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Saying Goodbye to your business

Personal closure on the end of Hifinit, and a change of direction

When Geoff House and I made the decision to close our joint design business, Hifinit Design Group, I posted the following on our site and sent this letter to some long-time clients and friends:

Hifinit is closing up shop.

To anyone that has worked with us, followed us, or come across our work, Thank you. Really, thank you so much. It’s been a great run that we’ve had here, and (as you all know) we’ve been so busy with work over the past few years that we barely had the time to reflect on what we’ve done and where we’ve been.

But, we’re moving on to (hopefully) bigger and better things, and as of a few months ago, have not accepted any new work, nor will we be in the foreseeable future.

Why now?

Friends, family members and colleagues have asked us if we’re moving on because it was hard to find business. The short answer is no—business is actually booming, and we were turning down more jobs than we were taking on. I still recommend this as a career path to students, and I mean it. It’s rewarding, you can make a good living, and there aren’t a ton of startup costs. (The hours? Well, that’s another story…)

We’ve been lucky enough to work for some really inter­esting and wonderful clients, and we thank them for making this such a great ride. It’s not in spite of you that we decided to move on—it’s the excitement you bring to your causes, and the world of oppor­tu­nities you’ve opened that encourages us to pursue new things.

After a long and hard look at what we were doing here (and seeing the really cool work our clients and partners continue to do), Geoff and I both decided that we personally wanted to move in other directions.

Although it’s been a little bittersweet for us to stop working with the great network we’ve built up, and turn away from what could have been a life-​​long business, I think we both found that other paths will be more personally fulfilling.

To all the people that we’ve worked with, we hope to keep in touch—you never know how paths will cross again in the future.

Feel free to shoot either of us an email with questions, comments, concerns or just to say hi.

Honestly and earnestly—thank you.

Alex Turnwall & Geoff House

 The rest of this is really just personal closure for me—a little bit of the back story that led to our decision. (Sorry to bore you—you really can stop reading now.)

So, The long overdue back story… for anyone still reading.

Geoff and I started Hifinit officially in early 2010, although we had already been collaborating as freelancers and students for some time before that, each of us with our own small list of clients that we pooled. When we joined forces, it was a bit of a “let’s see what happens” moment—born in the computer labs where we spent so much time in our undergraduate years. We never knew what would happen and more-or-less intentionally, we left it open-ended.

Hifinit was our very-much-more-than-full-time gig since graduation. It’s all we did day-in and day-out.

We both worked at other studios and “corporate” jobs in college thanks to Northeastern’s co-op program, and I think we both considered ourselves lucky to be able to transition straight from student life into our own business.

I’m thankful that Geoff stuck with me through many decisions I know he didn’t agree with (the name Hifinit, the business cards, not getting office space downtown, taking on “one more” client… again). I couldn’t have asked for a better business partner—I don’t think anyone else could have put up with me for so long, and the work wouldn’t have been half as good without Geoff’s eye.

We learned lots of things. All of the business stuff you have to do—payroll, taxes, (missed taxes and penalties), legal stuff. WordPress. Code, code and more code. Dealing with the sort of clients that will never read this blog post. How to work with other professionals, and how to work with one anther. How to work with people that have years of industry experience… and still aren’t that good. How to work with young students who have more potential than you see in yourself. How to be a boss, how to be an employee, how to be a partner. When to say yes and when to say no.

And, how owning a business effects your personal relationships: my girlfriend of six years, Christa, put up with me (us) through all of it. She fed Geoff and I on many occasions. She got used to seeing us still awake from the night before when she got up for work in the wee hours of the morning. She put up with me being absent at parties and with friends. And most importantly—she was often an arbiter for Hifinit deliberations. (I’m amazed that we walk down the street and she can identify typefaces that would make Geoff and I cringe.) I think Geoff felt like a third wheel sometimes, when honestly, I think Christa felt more like the third wheel to the “couple” of Geoff and Alex more often than not.

I don’t think we did everything right all of the time, I think we missed some stuff along the way, I think we lost track of some projects and some clients. And I still regret some of those things. But overall, I think we busted our asses so that the grand majority of our clients helped us bring in new clients. I am still amazed to this day that we never had to advertise or seek new clients out. Not once. (In hindsight, perhaps that was actually a short-coming.)

In late 2011 we had to decide whether or not we were going to bring in our first employee—a co-op student from Northeastern. We actually made up our mind not to around my kitchen table. I was worried we wouldn’t be able to make payroll consistently—what if business fell short? Then Mike came along, and he changed our minds for us, agreeing to come on part-time for the first half of 2012. And it was one of the best decisions I think we ever “didn’t” make.

We were growing, we had the work. Mike was here a few days a week, then more when projects allowed. We all put in long hours, but I think we had some fun along the way. Perhaps we should have had more—and I think is was my fault that we didn’t. We had more and more freelancers working with us on projects. We were collaborating daily with the Yeti folks, and it looked more and more like we’d join forces. We eventually brought in Casey as our second employee.

I have to thank Mike for convincing me to hire him—I hope the experience of working out of my apartment office on cold winter days and sweltering summer afternoons was as rewarding for him as it was for Geoff and I. Although things turned out the way they did, I would have always wondered “what if” had we not tried to expand.

Geoff lived in Massachusetts his whole live, and the explorer in him wanted to get out of New England. (I grew up in Buffalo, so Boston still has some adventure left for me.) He relocated to San Francisco in late 2012 and I had dreams of officially opening two offices across the country. I thought expansion. Geoff was working in an office with the Yetis and we continued to collaborate with them. But at the time Geoff moved, I had already flirted with the idea of grad school, and had realized that I loved being in front the classroom. Although I didn’t want to admit it at the time, it was sort of inevitable that Geoff would become a full time Yeti and I would spend more time at Northeastern.

If you’re not growing, you’re dying, as they say.

Breaking the news to Mike and Casey that Hifinit was going to wrap up was one of the hardest things I ever had to do—harder than I think they knew. It didn’t exactly work out that I was “letting them go”, since neither of them were full-time, but it sure felt like I was failing them at the time. I felt like I had made future promises that I was breaking. I struggled with that for a while and Christa can attest that it kept me up at night.

While that sucked, the following transition was pretty natural, all things considered. Geoff was already splitting his time between Hifinit and Yeti and I was splitting my time with the classroom and Hifinit, so the wind down over the ensuing few months made sense.

So there we are. On to the next thing, I suppose.