The Design Business Show 138: Personal Brands and Website Design with Sun Yi

Director : Melissa Burkheimer | May 3, 2021
Check out episode 138 of The Design Business Show with Sun Yi to learn all about website design and personal brands!

Sun Yi is the Founder & Principal of Night Owls, an award-winning digital branding agency in NYC. With over 20 years of experience working in digital branding, Sun has helped build growth-stage startups to Global Fortune 500 companies to personal and global brands, improving their combined revenues from virtually zero to over $1 billion. Clients of the firm include household names (Seiko, American Red Cross, Spotify, Swell Bottle). Sun has a passion for personal brands and has worked with bestselling authors as well as world-renowned public speakers and entrepreneurs, such as Jay Shetty, Mel Robbins, Gabby Bernstein. He also loves to teach and create educational content for personal brands on Instagram. In his personal time, Sun enjoys yoga, audiobooks, youtube, and motorcycles. Visit to see his content.

Here’s what we covered on the episode:

Sun’s Journey Through Web Design (1:41)

  • How Sun and I were introduced by our mutual friend Licia Morelli
  • Sun had an HTML book lying around so he started to practice making websites by using Notepad and Microsoft Paint when he was 19
  • Making websites started out as a hobby for Sun which led him to get a job at an agency where the art director there taught him everything he knew
  • How Sun was fed up with his job so he decided to quit and at the time one of his coworkers was starting a baby clothing line, so he made a website for her
  • Sun explains that the year after he quit, he made a few websites that he didn’t make any money on, and says he went from a $100,000 salary to making no money
  • The websites Sun made but didn’t make any money off of launched people contacting him because they liked them so much, which eventually turned into Night Owls
  • About 5 years ago, Sun started working with Gabby Bernstein, which is when he fell into the personal branding space and shares that he was working with mostly corporate brands before that
  • The story of how Sun joined his friend’s agency after freelancing for two years and how he learned what not to do in a business there because he realized they were more focused on making a profit than producing a quality product
  • How Sun ended up leaving the agency 10 years ago and started Night Owls, which was built on the principles that they were going to do everything opposite of the company he just left
  • Why the agency is named Night Owls, and how they didn’t have the name until a month into starting the company
  • The development of Sun’s freelancing, which started out with him doing a 9 month project for $1,700 and led him to getting $10,000 for one month of work, which resulted in Dial 7, a big car service company in NY contacting him — from there he kept raising his prices
  • Sun says that referrals is how they kept getting larger clients like, American Red Cross and Seiko and also says they put their link at the bottom of websites they do which is how most people find them, like Gabby Bernstein

Personal Branding + Storytelling (12:05)

  • One thing Sun has found is that your agency or freelance business will grow faster if you focus on one thing, that’s why they stuck with web design for certain industries like health care and nonprofits
  • When Gabby came in, Sun was fascinated by her story and enjoyed working with her which started his interest in personal branding
  • Why Sun believes personal brands are the future for all brands because consumers trust the people behind brands, which is why he started developing his own personal brand on Instagram
  • On Sun’s Instagram he talks a lot about building personal brands and storytelling because he’s found that storytelling is the best way to sell whether you’re selling yourself or a product
  • Sun explains one thing he sees people not doing well when it comes to storytelling and personal branding is being truly authentic and explains how some people believe they are being authentic when they are not
  • Another thing Sun sees people not doing well is simplifying their messages — he explains that people tend to overcomplicate their content and messages when all they need to do is keep it simple
  • Sun’s podcast, Authentic As F*ck that he started with his friend Elizabeth, where they talk about the things they’ve learned through building personal brands
  • How Sun doesn’t currently have a product he is selling but is working on a course about storytelling for personal brands and how he has been in contact with some course publishers that want him to create a course for them

Night Owls Agency (26:09)

  • Why copywriting is a big part of their service and how Sun had a client who quadrupled their revenue after hiring a copywriter, which sparked him to learn copywriting and eventually he was able to tie storytelling, copywriting and design together
  • Sun explains that Night Owls is his 9-5 job and his personal brand is more of his side hustle, which he will continue to grow
  • Sun keeps it authentic by sharing his personal story about Night Owls and says that his goal is for his personal brand to eventually be his main job
  • We talk about real stories of how we each started our businesses, and what we wish we would have known when starting out
  • Why charging in 3 payments has worked well for Sun because then there’s not as big of gap between cash flow versus doing half up front and half at the end of the project
  • Sun shares that they are strictly a website agency, where they do copywriting and help with photography/videos if needed but they don’t do marketing, Facebook, or branding
  • Connect with Sun on Instagram


Links mentioned:

Night Owls Website


Authentic As F*ck Podcast 


Connect with Sun on Instagram 

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