A Design Studio With the Sweetest Business Practices
SEAchange co-founders Graham and Kyle visit with Pixel Bakery's Director and Founder, Jordan Lambrecht, to discuss the fully-baked company values the company tastefully leverages to impact the lives of employees and community members alike. Tune in for an enticing conversation about the importance of ingraining work-life balance, transparency, and mutual respect into the soul of a business.
As Jordan mentions in the episode, “It comes down to one simple thing, treat your people with respect and love them. Be kind to them... be kind to everybody.” We think everyone can take a page from Jordan's book and use it at home, at work, and everywhere in between. Listen in to The Stream of Conscience Podcast's 5th episode of the season for more heartfelt and business-building inspiration.
Graham If you haven't noticed, the world is changing. Consumer and talent demands are evolving and businesses are being held accountable to a broader purpose. This is the Stream of Conscience podcast, where we celebrate the businesses that are prioritizing purpose to achieve both financial returns and greater impact. These stories highlight business as a force for good, and good as a force for business.
Welcome back to our listeners, and thank you for choosing the Stream of Conscience podcast. I'm Kyle Cartwright and as always, I'm joined by my co-host, Graham Pansing-Brooks. We are also co-founders of SEA Change, a social enterprise advising company located in the heart of America. We have a special episode planned for you today and would like to welcome our guest, Jordan Lambrecht, director and founder of Pixel Bakery Design Studio. Jordan is here to tell us all about out Pixel Bakery, which is a design studio focused on creating animations, web design, videography, motion graphics, and more for businesses and nonprofits. Even though Pixel Bakery doesn't sell edible sweet treats, their business model is well worth consumption. Jordan, to start out, why don't you just give us a little background on yourself and maybe what kind of brought Pixel Bakery to life?
Jordan Hey Kyle, for sure, and you are correct. There's always a lot of confused secretaries about our name. Every once in a while we'll actually even get catering requests, which we'll go into a shutter stock or something and find a watermarked photo of a croissant or something and send it back to them.
Graham So Jordan, you nailed it. Director and founder of Pixel Bakery. We've been around for six years now, which is insane to me. Me and two other people founded it back in 2015. It's one of those stories I wish it was more glamorous, but it was December and we were all graduating college. As you know, the job market in Lincoln can sometimes be pretty bleak in December for recent graduates. We applied to like 20 jobs, each of us, and didn't hear anything back. We were kind of like, well, we're going to do this with ourselves.
Jordan I was having a conversation with my mom, actually. I was floating the idea past her. And She's very much like a, she's an accountant if that gives you any... she's a German accountant, if that gives you any frame of reference on her personality type. So I was immediately her to shoot me down. Explained the idea to her, and she was like, "Look, Jordan, you know what? You're broke, you're single. You don't have a job. You don't have kids. You have nothing but student loans. You're literally at rock bottom. You have nowhere to go about up, go for it, buddy."
So yeah, it was born. Over the past six years, we've learned a lot. I have an art degree. They don't really teach any of the business savviness about art degrees, or business and art school. We started out terrible and over the past six years, we've continually failed and failed, but we've failed less and less, and grown more and more. Now we're to the point where we know what we're doing and because we allowed ourselves that room to fail, we're pretty on lock.
Graham What more can you ask for to fail less and less? I love that.
Graham So Jordan, over those six years, obviously there's been a tremendous amount of growth and development that's occurred at Pixel Bakery. One of the things that we've talk about in the past is how one defines corporate purpose. I'm really interested to dive in a little bit into Pixel Bakery and your own perspective of a growing a business with purpose, but also, how is it that you're defining culture, impact, purpose within the organization that you've built?
Jordan Yeah. Great question. There's always an inner struggle as a big business owner. I consider myself pretty socialist. I don't know if that's a frowned upon word here, but I own a business, which is part of the capitalistic dogma to sound weird, but so there's always that struggle about finding purpose within my own identity and how I want to shape my company. Really there's no good answer to it. You have to segment yourself to some degree and the best you can do is trust your gut, do what you think is right, and stay true to your personal values. From an outside perspective looking, in that's how I've handled that. I always tell my team they can always have their personal beliefs about anything. I will never judge them and we don't even have to talk about it.
But as a business, you know what? I have my beliefs and what's the point of running a business if I can't have my business share some of those beliefs too? As far as the inside workings of everything, it comes down to one simple thing. Treat your people with respect and love them. Be kind to them, be kind to everybody. I think that there's parallels between that. You think of corporation, and you get this like Scrooge MC duck image in your head that's just treating his employees like a cog in the machine and will lay off thousands of people, whatever. Sure that might work for IBM or Microsoft or whatever, but we don't sell a product. We don't have something tangible that we can put out into the world. We have human capital.
I sell the brains of my employees, and at that, I sell the creative brains of my employees. There's a symmetry between, I guess, treating your employees right for their own and benefit because it's the right thing to do and taking care of them because they look to you to put food on their table, but also that human capital. If you treat them right, you give them exceptional room to grow, like we do a four day work week so they can recharge. I'll pay them to basically experiment with anything they want to do, go learn something, anything they want to do. If you invest in your employees like that, the human capital aspect of it grows as well. We perform better as a company and we make more money as a company, and my employees are fulfilled in life. They're fulfilled creatively, and they're professionally developing.
Graham That was beautiful. We are firm believers that you can have both a social commitment to social good or environmental good, or what have you, and also be a very viable and successful business. In fact, we kind of see that as just like you described where you're investing in your people and they're motivated, they're productive, they're fired up about their work and they're excited to go to bat for their client or for the product or whatever the business may be selling. We are absolutely on board with that, and I'm glad that you have found that. We like to share these kind of test cases, so thanks for sharing that.
Jordan Yeah. I think one of the other sides of it is the cold hard truth, the reality of it is everybody will eventually leave your company. That's how it works. It's a good thing, because again, if you treat your employees right, they will go off into the world, they will get cooler jobs because you set them up for success, and they will become a bastion of your company. For example, we have a employee that went off to am Amazon, AWS. We have one that went to Hello Fresh, and a bunch of others. But they carried the name Pixel Bakery with them, and a lot of the times if you do that, they'll come back as a client.
Graham Ambassadors, yeah. The flywheel is so important of, you're not necessarily doing these things because there's tangible benefits that come ultimately come back to you, but I think that's certainly something that you see, is as you further embed purpose into what you're doing, that flywheel starts spinning of business as a force are good, but then also that good becoming a force for business. There's no reason that those two aspects shouldn't be heavily prioritized together.
Graham Jordan, I want to dive in just a little bit more into what you were just talking about in terms of paying time off for employees on Friday to be able to explore and do things that they're interested in. Can you give us a little bit more detail on that and maybe some examples of what types of projects team members have been diving into?
Jordan Yeah, for sure. It's in the experimental phase. It's getting to the point where I can officially put the stamp of hypothesis proven on it, but jury's still a little out, take it with a grain of salt. Essentially after COVID and we got back into the office, we decided to switch to a four day work week, and on Fridays, employees can either choose to not come into work at all. They can work from home. We give them the option to work from home regardless, or they can work on a passion project.
One good example is I have a couple videographers and cinematographers that are going out into the community and they're collecting the stories of black owned business owners so we can highlight that. My personal one is, I want to eventually, ii I have time and I finish our new website update, I'd like to go around and just document all of the art in Lincoln and build an interactive map website where just the general population can view that.
My animators, animators are always a little bit more introverted and they want to stick to their craft and not go out and interface with the community. I respect that. So a lot of them will, they'll take time to just learn a new skill. One of my animator, my animation lead the other day, he spent four hours messing around with how to individually morph shapes. He created this cool little Kirby graphic of Kirby flying from an umbrella and it looked 3D, but it wasn't, and that's a new skill [crosstalk 00:10:58].
Graham Yeah. It's one of my favorite games.
Jordan Yeah, that's a good one. So he has that skill that he didn't have before and he loved doing it. He's passionate about it. He feels cool for making it. Then on the flip side, I now have an animator that can make a faux 3D look and manipulate shapes like that. And he got better at his craft overall, and he can work faster the next time something like that comes up in a client project. So again, going back to what you said, Graham, it's mutually beneficial.
Graham Yeah. I love that. And it gives, again, it's rejuvenating, it's inspiring. It allows for the creative outlet. It allows you to be able to challenge yourself and really move towards those passion projects, because how many times in life do we all wish we had an extra couple hours in the day to get things done? What a gift to be able to provide to team members to say, here's that extra time, go take it.
Jordan I adjunct at the university on the side. I always teach a design/animation class every semester. A lot of the projects that they do throughout their college career is, it's very check listed. You got to follow the rubric. You got to go through these projects on a syllabus. I try to open it up for interpretation to them. First day of class, when I walk in, I'm like, "Look guys, here's the rub. Enjoy college because once you get into the workforce, chances are you're not going to get to do things for yourself as far as your craft goes. You're going to be doing it for other people and for clients, so enjoy your time now. And that's part of it. I'm trying to break that.
Graham Kind of in a similar vein of, I don't know, kind of highlighting your team and giving them space to do things you, it's interesting on your website you have a live stream of your space, which as I checked it this morning, I mean, it sounds like there's some reasons for why it's empty right now. But I'm curious, what's the thought process behind that kind of voyeuristic like, Hey, check in on us. What's going on?
Jordan Yeah, mostly it's so my parents can check in and make sure I'm okay. But I don't know.
Graham Mom, I'm working hard.
Jordan I think there's, I'm an entertainer. That's at the core of what I am. I'm an entertainer. I like making other people happy and entertaining. I always think that's a cool way of doing it. But beyond that, one of my fundamental beliefs is transparency and vulnerability, and that's a small aspect. It would be a hard stretch for me to say that there's a huge link between that and the concept of being fully transparent, but that is a moving part of it.
Graham It adds to the brand feel.
Jordan Yeah. It adds to the brand.
Graham I got that right away too.
Jordan Yeah, unless the office is empty and then it doesn't.
Graham Then you're transparent about not being at the office, which is, you take that as it is.
Jordan Yep. I think there's also a wall between skill levels. Again, when you graduate college, you kind of put at advertising agencies on a pedestal and you're like, oh my God, I'm nowhere near good enough for that. Creatives, I could go on a rant about imposter syndrome and about how it's just drilled into an artist's brain. I'll save you that soapbox. But I think that's a really good way of...
Graham I'll join you on that.
Jordan That's a really good way of kind of overcoming it. If somebody can go on it or website and see that we just have a really small studio and we have a tight knit team and most of them are mid twenties to early thirties, we all just are like doing it, maybe that can help them gain a little bit of confidence.
Graham Yeah, breaking the mold a little bit. I like that. I'm curious. So know a lot about your team and your commitment in these regards, I sense, and you've kind of alluded to the fact that it's really helped you retain great people, helped develop them. Are you hiring right now? As you have been hiring in the past, have you found that this kind of ethos and your ability to talk to this has really helped you attract outstanding people that kind of get the right people on the bus?
Jordan Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So we are not hiring right now. Sorry, whoever's listening. We're fully staffed.
Graham I was asking for myself. No, I'm just kidding. I want Fridays off. Graham, we need to talk.
Jordan We'll start you off with an internship and see how it goes.
Graham There you go.
Jordan So yeah, we're not hiring right now. I'm really, really slow to hire. I think a lot of companies they'll just explode and they'll get carried away it with the idea of just being a huge business. That terrifies the shit out of me. My biggest fear in the world is having 25 people on my team and not being able to hit payroll. I don't want to ever be put in that situation. So really, really slow to hire. We're currently at 11 people and for now that's okay. We take on 10 clients a year, and we want to make sure the work that we are doing for those clients is at the highest possible quality. If we have runaway costs, runaway labor, runaway employees that we're not training and having the time commitment to train them up, then quality of work dips, employee happiness dips, the amount of hours that I spend in bed staring at the ceiling worrying increases.
Graham That's never good.
Jordan Yeah. No. What was the second half of your question again?
Graham Oh, just the ability to attract really outstanding people who share the vision and you're getting the right people on the bus by, I don't know, emulating and just really giving voice and giving a vision to your purpose and to this ethos you're talking about.
Jordan Yeah, for sure. So we're really, really hardcore with hiring, but also we're really, really chill with hiring. It's kind of weird. For example, we call our internships internships because that's the time to grow and learn again. Again, I could go off on a tangent to about never doing unpaid internships, but I'll save you that one too. Then when we're hiring, we don't require a college degree or anything like that. I'm a firm believer that we can teach you craft and we can teach you skill. I can teach anybody to do anything.
The other day, my studio manager and assistant, I needed her to help port some old blog posts over to our new website, which is react JS, yada yada technical. And she was like, "Sure, no problem. Show me how to do it." An hour later, she got it. We go for that. We go for adaptability, passion, people that care about the same things as us, and work ethic. The rest of the stuff I can teach. I don't care if they don't know how to work an app when they come in.
Graham Hmm. Right on.
That's, that's a wonderful way to approach it, that looking at this, especially during the last two years, to be able to adapt and evolve, to be able to really lean into that vulnerability, to find ways to navigate a ever increasingly uncertain world, those types of skills are invaluable. I'm sure that you also ultimately see the benefit of those types of individuals and people really working through the challenges and the roadblocks that are put in front of them.
As you're looking towards this upcoming year, where do you see Pixel Bakery growing? Where do you see your next steps leading you? I know you're talking about growth and not necessarily wanting to get that 25 number, but how do you balance and where are you going to go moving forward in this year?
Jordan Yeah, great question. We actually just did our end of year KPI surveys with our employees, so I'm fully equipped to do this
Graham Good timing.
Jordan I'd like to... healthcare, number one. We're too small to offer healthcare right now. It's not beneficial for our employees cost wise. It's better to go through marketplace, but I'd like is to get to that point. That's the one thing that I hate that we can't provide. So just from that aspect. Beyond that, I would say more national clients. Right now we're talking to a couple national organizations to work with, but I'd really like to lock that in. Another thing that's important, since COVID anyways, for me at the top level working with finances, COVID was hard. It was hard for everybody. We thought we were goners, honestly. I went three months not taking a paycheck just to make sure that I didn't have to lay anybody off.
So it was rough, and have a little bit of trauma from that. The new trajectory is we're trying to get some more passive income coming into the door, or just retainer clients. Can I cuss on here? I don't really know. Okay, cool.
Graham Go for it.
Jordan When shits a fan, our clients, the first thing that they're going to pull back on is their marketing and advertising spend. We're the first on the chopping block, but if we can diversify our revenues and make sure that we have other streams of income coming in, we can shield ourselves from stuff like that. That's big on my agenda right now. Beyond that, we just started working on our first TV show, which is awesome to me. It's really, we just got the opening credits, like the opening title sequence done. It ed produced by Pixel Bakery on the screen, and then it was like Executive Producer, 'Jordan Lambrecht'. I was like, oh, fuck, this is so cool. I'm so pumped about this.
So yeah, we're also, we're working on this other just short music video, ambient music videos for children to fall asleep too called Rock Sock, put on YouTube TV. So more so dabbling our toes into this indie film kind of production, art for the sake of art, looping it, being meta, looping it way back around to that idea of you're only going to be designing for clients the rest of your life. That's a personal creative outlet for me to explore making stuff, having full creative control over it. Those are the big things really
Graham Watch out Meow Wolf.
Jordan Right? I wish. Actually one of my interns/apprentice, she got a grant to go study under Meow Wolf over the summer. She spent two months out in Las Vegas.
Graham Wow. That's dope. Yeah. So what we're hearing is, when you have an opening, send it our way and Kyle and I are more than happy to go.
Jordan I'll add you to the top of the list.
Graham Oh, sweet.
Graham Jordan with just, I think the last maybe couple minutes before we capture how people can find you and stuff like that, on your website, it talks a lot about the clients you really like to work with. There's some nonprofits, I wonder if, would you willing to talk about some of the clients or projects in particular that you feel like define your brand around, again, this kind of commitment to people, transparency, and a lot of what we're hearing from you today?
Jordan Man, I need to look at our client roster. I'm always so bad at this on the spot. I know this was on the list and I was like, ah, I can rattle off clients. No problem. But I would say my favorite one is Soul Pancake. For those who aren't familiar with Soul Pancake, they're now owned by Participant Media. They did, I believe An Inconvenient Truth. I might be wrong on that. Supersize Me. I might be wrong on that one too, but they do more social awareness documentaries. I don't know if you've seen The Office or not. Have you guys seen The Office?
Graham What's what's that about?
Jordan It's about an office.
Graham Oh wow. Interesting.
Jordan But Dwight Shrute on The Office, his name is Rainn Wilson in real life and he owns Soul Pancake. Rainn Wilson.
I knew I had recognize that name somewhere.
Jordan So we got the opportunity to on two pieces that I really, really cared about. One was called America to Me, which was about a black woman's equity journey in New York growing up and just highlighting some of those social injustices that she went through, talked about her and her parents being... the first time she realized she was black, and it was when her and her parents got pulled over by the cops for the first time. It was a really, really bad experience, or talking about how often people would commit a microaggression by walking up to her and telling her things like, "Oh, you speak so eloquently" as if they did an inspector to, or touching her hair without permission, stuff like that.
Jordan Then my other favorite project we did for them, it was part of a docuseries that they were working on. We came in and did the animated segments for it. It was about this man that lives in the India region of the world. He essentially, he raids cobalt factories with a mini militia and he frees child slaves from... and helps him recover and puts him in a better place. So we got to help on that one. That one I had to take breaks from.
Jordan I had to walk away. Yep. I definitely had to walk away, and at the time I smoked, so every scene I would finish up and I'd go outside and I'd smoke a cigarette, like cry. The child advocacy center, that's another my favorites. I'm very, very passionate about.
Graham A local favorite here in Lincoln.
Jordan Yeah. Yep. Yep. As far as locals go, that's another one. I start getting teary eyed every time we work with them. I'm getting teary-eyed now just thinking about it. They'll send us statistics and it's insane. There's thousands of children that have been victims of such sexual or physical abuse that they'll help regain a voice. That's their motto is, it's smallvoices.org. They give a voice back to the down trot children of Nebraska, which is really, really important to me.
Graham Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I find myself leaning forward as you're sharing these experiences. So yeah, I can tell you're very passionate about them and I'm feeling that passion. So Jordan, we're really grateful for the time you spent with us today. If folks want to find you or learn more about Pixel Bakery, where do they go?
Jordan Great. Yeah. Go to the website, pixelbakery.com.
Graham Right now. There it is. Well, Jordan, thanks so much again, we really appreciate you taking the time to connect and talk with us. So yeah, I appreciate it.
Jordan Yeah. Thank you. Honored to be here and honored that you chose me.
Graham Thanks for listening to the stream of conscience podcast. Please subscribe to our feed, share your favorite episodes with a friend, and of course don't hesitate to reach out to us at SEA Change, the company that brings you the stream of conscience podcast. You can find us online at www.seachangeltd.com. That's S-E-A, change ltd.com or email us at helloseachangeltd.com or follow us on LinkedIn to stay the loop. Keep doing good things.