It was summer 2017, and Andres Cuervo had just graduated from college and started work as a software engineer. When he wasn’t at his new job, he was building augmented reality experiences for fun–a way to express his interest in using code for design, which he couldn’t do at work.
Over the next few months, Cuervo made a new AR demo every day. He began posting his work in an invite-only Slack group called “100s Under 100,” aka “Hundos,” an online community where designers and developers share their work and help each other navigate the industry. With more than 350 members, 64 channels, and thousands of messages sent every month, it’s like a digital water cooler, where members source design jobs, get advice on how to be a freelancer, and collaborate with like-minded designers. Posting his demos to the group became a way for Cuervo to exercise his creativity. After seeing his experiments, a member of the group–who happened to be an art director at Google–reached out to Cuervo and asked him to lunch. This week, Cuervo starts a job as a prototyper at Google, where he’ll spend his days making and designing AR experiences.
Hundos offers a glimpse at the way tools like Slack are changing the design industry, facilitating job opportunities and mentorship for people who may not have access through traditional channels. In a profession where freelancing is bread and butter, 100s Under 100 acts like a virtual coworking space for its members, revealing how digital communities can provide a support system for designers to succeed–and even start their own businesses.
Founded by then-freelance designer Carly Ayres in the summer of 2016, 100s Under 100 came out of Ayres’s desire to crowdsource the wisdom of designers who had more experience freelancing. How do you negotiate a contract? How do you ask for more money? How do you give a talk? How do you design a good portfolio site?
“As I blindly fumbled my way through freelancing, I wanted a way to amass all the collective knowledge of various freelancers who’d been doing it much longer and more effectively than me,” Ayres says. “There’s a lot of tips and tricks and there was no real place where that knowledge is collected.”
So she started the Slack group, with three channels: jobs, general, and help. Frustrated by exclusionary institutions like the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, Ayres decided to call the group 100s Under 100. The criteria for joining? You had to be a good person making good work. Today, the group has turned into a full-fledged online community, with nearly 200 active members talking online each week. The group also does quarterly real-life talks and meetups to put faces to names and give members a chance to get to know each other in person.
“It’s a space that I feel like I can ask any question and not feel like a complete idiot. I love Twitter, but if I have a question about a potential client I’m courting, I can’t really ask that on Twitter, they’re probably following me. Someone might look at that later: Ugh, she doesn’t know how to format an invoice?” Ayres says. “You want these safe spaces where you can ask these questions and give yourself the benefit of a step up based on the knowledge of everyone else in the group.”
Today, the group has channels for all interests, from the “peaches” channel for women and non-binary people, to channels for product and graphic design, to the most recent addition, cooking and baking. There’s a channel where people only post images they find beautiful and others where people ask for feedback on their work. Perhaps one of the most popular channels is called “Show N Tell,” where people are encouraged to be shamelessly self-promotional and share their latest creations. There’s an extensive code of conduct that articulates the group’s values and a “Hundos Wisdom” document of the group’s collective knowledge, which includes recommended design podcasts, freelance contract templates, general life advice, and the contact information for the New York design community’s favorite accountant. One cardinal rule? No feedback is given unless it’s asked for.
The Slack has also jump-started careers and helped its members when they’ve started companies, underlining a shifting industry where informal communities are challenging the old boys’ clubs and prioritizing activism, mentorship, and diversity.
From Slack To Startup
100s Under 100 has instigated real projects and collaborations between members, most significantly a Facebook Messenger bot called CallParty that was inspired by the 2016 presidential election. Created by the designer Kelsey Hunter, CallParty is a Messenger bot that tells you which members of Congress to call and what to say (it’s also used by the nonprofit GovTrack).
The project came out of the Hundos “civics” channel as the Slack’s members were debating what they could do after the election. One freelancer named Lori White mentioned how difficult it was to call Congress, and Hunter began to research the issue before deciding that a Messenger bot might be a great way to give people the tools to be more politically active. Hunter and fellow Hundos Max Fowler, James Ayres, Erica Gorochow, and Francis Tseng all worked on the initial prototype before launching it in March of 2017.
Now, Hunter is the CEO and founder of Paloma, a back-end platform for organizations and companies to manage their campaigns and outreach on Facebook Messenger–almost like a MailChimp for Facebook’s chat app. She started the company when she realized that CallParty’s backbone could be useful in marketing.
Hundos has deeply influenced Hunter’s career, and she’s most grateful for the community’s women’s channel. “As I was building out CallParty and contracting with startups, I had a place where I could talk about things and relate with the issues women were having, and be helpful,” Hunter says. “It showed me, [I] like helping people, [I’m] really good at problem-solving, and if I were to start my own company that would make a lot of sense because there’s a lot of people here who have issues in their own workplaces. And now I have a really great way of building something better, seeing what’s going wrong and doing better by them.”
Alisha Ramos, who founded the female-centric newsletter Girls’ Night In in January 2017 on her own, has also found the community very helpful as a woman who’s started her own business. “Especially after leaving my full-time job and working alone it helped provide a strong sense of community,” she says. “I’ve gotten to know quite a few people through it and gained some great IRL friends through it, too.” The impact includes tangible business benefits as well–when she was rebranding Girls’ Night In, Ramos found a talented photographer through Hundos who helped her shape the company’s new image.
For others, 100s Under 100 provides a creative escape from less creative full-time jobs. “I like seeing what other people are working on,” says Omayeli Arenyeka, a software engineer at LinkedIn. “Silicon Valley is a bubble and everything is about tech and it’s really frustrating to be here for me. So I like having a plug into the art scene in other places.”
For Arenyeka, the Slack group is mostly useful for her side projects–one of which was even inspired by the group’s cheeky name and her frustration toward awards like 30 Under 30. She built a Twitter bot that tweets out random awards that anyone can win: “13 under 53 working faithfully up to government administration,” or “29 under 90 working mockingly thanks to retail.”
“You get a three-year life span”
Since starting 100s Under 100, Ayres founded the design firm HAWRAF, and managing the community is almost part of her job since the team sees Hundos as an extension of the studio. Since shifting away from freelancing, Ayres has recruited a group of admins who help monitor what’s going on in the Slack so she doesn’t have to be online for hours every day.
The admins are necessary because, like most online communities, there’s always the threat that some people will make others uncomfortable. One member, who asked to remain anonymous, says she finds some elements of the group toxic and has severely limited which channels she participates in because certain members have mistreated her or spoken disparagingly about women. Perhaps it’s no surprise that the group would have its own problems as it grows, given how online communities tend to become cesspools of racism and sexism, and it’s something Ayres is aware of and trying to guard against. The informal Slack has a code of conduct and a group of people that enforce it–but it will continue to be a challenge for Hundos going forward.
Ayres is focused on finding more diverse voices to add to Hundos while trying to ensure it is a place where everyone feels safe. “The biggest initiative right now is reaching beyond our own realm of experiences and finding people doing great work who have different perspectives to bring in, because the conversations get that much richer and that much better,” she says.
Still, Ayres acknowledges the group’s inevitable fate: “It’s definitely going to die,” she says. “All digital communities do. You get a three-year life span.”
In the meantime, Ayres is interested in the Slack’s potential for mentorship. Through the group’s application process, where current members nominate people they think would be good additions to the community, Ayres has added people who are CEOs and creative directors for big companies, as well as high school and college students. She recalls adding one particular high school student who lived in the middle of the country and wanted to apply to art school. The student was able to get feedback on his portfolio from a group of professionals. That kind of career help is often only possible if you have a mentor–and it isn’t available to everyone, especially young people or freelancers.
“It’s very hard to build relationships, to get advice that’s in your best interest,” Ayres says. “I do think that’s very much at the core of what this can offer, and in return the idea is, once everyone is being pulled up together, you can bring that help back and give it to someone else.”