Joanna Waterfall, Founder of The Yellow Conference. Interviewed by Michele Carroll. Photography: Michael Hillman.


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

I am the founder of an annual conference called The Yellow Conference. Yellow is for creative, entrepreneurial women who want to use their gifts, skills and talents to serve the greater good. I’m also a freelance graphic designer.

Before creating the Yellow Conference, your main interests were in graphic design. How did you become interested in this field?

I’ve always loved art and have been and artist for as long as I can remember. My first two years of school I was a fine arts major. I ended up transferring schools because my dad became a professor at a college nearby. The art program at my new school wasn’t something I was excited about. Yet, they had an up and coming graphic design and digital media program that I was really interested in. I thought, “Graphic design, that’s kind of like art, right?” I went for it and never looked back!

Having transitioned from working for a graphic design firm to freelancing full time, what advice can you share for others looking to move over and become their own boss?

I would say start freelancing as much as you can before you quit your job. Freelancing can be very up and down. Some months you’re making lots of money with clients and other months are slower. Because of this, making sure to have a good padding of money in the bank before you go full time freelance is smart. Use social media for marketing yourself and your work. It’s a great platform and free advertising! You always have to be networking, going to events and building up your skills. These relationships you build will help you out as you go freelance!

How did the idea for the Yellow Conference first come about? When was this?

The idea came to me December 2013. I remember because I was in the shower getting ready for an ugly Christmas sweater party. The shower – a place where our brains can finally slow down for a moment, allowing us to pay attention to our ideas. I had recently met some amazing women who were doing such great things in the world. I was thinking about how cool they were, and how it would be so awesome to get a group of women like this together to talk about and teach others how to use your gifts to spread good. I have a lot of ideas on a day to day basis (too many!!) but this was one I knew I had to follow through with. It was one of those things that made my heart beat fast, made me feel extremely scared, yet totally excited at the same time. I knew it had to happen!

After deciding you wanted to make this idea a reality, what was the first action step you took?

I emailed the only person I knew who had done a conference. I told him my idea and asked for help. He hopped on the phone with me shortly after I sent the email, he told me what steps to take, and I took them!


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

There were so many insecurities! I was scared of being a fraud, I was scared that I would let the idea slide and not follow through. I was scared I would mess up some important detail and the entire conference would be a disaster. I was scared of what people would think of me. I was scared of a million different things, but kept pushing through!

What is one go-to source you can credit for helping you through the rough times in the beginning? 

I think ultimately the people who took my vision and ran with it as much as I did. These were the people who believed this would happen when I didn’t. They were the ones who kept encouraging me, who kept telling me that everything would be ok. Who kept the balls rolling when I couldn’t. It was the people in my life. The ones who believed in me more than I believed in myself.

Can you think back to a particular unexpected setback or mental block you had to overcome during your time developing Yellow? What did you learn from it?

The day before our first conference I had a bit of a breakdown. Everything was coming together but I was SO scared. It was something that had never happened before, so I had no idea what to expect or how to visualize it. I’m a very visual person- so no visual was hard for me! I had to let go of the control I wanted to have. I had to let go of the fact that things could go wrong, and that would be ok. That I can’t please everyone and that’s ok. I learned to let things go. To do my best and do everything that I can. Putting so much of myself into something, but at the end of the day, I don’t have full control, and that’s ok.

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

I had a time where I was thinking that maybe the conference wasn’t such a good idea. That maybe all this hard work and effort I’ve put into this was just something I didn’t want to make happen anymore. Just after I began thinking that, one of our speakers tweeted out the website (that I had yet to show people) and I immediately got a flood of emails and texts asking about what this was and how people could get involved. That’s when I knew this thing was real and I had to keep going.

In addition to running the Yellow Conference, you are also still running your graphic design company and also your blog, Waterfall Creative. What advice do you have for juggling more than one passion?

It’s not easy, but it’s the best. I love having different projects going on at once. It’s nice to use different sides of my brain at different times in the day. I have my thinking, managing working brain, then I have my creative, designing and artfully “playing” brain. It’s fun to transition to different mindsets throughout the day. It helps me stay motivated. My advice to someone managing multiple projects is not to multi-task, but to chunk out your day. I find my thinking brain works better in the morning time, so I try to get all of my management stuff done before lunch. Then I leave the afternoon for design clients I have. I can get in my creative zone while listening to a podcast or some T-Swift. As long as you’re able to give chunks of time to each project you’re working on throughout the week, you’ll be good! It’s not as hard as you might think.

What personal quality of yours do you think has proved most helpful in leading the development and growth of Yellow? 

My background in design and branding has been very helpful. I can make my own website, brand and visuals, which is so important when you’re marketing yourself online. I also have a heart to serve people. I want to be able to provide my team and our audience with ways that they can use their gifts to the fullest potential. We all have magic inside of us, we aren’t always placed in the environment where it’s able to be cultivated. I want to cultivate an environment where women can thrive. I think the creative, designer side of me paired with my desire to see women thrive is what helps me grow and develop this brand.

Knowing what you know now, what would you change about how you went about starting this venture? 

This is a hard question- because all of the mistakes I’ve made I’m thankful for, because I’ve learned so much from them. I would ideally be a better communicator to my team, invite them in on more. I’m not the best when it comes to sharing my thoughts, because I’ve worked freelance for so long, managing a team is hard for me. I might take some leadership classes. But I think always, throughout my life when I look back, the main thing I would change is my insecurity. I would be more confident, less afraid to speak my mind and more able to go with my gut.

What one resource can you not live without when it comes to staying on top of everything you are doing? 

This is so hard… and I with I had something cooler to say, but if I’m honest, I’m going to have to say Instagram. Instagram is the main way people find out about the conference, so without it, I honestly don’t know if we would have the same success that we’ve had. Social media can be a great tool if you learn how to use it well. It helps me see what other people are doing, get a behind the scenes glimpse into the worlds of others, and stay inspired.

What is it about your passion that gets you out of bed in the morning? 

To know that I can bring value to other people’s lives. Knowing I have a purpose and a place in this world. Knowing that the world needs me to work, to succeed, to follow my dreams, because it’s better off when I do. That’s what gets me up in the morning.

Where do you see The Yellow Conference 5 years from now?

I hope we have a thriving online platform that is connecting women all over the world. I hope we have a large audience spread throughout the country and world. I would love to have physical spaces where women can come and work, get coffee and learn about how to pursue their passions and dreams. I really have no idea, but my hopes is that it’s a thriving, successful business!

What does a typical work day look like for you – morning to night? 

Morning I get up (angrily- I hate getting out of that warm comfy bed every morning), I feed my cats, let them outside. Normally my husband is up before me and has already made coffee, so I pour myself a cup out of the french press. I get ready for the day then head to my studio Downtown in the Arts District. I normally do management stuff in the morning (emails, thinking projects) eat lunch, get a cup of coffee at Groundworks next door, then head back to the office to design into the evening. Depending on the weeknight, I will either head back home to make dinner, or work till about 7:30-8pm to wait out traffic, then head home. I normally end the day eating dinner with my husband, and watching a few episodes of whatever Netflix series we’re into at the time. Depending on what time it is, sometimes I’ll read a bit before going to bed. That’s pretty much it!

What advice do you have for our readers who are on the verge of making a bold life/career decision? 

Just try it. Your identity is not in your work. If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t change who you are and the worth you bring to the world. What do you have to lose? Life is short. Just have fun and don’t take anything too seriously.


Favorite area of L.A.? Right now I’m loving the Arts District! It’s where I work, there’s great coffee shops, awesome do-good businesses popping up everywhere. It’s like it’s own little community down here. I know my baristas and they know me. It’s a little pocket of creative inspiration in the middle of Downtown.
Favorite eatery in L.A.? This is so hard because I LOVE food and I feel like I haven’t explored enough to really make a good decision on this. But if I was to choose one place, I would have to say Olive and Thyme. It’s close to my house and their food is just amazing. It’s perfect for a coffee date in the morning or a date night and drinks in the evening.
Menu item we must order there? Every Friday night they have “burger night.” My stomach is growling already! They serve organic burgers with fries. Order a beer to go with it and you are set.
Favorite happy hour? There’s an Octopus sushi within walking distance of my house and they have a reverse happy hour. It’s my husband and I’s fav place to head on a weeknight.
Favorite weekend activities in the city? I love brunching, hiking, going to Griffith park, reading and picnicking with some bread, cheese and a bottle of wine.
Audio of choice when sitting in traffic? SOO depends on my mood. I’ll listen to anything from Sigur Ros to Regina Spektor to 2002 Avril Lavigne.
Place or thing you want to do most in L.A., but haven’t yet? I want to try so many more restaurants. There are so many great places to eat, I have a huge list!
Biggest L.A. guilty pleasure? Seeing celebs. I feel guilty that I get so excited when I see someone famous!

-Joanna Waterfall, Founder of The Yellow Conference

What part of Joanna’s story can you relate to the most? Have you ever been nervous to start a new venture? Did you overcome that fear and push through or decide to move on to another idea? Tell us about it in the comments below! 
Be sure to share this with anyone you know that has a big idea!