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“It turned out humans were overrated, and our portfolio of work and word-of-mouth referrals were enough to get even large organizations to work with our bird-brained team.”

Pixelkeet is the world’s only “parakeet run” graphic design and web development firm. Their talented parakeets have helped to create projects for clients all over the world including LinkedIn; Telefónica; University of California, Berkeley; CrowdMed; and many more.

The Pixelkeet parakeets have also enjoyed some Internet fame for their good looks in addition to their talents. Pico, the Vice Parakeet of Markeeting, has even done some modeling for Marc Jacobs: http://instagram.com/p/OtwLmEv5M-/ . Pixelkeet was launched in 2012 by Jessica Greenwalt and is based in San Francisco, California.

MO: What inspired you to launch your first business while still attending high school and what were some early entrepreneurial lessons that you learned?

Jessica: I started my freelancing business in high school because I knew that running a design company was what I wanted to do. I learned about graphic design through my school’s digital media class, and knew immediately that it was the career for me.

I’ve been asked if it was difficult to start a business during high school, but at the time I figured it would be easier to focus on projects and build a client base while I had fewer expenses and responsibilities. And looking back, I think I was right. Without having to worry about making enough money to support myself, I was able to take the time I needed to practice design, management, and sales skills on projects I may not have otherwise been able to take.

After only a few projects, I discovered that clients usually know what they want, even when they say they don’t. I learned that understanding how a client thinks and being able to read their expressions, body language, and other cues are the keys to developing a successful project that both the client and designer are happy with. When both parties are happy with a project, they both champion it. And they are both excited to promote the project, which leads others to promote it, increasing the project’s exposure, making it successful in multiple ways. This is when I learned that understanding people is the most important part of the design process. My understanding of the client I am working with is the foundation of my design work. Successfully understanding the client leads to a successful design.

MO: Can you talk about some of the advantages and challenges of launching the world’s first parakeet-run design firm in the beginning of 2012?

Jessica: I launched Pixelkeet in January of 2012 after having run a freelance design company for over nine years. After working mainly in isolation for so long, I wanted to build a team to collaborate with. Over the years I met several talented designers and developers. I reached out to my favorite ones and got them to join the Pixelkeet team. Working with a team has allowed Pixelkeet to handle larger, more influential projects and keep the more demanding customers satisfied. As I expand my team, Pixelkeet is able to offer an even more diverse collection of services to our clients as well.

Our parakeets mainly handle marketing and public relations. Last year we had Paris-Roubaix, a Rosey Bourke parakeet, working as our PM (Parakeet Manager). We also had Pico, a Budgerigar, working as our Vice Parakeet of Markeeting. This year we have Lord Jello Worthington II, a Lineolated Parakeet, as our company mascot, and Etzio, another Budgerigar handling some website work.

Being the first parakeet run design firm, I expected it would be a challenge to convince new clients to work with us. When we started, the only photos on our website and social media were of parakeets working on projects, without human instruction. It turned out humans were overrated, and our portfolio of work and word-of-mouth referrals were enough to get even large organizations to work with our bird-brained team.

MO: When it comes to hiring a graphic designer, what are some of the questions that our readers should be asking?

Jessica: When it comes to hiring a designer, their personality is just as important—if not more important—than their design skill. As a client, you need to be honest with yourself about the type of client you are and find the designer that works best with you. Are you a client that needs to be involved in every part of the design process? Do you need a lot of hand-holding or do you prefer to be hands off? Find a designer who can work with your “type” in the way you would like to be worked with. If you hire a designer that you cannot effectively communicate with and work well with, you will be dissatisfied with the experience, even if you are working with one of the most artistically talented designers out there.

MO: What are some graphic design trends that you’re excited about?

Jessica: Right now I love parallax scrolling websites. I hope to do something interesting with this in the near future, hopefully on the next version of CrowdMed’s website.

MO: Who inspires you?

Jessica: I’ve been inspired by different people at different times for different reasons. My best friend inspires me to lead a more balanced life when I see her manage her new business while still making time to hang out with friends. My dad inspires me to spend more time developing personal connections over career connections by the way he makes sure to set aside time to spend with his family. My stepdad inspires me to strive to be a better leader with the way he handles difficult situations in a fair and thoughtful manner.

MO: You’re at a crazy point in your life right now. As of April 1st you joined CrowdMed full time while still running two other companies. How do you keep from becoming overwhelmed?

Jessica: I don’t. There have been brief moments when I’ve felt completely overwhelmed. But I realize that thinking about feeling overwhelmed doesn’t do anything to relieve me of this feeling, so I opt to do things that will—mainly tackling the workload that is making me feel this way. After getting a few tasks off my plate, the feeling of being overwhelmed is replaced with a feeling of satisfaction and happiness, which keeps me doing what I’m doing.


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