Join Petrula Vrontikis for an in-depth discussion in this video Panel discussion and Q&A: Part two, part of Real-World Design: Live Presentations from Creative Leaders.
Chris Doe: You know, my, I, I've, I've got a business advisor, and I've been working with him for ten years. He comes to my office once a week. He beats me up, tells me how to run my business better every single time. But, the, the thing is you said, you know, you've been extremely fortunate in your life that you've not been in that place where you're like in the gutter so I, I don't know how to, to answer that. I'm, I'm extremely optimistic and I believe in myself, some might even call it arrogant but I just feel like no matter what problem flies in my face and I've lived through lots of different, weird problems, and just to kind of tag back onto the other question.
The way that you avoid these kind of economic downturns, and there's going to be many peaks and valleys if you, if you're in business long enough, is to never get complacent and just accept that this was al, always going to be there. That's the biggest mistake you can make. And all you have to do is look at the history of companies that have gone belly up. Right, like blockbuster, right, or anyone of these other companies that are no longer here cause they couldn't see the future. They couldn't see that people change, culturally we change, the internet changes everything, and they just assumed that it's always going to be gravy time and it's not.
Speaker 2: So David? David Lie: Yeah I don't, I think what was the question again hardship? Chris Doe: Emotional hardships how do you overcome? Yolanda Centosa: How do you overcome? David Lie: I, I, I mean there's so many. It's like it's hard to think of one, you know, I think there was, there was to Chris' point I mean, I think optimism is part of the answer I mean for sure. There's times when you know, I'll give you one example. So in the dot com boom aga, crash sorry again I had a, there was another partner at the time who I had gone to high school with and he was a business guy so that's why you know, I, he was a banker so that's why I had hired him which is a huge mistake.
And you know anytime I went to ask him question like how are we doing. You know, can we hire this person? He'd be like yeah, as long as you bring in more clients, and so what I realized very quickly is that when the .com bust was happening, he was running his numbers, and he's like you really should cash out now and like get out of this business. And I literally stopped for a second. I was at the printer. I still remember this, and I was like really puzzled. I was like what is he talking about. Like what? You know, he, he thought our business was going to fail.
Because he had already seen what was happening in the dot com world. You know, stocks were failing and internet you know, companies and you know obviously were doing a lot of work in internet space so he was like really freaked out like the business was going to fail, and I looked him at really puzzled. Like, are you kidding me? Like, we're going to do amazing, and he literally cashed out and left our business. And he called me a year later after he'd gone to business school, and he was amazed I was still around. You know, and, and after he had left, we landed one of the largest clients we ever had.
So, yes, that was, that was sort of optimism there. But I can also say that you know, to answer your question, there were times when it was really tough. When you know, you're running out of money and you're worried whether you can pay your people and you're stressed out and things like that. You're just like geez, and then you remember, what do I have to lose? You know, at the end of the day, what's the worst thing that's going to happen to me? And the worst thing was that I have to go get a job. So that didn't seem like such a big deal since everyone else has a job. David Lie: So at the end of the day I think it was the assurance that my best case scenario was I going to learn something from it.
So, that would probably benefit me. So, if I went to some employer I'm like yeah I ran this business. You know, it wasn't completely successful, but these are the things I learned. They'd probably appreciate that, at least I would hope they would. At least I kept telling myself that. And I still tell myself that. So, I think that in a way, you know, there, there are times when things are really tough, and. You know if anything I can say is hindsight is always different. Right? When you look back and you're like oh, that wasn't a big deal or whatever it was. And sometimes you question the decisions you made.
Whether it was the right decision or not. One of the decisions I made at one point was to sell an equity stake in my company, and it was a pretty big decision of should I do that? And there was a time when somebody, there was several times when people wanted to acquire our business outright, and I came really close to selling the company 100%, and I'm really glad I didn't, actually. I think that would have been a huge mistake. So everything's different in hindsight. You just learn from those things. You keep going as long as you can. Speaker 2: I like what you said about the eh, you've really, you don't, you didn't run out of choices like you always had a choice.
David Lie: Mm-hm. Speaker 2: That's, that's something to, to, to understand is that as long as you have choices you're going to be okay. Chris Doe: I think to be a business owner you, you have to have a pretty strong stomach because it, there's gut check moments. All right and it happens to small businesses and big businesses. Tony Shay, who I'm a big fan of, I did read that book, by the way. Chris Doe: You know, he, he sold his first company for a couple hundred million dollars. And then he started his outpost, and he, he kept all, he sold everything he had. All the way down to the very end. And they were going from month to month, and then they finally secured a, a line of credit from Wells Fargo.
And that's how he did it. He just double, he just go all the way. He believed in it. So, what Dave was saying. Sometimes those, you do have to make those tough decisions. And you either stick with it or you go get a job. And that's all right. Speaker 2: Any thoughts? Yolanda Centosa: You're so wise. Yolanda Centosa: But really I, I agree. Optimism has a some, a lot to do with it. It's always being able to feel that there's always something out there for you and believe in yourself that you can do it, and never feel like you're defeated, so it's, a, a lot has been covered and it's really, really good.
I learned a lot. I'm reading Tony Hsieh's book because you said. Good. Speaker 2: So, I think a lot of times the difference between good designers and great designers have to do with your ability to make decisions, make decisions well. How did you guys learn your decision making skills? Chris Doe: Don't they? Yolanda Centosa: Yeah. Chris Doe: There's a scaffolding towards the difficult questions, right. What's going on here? Yolanda Centosa: I, I, I want to start because you guys are always with the good answers so, I, I, I'm just impulsive.
So if I feel, it makes me excited to do it, I'll do it. If it, if if, if I feel like every day is boring it means I'm not doing anything new. I'm not challenging myself. So, if that decision means I'm scared, that gets me excited and I don't really think too much about. Like. Chris Doe: Pros and cons. Yolanda Centosa: I'm not technical. Yeah. I'm not very technical so I just do it with gut instincts, and I've made a lot of mistakes because of that but I think that I've also been brave because of not considering too much the risk of what's going to happen.
David Lie: I mean I would agree that gut decision making is important for sure. I mean I think there's a lot of, like you, impulse decisions too that you sometimes have to make. You just feel it's right decision. Why is even dough you don't know it' s right for example for fact. But I would say that for one thing that has helped me actually is to surround myself with other people that I trust, and that I respect, and I think can be smarter than me. Hopefully that they, they can weigh in, and so we have a team of people at at our studio that I talk to all the time daily and we throw stuff out at each other all the time, and we don't always agree, and actually I like that it's less about me and me making the decision.
But whether we're, if we're aligned in the same vision and goal then we should all be making the same decision, and, and we don't always but but then that's the responsibility of leadership. Somebody's got to make the call at the end of the day but when you've got that, that group of people that can help weigh in, you don't have to go it alone. And I think that's sort of why even when I started the business I started with a partner. I didn't start by myself, and he has his strengths, more, he literally said to me like I want to be a designer. So like I don't necessarily want to be on the business side as much yet he keeps going on with the business and I still ask him stuff all the time.
Which maybe annoys him, I don't know. But I still value his opinion. I mean, it doesn't matter. It's still good to have other people weigh in on, on decision making. Chris Doe: I draw two columns. On a yellow, legal notepad. David Lie: Prose. Chris Doe: I'm just kidding. If you're not willing to take risks, you can't really have great success, and that goes with design or business. So when you're talking about decisions, I, I look at it, and I, I just go for it. And I, I, and sometimes I'm cautious like when somebody's trying to partner up with me, but that's usually where you gotta kick the tires a little bit and kind of test it out and try it.
You do a kind of a trial relationship. Let's, let's try to do one thing together first and see how it works out so we can uncover any kind of personality differences or any kind of pinpoints that we might might have with one another, and then we can then make the deal work if it if it a if its comfortable for everybody but you gotta be willing to take the risk all day. Chris Doe: I think generally speaking, I'm not sure about this, but people do not like to be accountable. And I think people in the web world. Everything is measured and validated, right? David Lie: Yeah.
More than you think. Chris Doe: Yes. I think a lot, so it must be even more that that. So, you know, it, it, and I love that about the kind of scientific, mathematical approach that web people bring in, and business people bring in to testing out ideas. David Lie: Yeah. I mean I'm not sure if this is the answer that you're looking for. But I mean to, to sort of touch on what you said. I mean there is sort of the data side of things for sure. And you know, you hear a lot of buzz words obviously. Like big data. And you hear about things like real time buying.
But one thing that's interesting is we do do what we call audience insights now. And we're not using market research, we're actually using data and what we do is, maybe this sounds creepy, but this is what the internet is doing believe it or not is you know we can put a pixel on a website and from that pixel and cookie data. We actually already know so much about you before you hit the site actually, we can know and the way and I'm going to simplify it but the you know you can google Adtech for example but like you can take that data and actually match it against third party data so we can actually see.
What they've been buying through MasterCard, Visa, I mean all of these like credit card companies know everything about you, if you think about it. And when you take, and this is what Facebook does and everybody else, so when you take that data against who you are, we actually know a lot about you already. We know sort of if you are that mother with like two kids and so forth, and are you buying from us, and if so, and you know, so forth, so. That's, that's sort of what's happening out there. Is that people are starting to tailor that information so that it's more relevant for you.
So, that's the goal. I mean, to, obviously, create an experience that's more relevant. And if you think about it, advertising that interrupts you is only interruptive if it annoys you, and you're like, I could care less about this, but, when it's something that actually matters to you or something you're really interested in, like, I like bikes for example, so if bike stuff kept popping up I would love it. You know, I'd be like, oh it's awesome and, you know, I can click the, yeah and so. I mean. Chris Doe: Trying to make it sound less creepy, it's still creepy. David Lie: But, but, but the thing is you can actually validate that information to see if it's working, so tier point of like, do people actually engage, do they stay, do they actually value the content? Do they actually buy? These are all things that every client wants to know, and you know, that's what's happening, I mean, in terms of with technology and so forth.
But at the end of the day, I'd still say that, you know, the human element is really critical. So it's, it's not all about technology and data but the fact that, that's why I just said it's an audience insight, meaning it just helps you gather some insight into. Well, you know, a lot of people make up personas and they say, this is our target audience, and la la la, but, it's one thing to actually be able to validate it, actually talk to those people and go, what do you think? And so there are other things you can do. You can start to reach out to people and actually have this conversation. So, social networks and all that stuff.
It's a good example of like those are people who raise their hand and said, hey, I actually love your brand. This is why your brand sucks. I'd love you to make a better product. I mean, we've all played, done that for brands we love and the companies that listen to their customers, they're going to succeed and it's the same thing with Kickstarter. I mean people who go, you know what, I'm going to buy that thing that Yo is making, that new thing she invented. They're validating to her before she even spends money making something. You know, that's why Kickstarter's a good example of. The fact that, that is an audience in sight.
You know, if she got zero funding, maybe that's a sign to her. David Lie: That that's not such a good idea. Yolanda Centosa: And I'll do it anyway. Speaker 2: I have a suggestion. When you are speaking with your client and you're just kicking off the project, like you're just getting started. Ask them how are we going to measure the success of this? Because then when that happens that will be what the gauge is as to whether you as a designer and the client as the, the client are actually doing the right thing. You should know how your work is going to be measured.
All of you should know how your going to wor, your work is going to be measured for its success Chris Doe: I, I, I, I worked at a company, Epitaph Records for two months and then I quit, and then I started the company, so that's my timeline. I didn't have any. Speaker 2: With the specific idea that you were going to do motion. Chris Doe: No. Speaker 2: What was your idea? Chris Doe: That wasn't even our question was it? Speaker 2: I'm asking. Chris Doe: Okay. No you know what. Chris Doe: I, I didn't, to be honest the word, the word motion graphics didn't even exist when I was doing it and I, I just thought you know I worked at a ad agency when I was still in school and then I worked at the Punk Rock label and it just wasn't the right fit.
And, and I, I think it was because I needed to be my own boss and figure out what I wanted to do. And that's a desire I've had since I was seven years old. Alright so then I was like okay I'm ready to do this and I wanted to be a graphic designer and, and open up a shop so if you want me to design your logo, I'll design your logo. If you want me to make it move I'll do that too. But I quickly discovered nobody would know me for anything because I was trying to be all things to all people. We had a few clients and, and how we even got them was just a weird story too but because I, I didn't have any marketing sales or business experience I just wanted to start and it was just to say I want to try it and just go for it.
David Lie: When I was in college, I, you know, I think, you know, I thought seriously after I graduated I'd maybe start my own business. I think being entrepreneurial is just something that was in my blood, and then, you know, I, and I won't go into, that's a whole separate story, but, I literally would call companies in college, and they'd have no idea I was calling out of a dorm room. And you know, and I'd reach people. It was amazing. I'd be like talking to the head of marketing of some big company and, and they'd have no idea they're talking to some kid in college. And you know what happened was you know, I, I made a conscious decision actually.
To so I didn't go to design school. So at that point I was like but I don't know anything about design. And I said you know everything that I've done was self taught or learned through books. We didn't even have the internet then this was back when it was still like very basic AOL modems and. Chris Doe: They don't know what you're talking about. David Lie: What's that? Chris Doe: Web? It's like Chris Doe: Do you know what a modem is? I didn't think so. David Lie: So, so what happened was I made a decision of I actually thought about coming here to art center and you know and then I said or maybe I should try to get a job from somebody who went to art center.
David Lie: And so. So that's what I did, actually. I went to work for two art center I worked at two other studios, both were, founded by art center graduates, actually. so, I worked in San Francisco at a place, and then I worked in Santa Monica at another place. All art center graduates so it was perfect. It was like I was getting a free art center education. And not only. David Lie: They're the guys who put me here to teach, so actually within my first six months of getting a job I was teaching here, it was like incredible it was like, didn't even like I didn't go to design school.
David Lie: And so but you know? Chris Doe: Get back in her purse though this is not the best. David Lie: But, but what happened, I think I taught you. Yolanda Centosa: Yes David Lie: And, and. Speaker 2: She's a student of both of ours. David Lie: So, so what happened was, you know, I worked for, I, I worked to gain experience. I mean, to answer your question, I worked for maybe about two years. That's where I ended up meeting my future business partner; who was the last person I ever thought would be my business partner. because he's so conservative. He's really quiet. And then we both left and I started Hello, he was like yeah I want in.
And I was like what? Like you know, are you serious? Like here's some money, I was like okay. So yes if he answered your question, I was pretty young and it wasn't that many years out of school, but it, it was again because I think I was already eager to start. I mean you know, and I think I wanted to gain some real world experience and, and more importantly meet some other talent that actually had similar thinking so that we could become collaborators. And not have to go it alone, and not have to do everything alone.
And, and again I, I'm a firm believer in that. And now and so and yes to all your other questions. Yolanda Centosa: Well for me it started the company about five and half years after I graduated. And I've always known I wanted to start a business. But, then I was an international student, so I couldn't really start my own business until I get my permanent residency. So it took five and a half years, five years. And then, the moment I got it, actually a few months later, I heard about Pinkberry and so went to present my stuff. And the scariest part was I was heavily in debt, credit cards, student loans.
And I knew the only way I can start a company is to make sure that this one company can support me and all my debt within the first month, because I have nothing, and then, so. It, as I did my proposal, the more confident I got, the higher I'm putting the number on paper, and so, I walked in, they loved it. He said, the co founder said, he, presentation gave him goosebumps. He said, you just got the brand. And then I shove the piece of paper in front of them, didn't even negotiate and like.
I was, I was so, I wanted to scream right there but I walked and I'm like, thank you. Yolanda Centosa: And then of course, like. David Lie: You were like- Yolanda Centosa: So Monday, I gave my two weeks notice and like within two months I paid all my debt, I was like debt free. And for the first three months I was for the first three months I was working in my own apartment, in my studio by myself, and then three months later I hired our first web developer because I couldn't, I don't know how to program a web site. And then six months later I hired the first designer, and then the second designer I think nine months, nine a, nine months later or something Chris Doe: If you look at enough portfolios, you know within a few page turns, a few clicks or 15 seconds into a reel if it's going to be any good.
And I'm a sucker because I keep thinking you know, you know what, the 30th second mark is going to be awesome, and it never is. And so, I don't really need to go through your process book. I've never seen any, I, I don't even look at them. I, I gotta be honest with you. Here's, here's what I tell my, my guys, right, because I don't want to be a micromanager. So when I tell the team I need two concepts from you, three frames each by tomorrow. Is that doable? They say yes. I leave and that's it. I don't really care. If they're there and then, then they don't even get up from their desk to go to the bathroom for another 24 hours, that's not my thing, and if it only takes them three hours and they want to play ping pong or run around the block, that's fine too.
The process doesn't really matter that much to me. David Lie: Yeah, I agree with Chris 100%, I mean, at the end of the day like, you know, I almost even say just do like one piece of great work. I mean you don't have to, you know, at the end of the day, you know, I think you can look at a portfolio, whether it's a website or whatever, in a split second you already know, I think. And you can look at one project or ten and I think it's, it might give you more depth or more understanding but I think very quickly you can assess without having to dive into how did I reach that answer? Whatever it is.
It's just that if the answer's great it'll reveal itself already I mean it's already there. Chris Doe: I mean think about it it's a challenge to get even people to read your email. So if your subject line is not interesting and the first two sentences isn't good, I'm deleting it, so, you're asking me not to looks at a process book, it's impossible. I'm just going to be real with you, okay? Chris Doe: Yo? Yolanda Centosa: Yeah. Chris Doe: You like process books, huh? Yolanda Centosa: No, Chris Doe: It's a 100% disagree. David Lie: I love this, oh my god, Yolanda Centosa: No, I don't like process book at all. But I sometimes like when. It's a complicated. When it's a complicated branding project, there's just so many elements to it.
I like when people highlight this is what made me go in this direction. This is what. So it's almost taking maybe two pages, three pages of that process book and highlighting why I turned this way. Why I decided to go this way. I think, for me, that's helpful, but I don't want to see process book, either. Chris Doe: That's upsetting a couple of people around huh? Speaker 2: So thank you all for joining us tonight and I hope you learned a lot. I know I certainly did. We're going to still have to figure out what we're going to do with all these goodies. Speaker 2: Those of you who asked questions please come up because there's a possibility there's something up here for you.
And I really, really, really want to thank David Lie, Yolanda Centosa, and Chris Doe for their wisdom tonight. Thank you.
The second round of the series, recorded in late 2014, features Erich Joiner from the design firm Tool, Dave Bullock from the crowdfunding site CrowdRise, and Peter Lunenfield from UCLA talking about the power of media in design. The first panel features the 3x3 group: YO | LAI | DO event, featuring Yo Santosa (Ferroconcrete), David Lai (Hello Design), and Chris Do (BL:ND). This transmedia trio presents projects from the fields of branding, web, and motion design, touching on the challenges of running their own firms and the importance of story, inspiration, and constant evolution.
Art Center professor and lecture series leader Petrula Vrontikis guides both panels in round-table discussions about managing client expectations, overcoming professional uncertainty, and much more.