Twin sisters Cristi and Ceci Jayo built successful careers in branding and design at leading agencies before getting inspired to form their own. Now they run HiYo Design, a home base for all digital nomads seeking new ways to express their creativity. Working with such big-name clients as Goya Foods and Heineken, the Jayos are expanding their artistry every day while engaging their desire to see the world, and life has never been better. Cristi and Ceci spoke to Honeysuckle’s Katie Stromme about their experience as entrepreneurial women, the latest advances in remote co-working, and what it takes to be a truly effective digital nomad.
What is it like for you to run a business as twins?
Cristi: We worked at different ad agencies in New York City. Ceci was focused on packaging, I was on the corporate advertising and branding side. While developing these different skill sets, we gathered clients who wanted us to freelance with them. As that number grew, we realized we could do this on our own and have the flexibility to travel and be more inspired. As twins, we have a really cool dynamic. I can start a project and then Ceci can capture that vision and bring her own little twist to it. But at the same time, we barely have to say anything to understand where the other one is thinking.
Ceci: HiYo Design was the result of witnessing how a large agency works. There are a lot of bureaucratic levels to bypass so by the time the final product gets to the client, a little bit of that precious gem of creativity is lost. At HiYo, we offer a more direct communication and a more direct creative experience.
Cristi: And a faster turnaround.
Does at least one of you oversee every single project that’s going on?
Cristi: I do more of the organization and client services. I’m also usually the one overseeing the projects. Ceci does most of the creative design lead, but we’re flexible, depending on timing and schedules.
Did you both study marketing and branding in college?
Ceci: We studied communications design at Syracuse University.
What made you want to leave your jobs at the agencies?
Cristi:. I guess it was the realization that we’re not going to be young, single and childless forever. After we quit, we decided to spend six months abroad traveling all the way across the world from Europe to Asia and all the way back around from California.
Ceci: That’s when HiYo Design was born.
Cristi: And it was during those travels when I first heard the term digital nomad.
Ceci: In 2015, the digital nomad lifestyle was in its beginning stages. Today, more companies are adopting the model and more people are seeing that they don’t have to be stuck in an office in order to get things done. You can do a lot just by choosing what times you’re feeling more productive or by changing your surroundings.
Are there other takeaways that you learned from previous positions?
Cristi: We use online tools to organize everything, but there is still a time difference to work with since a majority of our clients are based in New York. To keep it all structured, we are working to better schedule our team members. We now have more of a home base, and travel between Miami, New York and Puerto Rico. [But then] I was just gone for a month, so we still do some of that, too.
Ceci: I think the experience that we got from the corporate world was a very positive one. We saw how large companies structure operational systems to ensure flow and be organized. This is important especially when your company is so flexible in other ways, in terms of location and who is working on what project. In order to accomplish that, we knew that internally we needed to be super organized.
Cristi: We were able to get everything down, the systems, the organization and the apps that we were going to be using.
Ceci: Unlike at an agency, all our team members who decide timelines and organize different phases of a project come from a creative background. I think the organizational aspect being connected to the creative aspect is a huge benefit because we’re able to visualize things in a more realistic way and better explain it to the client.
In general, are there certain qualities that all your employees share?
Cristi: You have to be dedicated and responsible with the work that you’re given. It’s creative but also involves strategizing, especially digital strategy – SEO, market research, digital media, social media—all incredibly important skills. Depending on the project, we might bring in some people that are better in photography, web design, or hand-lettering and illustration. In the past, a lot of our clients would work with one freelancer here and another one there. We offer a more holistic solution, where we assemble a team per client, or per project.
How big is your team right now?
Cristi: We have a core of four people. We can go up to ten depending on the needs of the project. We have more than that on our extended team.
Ceci: We bring in people who live all over the world on a project-to-project basis.
What are your favorite projects that you’ve worked on at HiYo?
Cristi: Our favorite thing is when we get to do it all: the strategy, naming, branding, brand identity, the colors, logo, fonts, all the different aspects that will then come together and form the designs they’re going to need whether it’s for web, print, or sometimes experiential design.
Ceci: We’ve worked with well known brands like Goya Foods, Heineken and Johnnie Walker. But I think our favorite clients are the ones that fall into the wellness realm. Our [former] agencies sometimes had clients they would associate themselves with who didn’t really align with our values or views. Another benefit of working with a small team is we get to promote brands we feel are good for the world. An example is the Wanderlust Yoga Festival.
Cristi: And the Spirituality Mind Body Institute at Teachers College of Columbia University. They offer accreditation for different aspects of spirituality. We’ve also worked with a lot of naturopathic medicine brands.
Ceci: Like Nutmeg Aspirin, which is a great online platform that encourages people to share what natural remedies have worked for them. The list goes on and on.
Cristi: Oftentimes clients will refer us forward, and then it grows organically.
Ceci: It has also helped us develop a level of expertise in the field of wellness design. Not everyone can necessarily tap into that life and because it’s a part of our actual values and lifestyle, it’s extremely natural to flow into that kind of a network. A lot of our team members do yoga or have done different accreditations for different aspects of wellness.
Do you guys have favorite travel destinations and places to work from?
Ceci:. There’s an open co-working space by Google in Madrid, which is great. It’s free and anyone can go in there and work or have a coffee and be surrounded by the same kind of network.
Cristi: There’s also a membership section geared more towards startups. Google helps fund them and grow their businesses. They also offer a bunch of free events plus yoga classes. Plus Madrid is such a great city.
Ceci: We’ve tried co-working spaces such as WeWork and The Assemblage. We also plan to try a new one called Convene. All of them have offices in a variety of different cities where the setup and the quality are consistent.
Cristi: Northern Thailand and Bali are definitely good places for co-working. There are huge digital nomad communities there; the living is so affordable, and the nature is so beautiful.
Ceci: There are also websites where you can find the location of the best co-working spaces and coffee shops in your area. Workfrom is one; Nomad List is awesome. They rate things such as wifi quality, number of outlets, comfortable seating and level of noise. Oftentimes they’ll add in experiential things like how gay-friendly the place is, or how expensive it is to live there. There’s also a lot of co-living situations happening. We haven’t tried that out yet, but it seems like a cool way to do team-building.
Cristi: Spacious is another program which teams up with bars and restaurants to allow digital nomads to go in and use their space for co-working during the daytime when they are normally closed. There’s also Copass. Unlike WeWork, where all the spaces are the same, it’s more like a network of individual co-working spaces where you pay one membership fee and can go to any of their locations.
What steps do you see HiYo taking in the future?
Ceci: I would love to hold international gatherings of location-independent workers to get them inspired, to create something together, or just learn from one another.
Cristi: We’ve considered doing a yoga retreat and inviting any digital nomad that wants to join in. We want to create a space where everyone can relax and talk to each other about all of the struggles and help each other out with problems. We were thinking of doing it sometime in the winter, maybe in Puerto Rico.
Ceci: We were born and raised there. After the hurricane we watched as our peers, who live there, struggled with having no access to their previous jobs or consistent wifi. Thankfully, we were able to provide remote work to some of them. Our connection to Puerto Rico has been a source of great pride for us.
Do you have friends and family still there? Clients?
Cristi: Yes, and team members. Puerto Rico has some great co-working spaces. It’s a hub for digital nomads who want to work remotely while living in paradise.
What advice would you give to women who are thinking about starting their own companies?
Cristi: Unfortunately, we’ve found a slight lack of trust as female business owners. Some people think “Oh, what a cute little side project you have going.” Oftentimes we have to prove that we are serious. We’ve talked to many people that say they’d love to do it, or they’ve been thinking about doing it but there’s something that’s stopping them. To that I would say, you have to trust that you’re going to make it work.
Ceci: Don’t just drop everything and start—preparation is the key. Create a business plan, set up your finances. This is the time for location-independent, hardworking women. It’s 2018; nothing should be stopping you from your dream.
Katie Stromme is a writer and editor who has previously served as creative nonfiction editor of Mud Season Review and assistant editor of Hunger Mountain journal. She holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and lives in Brooklyn. Follow her on Instagram at @strommesalami.