Jumpsuit · Nicole Ayres

Witness Nicole's unique path: self-funded through university, coffee shop entrepreneur, joining the ministry, and founding a $4M digital agency.

July 7, 2023
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  • Nicole Ayres
  • Nashville, TN USA
  • Started in 2020
  • Bootstrapped
  • Technically 0 employees – everyone's 1099
  • $4M annual revenue
  • jumpsuitagency.com

So Nicole, what's your backstory?

I grew up in the Midwest, mostly in or near Cincinnati. My parents were blue-collar workers who worked really hard but often lived paycheck to paycheck.

As a child, this stressed me out. I couldn't wait to turn 15 so I could get my own job and make my own money. (I've always been wildly independent.) I put myself through college at Miami University of Ohio, which is where I started my first business: a coffee shop. It wasn't a ton of money, but it was my own thing, which brought me a huge sense of security.

After a few years of building something seemingly impossible, I followed a new passion, jumping into full-time ministry. My parents hadn't raised me Christian – but it was something I adopted for myself when I turned 18.

Choosing to go into ministry was a full reset. I lived off of $12k per year and barely got by, thanks to incredible friends who'd let me squat in their finish basements. In 2011, my entire life would unravel as I came out as gay and was forced to go through conversion therapy. (Spoiler alert – it's illegal now and doesn't work.)

Another hard reset, now living in my mother's basement. I was lost and had no idea what to do with my career. I wasn't going to be a teacher. I didn't want to start another coffee shop.

I started applying for GM positions at local restaurant chains because it was the only thing that made logical sense.

I remember talking to a District Manager at Bruegger's Bagels who told me I was overqualified. I was deflated – a $65k / year salary back then sounded really nice. And then, we struck a deal:

He would hire me IF I gave myself two more weeks and applied for "better things." If I still wanted to work with him, there'd be a job for me. DEAL.

The next day, I received a LinkedIn DM from a guy I'd never heard of who asked if I'd ever heard of the company he worked for. I had not. He said, "The way you write sounds like us."

Epipheo was a startup in Cincinnati that had created the animated explainer video industry back in the day – and, long story short – I got offered a job (I had never made a video in my life) and was amazing at it.

All of a sudden, I found myself leading calls with Visa, Google, Amazon, Dropbox, Uber – every company in the world, it seemed. This was when I realized I had a unique skillset: I was highly creative, extremely organized, entrepreneurial, and infinitely grateful for this newfound luck.

What is Jumpsuit and how did you come up with the idea?

People who wear jumpsuits are pretty badass. Think about it. Evel Knievel. Badass. Rosie the Riveter. Badass. Neil Armstrong. Badass.

Taking the jump into working for yourself? Badass.

This vision for my agency (Jumpsuit) was that everyone would be "independent, together" – that is, we'd be a collaborative network of entrepreneurs who are highly skilled at what we do.

Jumpsuiters would still be able to have their own clients, work with other agencies, and flow in and out of Jumpsuit without consequence. I've always thought it was weird for companies to think they owned others or had the right to tell someone who they are and how much they were valued at.

I wanted to create a business model that would incentivize collaboration and value. Does the client love you? Does the team? Let's get you more work. Do you require lots of oversight or management? That's okay, but not for us. Getting a full-time job at an agency that can train and support you might be the best route.

We wanted self-starters who were self-motivated and had skin in the game. Clients feel the difference. It's our edge.

Our niche became clear – big companies who want to operate more like a startup – and startups who want to grow into big brands. In both cases, they're shedding the systems that once worked for them as they open their minds to new strategies and processes.

How did you get your first 10 customers?

My luck came from having a deep network of previous client relationships to go back to and say, "Guess what? I'm starting my own thing. You want to knock out some work together again?"

And once you've got a strong relationship with one Fortune 500 or unicorn, the other ones are more open to a conversation with you.

Referrals were also huge in the early stages. You want other people talking about you for you. My advice? Don't wait on this one. Ask while you're energy and passion are hot.

How did you validate your business idea?

I had left a big, global agency as a Creative Director after feeling consistently trapped in red tape. I knew in my gut I could run an agency differently and get a lot more done – better and faster – if I could actually cut through the agency bullshit.

There was one brand in particular who was excited to test me on this. They gave me $100k and two months to make as much content as we possibly could. And we blew them away. Immediately, another brand (this was a holding company) said, "Us next!" and we 2xed our results after honing the process. After that, purchasing said, "Okay, what else do you guys do."

4 years later, we've been trusted with over 20 of their brands.

How did you grow to get you first 100 customers?

After I had personally tapped my professional network, I came up with an idea (I was open to any idea that would help me avoid giving money to a platform and directly to people).

I'd create a commission program for my network of freelancers (which was also a fun way to test another gut feeling). It was essentially my way of saying, "As you all seek to build your own businesses and win new work, you don't have to leave money on the table if you ever come across an opportunity that's too big for you. Bring it to Jumpsuit. We'll win it as a big agency. You'll get first right of refusal on the type of work that pertains to you – plus commission off of everything we do with this client for an entire year."

And it created an entirely new pipeline of leads and revenue for us.

It's worth saying that I'm not saying that running ads is a bad thing. I don't believe that. (We run ads for our clients.) I guess what I'm saying is, don't underestimate the power of a network.

What distribution channels did you try that didn’t work?

We tried cold sales for a moment. It felt absolutely antithetical to the organic, community-driven approach that had brought us success thus far, so we stopped. Honestly, it would've been smarter to run an ad. I'm just a stubborn MFer.

What specific tools have been most helpful in growing your business?

We were a remote agency before Covid happened. Our tech stack is as you'd assume it to be: Slack, Google, and every damn video conferencing platform on the planet.

It was as we were scaling (went from 2 million to 4 million in revenue in a year) that we realized we were bumping into some technology needs. There were certain jobs to be done that were really hard to train others to do. There was too much critical information in a few people's heads.

So, we decided to build our own thing: an end-to-end solution for independent business owners to create successful, scalable, and sellable businesses. Jauntboards (www.jauntboards.com) will be live this August as a beta.

Who are some experts/entrepreneurs to follow to learn how to grow a kick arse business?

Love him or hate him – Gary Vee. We share a similar energy, and I love his ability to both flow and make a quick, deep impact.

I'll also throw in Ekhart Tolle. Not a business guy. Quite the opposite. And that's the point.

What shits you about being a business founder?

By 2027, over 50% of the workforce will be independent. Did you hear that? The majority of workers will be their own bosses! It's incredible. And I can't believe that I get to spend the rest of my life helping others successfully build their own. Here's to getting people out of the system, into their power and the collective consciousness.

I've 10xed my salary, live on a lake, and have a wife and two cats. I love my life, but it's cost me a lot to get here. Every day, I'm grateful to have enough psychological safety and space to do the hardest work of all – the inner work.

What advice do you have for those wanting to turn their side hustle to a main hustle?

Step one: Start a side hustle, don't slack at your full-time job.
Step two: Get so much work that you can't do both. Quit your full-time job.
Step three: Be an amazing partner for your clients. Look for more ways to add value so they stick around or give you more things.
Step four: Pull more people in to help you. Tell your clients, "I know they're not me, but you're in luck because they're even better than me." create processes and protect your margins as they do the work.
Step five: Work on the business and not the work
Step six: remember: None of this is worth it if you're not happy and health

In my first year freelancing, I made 500k. Last year, Jumpsuit did $4 million in revenue. I did a lot of things right and also worked so hard that I forgot I had a body. It reminded me it was there when I developed shingles, acid reflux, and a hiatal hernia.

Let others help you sooner. There's more than enough to go around. The universe will take care of you.

What drives you to do what you do?

I believe everyone deserves their own agency. Not agency like – Jumpsuit – but agency like, independence. The ability to work with people they want, when they want, on the things they want. I see an entirely new way the world can work, and it's "independent, together." I've tasted it, and it's nectar.

Any quotes you live by?

"Follow the energy

Any funny/funky stories you can tell about yourself?

The most impressive thing I've ever done is kill a fly with a toothpick. It was the frilly kind (like the ones that hold together a double club) and I shot it out of a straw like a dart. First attempt. There were witnesses.

Your links + socials

My Linkedin


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