Celina Pereira - L.A. Lady Interviews

Celina Pereira, Partner at Osso Design. Interviewed by Michele Carroll. Photography by Adam C. Bartlett


For our readers who don’t know, give us a little rundown of what you do.

I started OSSO with my business partner, Grant Wenzlau. We are a full-service brand development and design studio. We design for clients – visual identities, web design, packaging, editorial, art direction, and more. We also create products that we love.

When and how did you first become interested in design?

I only started becoming interested in design towards the end of college. I was graduating a semester early and I was eager to get out. For my major, which was Advertising and Public Relations, I was required to take one Intro to Graphic Design course. I had taken one other course to learn the Adobe Suite, and I found I had a knack for using the programs. When I started my graphic design class though, it was really tough and intense. My professor was brilliant and unapologetic and I learned so much – including that I wasn’t just pretty good with the technical use of Adobe, but that I really love design.

Before creating OSSO, you worked for a boutique design agency where you climbed the ladder quite quickly. Could you touch on your rise in the ranks, and what personal qualities do you attribute to your success during this time?

I was lucky to get in on a small and talented team. I was super green when I started, but I was hungry to learn. I started as a Jr. Designer and a year and a half later I was the Senior Designer managing all of the creative. My boss took me under his wing and I had to not only design, but learn how to make sales calls, create proposals, deal with angry clients, delegate tasks, etc. I think you have to really be hungry – to learn, to add value, and to contribute to your team’s success. I went out of my comfort zone and I never said no. This means I didn’t say, “that’s not my job.” I tried always to have this mentality of – if it’s going to aid in my and my team’s success, and it needs to be done – it IS my job.

How did the idea for OSSO come about?

Grant and I were working on our first real (paid) design project together, freelance. We both worked full-time and worked on this and other project ideas in our downtime. It got to be completely life consuming (in a good way) and we thought – hey, we work alarmingly well together. We should start a design company.

Once you decided to move forward with your own business, what was the first action step you took?

Well first I had to calm down, because the “risk factor” was screaming at me uncontrollably. Then I had to put in my two weeks notice at my job. That was very scary, but my boss could not have been more supportive. He really helped guide me in the right direction as to where to begin with OSSO. We had to build a site, develop our portfolio, and start reaching out to potential clients.


Could you talk us through your decision making process of leaving your “stable” job to start your own? How did you know it was the right time?

I grappled with it a lot. I have two very juxtaposing faces – on one hand I am a very logical, cautious, and realistic person. On the other hand, when I feel something very strongly – I can’t ignore it. I am impulsive and irrational and there’s nothing that can stop me from doing what I’m going to do, for better or for worse. I was nervous about my financial stability. There was a very clear moment though, when I knew it was the right time. I kept thinking about how afraid I was to leave – but it clicked that I was more afraid of staying where I was than leaving and failing at something I really wanted. The fear of complacency outweighed the fear of risk. And then a wave of calmness washed over me and I started putting one foot in front of the other, so to speak.

What were your biggest insecurities in the beginning? How did you overcome them?

The biggest insecurities were financial for sure – how am I going to make enough money to survive in L.A.? And second was, how do I get people to take me seriously and trust me with their design needs? I was confident in myself and my abilities, but I was nervous that people wouldn’t take me seriously – that I wasn’t good enough on paper to impress. But as time went on, as we completed more work, I learned to trust myself and my design eye. That the best that I can do is my very best. I can only create things that I am confident in and that I love and hope that there are people who will love it too. So far, I have found there always are.

What have been the most unexpected aspects of running your own business?

How much people are willing to help if you just ask. We all know some things, we all know some things other people don’t know, and we all have a lot to learn. Everyone is pretending they’ve got it all figured out – so we fear asking questions. But when we do, people are happy to answer. I think we have this mistaken idea that we’re all in competition with each other. But the most fun and successful projects we’ve done have been when we’ve worked with people we admire. Collaboration beats competition.

What was your first ah-ha moment, when you knew all your hard work was coming together as a reality?

When we were asked to redesign and rebrand HOW Design Magazine – that was probably my first ah-ha moment. A magazine that has been a staple in the design community for 30 years was asking me to be the new Art Director. I tried to, you know, “keep my chill” but I was ecstatic and humbled at the opportunity. We were ready to do something great! We met so many incredible people and designers, it felt like we were doing something right.

If you could go back to the beginning knowing what you know now, would you have done anything differently when starting OSSO?

I would have hustled more I think, and planned/strategized for a trajectory that lead to the kind of growth we want. We did the best we knew how at the time. But now, having experienced the normal trials and stresses of running your own business, I think we would have been more mindful of taking the steps to grow while still doing the work we love.

In addition to working with clients, you also create your own products – including Tinker Watches and NOSSO by OSSO. What advice do you have for juggling so many projects at once?

Focus. Tinker and NOSSO are not the only projects we’ve wanted to pursue, or actually pursued for that matter. We’ve got so many ideas floating around in our heads – hopefully a career’s worth. But to get anything done, you need to focus and prioritize. Shut down the buzzing voice in your head and say – I am going to go after THIS with all that I have right now. So I can’t give anymore to anything else. You have to learn to say NO to yourself so that your YES’s actually come to fruition and you dedicate the time and effort they need to succeed. Factor in what you are able to do in your current situation – money, visibility, USP. An idea can be the greatest idea in the world – but timing is crucial and all the pieces of the puzzle need to come together for it to have any legs.

What is one specific resource you can’t live without when running your business?

We use Slack and Asana the most. Slack to communicate – it’s essentially a way for us to text/email each other and be able to categorize those conversations and files and search through very quickly. Asana is great for to-do lists. On a more personal note, I keep sane by going to hot yoga at Corepower Yoga – it’s the only surefire way for me to clear my mind and feel balanced.

Katie Dean, of Katie Dean Jewelry, said something very interesting when discussing running one’s own business. She said, “You find out what you’re made of”. Can you tell us about a time you surprised yourself in finding out what you were made of?

Katie Dean is absolutely right – you do find out what you’re made of. Life is hard, things happen to all of us in our personal lives, and we have to show up to work and make our way through the world – whether we want to or not. And when you run your own business, sometimes you have to act bigger than you think, more confident than you might feel. I can’t think of a particular time, but I can say starting my own business has forced and encouraged me to be more outspoken. I am generally a person that observes, listens, and takes in, and speaks only when I truly have something to add. There have been times where that is misconstrued as weakness. While I do still speak when I have something to add and not superfluously, I have learned to make sure I am heard.  To not let things slide if I care about them. I stand up for myself and for my ideas. I speak up if I do not believe in something and refuse to go with the flow until I can honestly stand behind it.


Favorite area of L.A.? Griffith Observatory, at night. The view is beautiful and I love the planetarium shows – I never get tired of it, whether I go by myself or am taking friends who are in town. The universe is mysterious and endlessly fascinating.
Favorite eatery in L.A.? There’s a lot in L.A.! But most recently, Lincoln in Pasadena.
Menu item we must order there? The salmon sandwich is delicious, so is the matcha snickerdoodle.
Favorite happy hour? I don’t have a “regular” one, but I like Birds on Franklin. Great prices and heavy pours. Lots of good stuff next door too like other  bars, UCB, and a used bookstore.
Favorite weekend activities in the city? Going to yoga, walking around somewhere – a hike or just around the westside since I don’t get over there much, painting or seeing something art/design related, and hanging out with friends. Oh, and wine.
Audio of choice when sitting in traffic? I’ve been listening to a lot of Brazilian music – Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso. But it’s always changing.
Place or thing you want to do most in L.A., but haven’t yet? Museum of Neon Art!
Biggest L.A. guilty pleasure? I love seeing improv at UCB. There are some funny people out here in L.A.

– Celina Pereira, Partner at Osso Design