Truu Studio

Meet Julia Braga, aka Jules, the owner & founder of Truu Studio. Jules gives an EPIC and totally fun interview full of laughs, honesty and valuable advice. We hear about some of her favorite designers, she tells us the hilarious story of how she and her boyfriend came up with the name Truu, and we discuss the impact culture has on the way a designer works.

Give us a little intro into your journey and how you started out

I am a brand strategist, coach and the owner of Truu Studio. We are a 100% remote business, you know, those that run via Slack. We are more like a consultancy than a proper “design” studio. We don’t do small jobs, instead, we go with the ones that need a strategy, research, and then design. It may sound like a simple process but it’s actually a lot of work that takes months sometimes.

I come from a very entrepreneurial family, but also a very artistic one. My mom opened her shop when she was 18 painting on ceramics, which grew today to be our arts and decoration shop (and a jewelry shop as well), my father is an engineer. I always saw everyone around me drawing and painting, my parents, my grandmother (boy she was good!), which led me to be very artistic myself as well.

However, I was born right when computers got popular in schools in Brazil and at homes, and I quickly got into playing around with video games… and with Photoshop! We actually had it in our school lab when I was a teen. I remember sitting for hours and hours just playing around, looking for tutorials, drawing, learning how to use the program and so on. We eventually got our own computer, built on a budget so I was discouraged from sitting on it all day, which did no good. I was maybe 12 at the time. I created my first logo around that time too, or rather, “art directed” it. We had a voluntary program in our school and we needed a name and a logo. It was very much a group effort but I remember pitching in with ideas and putting the stuff together in PS (I knoooow, not the right app). That logo is still in use in its original form. I also taught myself HTML and CSS around that age. I have always been very musical, singing and playing. That same grandmother that painted a lot? Was an opera singer. What I master I had!

I actually never thought of myself as anything related to design. I didn’t know or understand "Design”, I was just plain curious and explored a lot. I think when we grow up we are taught to not explore, get stuck with one thing, and not to experiment with different areas just because we need to start from zero and it feels scary, and because our friends are on a steady job, building a family or whatever. It's a shame. I think I gravitated towards design because of my skills with the arts and that new found passion for technology, but also the entrepreneurial influence in my family. But I was never aware of it, it was just my surroundings.

When I graduated high school, I got into a Design school and ABSOLUTELY hated it. It wasn’t what I wanted at all. Also, maybe, it was because I wasn’t living in the place I wanted to. Another thing about me is that I have always loved Finland (don’t ask me why I have no idea). I never planned to be a designer, but I have always planned to move to Finland someday. It took a lot of attempts as a teenager. Because I studied in a German school, I was always pushed to Germany, and I did live there for a few months with our school’s exchange program. I think it just made my goals and path clearer if anything. Again, experimenting has its merits not just career-wise.

So, I actually dropped out and started working as a waitress in a steakhouse, applied to Design and Music & Media Production Universities in Finland. When you turn 18, you’ve gotta start making decisions on your own otherwise you will never be who you want to be, in my case the plan was made, I just needed to be old enough to execute them. You can’t let other people make decisions for you, especially if it's something close to your heart. You may ask opinions and advice, but you follow through if you want. Never give the power of the final word to the person when it comes to your life. I saved enough money at the time to spend a few months in Finland for the entrance exams, on a budget, but my mom found out she was with (breast) cancer. That opened a black hole inside me. I was so scared.

She then had to put me as a partner of the family businesses and got out to get treated. Of course, my plans to move to Finland went down under, at least until it was clear she was out of danger, which thankfully is what happened; I’m really grateful for her recovery, I know it’s not always like that. But also, you know how they tell you you’ve gotta be uncomfortable in order to grow? Imagine being put in the head of a retail business amidst Christmas sales with 2 weeks of training. YUP.

But in the end, everything worked out, and here I am in Finland :) I got in a design school, didn’t love it, but mostly because of the teachers, that sometimes didn’t even bother to show up, or were unprepared and late, and the inability to adapt my curriculum. I taught myself Finnish while I was growing up, I studied it in between breaks in school, and that played a big part of me not being scared to not finish the courses that spoke to the journey I wanted to follow. Sometimes, you just gotta find your own teachers and stick to them. Shout out to Chris Do, Blair Enns, Gary Vee, Douglas Davis, and Sean McCabe. And of course, my parents. It also took a lot of writing to figure out what field of Design I wanted to follow. I went through all of it: web, ui, ux, 3D, logo, video/motion, lettering, even brand photography, and finally landed on branding and strategy.

So, remember when I said that I learned to code and that I love music? So at some point, as I was growing up, I was experimenting with Joomla and Wordpress a lot. I was also on fan-managed forums for many musicians and bands from Finland. My first official client came through Myla, who runs the official Brazilian fan club for a Finnish artist called Tarja Turunen. Her bassist needed a logo and a website. Myla and I met only once, just when I was getting my Finnish Student Visa for Finland. From being long term internet friends to now being our Business Developer at Truu. Myla, you the real MVP.

How did you name your practice and what does the name represent to you?

Broo! I love that question. It’s a funny story. So, I started freelancing the moment I moved to Finland. At some point, I was getting a lot of unnecessary attention (creepos) in Social Media and decided that I needed to take a step back, and not do this alone. I wanted to redefine who I was, my career, my goals. Everything. I wanted a scalable, entrepreneurial practice and be smart about the way the business was set up.

I am known to be blunt and honest and at the same time empathetic (I personally think I am a b*tch but that's what people say! Hah). I just think it’s better for everyone if you just say what you think and discuss implications until you can meet middle way. There’s no point in lying or not saying how you feel, you are just fooling yourself and the other person. I think we all need to learn to be open and empathetic and put our feelings aside when listening to someone else. It's an odd mixture.

I wanted that to be the core, central value of my business. I will be direct and honest with my clients — they are business owners. You can’t get butthurt when you ask someone to work with you to help you grow, especially in the nature of brand strategy. You can't take stuff personally, you know? You are asking me to solve a problem, and that’s what I will do. I will tell you the truth as I see it, and we can discuss further application and implications. Do your 100% bidding? Nah, bro. Go somewhere else if you need a hammer. Not here.

So I figured out all the brand strategy for the business to start with, which of course changes a lot during the time, and I needed something that reflected a dynamic structure and that we could stay true no matter how we evolved and pivoted our products. A made-up word, short and sweet.

I explained all that stuff to my boyfriend. I will tell you, he is a plumber, and a lot of people see it as a “low” job (I don’t, as long as you love what you do, who the hell cares), and I swear to you that that guy’s good on selling stuff. I love the way his mind works. He’s really good building houses too, and I feel like he always has a good grasp on the nature and foundation of things, whether or not it’s related to engineering. He was sitting on the sofa, reading through on his iPad, and I was walking around the house like a cockroach, trying to figure out a name. You know when you spray that insecticide on them and they start running around? THAT’S HOW I LOOKED. Worst analogy but the best way to describe it, sorry not sorry.

So he then turns to me as I stated something, “dat’s truu”. Finns have a very “blocky” accent, and I flicked around and I screamed, “SHUT UP!”. In the best way possible. It was the first and only time I raised my voice and told him to shut up! Hahah, he, of course, was confused. That was followed by a “YOU ARE A FREAKING GENIUS”.

If you read “Truu” with American English or British English accents, it will sound just like “True”, and for Finns, it will “sound” to them like “true” as well. Bro, what a great name. Seriously. It has become a sort of a joke and more and more people reply to us just with "Dat's Truu". Ladies and gentlemen, we created a branding meme!

Design work by Truu Studio The Design Kids interviews Truu Studio work-2

Give us the elevator pitch on what you do.

Truu Studio is a creative consultancy studio focused on bringing people together with strategy and bespoke, minimalistic design. Short and sweet :)

Talk us through a typical working day include for you right now. What are some of the best and worse parts of your job, day-to-day.

I wake up and I listen to music while eating, or some goofy YouTube gaming video. That helps me get on a positive headspace. I like having a good laugh first thing in the morning. The way I set up my day in the morning dictates how it will go. I also make my bed. If anything else goes wrong, that at least went right! Today, I mixed it up with some TheFutur as well. I then start planning the day with our Intention Planner (shameless plug), going over my goals for the year, month and week, and I plan my days accordingly. It’s kind of boring in that sense but that’s how it is. I am becoming less and less a designer and more of an owner if anything. I am becoming a planner obsessed. Writing gives you the freedom to think creatively — maybe that's why I love strategy so much.

I don’t view anything as bad in my routine. Things are only bad or annoying if your mindset is bad or annoying. Certain things are less enjoyable than others, for certain, and those are the ones you've gotta tackle first. I’m very tactical and analytical and the glass half full, although I sometimes struggle with discipline, self-doubt and so on, just like everyone else. Practicing gratitude, kindness, and positivity is the key to win in life and business. It's hard, but you've gotta do it!

Design work by Truu Studio The Design Kids interviews Truu Studio work-4
Design work by Truu Studio The Design Kids interviews Truu Studio work-4

I think we all need to learn to be open and empathetic and put our feelings aside when listening to someone else. It's an odd mixture.

What are your three must-read design books, blogs or podcasts and why?

Three? HAH! That will be hard. I made everyone in the studio read The Win Without Pitching Manifesto (Blair Enns), Creative Strategy and The Business of Design (Douglas Davis), and of course, our own Strat It Up! (Truu Studio), which, by the way, THANK YOU, everyone, who's bought it. We are so blessed to be able to share our methods with you. More on the way for sure! Those are my picks for books, although it, of course, doesn't stop there. I do however think designers need to listen to less design related podcast and go over to the business and marketing side of things and become less precious and emotionally attached to the stuff they put out. Or maybe a healthy mix of Design and business. Seek less validation. Which then makes me want to recommend The Future (obviously), 2Bobs, Jocko Willink, and the one and only Gary Vee. Also the Seanwes podcast.

How does the local culture of where you live affect your design work and getting clients?

So, I’ve been wanting to talk about that for a WHILE now because I don’t think it gets discussed enough. The Nordic people (Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish etc) are culturally very reserved — not necessarily shy as some people put it. Of course, that affects businesses a lot. I think Finland is a special case. While it’s not entirely true that people don’t speak, they certainly can’t speak about themselves — a powerful case of humbleness. Can you see the problem? Sales.

I think that a lot of small businesses owners feel like they don’t need to build a brand just because they are small. I'm not even sure they think about a brand, I think they view it more like bragging.

You can build a brand and still be small, and the whole goal of building a brand is to make it inclusive — so you have to "sell” less. It ends up resulting on people leaving the country or at least moving to bigger cities, like Helsinki, Tampere, or even Jyväskylä, just because new businesses in smaller cities don't really prosper that well.

Where I am based, Kouvola is a special case. There used to be more "livelihood", as I am told, because the paper industry was huge here, and even that died down. That pushed people away because there were no jobs. It looks like new businesses are having a hard time building up again.

Everything’s closing down because no one is encouraged to market themselves, or maybe they don't realise how to do it.

Sometimes, you don’t hear of a new business until it’s been a year, which results in closing doors. But like with any culture, it’s an onion of many layers and there are a lot of facets to that. I think Finns in such smaller cities also trust foreigners less, for many reasons which I do understand, but don't approve of off. I think if you need to discriminate or judge someone maybe you should look at yourself first. There's space for everyone, and I don't think it is hard to start a business in a place that needs it as long as you have the courage to do it and the guts to market it. I know of women in corporate jobs who suffer a lot with discrimination (other Brazilians), but we don't need to get into that. I also know a lot of Brazilians who are killing it in bigger cities with their businesses (shout out to Ilo Brigadeiros). It's a complex and touchy subject with many layers that need a lot of contexts.

This city has a business school, a design (in Finnish only nowadays) school and it seems like graduates aren't encouraged to be entrepreneurs. Yes, you need to go where the money is, but there are also people living here that could benefit from a dozen of things. I just don't understand why that gap is not being bridged by the institutions. The government is not funding most businesses either, exactly because of that lack of commerce and interest in building anything, which in return turns people away and there goes the snowball! It’s the result of being inherently humble, mostly quiet, and not selling yourself and bringing people together. Here’s a surprise: if you can’t talk about your product, then you can’t sell. That’s bad for everyone. Brands that focus on value bring people together.

Now, since there's no real interest in branding or entrepreneurship, our ideal clients are definitely not small businesses in a small town in the middle of southern Finland. Unless they have the cash to put on such a complex process, which we already know doesn’t exist here, or is very scarce, we don’t take them. We have a certain amount of resources, an overhead just like any other business and pro bono has its time and place, too. Our ideal clients are mostly in the UK, although we get approached by US-based businesses as well. Some trickles from Germany, and other central and Southern European countries. The occasional Middle East and Brazilian.

When your business is inherently digital, your tactics change drastically, too, obviously. Your location only matters to set scheduled calls overseas because of your timezones. Conversely, your potential market is much wider and you really gotta narrow down in many different ways, via ethos and mindset, a certain strategic process/framework, a style of designing, interact with your ideal client on the internet and know where they hangout and so on. We want to reach an average of 3-5 clients per year and sell digital products that will help prospects become our ideal client. That’s where you sort of close the gap and the “distance”, so to speak.

Design work by Truu Studio The Design Kids interviews Truu Studio work-6

Who are your top design crushes globally right now?

What’s your take on internships? (Do you take interns now?)

We don’t take interns, usually, but we would be happy to someday. We do get a loooot of requests. We are still getting established in the market, and unless the person is really bought into us, we kindly turn them down. I don’t care so much about CVs, to be honest, I want to see passion and enthusiasm — not the creepy kind of course! I think people underestimate their own potential and “hide” behind CVs. It’s the same vibe I get in our shop, although for retail that’s a more stand process. Our focus right now is creating digital products like Strat It Up! and the Intention Planner, we have courses planned, a YouTube channel to open, a small community of designers to nourish. Our community is called The Creative Boss Club and is a very curated group of creatives. We are at that stage of the business that most of the cash is being poured back in it, even when there’s a lot to do, which would only allow us to take on unpaid internships. I personally wouldn’t work for free myself, it’s not what I personally would do or want, but for some people, it can be a good place to start is the path they are willing to take.

Who’s on the team, what are their roles and why do you love them?

Myla, and my cousin Victor. Both very different people, both geniuses in their own way. My cousin started coding very young too. I remember on a birthday party, I think it was Grandma’s, that he sat with is netbook on our couch. I approached him and he said he was making a program to create safe passwords. He was 9.

What advice would you give students graduating in 2019?

Stay in your parent’s house for as long as you need to make it out there. Offer to collaborate in the house income. While you live under their roof, respect them and hear them out, but do your thing. Buy them food. Do your chores. Help mom cook. Start practicing adult life when you don’t have many responsibilities yet. Learn everything you can about money and investing. And use your time to explore. Don’t be scared to put yourself out there. You’ve got time. Even if you are 30, and graduating, you’ve got time. I believe in you all.

Where do you think design is heading in the next five years and how will you adapt?

I think that Design and Business are slowly merging together. I beg that people don’t get worried about Fiverr, Upwork, and AI. I think you should worry about positioning yourself and having a clear plan of who and where you want to be. If you understand yourself, you can easily adapt to the market as it changes. Pay attention.

That said, I think people will shift back from seeking quick growth. Organic and transparent will be the way to go. We see that with people hating the way IG and FB are doing their things, people are looking for alternatives already, even people who don’t own businesses themselves. I think potential clients and general consumers will be even more judgemental of who you are as a person before they buy from you. They want to connect with you before they buy anything, and we are all customers in one way or another. They want to know where you are coming from, your experiences and so on.

It’s time to stop hiding behind your portfolios and your social media accounts. For businesses owners it should be natural to talk about their passion, that’s how you start captivating people.

What's on the cards professionally and personally in the next 12 months?

Growing a design studio is a challenge. We are working on our own position in the market and constantly figuring out our messaging. Adjusting and growing. For the next 12 months we want to have a few courses out, the YouTube channel and two books out — a sequel of Strat It Up! and a business-related book for creative entrepreneurs, so they can tackle the administration side of their businesses more professionally. I also want to go back giving consultations to designers and business owners who are “too small” for the studio so they can grow and build their businesses.

In the personal world, I hope to get a schnauzer! Also fix an issue with my shoulder that’s been keeping me away from the gym and affecting my productivity, spend some time to be around horses and explore doing art. Hahaha.

What do you think the design community could do more to give back?

Design is a great tool to connect a message to a recipient. I think we do it horribly when it comes to our own practices. We need to give back to ourselves by doing what we preach.

Also, stop hating on each other. Community, guys, there’s space for everyone. If you are gonna talk about someone’s work, ask for context, and give proper constructive feedback.

2019 for you in a sentence

Getting out of my comfort zones and putting my sh*t together!

Design work by Truu Studio The Design Kids interviews Truu Studio work-14
Design work by Truu Studio The Design Kids interviews Truu Studio work-14

Where to find Truu Studio online.

Website: truustudio.com

Instagram: @truustudio

Twitter: @truustudio

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