19/01/2016 12:19 GMT | Updated 19/01/2017 05:12 GMT

Women in Business Q&A: Gretel Vinas, Co-Founder, Design House

Gretel Vinas is a Co­founder, interactive art director & front­end designer at

Design House a full­service digital agency &​web design company with a team of strategists, designers, coders and digital junkies obsessed with UX. She is also an artist/illustrator and currently resides in Miami­Coral Gables, Florida.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?

I'm the daughter of a single mother. We immigrated from Cuba when I was a child. I watched my mother work hard and struggle to raise my sister and I. It was hard for her. And even as children, my sister and I knew that times were tough and survival was the goal. Like many children of struggling immigrant parents, we knew to start working and pulling our weight as soon as possible. My mother's deepest desire was for her daughters to be independent. She also, encouraged me to follow my dreams in the arts.

From a young age I really enjoyed drawing and using my imagination to create characters and scenes. I became very skilled in rendering with just about any medium. It was my thing. And by the time I graduated from high school my path was clear. I would major in Illustration at Ringling School of Art in Sarasota, Florida where I further honed my drawing and painting skills. However, upon graduation I was not prepared to find little to no work in the Illustration field in Miami. I worked a few dead­end jobs for two years until getting my first break at a catalog production agency, drawing preliminary layouts of catalog pages. I got paid to draw all day! It was awesome and I was good at it. In addition, I was able to get experience in digital design and became proficient in all the standard design software I used to build layouts and work with images, graphics, color, and typography. This gave me a leg up and opened more

doors in my career as a graphic designer. For over 15 years I worked for agencies large and small. However, for the last few of those years I craved to go off on my own and freelance. I wanted to make my own rules and learn about the business side of creativity. I educated myself by reading books and talking to other creatives that had taken the leap. Most of all, it took risk. Those first small clients were great but I had a lot to learn in order to really make a living at freelancing. After several years of freelancing which included well­paying on­site projects as well as small projects found via word­of­mouth I felt pretty seasoned. I had learned how to estimate projects, deal with difficult clients, and bill appropriately.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at DESIGNHOUSE?

Even though I work in the creative field, I am very grateful for the experience I gained working in large corporate companies. I learned about good customer service, email etiquette, working with many different departments, etc.

I've also had opportunities to work with other talented people in large agency environments that shared insights on their creative processes and reminded me to always focus on quality and excellence. Taking pride in my work is vital for me.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at DESIGNHOUSE?

When I think of my path along Design House, my mind goes back to the day my partner and I decided to create this business out of thin air while sitting across each other in our small home office. Looking back now, I smile thinking about our journey and our successes as well as failures, or lessons. Highlights include, embracing and becoming players in the field of web technology, growing our client base, opening our agency location in Coral Gables, and developing our secret sauce workflow processes that have been vital to our success. Challenges have also included growing our personnel and finding team members that can share our passion and vision.

What advice can you offer to women who want to start their own business?

Dream big and start small. Do good work. Word of mouth has taken us a very long way. Attend workshops and network with others in your field. Set goals and take steps everyday towards them. Find a business partner that has strong skills in areas where you are weak and vice versa. My business partner possesses strong business skills and has a broad vision while I have strong creative skills and focus on all the fine details that are required to produce excellent work.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?

I've learned to remove emotion from business and to value my work.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

I let work/life balance happen naturally. If I start to feel burned out, I change what I'm doing. Also, having my loyal hound dog at work helps tremendously and brings me much joy. My partner and I also love to travel and explore the world. It keeps us feeling excited to be alive. I feel that mediation and spiritual practice is also helpful to stay centered.

Doing exercise and living a healthy lifestyle helps me keep stress in check. Working out is a very important part of my schedule as it helps me maintain a positive outlook as well as feeling good and it gives my body and mind the stamina that I need to keep thriving in life and work. I also try to eat healthy and as cruelty­free as possible. I care very much about the planet and all sentient beings and do all I can to reduce suffering for them. It's a win win win.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?

It's a fact that, women generally still don't make the same wages as men, even though they often outperform them at work. But thanks to many pioneering career women who have blazed trails before us, things are improving and changing.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?

Having mentors has certainly helped open doors for me. I will always be grateful to the colleagues who took the initiative to teach me how to use software like Photoshop and Illustrator or how to properly design page layouts. It's so satisfying to me to pay it forward by sharing my experience to help others expedite their way along their paths. I look forward to making a positive impact on our mentorees at Design House.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?

I really admire Oprah Winfrey. She has been one of the most prominent role models for women and people everywhere. Her example has no doubt shifted mentalities everywhere about the roles of women as successful leaders. She has also done this by not changing who she is and by sticking to her principles. And the best part is that her purpose has been to spread wisdom through the world to better the lives of many. Her ultimate mission is world peace, which really resonates with me.

What do you want DESIGNHOUSE to accomplish in the next year?

Aside from continuing to innovate and experiment with new design trends, one of our main goals for next year is to continue to compliment our core services around the entire ecosystem of websites and mobile apps. We have successfully rolled out services such as photography, video content, content strategy, search engine optimization (SEO), web maintenance, and social media services. Next year, we plan on pushing out usability testing as a top tier service. We understand websites and realize that in today's digital landscape websites and mobile apps need to be more than just engaging and creative. Websites must yield conversations - we believe that by integrating usability testing not only will we we create engaging digital experiences but we will create websites that convert users into tangible customers.