‘Built to lead,’ two entrepreneurs teach brands how to grow a backbone

From a young age, Dallas-based entrepreneurs Sunny Bonnell and Ashleigh Hansberger knew they were “built to lead, not follow.”

“My first job was at Dairy Queen,” Bonnell says. “I was 13, but I lied and said I was 16 so they would hire me. On my first shift, while my manager was away, I promoted myself to the drive-through and started telling everyone else what to do. Conincidentally, my parents came through to get cones. I not only got busted by them, but I got fired the same day. Needless to say, I wasn’t meant to work for anyone else.”

After graduating high school, Bonnell trusted her gut and moved to Chicago to pursue her passion for music. She started off as a street musician, holding live shows at the House of Blues, playing on the streets, in tiny coffee shops, at bars, and on big stages. Then she met Hansberger during a neighborhood snowball fight. This encounter prompted a new journey for the fast friends: figuring out their purpose in life.

They went to college together and in their 20’s started Motto with $250 in 2005. They set out to create a “disruptive and differentiated branding agency” that helps companies communicate who they are and what they stand for before anything else, Hansberger says.

Despite the seeds of doubt that were planted in their heads about not being able to survive, they said starting a business was their crazy dream.

“The odds were against us,” Bonnell says. “In a place like South Carolina, where it’s known for being a good ol’ boys town and touristy, you don’t build big, mega companies there, especially a creative branding agency. Every call we got was from a male.”

They launched Motto with the mindset of helping companies conceptualize, design, and build their companies by aligning their purpose, brand and culture. After years of growing their company from South Carolina, Bonnell and Hansberger moved to Dallas in 2015 after a nine-month cross-country road trip scouting satellite locations. They jumped at the chance to sign on as the first members of WeWork 1920 McKinney Ave.

“We fell in love with Dallas,” Hansberger says. “We felt like we could be part of a movement here.”

What’s driving their brand agency is the vision that the people behind the companies need to experience a “deep sense of purpose” and passion that connects to what they’re doing.

“We’ve worked with hundreds of leaders and companies over the last decade, and have been behind the successful launches of many disruptive brands,” says Bonnell. “The truth is, you’re building a brand from the moment the idea is born and the moment you start asking people to support you. Companies who fail to invest in their brands don’t win.”

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