First published in In Production | By Joey Groah (DIGICO)
An interview with Sidecar Studio founder Rob Musser on starting a design firm, doing business, and the creative process. For more interviews with creative professionals visit In Production.
First published in Rocktown Weekly (Harrisonburg, VA) | Story by Laura Rennie / Photography by Justin Falls
Sometimes an idea simmers for a while and then slowly loses its heat.
But for Harrisonburg resident Rob Musser, the idea to start a company boiled down to one thing: Could he do it?
Musser, a 32-year-old James Madison University grad who studied graphic design, started Sidecar Studio, a branding, design and marketing company, in February. He previously worked as a graphic designer and marketing assistant for Massanutten Resort and taught computer graphics and design methodology classes at JMU.
"It just occurred to me one day that I had developed the necessary skills [to start the business]," he said.
A Writer, A Designer
Before Sidecar Studio was born, Musser tossed around business ideas with his friend Drew Massengill, also a JMU graduate.
When Massengill moved back to Harrisonburg after living in Missouri for two years, the two began talking about teaming up. Massengill had studied writing and rhetoric in college, so Musser hired Massengill as a part-time copywriter in July.
Massengill described Musser as "a dynamo of responsibility and drive."
"He is playing the role of the small business owner and knows the sacrifice and the risk and the difficulty that goes into that, which makes him brilliant at being able to relate to our primary clients," he said.
Both men were inspired by the book "Hey Whipple, Squeeze This — A Guide to Creating Great Advertising" by Luke Sullivan.
"In it we saw how a writer and a designer would team up and go through their career together. That excited us — the possibility of coming together creatively to help meet the needs in our community," Musser said.
The Name Says It All
The name Sidecar Studio is a metaphor for Musser and Massengill's goal to creatively support their clients.
"We see ourselves as being an extension of our clients' businesses," Musser explained.
"The point is... to not get in the way of the business, but to enhance it — to see it flourish," Massengill added.
Developing a positive working relationship takes work, he said.
"You begin to value the other person's input because it makes your work better. The level of creative trust that we've developed is what I'm most thankful for," said Massengill.
Massengill's relationship with Musser is founded on friendship, he said, but they're both viewing the business as an opportunity to exercise their creative talents.
They also desire to make Harrisonburg a better place to live in, and are interested in working with clients who share their vision.
"We're not just seeking the enhancement and quality of the client, but also the general well-being of the average resident of Harrisonburg," Massengill added. "They deserve to not be inundated with bad design and a cluttered public space."
Sidecar's first project was creating an invitation for the Center Stage Dinner Series hosted by the Arts Council of the Valley. Since then, they've also designed for Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance, as well as several other area businesses.
Cecilia Carter Browne, executive director of the Arts Council, said Musser's products have elicited positive responses from the board of directors and from the public.
"Rob creates very elegant, clean [work]. He has a lot of marketing acumen. I also know that I can trust his editing skills. He's an excellent listener — he works with his client on achieving the optimal results for the project," Carter Browne said.
Kim Kirk, special events manager at Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance, describes Sidecar Studio's work as "fun, creative and up-and-coming."
The marketing company has worked on multiple projects for HDR, including the 10th anniversary celebration of Valley 4th and Block Party in the 'Burg.
"It's always exciting to see their proposals for designs because you know their creativity is going to shine through in their work," she said.
"At every step in the creative process, they listen to your ideas, but they also look for opportunities to offer something unexpected that will garner attention," she added.