How Danielle Thompson Travels the World While Running Her Business

Danielle Thompson by a tropical pool

Danielle Thompson has started and run several different businesses while traveling the world. In this interview, she shares behind-the-scenes details about starting and growing Design Match, an AI-powered service that matches businesses with the ideal designer.

👇 Key Takeaways

  • Danielle started Design Match after seeing a need from the market
  • SEO has been the best investment for growing the business
  • Danielle’s advice to other entrepreneurs is to “enjoy the journey” rather than focusing only on the destination

Overview

Business Name: Design Match
Website URL: https://www.designmatch.io/
Founder: Danielle Thompson
Business Location: Canada
Year Started: 2020
Number of Employees/Contractors/Freelancers: 10

Tell us about yourself and your business.

My name is Danielle, and I run Designmatch.io as well as a supplement company called Luma. I travel the world full-time while building businesses. When I’m not building, I’m kitesurfing, painting or taking photos. 

My background is in design. I studied both digital and physical design at Concordia University in Montreal. 

I’m originally from Toronto, Canada, but don’t really consider it home since I’ve been traveling the world for the last 10 years. I visit Canada often to see friends and family, but I consider Southeast Asia home. At the time of writing this, I’m in Da Nang, Vietnam. 

Design Match came out of an ask from the market. This was the first time I built a business out of a real need rather than making up a need. I used to run an agency called Studio Moku, and after being consistently booked out, I needed a way to leverage my time better. 

This is when I began to outsource to friends and the design community. They would represent my studio with various clients but work independently. When I saw this approach working, I realized it was just about finding the right job for the right person—something I seemed to be good at. 

Right now, we serve primarily startups and pre-series A teams under 50. We work with many social enterprises. 

Design Match

How does your business make money?

Design Match charges a commission on top of the designer’s rate. Clients are all on subscriptions with their designer and retain them for a specific amount of time each week. We bill clients weekly, allowing them to maintain flexibility. 

We recently started a small boutique agency, working with social enterprises and equity-related projects. This has been a great additional income source for Design Match. We’re currently working on a project funded by the Bill and Melina Gates Foundation. 

What was your inspiration for starting the business?

I’m really passionate about helping creators get paid fair wages. All my previous businesses have a similar ethos—they’re all around personal empowerment. The funny thing about design is that everything around us is designed. Whether it has a positive or negative effect on the world, it was designed. The idea I had was that if we could empower the designers of our world, they would choose projects that actually align with their values. 

The idea for Design Match came naturally, seeing a need in the marketplace to help people find the right designer. Hiring designers has less quantifiable attributes to it. Since your designer is your translator, the person who is going to make that vision in your head a reality – there’s a level of understanding they need to have. This is sometimes hard to evaluate from a simple resume or portfolio. That’s where we come in. 

Danielle Thompson by a tropical pool
Photo courtesy of Danielle Thompson

How and when did you launch the business?

Design Match has yet to have a formal launch. We started with a simple MVP WordPress landing page in 2020, and once we saw demand, we started building out the rest of our application. 

We decided to go with no code, especially as a bootstrapped startup, as it allowed us the most flexibility when building. With no code, we were able to respond to customer needs significantly faster.

How is the business funded? 

Design Match was completely bootstrapped and profitable from day one. I remember our first client paying us $1,800 per week. I was super excited when I saw ROI on the website. Further down the line, we became less profitable as we invested in AI and automated matching, but thankfully, that investment also paid off. 

While starting with Design Match, I maintained a full-time job, so I contributed an additional $50,000 at the beginning. 

How did you find your first few clients or customers?

One of our early business clients contributed half of the first year’s revenue. It was unexpected and came through a referral channel. It was a Singaporean Fintech company that needed 3 designers and paid between $80-$130 USD per hour for the talent. This really showed me the value of good relationships in this business type.

I remember our first customer – they were from Kuwait and working on a beauty app. I was so new to the business that I gave them bank details to do the transfer and that specific bank didn’t accept funds from Kuwait! So, I had to open a second business bank account just to get paid by this company. It delayed the funds, so I had to pay the designer out of pocket. It was a bit stressful, but a funny story in retrospect. There was just so much I didn’t know that I didn’t know. 

What was your first year in business like?

My first year in business was 2021. We were making money right away—as soon as I put up the website. During the post-pandemic tech boom, everyone was hiring, which made it easy to start. It would have been more difficult if I had to start again in 2024.

Initially, I didn’t work long hours but thought a lot. I was trying to develop a sustainable sales channel for Design Match, but I didn’t know what to focus on first. If I could go back to year one, I wouldn’t focus on the technology so much and just leverage the free leads that were coming through.

Design Match, the idea, was birthed when I was in Bali. I developed it in Central America, and it started to gain traction and become profitable while I was in Bali. 

What strategies did you use to grow the business?

We’ve experimented with a lot. 

We launch partnerships. We have partnerships with TinySeed, Rice Alliance, and a few other organizations, and these partnerships have really helped our revenue grow and helped us conduct research to better understand our customers.

We’ve done outreach campaigns. These haven’t directly correlated to significant revenue growth but have increased brand awareness. Not everyone is hiring when you reach out to them, but there’s a high chance if you make a positive impression, they’ll be back.

We have used many personalized videos. Before AI was super popular in outreach, using Loom was great for us as it allowed us to provide high levels of customer service without many calls. 

We experimented with low-cost ad sources such as Quora. This worked fairly well in terms of ROI but had limits to scalability.

SEO has been our best investment, and we’re not even great at it! I think from the start, SEO and organic traffic converted more than anything else. At the end of the day, people who are actively looking on Google for a place to hire a designer will be more likely to hire from us than from any paid channel.

What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome?

The biggest challenge to overcome was my own mind. It was challenging to stick with things, whether it be a version of a landing page, an onboarding flow, or a cold email campaign. My mind wanted to always change and optimize things. In doing this, I would never get enough data to actually see what’s working.

I also think being a founder can be challenging mentally. It takes a lot to bet on yourself and your idea. It’s helpful to have a strong community of people who understand your journey, and also people you can just let louse with. 

What have been the most significant keys to your business’ success?

I’ve been so happy about the designers who have found amazing clients. We’ve received stories of designers being able to start a family, buy a house, of simply feel less of a financial burden because of the new income they earned from Design Match. We’ve also had startups go from leaving incubators like YC to raising millions from Sequoia.

It’s important to remember that business is about people. Focusing on the impact makes the journey so much more worthwhile. 

Tell us about your team.

We have a team of contractors working remotely. We have three developers, one designer, and a PM. We also have a few VAs to help with customer management and everyday tasks. Our team works varying hours but we connect with tools like Loom and Linear. We find that allowing the team to work when works best for them gives us the best output. 

The ethos of our team is “We’re all always learning.” One thing I’ve brought into every company I run is the principle of “no scolding.” If someone makes a mistake, it’s because they weren’t given the right information. Mistakes are a call for better communication, rather than instilling fear or shame. 

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned growing the business?

Entrepreneurship is a holistic journey. I thought I could segregate and simply grind and have a great business. Yet, when other areas of my life started to suffer, I noticed my business also did. I think being well-rounded—prioritizing your physical, mental, and social health—is key to sustainable growth. 

Danielle Thompson by tropical waterfalls
Photo courtesy of Danielle Thompson

What separates your business from your competitors?

I believe our service and willingness to meet you where you’re at separates us from the competition. In a world that’s becoming more and more automated, it’s hard to find a human who cares about the other side. For you and your business, we can be those humans.

If you don’t know how to build what you want to build, we’ll help you scope it out. If you’re unsure what you should be spending, we’ll help you budget. We meet our companies where they are and help them get to where they want to be. 

What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?

Enjoy the journey. I used to think the destination was everything, but as I hit more and more milestones – I realized it’s about the fun and creativity I get to express along the way. It’s about the lives I get to impact. 

Also, if they journey is the win – you’re always successful. Just for trying.

What are some of your favorite books, blogs, podcasts, or YouTube channels?

I really love Joe Dispenza’s book Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself. As an entrepreneur, you cannot expect to succeed as the person you are today. As you learn and absorb new information, you will change. With this, you start evolving into who you will become—the successful entrepreneur you’ve always wanted.

Another book I love is “I Hear You” by Michael S. Sorensen. Your team is the key to your success. Working on communication skills that will help with team dynamics is an essential investment. 


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