Alex & Hamish
Photography by Meredith Jenks
Known as "The Crowdsourceress" Alex Daly raises money for her clients through crowdfunding with a 100% success rate. She and her boyfriend Hamish Smyth, graphic designer and Associate Partner at Pentagram, have now teamed up on three Kickstarter design projects, raising over $2 million.
ALEX: I used to work as a production manager in the documentary film world. I started using Kickstarter for the documentaries I was working on because it was a much more efficient and gratifying than grantwriting. I crowdfunded two documentaries on Kickstarter and then was hired from a friend of a friend for another one. All of them were successful. People in my office started calling me The Crowdsourceress. Around that time, in 2013, a blogger heard the name and published a piece about me. I crowdfunded a couple more film projects, and then in 2014 I got hooked up with the big Neil Young Kickstarter campaign through Pentagram.
HAMISH: Another team at Pentagram was working on a website for Neil Young’s PonoMusic project, but they also needed someone to run their Kickstarter.
ALEX: They were like, we don’t do that, but we might know someone who can. So through a mutual contact Neil’s team hired me to run the campaign. Just ten days later we launched and ended up raising over $6 million. I had been working at my kitchen table in my Williamsburg apartment and thought to myself, this is a real thing! I found a coworking space and brought on a freelancer to help me. Now we have a company and three employees, a new office, and we’re growing. We’re doing really well.
HAMISH: When I met Alex she encouraged me to start a crowdfunding campaign for a project I had started in 2012 with my Pentagram colleague, and now business partner, Jesse Reed. We had found an original copy of the 1970 New York City Transit Authority Graphics Standards Manual and made a website with photographs of every page of the manual. I told Alex after we met that when the website went live we sent it to a few friends and it completely blew up. It got something like a quarter of a million views. I said we wanted to reissue the manual as a book and Alex said we had to use Kickstarter, which we did. We ended up selling 6,700 books, and raised $800,000.
Dating a graphic designer
ALEX: I first met Hamish just a week after the Neil Young campaign, at the friend’s house who was the one who introduced me to Pentagram and the project. Hamish and I met over vodka shots. We cheersed and he said, are you ready? We immediately liked each other, and started dating. I had been single for a long time, and had been dating different kinds of people but had never had this intense of a connection with someone before. We connected on this deep level. I trusted him, I loved to hang out with him. It was so easy.
HAMISH: That night she went home at 11 pm. I was like what? But yes, it was really easy. It just happened, we didn't think about it. We became best friends.
ALEX: I remember when we met, we spent the whole night talking, and then I was leaving and he said, “Can I have your business card?” I was so embarrassed because he's a graphic designer and he seemed a lot cooler than me. So much cooler than me.
The next day was our first date. We were in a dark bar and I was showing him my new website on my phone. I had just spent forever getting it designed. He skimmed it and made a disappointed hmmm noise. I said, well maybe it doesn’t look as good because it’s on a phone screen. He handed it back to me, shrugged, and said, shouldn’t make a difference. That’s Hamish in a nutshell. He says what he thinks. Doesn’t sugar coat it. Since then he has completely redesigned my site, my business cards, everything.
HAMISH: We had been dating for just a couple months, and Alex hadn’t told her mom, Meg, yet that we were together. Around that time, Meg told Alex she needed a new name and logo for a project she founded in Miami that she was calling the Greenlink. It’s sort of like the Highline but underneath a train line instead. I was like, I’ll do it and Alex pushed for it. Meg said something like, I don’t even know this guy! But then Meg came to New York and I impressed her by bringing her into the office on a Saturday. I had put together a big presentation and got coffee and pastries. She took the bait. I also got to show off in front of Alex. We ended up doing a great project together. I called it The Underline and did the whole brand identity and website.
I was so embarrassed because he's a graphic designer and he seemed a lot cooler than me.
HAMISH: We do different things that complement each other really well. It's great working together because Alex knows how to promote projects and do the marketing so well. We're both really competitive, but not with each other.
ALEX: I leave all of the design up to Hamish, I completely defer to him. I know I do something specific, he does something specific, and it works very well together. Hamish is just so good at what he does. I'm totally in awe of his work and talent. I was so attracted to how talented he was when we first met, and I still feel that towards him, and he really respects what I do. He is my backbone when it comes to the day to day business stuff.
We're both really competitive, but not with each other.
HAMISH: We're ambitious, so we're always helping each other do better and improve. I love that I feel like I am really involved in Alex’s business. Alex just got a book deal and had been worried about being able to manage the book and her company. We had a big fight because I was telling her, you need to do this, and you need to make it work.
ALEX: The fights we get into are usually where he's pushing me to be the best version of myself, where he's challenging me to do something that I might be scared to do, or I don't think I'm able to do it. So I get frustrated and think, you're pushing me!
HAMISH: And then I say I'm on your team, we're on the same team, I believe you can do it.
ALEX: At the end of the day I'll end up saying, you're right, I can do this, it's going to be really hard, but I can do it. It’s all worth it. I am writing my book, and running my company, and it’s working out.
ALEX: Earlier on in the relationship I was working so much, trying to get the company off the ground, that one weekend Hamish said, let’s not do anything. We spent Saturday in bed watching Breaking Bad all day. We even brought cheese and wine in bed, and were so excessive with how lazy we were being. I began to feel bad, and said I should have been doing work, and he was like no, it's Saturday. Those moments changed me and how I look at work and time off.
HAMISH: She used to be working constantly, and I was just like you need to put the phone away during nights and weekends. She would wake up in the middle of the night and check emails, and panic.
ALEX: I try to keep my phone out of the bedroom now. Being with Hamish has taught me the importance of vacation, too. We went to Spain last summer, and it was really hard because it was my first time away since starting my company. I remember checking my emails the first few days in Barcelona and then I had a meltdown at Parc Guell. Hamish sat me down and said, Alex, I went on vacation with you, not your phone. He was right. So we didn’t talk about work or do work, we just enjoyed each other. I looked at Hamish and thought, this guy is really cool to travel with, and drink wine with, and eat with.
HAMISH: I’m a professional relaxer.
Working really hard
ALEX: It all boils down to the hard work. Both of my parents are entrepreneurs, and they owned their own businesses. So, growing up I witnessed the kind of dedication you need to put into it. I'm really lucky, they're my company's advisers and I get to talk to them all the time. But it's also about finding what you're good at. I was trying to be a filmmaker before I started Vann Alexandra. I think I was okay at filmmaking because I worked really hard, but I was really good at this thing, that was raising money for people through crowdfunding. I had to make a decision.
HAMISH: Hard work has been my weapon of choice my whole career. I’m not talented or “inspired” like an artist is, so I have always tried to work harder than the next guy. My boss at Pentagram—Michael Bierut—has a great quote at the start of his book that sums it up. It’s a quote by Chuck Close. “Inspiration is for amateurs––the rest of us just show up and get to work.”
HAMISH: I come from a small family and we're way less chatty, and we're a lot quieter than Alex’s family. I’m from Australia, and it’s so far away. Alex’s family has really taken me in. I am really grateful for that!
ALEX: We are definitely an emotional and very affectionate family. We say what we feel, and I feel a lot!
HAMISH: I can second that!
ALEX: About a year into dating, we had both independently been thinking about moving in together. I was basically living at Hamish’s apartment full time. I remember lying in his bed, and bringing it up. I was really scared! Because throughout the relationship, I was always the person who brought things up first. Apparently he had been thinking about moving in together too, though. I had always thought of Hamish as more of a loner and very independent. It was clear that we fell in love so quickly, but we also had our own personalities to deal with. I was more outspoken, and he was less emotional. It took time for us to match up. For awhile, I had to think bigger picture like, I'm going to hang in here until you're ready. But, we’re here now. We’re ready.
It took time for us to match up.