In Her Own Words: Angela ‘Gertie’ Refsland of Waking Girl
Name/Title/Company: Angela “Gertie” Refsland; Waking Girl
Number of years with company: 10
Number of years in the profession: 15
Education: High School Dropout
Last book read: Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World
Favorite movie: Inception
Favorite musical group or genre: Twenty one Pilots
Spouse, kids or pets: My dream man, Alfredo, found me a few years after he moved to America! My 8-year-old daughter Franki is an aspiring artist and engineer. I have a few succulents. I thought I was really good at keeping plants alive, until I Googled the label and the description said: Thrives when neglected.
Northern Nevada Business Weekly: Tell us about your company/organization and the duties of your position.
Angela “Gertie” Refsland: I’m the founder and CEO at Waking Girl, which means I manage teams, direct sales, and study the ebb and flow of the digital wave. I’m also the senior designer, which keeps me busy with overseeing the design of websites and print materials.
NNBW: How did you get into this profession?
Refsland: I built my first website the summer before 6th grade. My family lived in rural Minnesota, 10 miles from civilization. My parents had just gotten dial-up and a used computer. I taught myself HTML and had virtual conversations with people from all over the world. Going back to school was tough after that summer.
My dad encouraged me to offer computer tutoring services to people from our church. I worked for $10 to $20, and snacks. Spending time in people’s homes, answering their computer questions showed me that I enjoyed helping those on the computer illiterate end. It also gave me invaluable insights to be used decades later, as I can now better picture how a client is running into various questions and experiences.
NNBW: What do you enjoy most about working in your field?
Refsland: I love being able to work from home or a coffee shop — from any city that has Wifi. The web design world favors the efficient; I can get the day’s work done in a few hours and then spend time with my daughter.
NNBW: What is the most challenging part about your job?
Refsland: The most challenging part of web design is the constant change in technology. Everything that we build includes a level of risk, because technology doesn’t always keep pace with the needs of our clients. When working in volume, we don’t have small technological problems; we have systemic problems.
When Google changed up its rules a few years ago, making mobile websites almost mandatory, we had to revamp a few hundred websites to function on mobile. We were able to pull that off in 10 days because we had gambled on technology that did keep up with the changes. We were lucky. But it doesn’t always work out that way. We’ve had to phase out software that has failed to sprint with us.
Everyone on the team has to be willing to learn something new every day. If a web designer gets comfortable, he/she becomes obsolete.
NNBW: What do you foresee in the future of your profession?
Refsland: I am always assuming that my job will go the way of the VCR repairman around the next corner. I foresee that technology will continue to advance faster than we can keep up. Consumers are expecting more and more from their web experience than ever before. We’re seeing a bigger and bigger disconnect between what business owners want on their website versus what their customers want. This disconnect will continue to grow, and we’ll see New Web and Old Web, just like we see in retail: Forever 21 and Brooks Brothers.
NNBW: What advice would give someone who wants to get in your profession?
Refsland: When I work with aspiring web designers I encourage them to start by building a portfolio for free, cheap or on trade. A lot of new designers think they should be charging $3000 for their first few websites. No. Your first 10 websites are like going to college. Did you ever get paid to take a class? Consider yourself fortunate to get paid to learn.
The other advice is don’t go to college for web design. Anything you learn at a college about the web is obsolete by the time you see it in a Powerpoint Presentation! Everything you need to know is available on the web, for free.
NNBW: What was the best advice anyone ever gave you either professionally or personally?
Refsland: Never take advice from people who aren’t doing what you want to be doing.
In the web world, this was crucial. I was getting advice from others in the web design industry, but they were working 60 hours a week, annoyed with their customers, and dealing with servers crashing. I didn’t want that, so I ignored their advice!
Instead I watched big companies like Starbucks and even Staples — and borrowed ideas from them.
My friends chided me for not supporting local coffee shops when I plugged in over a cup of tea. I explained, “If I want my company to be super successful, I gotta study super successful companies. And that means I’m going to sip this Earl Grey from Starbucks.”
NNBW: Has there been someone who was especially influential in helping you establish your career or in reaching your higher goals? If so, who and how?
Refsland: David Read was my mentor when I attempted to sell insurance many years ago. Everything that could go wrong went wrong, and he finally told me, “This isn’t for you.” He explained the most important part of building your insurance business was the residual income. I applied this concept to my web design company, and in hindsight, that was the key to turning a job into a business.
Beverly VanDusseldorp, the owner of Antique Angel Wedding Chapel, was another key player in helping my business get off the ground. She was the first client who really allowed me to experiment with her business, and see firsthand what I had to offer. I worked for $10/hour answering phones, giving tours, taking pictures, until I saw an opportunity in the budget. I helped her get out of her $1600/month Yellowpages contract so that she could afford my $300/month website VIP program. Bev believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.
Barry O’Dea, the owner of On Command Dog Boarding, Grooming, Training & Daycare, was instrumental in proving the Waking Girl concepts. He was willing to try my ideas, which allowed him to see his website as an employee, and really put it to work. His business blossomed almost overnight. When I met Barry he was just training dogs on the weekends. Now he has 30-plus employees and is opening a second location.
NNBW: Do you belong to any professional/networking organizations? How has membership benefited your career?
Refsland: I’m part of the ITEX trade network, which has played a big role in my business. Growing up in small town Minnesota and spending a lot of my childhood in poverty, I had money mindset issues to work through. Interestingly, those mindset issues didn’t relate to trade. I was able to sell my services and get paid in full on trade, without breaking a sweat. ITEX served as a perfect training ground for learning how to view money and my ability to make it.
NNBW: Is there any educational advancement that is essential for someone in your career field?
Refsland: Everything you need to know about building a website is available in a Google search, but if you want to learn about business development, social media marketing, and the latest and greatest tools — you’ll need to seek out a coach, mentor or Mastermind group. It’s imperative to seek out people who know more than you, learn from them, teach others, and continue to find new groups of people who know something you don’t.
NNBW: How do you manage your time between the responsibilities of your profession and your personal life?
Refsland: I use Tel-Com, an answering service, to take all my incoming calls. This allows me to stick to my schedule and avoid interruptions. Web designers are creative and need uninterrupted stretches of time to accomplish creative tasks.
I don’t meet with clients in person anymore, and limit interaction to scheduled phone calls and email. I use a ticketing system that is accessible by my team. We share the load of answering incoming questions and maintenance requests.
NNBW: Why did you choose a career in northern Nevada? What do you like about living/working here?
Refsland: Northern Nevada has some of the greatest business owners in the world! There is a real can-do, go get ‘em attitude that makes B2B a treat.
NNBW: What was your first job?
I coached soccer during the summers while in middle and high school. This was my first experience of creating my own reality. I listed off the criteria I wanted in a summer job: no uniform, no food, minimal hours, get paid more than minimum wage. My mom laughed and said it wasn’t possible. The soccer coaching job fell into my lap that summer and fit all my criteria.
NNBW: What did you dream of becoming as a kid?
Refsland: I thought I was going to be a child psychologist! I enjoy working with kids in an entrepreneurial atmosphere and have a side project called Win Room School House, that helps kids pursue their dreams outside of the 8-3 school day.
NNBW: What are your hobbies? How do you spend your time away from work?
Refsland: I am a meeting-aholic. I love going to community and business meetings to discuss ways to improve things.
NNBW: Is there a nonprofit or charitable organization that you like to donate your time to?
Refsland: I sponsor a child in Ghana, Africa, through VIMA Online. The founder of VIMA is a client and grew up in Africa, and was sponsored for $1/day as a child. He was given shoes, which allowed him to walk to school, which allowed him to get a job and move to America, and pay it all forward again. He gives all of his money back to the organization he started. VIMA is one of those small nonprofits that is really making a big impact.
NNBW: Do you have a favorite vacation spot?
Refsland: I prefer to open my home and host AirBnB guests. This has been a great way to travel the world from the comfort of my own home — and get paid for it.
NNBW: Is there a place around the world you have never been to that you would like to visit?
Refsland: I would like to visit the countries that my husband grew up in, starting with Spain and Italy.
NNBW: If you had enough money to retire right now, would you? Why or why not?
Refsland: Do entrepreneurs retire? Is that a thing?
NNBW: If you had the chance to have dinner with someone, who would that be and why?
Refsland: I recently saw Tim Ferriss live and thoroughly enjoyed what he had to say. It would be fun to have some sort of coconut oil/ketone-rich dinner with him. If Tim was too busy, Tony Robbins would be a second choice. But — I like to talk, and I’m not sure Tony ever pauses.
NNBW: What is a unique characteristic or attribute about yourself that makes you stand apart from other people?
Refsland: It might be easier to ask what characteristics I share with the rest of the world. That list is shorter. I’ve always been an outlier, willing to go against the mainstream and try a different approach. I don’t take the odd path just for the sake of being different; I always have at least two good reasons for doing something! Sometimes the road less traveled is just designed better.
NNBW: Is there anything in your life that you wish you could do over again? Why?
Refsland: Everything in my life has lead up to this moment, and while a lot of my life was hard — it taught me a lot and I’m thankful for that.
NNBW: If you had one moment in time to cherish for the rest of your life either professionally or personally what would it be and why?
Refsland: Meeting my husband was a wonderful experience. Love at first sight, but it was like we had already spent many lifetimes together. He was living in Lake Tahoe working at the Ritz Carlton, and I was living in Reno. We met online briefly, and then met for dinner. I knew I would spend the rest of my life with him the moment I saw him!
NNBW: Last concert or sporting event attended?
I saw Tim Ferriss in Seattle, WA. Does that count?