Tags: start a firm
Episode 195

The Architecture of Entrepreneurship with Jared Haas and Tim Derrington

Enoch SearsMay 5, 2017

Today is the second part of my interview with architects Jared Hass and Tim Derrington of Austin, TX.

Tim Derrington, AIA + LEED AP is the principal of Derrington Building Studio, a firm focused on community and domestic architecture.

Jared Haas is the principal of Unbox Studio, a collaborative modern design studio.

Several years ago they came together to form the Eastside Collective, a co-working space for architects and design-focused businesses in Austin.

In today's episode they talk about the challenges, successes, and lessons learned along their journey to becoming firm owners.

They also talk about what inspired them to create their collaborative working space.

On this episode you'll discover:

  • The process and challenges of starting a co-working space
  • Promotional strategies for your co-working space
  • The truth about starting a co-working space … is it worth it?
  • 3 essential tips for starting a design-focused architecture firm

Resources for today’s show:

Eastside Collective
Derrington Building Studio
Unbox Studio

Interview Transcript and Members Only Resources:

[DAP errMsgTemplate=”SHORT”]

Speaker 1: It does take an immense amount of commitment, and even when things get really rough, you can't give up. It's more than just a job. It's more than an occupation. It's a lifestyle.

Enoch: Business and marketing, your epicenter 195. Hello, I'm Enoch Sears, and this is the podcast for architects where you'll discover tips, strategies, and secrets for running a profitable and impactful architecture practice. I'd like to invite you to discover how to double your architecture firm income and create your dream practice of freedom and impact by downloading my free four-part architecture firm profit map. As a podcast listener, you can get instant access by going to freearchitectgift.com.

Today's podcast is sponsored by AIA Advantage Partner BQE Software, the makers of ArchiOffice. ArchiOffice is the only office and project management software designed specifically for architects. It helps you manage people and projects while you focus on designing great architecture. Whether you're working remotely or on-site, ArchiOffice allows you to monitor the status of your projects and tasks, and send out invoices in an accurate and timely manner. Get your fully functional 15-day trial of ArchiOffice by going to businessofarchitecture.com/demo.

Today is the second part of my interview with architects Jared Haas and Tim Derrington of Austin, Texas. Tim Derrington is the principal of Derrington Building Studio, a firm focused on community and domestic architecture. Jared Haas is the principal of un.box studio, a collaborative modern design studio with some amazing work. Several years ago, they came together to form the East Side Collective, and they actually built out a co working space for architects and design-focused businesses. In today's episode, they talk about the challenges, successes, and lessons learned along their journey to becoming firm owners. Without further ado, lets get down to business.

What kind of promotion do you guys do for this space?

Jared: It's very minimal. A lot of it is just like architecture, a lot of it is word of mouth, references. And it's pretty important, because we're really geared toward people in the industry and like-minded people. And that's kind of our best way of finding them.

But we have put up some Craigslist ads. We have some Facebook ads we're starting to put up now. But primarily, any time we get a member it's generally through word of mouth.

Tim: It is. And about three times a year we have pretty big parties and events that celebrate some really big cultural things here in Austin. So there's South by Southwest. We have an East Austin studio tour, which celebrates local artists on the east side of town. So with those two events, plus just general summer party, we like to kind of get not only … Our community is designers, but the kind of local community and other people that are culture junkies, kind of come over here and mingle. And that has actually helped quite a bit in establishing our presence.

Jared: And I think there's two that just happened kind of recently that are pretty awesome. I don't know if you're familiar with the East Austin [inaudible 00:03:14] Tour? But it's basically just … It's almost like South by Southwest, but artists around the east side. And what I mean by that is anyone can open up their studio, anyone that's registered, can open up their studio to … It's a free event and anyone can just walk around and enter studios and just look at art work.

It's actually much more intense than that sounds. There are over 500 studios that are open. Who knows how many thousands of artists? And it was kind of a last minute decision. We put this together last year; it coincided with when we opened up. This year we decided to go a little bit bigger, and what I mean by that is we had … We teamed up with a co working space across from us, activated our courtyard, and we had eight different artists that we kind of worked with and selected, that were very like minded. A couple of them were architects.

And we threw a big party prior to that. We probably had over a thousand people come throughout the night. Not to mention, several hundred people coming throughout the weekends of the east. Which gained a lot more recognition, as well as … We had another event a week before. And you could probably talk about this, because you were more directly involved. But we put together an installation for the [Wild Creek Gun 00:04:33] show that Time had designed. Actually Tim can probably talk more about that.

Tim: Yeah, that actually leads into another topic. So there's been a momentum generated with the East Side Collective because it's an interesting concept, people tend to like it. The Wild Creek Conservancy, it's a non profit organization here in town, and it's bringing in awareness to another shared waterway, which is the creek on the east side of downtown. It kind of stretches from a little bit north of us to Town Lake, which is a river that runs right through the center of town.

And every year, for the last three years, they have … Go out together, five different artists, designers, to essentially do light installations along the creek. [inaudible 00:05:23] public toured it as a kind of engagement spectacle, art cultural phenomenon. And it's drawn a lot of traction. This year they estimate somewhere around nine to ten thousand visitors over the course of two weekends.

We were approached as the East Side Collective … East Side Collective is not a design firm. But Wild Creek Conservancy approached us at kind of a one-stop show for the town, and asked if the East Side Collective itself would want to be involved. Of course we said yes. It was myself and Wilson [Hanks 00:05:55], another local designer, that teamed up. And then we brought in [Drophouse 00:06:02] Design, which is kind of a local design slash [fad 00:06:06] company that specializes in doing awesome metal work.

So the three of us, under the guys of East Side Collective, designed a giant aluminum arch that we installed in the creek. Right in downtown and it was lit up, it was 30 feet tall, 60 feet in diameter. And got a lot of reviews. In fact, we were even on Design [Room 00:06:31], featured there.

Enoch: [Dippers 00:06:32]?

Tim: [Dippers 00:06:33] as well. We got a couple magazine publications that are going to have us featured as well. So somehow, we started off as-

Jared: Most importantly, it'll be in Burning Man's.

Tim: Yeah. And it's also moving on to Burning Man, 2017, next year. As an art installation there. So it's funny, it started off as just merely utilitarian, a way to save some money between a couple of friends. It evolved into an organization that's now fostering young talent at a reduced cost, would otherwise take for you to have your own office. And has transitioned into being a design resource for the community. So that has been a fun experience, this path we're on.

Enoch: That's fantastic.

Jared: It gets easier, I think. It started off pretty hard. It was a lot of work. But it's definitely getting easier, and more and more fun by the minute.

Enoch: Anything else about the formation of this co working space that we haven't touched on that you think would be valuable to talk about in terms of the process or the challenges?

Tim: Yeah, I think we should probably mention a couple of the challenges along the way. I think it sounds like we've already talked about the benefits [inaudible 00:07:45] this culture we created, and now it's kind of doing it's own thing out there. But there are people out there that are interested in doing this for themselves, they should probably be aware of some of the difficulties you encounter. So Jared would probably have some thoughts on that.

Jared: Yeah, I would almost recommend, unless they really wanted to do this full-blown operation, to share a space. Kind of like how we started off. What I mean by that is, life was a lot easier, we were much more able to focus exclusively on our businesses, our architecture practices, design practices. Now it's definitely time consuming, even with three partners and an admin. It's still very time consuming. It requires a lot of work. You're never done, just like any business. You're never done, things are constantly moving. There's a lot of member dynamic to deal with. Legal things that are just constant. Things always come up. Even planning for events, it's a lot of work.

And not that it's not fun, it just takes away from our primary practices. But there's definitely a lot of reward in that. As we discussed, I think the biggest reward [inaudible 00:09:01] had in that culture, and having like-minded people in your office, as opposed to working from home. Having events, doing things, we have happy hours quite often. We'll go out to Juice Land right down the street quite often together.

We have an event coming up next week where one of our members is actually in a Jazz band, and he's doing improve song track to an art show. So people just kind of approach us as a space to do things like this. Often out of the outside east we have frequent artists that come in and discuss a mark and we'll feature them as well. So it's fun, but it's definitely a lot of work.

Tim: Yeah and if I were to add to that, I'd say that we knew that when we got into performing and LLC, and there work, we knew that we'd have to deal with attorneys, so we understand exactly what we're getting ourselves into. All those things. But the thing that I think surprised me the most, was just managing the dynamic of all the different members and personalities that come along with having several ambitious young people in the same place. Because you tend to assume, or at least I have, you tend to assume that a lot of people just already understand things that may or not be explicitly stated. And then when people don't, and they have other expectations, that they're totally entitled to, it just kind of catches you off guard and you have to start thinking in terms of, “This isn't just hanging out with your friends, this is actually managing something that can affect other people's lives.”

So it was much bigger than I originally was anticipating.

Enoch: I'm sensing there's a story behind that comment, Tim. What's the background?

Tim: Well what is the background on that one?

Jared: I don't know if it's really a particular incident, I think just like Tim said, everyone's different. Everyone has different needs, and you just have to accommodate their expectations. And I think I mentioned earlier that it started off as a very organic process and it still kind of is. It's probably 80% organic, 20% calculated. But that 20 % calculated doesn't really count for everything. So we're constantly evolving, trying to make sure we account for member needs. Someone may be fine with what we have. Someone may want something else. If that want that something else, how do we accommodate? So we're constantly growing, we're adding on. And like I said, it gets easier, but it doesn't stop. And I think of that as a good way. Some people let you sit still, and you have someone kind of prodding you to add something else. We're not going to add it if you don't feel like it benefits the entire collective. So it's kind of nice.

Tim: Yeah. And I'll give you a little tidbit. I mean, without getting into every little detail, but we try to maintain a certain aesthetic. As architects, it's important to be represented by the things around you, including space, furniture, just whatever it might be. Jared tends to be very minimal, I tend to be fairly minimal. So sometimes people want to put big posters on the wall, or display a bunch of stuff on their desk, and they should be entitled to that, but at the same time, where's that line between too much stuff that doesn't represent the overall collective and not enough personal freedom.

So those are things we just never would have expected, and it's actually a good exercise to have to learn how to not only set people's expectations, but learn how to be flexible with your own personality.

Jared: And it's working with people as well. We have an interior designer that's coming in here starting in January, but she's actually coming in to install some shelves and rearrange the space. And it's great. I think that's a great benefit to us. So we have to be very accommodating and vice versa. So I think it's more beneficial to be flexible than not, for sure.

Tim: Absolutely.

Enoch: Well thanks guys for sharing what it took to pull this East Side Collective together. It's a pretty great story. A lot of good information.

Jared: Thank you. Yeah, we're having fun.

Tim: We appreciate it.

Enoch: I'd like to jump in now into your both individual practices and talk about what it's been like to grow in more of the practice side of things. So let's transition away from the Collective, and let's talk about your individual businesses. So just quickly tell me, Jared, what is your business focus?

Jared: So [Unbox 00:13:44] Studio, we are a collaborative design firm. We do modern architecture. We're general [inaudible 00:13:53] practitioners. We do things from … We do a lot of residential spec projects; we'll do some custom residential projects. Commercial projects. And that can really range. For example, working on a high-end boutique hostile café event space. We're doing a tenant finish out for a warehouse tenant. We're doing a volleyball facility center out in Manor, Texas. Which should be really interesting.

So we're kind of all over the map. Anything … It's really about the client. We're really about trying to find like-minded creative people that really want push out more, and work with them.

Enoch: And what prompted you to start your own practice, Jared?

Jared: That's a good question. I think it was more of a product of the economy. I was working for a firm downtown. I actually really enjoyed working for the firm. They went a full year without even signing a contract, so they had mass layoffs. Shortly afterwards, I started working for another firm. Great firm just wasn't a good fit for me, and it really prompted me to want to go on my own. So I left there to start consulting with another firm, while I was trying to pick up projects on my own.

And it was pretty tough for me; I was sill relatively new to Austin. I didn't really know a lot of people, so I was picking up bottom feeder work off of other people. Other architects, and people that I knew. So I was actually, at one point, designing some websites, taking on small porch projects and additions. And I think the first two larger projects that I landed … One was an addition and remodel to an existing house out in the suburbs. And that landed into House Magazine, and I got a couple more projects from that. And at the same time, I was working on the Lake Austin Cabin Project, and just got picked up by Dwell and several other magazines. And that kind of put us on the map a little bit, so to say. And launched us into some other projects.

Enoch: So Jared where have you found your work? Where are you getting your work from?

Jared: It's basically a network of people I've built up here over the past couple of years. It never comes from one source. It's always … and I'm sure you're very familiar with everyone telling you kind of the same answer, but it's really true. We can market some things, and that's one aspect of it. Generally speaking, when someone comes to us, they know about us several different ways. That's what really secures people to us. There are a lot of other architects in Austin, people tend to interview and talk to a lot of other people, but it's usually a contractor, a former client, or even a current client that recommends us. But if someone knows us through, “I saw your project down the street from us”, or “I saw an article that you guys had posted”, or “I remember seeing you in Dwell magazine.” That's usually what locks it for us.

Enoch: Tell me about a time … What was the most challenging part about starting your firm, Jared?

Jared: Other than everything? I think starting from scratch, going from zero to where I'm at now has been the toughest part. And out of that, I think just constantly evolving, trying to grow, trying to do different things all the time. I've really bought into the whole Johnathan [Segal 00:17:44] model, and right now we're … Me and one of my employees are looking to partner up and develop our first product within the first quarter of this coming year. So that's a whole new challenge. A whole new can of worms. But even trying to operate the firm, and trying to continue to grow, looking to hire somebody, that's always difficult. Sometimes just getting that steady work is always difficult. It's very rare that the work comes in steadily; it's either all or none a lot of times. So it's always something, it's a very … I guess it's just a very dynamic business in general.

Enoch: Tim, tell me about your firm.

Tim: Sure. My firm, Derrington Building Studio started about six years ago. We focus on community and domestic architecture. And why do I say that? It's because we're a boutique firm and most boutique firms try to get small-scale projects. But that's almost an insult to the client that's hiring the architect, because no project is really small to anybody. It's always a big deal.

So community and domestic is our focus. So high end residential, custom residential, as well as any kind of a commercial space that fosters one form of community or another. Two examples of the kind of community architecture we've done, we've done a private elementary school that was kind of built around a monastery ethos, along with a very holistic teaching style. So they really let us get into the details, [inaudible 00:19:31] really reinvented space for them. We've also done a rock climbing gym here in town. Rock climbing culture is very strong, and it was intended to be the kind of headquarters of their culture in the city.

So we started six years ago, not too different from Jared, the great catalyst was the great recession. I was let go from my job; I was there for five years. Just because there was not enough money to go around. So of course I couldn't find a new job, no one was hiring. I took odd jobs, freelancing for a bathroom renovation or whatever it would've been. I joined a start up company doing design work for them. And just kind of bumbled my way through with no intention of being an business owner. But as I did one job after the next, and found out that I really enjoyed it, found out that I liked the challenge, not only of being an architect, but figuring out the business of architecture was just so much fun. Of course it's a lot of work, but it's also quite a liberating experience to … When you get it right, it feels great.

Enoch: I was just going to ask, what were … Both of you, what would be your key takeaways in terms of the business side of architecture for the past five or six years? What are the key … If you had to sit down and say, look, you're speaking to someone who's gonna become an architect or thinking about starting their own firm, what are the top lessons that you would share with them?

Tim: I might give a couple. The first one is cultivate your relationships. The only way you get work in this business is for somebody to trust you very much. There are plenty of other architects out there, so somebody has to trust you quite a bit. And also, really think through as much as you can, all the time, the systems you'd use to run whatever it is you're doing. Be it freelance or a small firm, or midsize or large firm. In fact, I'm part of a small start up right now, that's trying to improve the software that people use to run their firm. So we're offering a platform alternative to what's currently on the market. So yeah, that's what I would say.

Enoch: Can you tell us about the platform? Because we'll want to watch that, and maybe some listeners will want to check it out.

Tim: Sure. We're calling it Studio Map, and it's … I can't tell you which software I've used in the past, but it's one of the two big ones that's out there. And the problem with that software is that it feels very outdated, it's very hard to extract metrics once you get the … Once you figure out how to put data in the system, it's hard to extract metrics on the fly. And it's just difficult to use and expensive.

So I had a friend that was working with a legal start up company doing this sort of thing for small law firms. And I complained enough about what I was doing, that he decided to take a look, and try to help me figure out the system I was using. He and a couple of his tech people, took a look and realized that … Actually it wasn't necessarily my fault, it was just not the best system. Cause they were using [CellSource 00:22:58] is their … Kind of the spine of their operation, which is nimble, affordable, and quite sound as a platform.

So we used [CellSource 00:23:09] to kind of phase, and then built off of that. And for me, as the architect, I wanted a couple of things. I wanted it to one, be easy to use. Two, be as automated as possible, because the ones we were using weren't very automated. So we did that, and then the third part of that was that it had to be incredibly visual. The metrics had to be beautiful and visual, and you need to be able to see all the information we needed to know quickly and beautifully. So that was that.

We are … I think next weekend I'll have the LLC for Studio Map. We're quoting architects here in Austin to get through the data phase. And once that goes through then we're gonna launch hopefully within the next year develop the app. So it'll be all in one, and geared specifically towards small to midsize firms.

Enoch: That's fantastic. We'll check it out.

So another words, in other key business takeaways, anything either of you want to add to that?

Jared: Well, I think you hear this a lot on your Podcast, but I think … Kind of back to your original question about advise to people starting their own business practice and venture. I think make sure you do it for the right reasons. What I mean by that is, actually practicing architecture itself and designing buildings, it's a very small portion of what we actually do as business owners. You're pretty much a business owner first, and then a designer or architect second.

So that being said, you really need to get on with that right mentality. For me, it's really about trying to hire the right people. People that are like-minded, people that have similar design aesthetic, similar values. Because they're going to be the ones actually doing the design work, and also interacting with the clients. While I'm trying to do a lot of the marketing, handle the day-to-day operations, being a small practitioner, there's a lot of work. There's a lot of accounting, and marketing as I said. Just daily operations. We rarely get to actually dive into the building process and designing process.

Enoch: Cool. Tim, you want to add anything to that?

Tim: No, I think that was points I made earlier, and along with that one, I couldn't agree more. I mean it's a lifestyle, obviously. If you love architecture that's great, that's gotta be the foundation of the reason why you do this, but at the same time you also have to embrace all the other aspects of it. So exactly what Jared said, what I said earlier, it's a lifestyle. It's practically a religion. You have to wake up every day and do it until you go to bed, and then you wake up and do it all over again.

Enoch: Why do you say that it's practically a religion?

Tim: Because it takes … Now of course I don't mean to offend anybody. But it does take an immense amount of commitment. And even when things get really rough, you can't give up. So it's more than just a job, it's more than an occupation. It's a lifestyle.

Jared: And there's blurred lines between your personal life and your business life. They're pretty well merged once you go out on your own.

Tim: That's true.

Enoch: Fantastic. Well guys, thanks for joining us on the Business of Architecture. We really appreciate it. And just to finish up with this interview, I'd like to both ask you something. Just to travel back in time, if you were to sit down with yourself, five or six years ago when you were starting this process, what would you tell yourself? And we'll start with Jared.

Jared: I would have told myself to read some more business books. I think that the reason I actually found Business of Architecture was because I didn't know a lot about the business of architecture. Primarily being just business in general. I didn't go to business school. I went to architecture school. And through this Podcast, I've actually discovered a lot of great books out there that I would recommend to myself five years ago, for sure.

Enoch: Do they come off the top of your head? Can you give us a couple of them?

Jared: Yeah. I'd say the first one I'd start off with was the Steve Jobs, I don't know if that was recommended on here or not, but that was a really informative book about just the product. And then “Good to Great” was one of the first I guess series of books that I read based on a recommendation from one of your Podcasts that kind of launched me into all these other books. I think these are probably two of the biggest for sure, and even if there's another one that I just read recently, given out by one of your Podcast guests. That I would highly recommend to someone that's starting off, or actually I would recommend it to anyone in the business of anything. It's a whole different series, and the one for architecture is really really relevant.

Enoch: Awesome. Tim, how about yourself?

Tim: If I were to go back, I'd say “Go for it. It's gonna be fine. It's harder than you think, but it'd not nearly as hard as you think. You'll figure it out.” When I started I was terrified of failing, primarily of losing money and going into debt. So what? You gotta try it. So that's what I would have said. And your interview with Tom [Main 00:28:51] was also a really nice one, because he kind of … This is obviously the Business of Architecture, but he kind of just said don't worry too much about the business, it's all about the product, it's all about believing in the thing that you love, which is architecture. So believing in that, and not having any fear. I'd say go for it.

Enoch: Very cool. Tim Derrington and Jared Haas, thanks for joining us on Business of Architecture.

Tim: Thanks Enoch, we really appreciate it.

Jared: Yeah, thanks again.

Enoch: Great talk to you later, bye bye.

Speaker 1: And that is a wrap. Thank you for listening today. If you're looking for more time, freedom, impact and income as an architect, get instant access to my free four part architect profit map by visiting freearchitectgift.com. Today's Podcast is sponsored by AIA Advantage Partner, BQB Software, the makers of ArchiOffice. ArchiOffice is the only office and project management software designed specifically for architects. It helps you manage people and projects while you focus on designing great architecture. So whether you're working remotely or on site, ArchiOffice allows you to monitor the status of your projects and tasks, and send out invoices in an accurate and timely manner. Get your fully functional fifteen-day trial of ArchiOffice by going to businessofarchitecture.com/demo.

The music expressed on the show by my guest do not represent those of the host and I make no representation, promise, guarantee, pledge, warranty, contract, bond or commitment, except to help you conquer the world.


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Enoch Bartlett Sears is the founder of the Architect Business Institute, Business of Architecture and co-founder of the Architect Marketing Institute. He helps architects become category leaders in their market. Enoch hosts the #1 rated interview podcast for architects, the Business of Architecture Show where prominent guests like M. Arthur Gensler, Jr. and Thom Mayne share tips and strategies for success in architecture.


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