I’m very non-confrontational by nature. I am not litigious. This article is not meant as a review; it’s just meant to outline my experience working with Dan Anisse and the Relume web design agency over the past eight months. Hiring a web designer isn’t easy, and it’s especially difficult seeing a project all the way through completion. I hope that this experience will help you make better decisions and make your process smoother.
While the quality of the work from the Relume team was very strong, I would be extremely hesitant to hire them, if I were you. You can decide for yourself after reading this story.
The relationship with the designer and developer they assigned to our project became fraught with tension. But worse, toward the end of the project, Relume co-founder Dan Annise lied about receiving our final payment (and later admitted to it) and then ghosted me and my team for six days, until, with no other choice, threatened legal action just to get a response from them.
AdVenture’s website has always been a crucial part of our lead-gen strategy. We’ve put a great deal of effort into our website design and content, being that nearly 100% of our new business opportunities are exposed first to our website and online content before speaking to one of our team members.
We invested a lot of time and money in redesigning our website back in 2017, but now it was time for a refresh. I wanted a sharper, more sophisticated look and feel, but mainly, I wanted the website to do a better job of showcasing our work. Our case studies, which we put a lot of time into writing, are important stages in a prospect’s journey, and I wanted the case studies to be much more prominently featured throughout the site, especially on service pages.
I wanted our content library to be far more visible. We published a bestselling book on automation in digital advertising, and our current site wasn’t featuring that new and important piece of content. Likewise, we have two podcasts, four online courses, ebooks, video tutorials, interviews, and more, all of which were not featured clearly enough on our website.
While all of this ancillary content may not seem important to a prospect, nothing could be further from the truth. All the content we’ve written and published makes a huge impact on a prospect's decision to hire us … or at least reach out to us.
Lastly, our Webflow CMS had become bloated over the years, and we needed a simple CMS architecture that would allow us to add more pages and content over time, without breaking the site. I wanted our new website to be scalable.
After a long and difficult search process, we came across Relume, a Webflow agency based in Australia. Relume is a relatively small shop run by Dan Annise and his partner. Their previous work looked phenomenal, so I reached out to get a proposal.
The proposal process with Relume was smooth. We outlined all the pages that needed to be redesigned. Dan priced each page out individually, which is a fair approach. Our site is not necessarily advanced—but it does have a lot of content, including CMS collections and individual static pages.
In total, 33 pages needed to be redesigned. Dan quoted me at $38,000 for the project. Paying nearly forty grand for an information website is steep, and objectively, it’s a lot of money, but I don’t begrudge the quote whatsoever. Relume is 100% entitled to price their services how they see fit. And, for a professional website built by a separate designer and developer, the price was in the ballpark.
I negotiated the price a little bit, being that I already had a completely designed homepage and didn’t need the entire mood-board and design discovery process, and we landed on $33,500 for the entire project.
I signed the SOW, knowing that if I received a finished website that was ready to launch by the end of the process, the money would have been well worth it.
Dan estimated the project to take three months to complete. That was back in December of 2021. It is now almost August of 2022, eight months later, and the website still isn’t complete.
As with many agencies, especially design firms, you’ll be assigned a specific designer and developer. That was Relume’s process as well, and it was a process I was fine with. Giving credit where credit is due, Dan was willing to allow me to interview both the designer and developer before we kicked the project off. I appreciated that very much, and still do.
While at this point, eight months later, I have my frustrations with the designer and developer, I won’t mention them by name. Both were stand-up guys who did good work. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not an easy client. I have a very clear sense of what I’m looking for, and I’m at least a little neurotic when it comes to our website, its layout, and the overall design.
We split the invoice into four payments, based on project milestones. I paid the first 25% and the project kicked off.
I liked working with both the designer and developer, at least in the beginning. They were responsive, and it was clear they really knew what they were doing.
We communicated in a shared Slack channel, and we used Figma for design mockups and wireframes.
As I said, we’d previously paid a separate designer to create a new homepage for us, one which I liked, but I think it was a mistake to come to this new Relume project with a fully-designed homepage. While the designer and developer both said they liked it, at the end of the day, it wasn’t theirs, and everything that followed had to match the style and design language of a homepage they didn’t create.
As time drew on, the designer and developer became more and more frustrated with me, and I with them. They requested I pay more than the proposed SOW a few separate times—which I found to be unprofessional and distasteful. If they had an issue with my degree of involvement and requested edits, they ought to have brought that issue to Dan.
While much of the work was extremely good, the relationship eventually devolved. I don’t blame the designer or the developer. They were both being paid a fixed amount for the project, and it was taking up a lot more of their time than they expected. Eventually, as the weeks dragged on, it became clear that they just wanted to finish the project and be done with me.
I wanted to finish the project, too, but I also wasn’t interested in compromising on quality.
The designer and developer both had an upcoming vacation planned, and they told me that the site had to be finished before they left. The pages and edits started coming in quick, but at this point they were basically taking design instructions from me, which is never a good sign. I didn’t want to micromanage the project. First, that’s not my job, and took a lot of my time. Second, I’m not a designer—I wanted their expertise and creative vision.
For example, we hadn’t started on the navigation yet, an important part of any website. They dropped a handful of navigation templates from the Relume component library into Figma and asked me to pick one. But I wasn’t paying $35,000 for reusable templates. So I got out a pad and pencil, drew the entire navigation, and Slacked my drawings. They did a very good job translating my drawings into our navigation, but still, that’s not the way this should have gone.
Eventually, vacation arrived, and that was that. The site wasn’t complete. We had four pages in the original SOW that hadn’t been designed. Moreover, there were lots of bugs throughout the site.
For example, most of the buttons weren't linked to the correct pages. This seems like a small thing, but to go through the entire site and add button URLs would take hours of my time. Many nav links weren’t functioning, being that we only finished the navigation in the moments before the team left/resigned for vacation.
Again, the designer and developer were both great people with a lot of talent. They did good work, full stop. I have nothing against them. At the end of the day, Relume left me, after seven months, with an incomplete website I couldn’t launch. I wasn’t even close to being able to launch it.
I assumed Dan—the Relume cofounder I’d originally interacted with—would offer some sort of discount on the remaining balance.
But I was wrong, that’s not at all how things went, and this is where things got really hairy.
In order to get a good sense of how this all played out, I’ll break the communication (and lack thereof) into a timeline.
This was a few weeks before the freelance design team Relume had assigned me went on vacation and closed the books on our website, even though it was still incomplete by four or five entire pages that were part of the original, signed Scope of Work.
I emailed Dan letting him know that I had serious concerns about this project.
“Hi Dan, hope you're well. Can we set up a quick call as soon as you're available? I have some big concerns about getting this project completed with the current team and would like to discuss and make a plan. Thanks.”
Dan responded that he was on his honeymoon, and asked me describe the concerns. I expressed my concerns, and Dan responded that he felt these problems were 100% fixable and that he’d address them when he was back from his vacation.
Okay, fair enough.
By May 25th, things were getting progressively more frustrating with the design team, so I sent Dan the following email:
Hi Dan, hope you're enjoying your honeymoon. Congratulations again!
“We need to bring in a new designer for this project, otherwise this will not get completed. The relationship quickly turned into them just relying on me for creative direction. Now it's just turning into pasting 10 nav options from the Relume library for me to choose from.
I am wasting a ton of my time giving feedback on subpar creative work. I feel that final pages are just taking existing blocks and symbols that were designed for other pages and forcing them into the framework. For example, the Agency Overdrive page is an e-commerce subscription product. It should have a different design, and separate call-to-action sections, but it looks absolutely horrible because all the content that needs to be on that page is being forced into what's been designed on other pages. But that's not what I'm paying for. I'm paying over $30,000 for custom-designed pages, and high-quality creative work. I am no longer getting that, and it's been weeks and weeks since I have gotten it.
They are getting extremely frustrated with my feedback, but that is only because the quality of the work is so poor. I am frustrated … we need someone else.
I hope we can proceed and get this done. I am pleased and excited with much of the work, but it's not done—and there is still a lot to do.
Thank you for your help.”
14 days passed, and I did not receive any response from Dan.
I sent Dan a follow up email on the same thread as the email above.
“Dan, not sure if you're back, haven't gotten a response here.”
Four days later, almost three full weeks after my original email (which was already the second or third time I was expressing frustration at the work and the project), Dan responded to me by email.
Hope you've been well.
After catching up with the guys and looking over work they've updated me with everything I need to know. I'd really like to understand where you are coming from, as in my opinion both are the best we've got (our work has been featured on Webflow's home page). As well as what has been done in my opinion looks awesome.
More than happy to catch up this week to discuss.”
If you’re in the professional services business, you’ll recognize that this is just bad form. Instead of acknowledging my frustration in any way, or giving it any sort of validation, Dan says that in his opinion the work is great, and essentially, I’m wrong.
Worse, Dan doesn’t acknowledge or apologize for allowing 18 days to elapse without any response (email, Slack, phone) to my detailed concerns.
Okay, but I’m not looking to make trouble—to each their own. I just want the website complete. That’s it.
I reply to Dan asking for a call. He agrees, but then only makes himself available after 7pm my time (Eastern) because he’s based in Australia. I always make myself available for my clients in their Time Zone, full stop. That Dan was not bending over backwards to accommodate my Time Zone was another red flag that foreshadowed what was still to come.
Dan and I finally spoke over the phone (8pm est). By this point, the design team already stepped away from the project. They were on vacation, and wouldn’t be doing any more work on the website. So by the time Dan and I spoke, it wasn’t about getting the site finished … it was about figuring out the financials.
I still owed $16,500, as per the SOW.
But I was missing five pages, and I couldn’t launch the site without them.
Over the Zoom call, Dan agreed to remove the cost of the unfinished five pages. I agreed that was a good start, and asked him to send me a revised invoice.
I received the invoice ver shortly after our call (within hours), reflecting a final balance of $11,350.
I told Dan, by email, that I’d get back to him.
He responded asking me to let him know when the final invoice would be finalized.
Dan and the Relume accountant continued to email about the invoice, but I was struggling to understand how they could deliver an unfinished website and only remove the cost of the unfinished pages. To them, that was fair, and from their perspective, that actually makes sense. They want to be paid for the work they did.
But my perspective was quite different. For me, the website was binary. I either had a website I could launch, or I didn’t. It was either worth the entire SOW fee, or it was worth nothing. By now, I’m already out of pocket $20,000, and essentially, I was being asked to pay another $11,000 for a website I’d have zero use for. I’d need to find a new designer, a new Webflow developer, and begin the interview and proposal process yet again. The entire situation felt ridiculous to me.
I sent Dan the following email on July 5th:
“Hi Dan, sorry for the delay here.
I appreciate your willingness to work this out. As a follow-up from our last call, I'm struggling with figuring out how I'm going to figure out the time and resources necessary to finish the site. With a few key pages not being complete, the issue isn't just the cost of those unfinished pages—the website is unfinished, and I don't want to pay 11 grand to be delivered a site that is nearly finished, but not finished enough to launch. There's a lot of work that I'm going to have to do, work that I didn't foresee needing to be done when we agreed on a project price.
Obviously, I value the work done quite much, but also need this to make sense for me, being that further investment will be necessary. Do you have any suggestions?”
Dan responded asking for another call, so we set one up for July 6th, the following evening … 9pm EST for me.
Dan and I spoke cordially, and we reached an agreement that I thought was fair and equitable. Dan promised that his co founder Adam would personally see the site to completion. Dan would invite Adam to our Slack channel, I’d have a brief chat with Adam, and then I’d pay the entire $11,350 invoice.
I was still a little hesitant, being that once I paid the $11,350, I’d lose all the leverage I had—but I’m optimistic about people’s basic humanity and integrity. I figured Dan would keep his word, and we’d both wind up happy. Me with a complete website, ready to launch, and Relume with the money owed.
Dan was even quick to offer a 50% discount on the remaining pages. That was kind. But I should have been tipped off by how quick he was to offer that 50% discount. He even made sure to reiterate that the 50% discount offer only applied to the remaining pages that Adam was going to design—not to the $11,350 that he wanted me to pay.
We hung up, me agreeing to pay the $11,350 once I spoke with Adam in Slack.
That evening, at 11:30 p.m my time, the Relume accountant emailed me saying that Dan had told her that I had given the greenlight to pay the invoice.
By this time in the evening, Adam had been invited to our Slack channel, but I had not received any response from him. Adam actually seems like a really stand-up gentleman, but remember, at this point, I’d never spoke to Adam or even heard his name. For all I know, he didn’t exist. I wanted to make sure Adam was willing to finish these pages before I paid the $11,350.
I told the accountant (again, emailing close to midnight on July 6th) that I was waiting for Adam’s response in Slack before processing the invoice.
Dan responded to the email immediately:
This has been sorted! As mentioned, Adam is ready to go. I've made sure to tell him to get back to you via Slack.”
Hmmm … weird. We clearly agreed that I’d have a chat with Adam before the invoice was to be paid.
I wake up and see Adam had responded in Slack. That was good enough for me. I told my accounting department to process the full $11,350 right away.
Dan responded by email—and remember this email:
I'll let you know when the payment is received.”
This is an important email, because Dan was obviously paying close attention to this wire.
I was supposed to have a call with Adam, but Dan told me, via Slack, that they hadn’t received the money yet, and they would not have the call until the money hit their account.
I emailed my accountant, asking for an update on the wire payment.
On July 13th, my accountant sent me the bank confirmation that the wire was processed and received.
Now is when things got really bonkers.
Relume received the money on July 13th. The bank confirmed it.
But an even greater confirmation was that the Relume designer, who had control of the project, transferred the incomplete website to me on July 13th. This was a little strange, because if I had the project, Relume wouldn’t have been able to do more work on it.
But the deal Dan and I agreed to was that they’d finish the project at a 50% discount.
I gave Dan two days to let me know they received the money, and to outline the next steps in getting the project done, as they promised.
Here’s what happened in Slack:
I asked for an update on July 15th.
Two more days went by, complete radio silence from the Relume team, especially Dan, who was unbelievably responsive when he was collecting money from me.
I pinged him again on July 17th. No response.
On the morning of July 18th, Dan makes a very, very big mistake (see above screenshot). He tells me they haven’t received the money yet.
This is a blatant lie, one which Dan later admitted to (getting to that shortly). Our bank confirmed the transfer, and Dan had instructed the designer I’d been working with for eight months to transfer all the files to me, on the same day they received the money, July 13th.
Now, five full days later, Dan tells me they didn’t receive the $11,350.
I respond immediately, at 7 am, asking for clarification.
12 hours later, with zero response, I send another follow-up, and again, got zero response.
On the morning of July 18th (same day as the Slack messages above), I sent Dan and Adam the following email.
“Dan and Adam: Our accountant confirmed the money landed in your account days ago. I'm assuming that your message that it has not been received—which was sent to me this morning—was a miscommunication. I was given your word that we'd move quickly to next steps and finishing the project at a 50% discount once I paid the remaining balance.
I'm concerned that you say the funds didn't land yet, especially being that the bank confirmed they have been received. Expecting a quick response here—and I hope we can finish the project in a very timely manner. Neither of us wants to spend more time than necessary finishing the project.
I gave Dan a gentlemanly opening to admit his lie—or to at least admit they received the money and offer a clear path to completing the website. I didn't want this to get contentious, and really feel I did everything in my power to give them an out, to come off totally willing to chalk this all up to a miscommunication and move on. Again, I knew they received the money, and I knew Dan had lied to me about it ... but we all make stupid mistakes ... and I was 100% willing to look past it. As long as they got the project back on track.
But I received zero response by email either.
At 10 pm that night (which is Noon in Australia), I asked once more for a follow-up by email.
We are now almost a full week after Dan received my $11,350. The only communication I had with Dan in that entire week was Dan telling me, on the 18th, that he had not received my $11,350.
On the evening of July 19th, I send both Dan and Adam the following email:
Adam and Dan:
By now, your plan has become clear to me. Dan, I have a recorded Google Meet where you promised to finish the website at a discounted rate if I paid the two remaining invoices in full. I trusted you, but you were lying to my face while looking me in the eye. You took the money, delivered an unfinished product, and ghosted me. That was an enormously unprofessional and unethical thing to do—and it was a big mistake.
You lied two mornings ago when you said you hadn't received the money. We have the bank's confirmation and the designer had already delivered the unfinished website two days prior.
You can argue until kingdom come about what you're owed—but you didn't finish the product. Period. There are many ways we could have resolved this professionally, and I thought we actually had, but turns out, you conspired and lied and assumed I'd sit idly by.
It's not about the $12,000. I'm not litigious. But I do have principles. I have my side of the story, and I intend to tell it. This isn't about recourse or anger—it's just what I feel is appropriate, given the clear disrespect with which you regard me.
Here's what I'm going to do, unless you send the entire wire back by This Friday, July 22nd.
You shouldn't have lied to me. You could have answered my emails, taken a call, or finished the remaining pages. That was the agreement. It was a gentlemen's agreement, at least I thought it was.
Dan responded the very next morning, just few hours later. Here’s how the email started:
This seems to be a massive misunderstanding from your end as we're still committed to getting this project done with Adam.”
Notice how after the lie, the ghosting … it’s my fault! The misunderstanding was on my end!
Dan goes on to say how they got extremely busy and sidetracked, that they apologize, and that they still want to complete the website.
I sent Dan the following response:
I'm sorry—but that's not going to work for me. You're laying the blame at my feet, telling me I massively misunderstood you. I'm a lot of things but dumb isn't one of them.
You received the money on the 13th. I have the bank confirmation. I slacked you on the 15th. You ignored me. I slacked you on the 17th. You ignored me. On the 18th, you told me that you did not receive any money, five days after you received the money and five days after you told Samuel to transfer me the unfinished website, which he did. I emailed you early morning on the 18th, and you ignored me. I emailed you again that evening (morning your time), and you ignored me.”
There was plenty more email back and forth—Dan continuing to call my request for the money back “completely unreasonable.”
The conversation went to Slack, where Dan lamented how much of his time I was taking up. He also said that he respected me, and wanted to learn from me how to properly fix this.
Anyway, I thought I’d help him, just in case he was serious.
Dan’s EPIC reply to me basically sums it all up:
In other words, I’m 100% right that he lied, and that he made an enormous error in manipulating me into sending $11,350 under a totally false pretense.
But … and a big but … he doesn’t agree he ought to send that money back.
I’ve showed this conversation to a lot of smart, objective people and every single one of them was totally shocked by this exchange. And these are smart, accomplished business people who I admire and respect very much—seriously, they were floored.
Dan then changed tracks—telling me that his company is very small, and the money is extremely important.
But this isn’t a charity—this was a transaction. I agreed to pay for a finished website. Full stop.
Then Dan told me that he told the designer to transfer the website to me regardless of receiving the money (trying to explain how I got the website transfer when Dan was insistent that they hadn’t received the money yet).
Seriously, he actually said that:
But that was another lie. This is what happens with lying, or twisting the truth. You dig yourself into a deeper hole, and this is what Dan was doing.
Remember this message from July 12th?
Dan clearly does care when money is received. He clearly does not trust my word.
Things got worse from here.
Dan told me to “stop saying the website was unfinished.”
He said that I was being offensive.
At this point, to make me go away (presumably), Dan promised to finish the website for free. That was very kind—and that’s actually the goal we’re all working towards as I write this, but by now, Dan has lost my trust.
To top it all off, Dan told me that I fucked up.
I’ve never spoke to a client that way. Ever.
To further top it off, after I made very clear that if I didn’t receive any money back I’d write this article, Dan yet again displays an unbelievable lack of self-awareness:
So the tactic here is to try and convince me that Adam, his partner, has no idea about any of this.
It’s hard to describe how absurd this is, how much of an affront to my intelligence this is. Adam was on all the email threads. Adam was in the Slack channel. Adam spoke to me on Slack, letting me know he’d been all caught up.
Can anyone reading this describe to me what Dan’s thought process is here, from a psychological perspective? Did he truly believe this would have an impact on me? Did he truly not think I’d see straight through this last-ditch attempt at yet another manipulation?
I’ll end here—with a short interaction from this morning with Dan over Slack:
I had sent a video clarifying the changes that needed to be made to the site, the existing bugs, etc. At 5:48 a.m. I asked Dan, nicely—I said 'please!'—to show me the progress made in the past 24 hours.
Mind you: Dan has yet to admit he lied, has yet to apologize for lying to me about not receiving the money, and continues to talk down to me. Moreover, as of this morning, when I asked Dan for that progress report, I had received zero money back, and I had followed through with not a single one of my promised stages of recourse.
Dan has the money, and I have kept my mouth entirely shut.
So Dan responds:
“Isaac, let me make this clear. We don’t work for you and we’re not your employees.”
If you’re reading this article, it means the website hasn’t been complete yet. I do believe Dan and Adam really want to see this project to completion, and maybe this post will help them prioritize.
Over a decade in business, and working with over 600 clients, from mom and pop boutiques to publicly traded companies with billion dollar market caps, I’ve learned to treat other people’s money with a lot of respect.
We haven’t always provided a good service, and I’ve never withheld a refund from a client, whether I felt the refund was deserved or not.
I always give supreme consideration and importance to the relationship, going to hell and back to deliver quality work, even at a loss (many times), doing everything in my power to make every client feel respected, heard, and cared for.
I also care about my reputation and my integrity. Like I promised Dan, if the site gets finished in a timely way, this article will come down. The Google Ads campaigns driving traffic to this article will come down. I have no grudge; I just want the website complete.
If you’re considering working with Relume, understand that the designer and developer I worked with were great. I’d work with them again, even though they may not want to work with me again. I understand that, and don’t hold it against them.
However, this pattern of apparent and clear manipulation by a vendor, and the subsequent inability to apologize properly and own the mistakes, was seriously problematic.
While I was lied to, and while I was manipulated into paying the final $11,350 for a website that still hasn’t been delivered … with all that … I do not wish to cause any harm to Dan, Adam or their agency. I wish them the best, and I want them to succeed and grow. If I was Adam, I’d send Dan to a leadership course, where he’d perhaps learn the value, tactics and importance of candor and service-oriented communication. At the very least, I'd have a serious conversation with him.
If you’re going into a new website redesign project, know that you’ll likely hit many obstacles. But I sincerely hope you don’t have to experience what I did over these past few weeks while working with Relume.
Interested in hearing your thoughts and comments!
We'll get back to you within a day to schedule a quick strategy call. We can also communicate over email if that's easier for you.