an inspiration project for me, whether I’m working in the yard or tearing wallpaper in our bathroom.
Joe: And Jon, how about you?
Jon: I get energized from being around friends and other creatives. I like going to conferences like Creative South and Brand New. I find myself leaving those events full of ideas and inspiration. Social engagements fuel me and keep me fresh too.
Joe: Yeah, I’m really curious how designers see the world. Are you constantly critiquing things you see? And is that a good thing? Frustrating?
Jon: Maybe not critique, but we definitely absorb design around us. When you’re passionate about something, it’s your life. Design is our life. It’s not something that we turn on at 9:00 a.m. and turn off at 5:00 p.m.
It’s something that we’re always thinking about. It’s how we stay inspired. It’s how we grow. It’s how we live.