October 1, 2003
Advice for Design Entrepreneurs
Lessons from a designer who made it through. Twice.
1. Recognize that things don’t just take off. Most businesses that start in the garage stay in the garage. You have to have an environment and support system that will allow your product to take off.
2. Keep your ear to the ground and be persistent. I heard from a friend that Mikasa was looking for new design directions. I left dozens of messages. I left my cell phone number. I talked to the secretary. I sent a package of images. Many meetings later, a Truck [Carpenter’s firm] line of kitchen tools and accessories was planned. It will launch sometime in 2004.
3. Learn the language. Every industry has insider lingo. It’s not hard to figure out. Listen. There are trade magazines and online glossaries. You’ll be better at negotiating if you speak like you know what’s up.
4. Respect the press. Writers are very busy. They are on constant deadline; if you’re a pain, they can talk to someone else. Do your best to make an editor’s job easy. For example, the New York Times wanted to write about candleholders we had done, but I didn’t have the image they wanted. So we arranged to make it happen that day. And we got a great response from that article.
5. Invest in good photos. Photography is very important. You can invest either time or money. Once we hired a photographer to shoot our table and the photo was awful. So on New Year’s Day, when I was nine months pregnant, I came in and set up a photo studio at our office and re-shot it myself. But it was worth the effort. The image was later chosen for the cover of the 2002 ICFF Directory.
6. Do whatever it takes to make things right. We had to ship some tables recently that needed levelers, and I found out too late that the lead time for levelers was about eight weeks. And we had about eight days. I realized that the only way to stay on schedule was for us to make the levelers ourselves. It’s what we did to meet the deadline, and it was absolutely worth it.
7. Don’t consider the sluggish economy an insurmountable obstacle. Sometimes this can work to your advantage. We have had products made by companies that may not have even talked to us in more flush times. But they had some time on their production line and wanted to keep their workers busy, so they actually returned my call.
8. It’s to all of our advantage to expand the market for modern design. That market in this country is not saturated. Don’t regard the competition as your enemy; sometimes your competition can actually become your collaborator.
9. Don’t heed the naysayers. People told me we needed more start-up money, the economy’s so bad, there’s no money to be made. And when I was pregnant someone told me, “Oh that’s good for your business!” Truck Kids’ Design (pictured right) was inspired by my son Booker. If you love what you do and know where you want to go, you can figure out what you need to get there. That’s more than half the battle.