In 2013, Shira Wheeler and Stephanie Draves Dunn launched FIGURE: a brand, ecommerce and digital marketing strategy firm. FIGURE helps brands that know who they are and where they want to be, but aren’t sure how to get there—a dilemma often reflected in life.

Shira: “It was hard to leave a company that I cared so deeply for, but it was one of those ‘if not now, then when?’ moments. I was beginning to think about starting a family alongside my career, and how the two fit together in a way that felt okay. But in the trajectory I was heading, life felt a little baffling. I had given a relatively long notice, and when I received Stephanie’s note that she was leaving her role, I was like, ‘dude, we have to meet!'”

Stephanie: “Yes! We were both like, whoa, hold on, what are you up to? No 'job’ could follow five amazing years at Loeffler Randall. My only real plan was to take some time off (for maybe the first time ever), figure out what was next. When Shira and I met for a drink, we were surprised and excited that we had similar visions of what our next chapters could be. We left our date saying we had to find some projects to collaborate on.”

Shira: “I think most of all, we both knew that we wanted to use our experience to help brands bring their ideas to life in a smart and purposeful way. And, at the same time, create something bigger that supported a healthy, fulfilling lifestyle not only for ourselves, but for all of the talented people we met and worked with as we grew our careers.”

Stephanie: “When Shira started telling me more about her initial ideas for FIGURE, it clicked for both of us. Working together on M.PATMOS and then Paintbox, it was just so clear that our heads were aligned and our strengths and weaknesses complimented each other well.”

Shira: “It really is like a second marriage—those same reasons we love each other also drive us crazy. We talked a lot about trust, expectation and communication right off the bat.

There’s a lot of talking, listening, learning and compromise around how we can grow together.”

Stephanie: “Trust is everything. And gratitude. We tell each other all the time how lucky we feel to have gone into this together.” 

Shira: “We both really loved the idea of re-imagining the entire system. Turning what it means to be a woman in the marketing/fashion/creative industry on it’s head.”

Stephanie: “We spotted the same opportunity from two different angles and just went for it. While I wouldn’t call it easy, starting our business didn’t feel like a risk.

It was about following my instincts, thinking yes, this absolutely needs to happen.”

Shira: “So far, it’s been an exercise in putting our money where our mouth is. Starting a business is A LOT of work. It’s inevitable that there will be late nights and weekends worked.”

Stephanie: “Six months in, my husband (who also has a small creative studio) was like ‘what did you think it was going to be like?’ and the truth is you can’t really know until you do it. To maintain the awareness of quality of life isn’t easy. When it’s 8pm and something isn’t as far along as you’d hoped, it’s hard to determine when to stay and just get it done and when to leave it for the next day. You have to commit to having a weekend and know that your work will be better for it.”

Shira: “Our ultimate goal is to create an environment (and this is what everyone is always talking about) where there’s a work/life balance, but with the emphasis on life. Especially in this creative economy we’re in, the two are completely intertwined. The point is, 10 or 12 days a year vacation and 10—12 hour days isn’t the type of life we want or think anyone should have.”  

Stephanie: “When I think about my 20s, it was all about working so hard, trying to do a good job at everything, collecting experiences and like-minded people along the way.

Suddenly you look around and you’re like look what I did—look at this life that I’ve built.

You’ve learned who you are and what you’re good at, what and who is worth your time and not. In your 30s everything falls within reach—you’re not grasping anymore.”

Shira: “I worked my ass off. One of our clients said something so golden: “confidence is fake until you have the feet to stand on.” It’s all about listening, learning, and experience. As long as you find purpose and take pride in what you do, that purpose will lead you wherever you need to go. That purpose inevitably changes along the way, but that allowed me to put my head down and charge through. All those experiences—

the mistakes, the hurtful words, the late nights, the keen advice, the sweet words, the dinners, the drinks—it all informs EVERYTHING.

All of those experiences have informed the values that FIGURE was born from. Our company and our approach are structured around expressing these values and staying true to them.”

Stephanie: “We’ve been so fortunate to work with smart people who have a vision for their brands that is bigger than the product or the service. And that’s the essential difference. You have to explore that space between a great product and a great brand. FIGURE was created to help clients determine what that space is and realize their vision based on their own company’s values.”

Shira: “We’ve also been incredibly fortunate to have an amazing support structure in both our parents and our husbands. Sometimes you need to ask for that support. It’s not always obvious.

Having people who listen, support, and believe in your dreams is so key to being able to do something like this.”

Stephanie: “In a sense, that’s what we do for our clients. We believe in what they want to become—and are excited to continue to do that for an even bigger community in the future.”

Shira & Stephanie’s #OKREALTALK Tips

  • Whether you realize it at the time, all of your experiences, good and bad, are informing and building your future self.
  • Strive for balance with the emphasis on life.
  • Sometimes you need to ask for support. That's OK.
  • Find purpose and take pride in what you do. Both will lead you wherever you need to go.
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As told to Amy Woodside, June 2014
Photography by Dan McMahon