Looking at Hannah Theisen’s resume, you can hardly believe she is just 26-years-old. After nearly seven years working at non-profits in the United States and abroad, Hannah started her own business Brand Dispatch, which offers “mission momentum for brands that do good.” By helping companies with admirable causes get off the ground and build their brand image, she is combining her passion for helping people with her stellar marketing and branding skills. When she isn’t helping the do-gooders of the world, Hannah likes to unwind at her impeccably decorated Saint Paul apartment with her husband, Andrew. By mixing vintage pieces and clever DIY projects, she has created a perfectly eclectic yet stylish home. Read on to find out more about Hannah’s journey starting her own business, why she loves her neighborhood, and the one DIY project she regrets undertaking.
Name: Hannah Theisen
Current job/company: Founder, Brand Dispatch
Education: Northwestern University, Saint Paul MN and Thomas Edison State College, NJ
What was your first job out of college and how did you land it?
I worked a boring cubicle job at a big multinational conglomerate that I landed through a friends’ recommendation. The job itself had nothing to do with anything at all that I’m passionate about, but it was the perfect “launch pad” for 19-year-old me to save up enough money to move overseas and support myself while living in the Philippines.
Before starting your own business you worked for various non-profits in the US and abroad. What are some valuable lessons you learned through those experiences?
I had just barely turned 20 when I moved overseas to work at my first non-profit, a children’s home in the Philippines where I helped with fundraising and communications. I was idealistic and naïve- I thought that all I needed was compassion and a desire to “help people” in order to be successful in my chosen field of work. I very quickly became schooled in how very little I actually knew about the intricacies of social justice work and especially international aid, and I’m still learning every day. I’ve developed really strong feelings about “helping not hurting”- I certainly did my fair share of hurting when I thought that I was helping in my first few years of non-profit work- and creating culturally sensitive, trauma informed programming with plenty of input from the communities that those programs serve. Though I’ve learned many valuable lessons over the years, I think that the most impactful ones have been:
1. Don’t “be a voice” for others, give others a platform to use their own voices.
2. Surround yourself with mentors. And listen to them.
3. Be humble. Don’t assume that your way is going to be the best way to help solve a problem.
What was it like starting your own business? Tell us about Brand Dispatch.
Brand Dispatch was born out of a deep love for cause based businesses and social entrepreneurship. Though I started off my career in non profits, which I still dearly love, I became increasingly attracted to the idea of businesses solving what have traditionally been “non-profit problems” like poverty, sex trafficking, and access to clean water with business models that were often more financially sustainable long-term than the grant-and-donation fueled funding cycles of non-profits. I created Brand Dispatch to serve as a launch pad for businesses that do good and I offer marketing and development, design and branding, and event/campaign planning services. I also teach classes on branding and social media! Starting a business was terrifying and exhilarating all at once. In 2014, I left my last full time non-profit job where I was doing three things that I really loved: speaking at schools, colleges, and conferences on a regular basis, developing products for a social enterprise, and working with sex trafficking survivors who were building better lives. I was really afraid that I wouldn’t be able to continue doing those things, or would at least have to take a long break to build my business up to a point that would allow me to get back into the things I was passionate about. Just a little over a year after quitting my full-time job, I’m back to doing all of the things that I love- teaching classes, working with survivors, and developing products. The satisfaction of doing what I love has come with a ton of not-so-fun consequences- like having to deal with taxes and a fluctuating income, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world!
What does a typical day look like for you?
I like to start the day off with a quick run down to the Mississippi River with my husband, Andrew. We opt for slower mornings and eat breakfast together, read, or run errands. Afternoons are a mix of meetings and projects. I’m often working for many different clients at once, so there’s usually quite a random assortment of tasks on my plate. Today I’m working on storyboard concepts for an anti- human trafficking PSA, putting together a sponsorship packet for a women’s empowerment event that I’ll be helping to produce this fall, shooting some photos for a style post on my ethical fashion blog Life+Style+Justice (www.lifestylejustice.com), and meeting a friend to brainstorm ideas for her brand new non-profit. In the evening, I’ll either teach a virtual class on social media strategy or work on my own personal projects. Right now I’m developing a new tech/marketing startup project as well as working on a new social enterprise set to launch in Southeast Asia next year! Before bed I usually crash and watch Netflix, but I want to make a habit of reading more and doing a little nighttime yoga to get myself relaxed and ready to sleep.
Tell us a little bit about your neighborhood. What made you decide to move there?
I originally moved into my current apartment several years ago with a roommate. We both wanted to be close to our respective jobs- mine at a Saint Paul non profit and hers at her nearby salon- and that was one of the biggest deciding factors in choosing the space. Over the years, however, I’ve completely fallen in love with my neighborhood and I will be heartbroken if I ever move! My neighborhood is full of old Victorian homes and quaint little old buildings that house antique shops and restaurants. I’m about two miles away from a Victorian row house where F. Scott Fitzgerald lived while working on his novels, as well as a rambling old home that used to be a boarding house where Fitzgerald spent time with other young authors. There’s a beautifully kept 1920’s era theatre down the street complete with art deco sunbursts and the original ladies’ dressing room area. For a history nerd like me it’s a dream! My immediate neighborhood is pretty sleepy, but I’m close to downtown and the offices of many of the non-profits I work for. I’m also within walking distance of a host of foodie hot spots as well as my library, grocery store, dry cleaners, and thrift store and I love being able to walk most anywhere that I need to on a regular basis.
You live in a home built in the 1930’s- wow! What do you love most about your home?
All of the little details: the old French glass doors, built-in laundry cupboard, and wood floors. It still has the original (very loud and shrill) doorbell as well! My favorite room is the sunroom/office. It has windows all the way around the room and when it snows in the winter it feels like you’re sitting in a snow globe.
How would you describe your personal decorating style?
Slow and throughtful, colorful and eclectic. I’m a huge advocate of making old things new and buying fair trade and ethically made home goods. I have a few pieces of IKEA furniture left over from my earlier years, but most pieces in our home have been repurposed, thrifted, or sourced from ethical companies. When I decorate, I think about what I want in my home long-term rather than going with a trend that I like but know I’ll tire of in a short time. When I travel, I love to pick up little items to add to my home- it’s been years since I bought a t-shirt from a tourist shop! I’ll look for a little local antique shop or visit a local artisan’s stall to find unique little pieces that remind me of the location I visited. I’ve brought back items like an antique jewelry box from my honeymoon, antique bottles pulled from the bottom of the ocean floor in Bermuda, and a village-in-a-bottle from an artisan I met in the Philippines.
Did you design on a budget? Is there anything you splurged on?
I definitely designed on a budget and did a ton of DIY! I have no regrets- except for that I probably should have hired a professional to reupholster my antique sofa instead of insisting on doing it myself! Andrew and I wrestled with that project for MONTHS and it was quite the undertaking. I’d probably do it again, though… this girl enjoys a challenge! I splurged on a few vintage pieces that are scattered around the house, but for the most part all of our home’s decorating was done very cheaply and simply so that more of our money could go toward experiences instead of stuff.
What advice would you give your 21 year old self?
I’d tell my 21 year old self to just start doing exactly what she felt called to do, that she didn’t need to wait until she felt “ready” or had everything lined up. I’d tell her that it’s hard, messy, and requires an incredibly uncomfortable amount of vulnerability, but that it’s completely worth it. I read a study recently on female entrepreneurs in the United States and only 13 percent said that they felt “adequately prepared” to start a business and pursue their passions. I think that we women too often hold back and wait for perfection instead of beginning to make our mark on the world, and that was certainly the case for me for several years!
Hannah Theisen is the Everygirl…
Guilty pleasure? Divine Chocolate’s Toffee and Sea Salt Bar. Delicious!
Coffee order. I don’t drink coffee- and my husband teases me that I’m naturally caffeinated since I’m quite energetic without it! I’d go for a spicy iced chai from my absolute favorite fair trade coffee shop, Peace Coffee!
Hidden talent. I can sing karaoke in Tagalog
Dream vacation. I’d love to go to Italy: see Venice, eat gelato, bask on a beach, and visit Massimo Bottura’s restauraunt!
If you could have lunch with one woman, who would it be and what would you order?
I’d love to have lunch with author and researcher Brene Brown! I’d show her my favorite Thai restaurant and place an order for the best curry and fresh spring rolls in town.
Wooden Desk, Thrifted
Desk Chair, Thrifted
White Desk, Thrifted
Crate Shelves, DIY
Candle, Prosperity Candle
File Cabinet, Thrifted
Block printed pillows, JOYN India
Raw silk pillows, Artisan Connect
Curtains, DIY with recycled fabric
lokati Rug, Rugs USA
Sofa, Vintage, reupholstered with fabric from Company C
End Tables, Vintage
Small woven basket, The Little Market
Large woven basket, Dharma Door USA
Floral Chairs, Thrifted and refashioned
Coffee Table, Thrifted and refashioned
Candles, Prosperity Candle
Knick Knacks, Mostly thrifted or gathered on trips
Table, Handmade by Andrew
Chairs, DIY, Thrifted
Bar Cart, Vintage, DIY
Quote art, DIY
Wooden cupboard, Thrifted
Mortar and Pestle, The Little Market
Stacking Bowls, Serrv
Shower Curtain, Target
Bath Mat, Target
Towels, The Online Medina and Target
Hamper, Ten Thousand Villages
Clothing Rack, Thrifted