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“Your greatest achievements won’t come from changing who you are, but channeling who you’ve always been.”
To understand how Motto® became what it is, look to who Sunny Bonnell has always been.
“There’s a bit of folklore in my family that, just after I was born, I lifted my head and clenched my fists,” Bonnell said. “My parents said I was born gutsy; ready to take on the world from day one.”
Bonnell’s roots run deep with self-made entrepreneurship. She’s the third generation in her family to carry the torch. The chain of ambition and determination originated from her father and great-grandfathers.
Long before Motto®, Bonnell’s entrepreneurial spirit fueled her young success in a multitude of ways. She was a bluegrass player by the time she was eight and as a young adult, she traveled as a professional musician, playing everywhere from the streets of Chicago to sold-out shows at the House of Blues.
“Then I decided to shift gears and pursue college, which set my journey on an entirely new trajectory,” Bonnell said. It was there that her and Ashleigh Hansberger, Motto®’s co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer, started moonlighting as designers and building the vision for Motto®.
With only $250 in their pockets, they dropped out and started Motto® in 2005.
“A motto is a short statement that encapsulates the beliefs of a person or organization — it’s more than our name, it carries symbolic significance. It communicates the kind of branding company we wanted to build.”
Sunny and her team work directly with executive leaders in times of growth to align teams around a new vision, develop business-building brand strategies, increase brand equity, and adapt to a changing market and world.
In the 18 years since Motto®’s inception, Bonnell and Hansberger have led Motto® to worldwide recognition and have graced lists such as Branding Agency of the Year, 2023 WEBBY Awards, Top GlobalGurus in Brand, and Top 100 Global Most Loved Workplaces by Newsweek.
“As the CEO, you are the Chief Enabling Officer. The culture you foster today is the foundation of your organization tomorrow.”
Motto® may walk the walk and talk the talk when it comes to being boundary pushers, but Bonnell quickly discovered that the world at large tends to shy away from those who don’t reflect the status quo.
“For two decades, we’ve seen an alarming lack of acceptance for unique people and the ‘crazy’ ideas that don’t fit the mold.”
She pointed out that many successful entrepreneurs are nonconformists even in their adolescence. These individuals tend to carve out their own paths in life, avoiding conformity that doesn’t allow them to be creative, innovative, or who they are.
“The key is to succeed because of who you are, not despite who you are,” she urged. “Your perceived weakness can actually be the strength that propels you to unconventional success.”
Bonnell and Hansberger’s best-selling business book, Rare Breed: A Guide to the Success for the Defiant, Dangerous, and Different echoes their experience, encouraging entrepreneurs to let their so-called “vices” guide their path to sustainable success.
Not one to sit on her hands, Bonnell recently co-founded VisionCamp: a high-impact visionary leadership masterclass designed for founders, future leaders, and entrepreneurs.
Through a blend of comprehensive education, self-reflection, live coaching, and peer feedback, participants engage in actionable exercises, enhancing their visionary leadership skills sets and mindsets. Utilizing their unique 7P VisionScript® framework, attendees gain practical tools to articulate, inspire, and transform their vision into tangible results. VisionCamp® is offered virtually, every quarter.
“My approach to leadership has matured over time,” she said. “I am often characterized as a coach and mentor. I’m your biggest champion and I also uphold remarkably high standards. Garry Ridge, former CEO of WD-40 Company, once told me that the essence of leadership is consistently striking a balance between being tough and tender.”
She notes the importance of transitioning from a more reactive leader to a more deliberate and intentional one.
“As a leader, I place paramount importance on fostering a progressive organizational culture and spearheading innovation at Motto®."
My vision involves architecting how we work at Motto®, steering our team toward the future, and inspiring them to do big things. I like to tap into each person’s unique qualities and stretch them to greater heights.”
“I have an idea.”
Bonnell believes that at the heart of every company is an Idea Worth Rallying Around®, a signature concept that you become famous for.
“This idea is the north star of a brand,” she said. “Its energy can power your business, attract extraordinary talent, and make an astonishing impact on the world.”
One of these world-changing “Ideas Worth Rallying Around®” that Motto® helped bring to life was ‘Connecting Brilliance with Opportunity’ for the leading global talent network, Andela. Andela leveraged Motto® to lead their global rebrand, one which Bonnell’s team was ready to facilitate.
“Andela believes that brilliance is everywhere, but opportunity is not,” she said. “We helped actualize their vision of global change through their rebranding.”
Andela is a perfect example of the transformative power of an Idea Worth Rallying Around®. The result? A $200M Series E led by Softbank, a $1.5B unicorn valuation, expansion into 110+ companies and 6 continents, and several strategic acquisitions.
From having less than $300 in her pocket to leading one of the top branding agencies in the world, it’s clear where Bonnell’s zone of genius is.
So if you’ve been told that you’re too young, too broke, too anything to be a successful entrepreneur, look to Sunny Bonnell’s self-made story and remember that those who sit stagnantly in the status quo are rarely aware of the next big idea that will change a brand, an industry, or the world.
Entrepreneurs need to evolve their brand during company transitions to stay relevant, reflecting changing consumer preferences, market expansions, or new product offerings. In a dynamic business landscape, adapting the brand helps maintain competitiveness and incorporate technological advances. It also assists in managing reputation, aligning with new leadership or company vision, and addressing legal issues such as trademark disputes. Hence, brand evolution is vital for entrepreneurs navigating business growth and changes.
Failing to effectively communicate the value of innovation and adaptability. Traditional executives might be more comfortable with well-established methods, but markets and consumer preferences are not static; businesses must evolve with consumer preferences.
Entrepreneurs often bring fresh perspectives, innovative ideas, and knowledge of emerging trends and technologies. However, if they can't articulate their vision, insights and ideas in a way that resonates with the CEO or executive team, their advice might be overlooked or undervalued. It's important to bridge the gap between innovation and the existing mindset of the leadership team by presenting the potential advantages and opportunities of embracing new strategies, while also acknowledging the strengths of the current practices.
There are five important lessons I’ve learned that I believe could be applied to entrepreneurship at any stage of the game:
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