Interview: Nate Spees and Greg Gibson of Grizzly and Creative Mornings
With clients like San Diego State University, Surfrider Foundation, UCSD and Sticky Bumps just to name a few, Grizzly is a gentle giant in San Diego’s creative community. They are an independent creative agency that specializes in web design and development, thriving on new adventures and long-lasting experiences in collaboration with their clients.
AIGA San Diego recently had the opportunity to sit down with Nate Spees and Greg Gibson from Grizzly. Nate Spees is the Partner + Strategy Director at Grizzly and Host & Organizer of CreativeMornings San Diego. Greg Gibson is the Creative Director and Co-Founder of Grizzly with Rich Sherman. Greg is also a core team member of CreativeMornings San Diego along with several other integral members.
We talked about creating the local chapter of CreativeMornings, the current state of the local creative community, and Grizzly, their creative agency.
How did you start Creative Mornings San Diego and what has the response been like?
We had been talking about CreativeMornings and shared a love for their ethos and inclusive community, and were surprised that it wasn’t in San Diego. San Diego doesn’t enjoy the same design reputation as cities like Portland or New York, but we knew a ton of talented creatives in all different professions, so we thought, well why not bring it here? We were a bit dissatisfied with the current community at the time. We saw groups getting together, but we wanted to inspire people to the point of action, and without any boundaries of inclusion. So, we got a small group of super talented people together and really established a clearly defined goal before anything. We built friendships, trust, and a cohesive process. We’d been working at this for a year before we even launched In doing so, we built a core team with a collective vision and plan. And the success of our launch is a testament to the team’s efforts. We reached out to the National organization and next thing you know, we put on our first event and the response blew us out of the water.
It’s been incredible to see creatives come together and get excited about what San Diego’s creative community can be, what it can look like, and how we can all help shape it. Based on the overwhelming response, we are clearly filling a void and fulfilling the inspiration of all types of creatives from completely different industries. That’s what we really love to see, because anyone is creative. It’s not an inclusive vs. exclusive organization. We’re all creative, every day. Anyone can add value to our community—it’s a matter of being united by passion and driving towards a common goal.
What do you envision for Creative Mornings San Diego, and the local creative community as a whole?
It’s a really exciting time for us, especially since we’re really just scratching the surface. We’re itching to harness what we have, continue to grow, and turn it into an organization that benefits all creatives in every medium. We’d love to be one of the best CreativeMornings chapters, a goal that will raise the bar for everyone—so it really benefits all chapters and members. We all want to push each other to be the best, while continuing to learn and evolve together.
Creativity in San Diego really needs to be celebrated. There’s a ton of great talent here, so it’s a matter of championing the awareness and changing the mindset of the community. A lot of agencies and creative types are siloed, so we want to break those walls down and see more collaboration. We also hope that creativity is the common thread, not just the types of professions. We hope the community reaches beyond agencies and expands into technology, biotech, education and other work hubs. We’re all working on some really cool projects in different professions, which can push all of us to raise the bar—like the quote, “a rising tide lifts all boats.”
We’re all better together, so it’s a matter of bringing everyone together from different backgrounds, influences, professions, and passions. Value creation is abundant, so if we inspire each other, we’ll raise our own individual standards and those of the community as a whole. We didn’t really see a whole lot of groups coming together, but that’s the future of the San Diego community and its future. Other CreativeMornings communities are much more cross-pollinated and inclusive across all industries.
Where do you see opportunities in our creative community?
We have the opportunity to light creative fires in younger generations, and use that to instill real change. Millennials are aware of CreativeMornings, but that’s not the challenge. The real challenge is not about hype, but about taking action—actually doing something with the influence of our community. It’s about changing mindsets in industries and pushing creativity. That’s our main focus—new collaborations happening with different industries, forming new businesses and verticals that nobody thought possible before. And it all starts by getting together, getting inspired, and taking real action.
Let’s talk about Grizzly. How did this agency form?
Grizzly was founded in 2013 by Greg Gibson and Rich Sherman. Each of us came from freelance backgrounds, and we originally met at 3rdSpace. We had similar interests but different backgrounds, which was interesting and offered a lot of possibility. We really wanted to create something new—something different. We wanted to really push the envelope of what’s possible with clients that we genuinely respect, and with our different backgrounds, we have been able to look at problems differently and offer creative solutions. It’s really been a great internal relationship, and a relationship that extends to our clients.
What kind of projects do you work on, and how do you decide who to work with?
Our clients range from technology, to outdoor lifestyle, to education/non-profits, and everything in-between. We really only work with clients that we admire and want to develop a long-lasting relationship. We thrive in working with adventurous brands that have a vision, know who they are, and aren’t afraid to take a bold leap. They put people first and want to find new solutions, rather than settling for the status quo. We share those same values, so when we find that kind of harmonious relationship, that’s when the best work and solutions emerge. Our tagline is “Long Live the Adventure”, which serves as an aspirational framework. We make sure it resonates in everything we do.
What would you say Grizzly specializes in?
We really value brand strategy and see it as a large part of our projects. Everything that we do is led by strategy, whether it’s data, creative, or any other value we offer to our clients. We create brand identity systems, comprehensive campaign strategies, activation, and everything in-between.
Talk a bit about how you help brands define their purpose, and your relationship with your clients.
It’s a byproduct of client service. We see client projects as a journey together, more of a long-term relationship that grows as it is continually nurtured. Client relationships are incredibly important to us, so it’s a value-added relationship and we go above and beyond at every opportunity—from the little things to the comprehensive solutions we create. Many of our best moments have been the impactful moments that create memories along the way. Those moments create trusting relationships, and we want to help empower our clients to continue confidently along their own journey.
What advice would you give to your 25 year-old self?
First and foremost, relationships are everything. Just keep doing good work, keep pushing yourself, and keep fostering relationships you value. And you don’t have to ever accept other people’s versions of standards or “the bar”. You are in charge of how far you want to push yourself. There’s not one ladder to take, or one path.
“You have to believe in yourself, and you have to put the work in, simple as that.”
It’s also important to always change things up. Go out on a limb, challenge yourself. Sure, it can be scary. But that also means it’s worth diving deeper, and that’s where you find confidence, and really, yourself. You find what you value, what you want to push for, and what you want to dedicate yourself to. And you just have to hustle. You have to believe in yourself, and you have to put the work in, simple as that. Talent and creativity are a byproduct of just doing the work, day in and day out. That part is up to you—which can be incredibly scary, but incredibly powerful.
Images courtesy of Grizzly