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Hidden Gems: Meet Amber Sawaya of Anchor & Alpine

Today we’d like to introduce you to Amber Sawaya.

Hi Amber, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
I’ve always loved art and was happy to make my way into graphic design as an art student at the University of Utah many years ago. Since then, I’ve worked at agencies, in-house, and several startups. My partner, Steve, and I started the predecessor to Anchor & Alpine in 2006 and enjoyed a little more than a decade running that business.

In 2017 we had a client that I really loved, and I had an excellent opportunity to join an AI-driven visual intelligence startup in the San Francisco Bay Area. Transitioning from them being a client to being their EVP of Product and UX was a great experience, and I eventually moved out to spend half my time in Salt Lake City and the other half in the East Bay in Oakland and Berkeley. In mid-2019, I decided to return to Utah full-time. I took the summer off, and by the end of 2019, I was lucky enough to find another great opportunity and acquired a design firm in Boulder, Colorado, called Emerson Stone. My partner Steve and I merged that firm with our original firm, Sawaya Consulting, and another Salt Lake City firm, Coast to Coast Studio, to form Anchor & Alpine.

Starting a business at the beginning of 2020 was met with an unexpected pandemic challenge, but our company continues to grow and thrive through the strange twists and turns we’ve had over the last few years.

Today our small group of creatives works on websites, product UI/UX, and branding with clients all over the United States. We were recently selected and completed the branding for the new city center in Millcreek called Millcreek Common.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
I’ve heard a friend call owning a business, “nothing but happy times and luxuries.” His cheeky, sarcastic phrase has been said for years around here as we stumble over one obstacle and then another. We were recently hired by a client that said, “it’s not that things won’t go wrong on a project this large, but we want to work with your team because of the way you will solve those problems and how you treat everyone as you do”. Show up, put forth your best effort, and be nice to each other.

My three big career shifts have happened right in the middle of national and global financial crises. The first one was in the early 2000s. I graduated from university right as the dot com bubble burst. There were no jobs because the economy was collapsing and I was applying for low-level and entry-level jobs against some of the best creative directors in Salt Lake valley.

Fast forward to when we started our first web company in 2006, the mortgage crisis was just going into full swing. Then in 2020 when we completed our mergers and acquisitions to become Anchor & Alpine a global pandemic shut down our newly furnished office immediately. We hired our first employee, who is still with us, on March 10th, and by the end of the week, we were on a tight lockdown that had us not leaving our house for 16 solid months. Nobody in or out, we have an immunosuppressed person in our bubble.

All of these big shifts were outside of my control, but they helped me to become a more resilient, creative, and hard-working person. That’s something we’ve instilled in our company and I’m happy to be working with an extremely talented and dedicated group of people.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about Anchor & Alpine?
I am lucky enough to be the Captain at Anchor & Alpine. We are a small group of creatives that are doing good, ethical, accessible work in branding, web design and development, and product UI/UX.

Building websites, brands, and products are such an amazing way to learn things about different businesses and how things work. We love to meet new people and take the stuff we know inside and out and pair it with what they know about their companies to create something that is really interesting, memorable, or impactful. Through our creative services, we’ve had opportunities to travel the world and support clients. We got to live in La Gomera, a Spanish colony off the northern coast of Africa in the Canary Islands, to help support one of our clients as they set off to row across the Atlantic Ocean (more at row4als.org).

We know what makes a solid, hard-working brand and we’re excited to see our work soon as the new city center in Millcreek comes together, Millcreek Common. We were awarded the branding job and created a logo, tone of voice guide, and other branding elements for the newest city in Utah.

We love the opportunity to create something different. In the last year, we built a website that talks directly to a reservoir to share real-time water information, wrote a children’s book about a penguin for a client, and are currently helping a company that takes millions of pieces of aggregate customer feedback data and uses AI to make sense of it and present it to their customers. These wildly different projects are what make being a designer or developer fun and we’re so thankful that we get to work with good clients like this.

We’d love to hear about how you think about risk taking?
Like most people, my risk tolerance has slowly waned over life. I’ve been an early stage employee or on the leadership team of seven startups to greater or lesser effect, including being one of the keymen in the VC funding by Gradient Ventures, the AI wing of Google Ventures, and Iron Mountain. I’m probably done with startups at this point unless someone can entice me with the right product that’s improving the world and doing some good. After several years of the hustle and grind starting my days at 4 am, going all day, all evening, and all weekend, I’m ready for a slightly slower and more intentional pace in my work.

When we first started our company we took a big risk, walked away from the perceived security of corporate jobs, and figured we’d fake it until we make it. We worked a lot of long hours and learned many lessons so that when we became Anchor & Alpine in 2020 things were pretty straightforward and didn’t feel overly risky to us. After a career of being an individual contributor, I’ve learned that job security is more about the skills you have and the network you grow. A corporate job can be gone in a second, and it could have nothing to do with you or your performance.

The risks we are taking these days are all around the viability of our business and how we take care of creatives. We didn’t want to create another design/tech mill that works people to the bone. I don’t think there is ever really a “design emergency”. We’ve created shorter working hours with the opportunity to opt into summer hours to be able to take Fridays off from June to August. We cap our workweek at 30 hours and stick to the hours of 10 am to 4 pm. We have top-tier medical benefits, a generous vacation policy, and a revenue share plan that pays out all employees and partners equally. It’s more employee risk than we’ve ever carried before, but the people we get to work with are happy and focused on the work—with time to be themselves—that we’re very pleased with how things are going two and a half years into this experiment.

Pricing:

  • Branding $15,000-30,000
  • Standard Websites $30,000-80,000
  • Tech/Demand-Gen Websites $80,000-250,000
  • Product UI/UX – $15,000+
  • Other Creative Projects upon conversation and estimate.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Ambersawaya-40under40-2019.jpeg
Photo credit: Dean Smith Caption: Amber Sawaya, third from left, at the Utah Business 40 Under 40 Event with members of her team.
Alt Tag: Photo of four women in front of a logo backdrop at an awards ceremony.

Ambersawaya-40under40-official.jpg
Photo credit: Utah Business Magazine
Caption: Amber Sawaya from the Utah Business 40 Under 40 photoshoot.
Alt Tag: Photo of Amber Sawaya, sitting in a chair. The photo is black and white with yellow paint splashes around the edge.

ambersawaya-AIGA100show-2021.jpg
Photo Credit: Amanda Nelson
Caption: Members of the Anchor & Alpine crew at the AIGA 100 Show. From left, Amber Sawaya, Steve Sawaya, Caroline Petriello, and Abigial Mitchell
Alt Tag: Four people gathered around an exhibit at an art show. They are all focused together on how a phone interacts with the exhibit.

Ambersawaya-designdisruptors-2017.jpg
Photo Credit: DevPoint Labs, Design Disruptors Event
Caption: A screening of the InVision film Design Disruptors, in Salt Lake City. Amber Sawaya is in the back row, her pink hair stands out.
Alt Tag: A room full of people watching a documentary. The photo is taken from the back so you can see the screen. On the back row on the left a woman with bright pink hair sits.

Ambersawaya-favoritemountainplace.jpeg
Photo Credit: Amber Sawaya
Caption: One of my favorite places to chill in the Uintahs.
Alt Tag: A nature scene with a river pool reflecting pine trees, rocks, and the sky.

Ambersawaya-guesswhat2018.jpeg
Photo Credit: Kira Griffin Caption: What’s up chicken butt?
Alt Tag: A woman stands against a painted mural of hands holding an oversized chicken. She is pointing towards the butt, because ‘guess what? Chicken butt’ is funny to her.

Ambersawaya-headshot-2022.jpg
Photo Credit: Amanda Nelson
Caption: 2022 Headshot of Amber Sawaya
Alt Tag: A professional profile photo of a woman sitting in a chair in an industrial office.

Ambersawaya-penguinencounter.jpg
Photo Credit: Amanda Nelson
Caption: The crew of Anchor & Alpine showed our children’s book, about penguins, to the penguins at the local aquarium. From left, Amber Sawaya, Joey Johnston, Katie Griffin.
Alt Tag: Three people in winter coats are holding up a children’s book for four penguins to look at.

Ambersawaya-saltlakecity-quote.JPG
Photo Credit: Amber Sawaya
Caption: One of my favorite brass plates in the street of Salt Lake City. I appreciate Mark Twain’s description of Salt Lake City in 1861 saying “and a grand general air of neatness, repair, thrift and comfort, around and about and over the whole”.
Alt Tag: A photograph of a brass plate set into a sidewalk, it reads: Two Summer Days in Salt Lake City, 1861. From the comforts of the Sale Lake House, 143 South Main Street. “We strolled about everywhere through the board, straight, level streets, and enjoyed the pleasant strangeness of a city of fifteen thousand inhabitants with no loafers perceptible in it; And no visible drunkards or noisy people. A limpid stream rippling and dancing through every street in place of a filthy gutter; block after block of trim dwellings… A great thriving orchard and garden behind every one of them, apparently—branches from the street stream winding and sparkling amount the garden beds and fruit trees—And a grand general air of neatness, repair, thrift and comfort, around and about and over the whole”. As observed by Mark Twain in the Travelogue Roughing It.

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