"We haven't had any mentors in the traditional sense, but many of our peers have also started breaking out on their own, and we often use them to bounce ideas off of. It's interesting how this other entrepreneurial culture becomes apparent when you stop working for other people and become a small business owner. " - Own entity
Own Entity, an interior design practice based in New York City, began over 3 years ago. In a short time, their work has taken on a life of its own. Dana Jaasund and Carrie Dessertine, the 2 founding principals moved to New York after receiving their Masters of Architecture, working for other firms before beginning Own Entity. Krista Schrock of DISC Interiors engaged with Dana and Carrie about the beginnings of their firm, their ideal client, as well as their motivation for going out on their own. - David John
How did you know you were ready to start your own design studio?
Own Entity: After 10 years of working in various offices, we felt like it was time to make a change. We had always discussed partnering up and starting our own firm, ever since working on projects together in school at the University of Virginia. The timing seemed right, but it was a big leap of faith.
Was this transition a difficult one and how much time did it take for you to become established?
It was a big change for us to make our own rules, and not have the structure and stability of a larger office. We were lucky to land some big projects in our first year, so we had to act fast when it came to finding an office, and getting the business up and running. We're not sure whether we can call ourselves established at this point. We are still shocked when people we don't know contact us to tell us they like our work.
Who has been an inspiration (or possibly a mentor) to you during this process? Do you feel a mentor is a necessary part of success?
We haven't had any mentors in the traditional sense, but many of our peers have also started breaking out on their own, and we often use them to bounce ideas off of. It's interesting how this other entrepreneurial culture becomes apparent when you stop working for other people and become a small business owner. As a partnership, we've depended on each other's different skill sets and strengths to help us build the company. When you're starting out, there are designers whose work inspires you, and there are business models that you've seen succeed. Part of starting your own firm is creating a better model for how these things work together.
What has been the greatest challenge presented to you in running your own design firm? What has been the easiest thing? What has been the hardest thing?
It's hard to foster our creativity while at the same time juggling all the practical aspects of running the business. At the end of the day, our creativity is the main focus. Maintaining a balance between running the business and actually doing the work can be challenging in the day-to-day.
Did any of your previous clients follow you to your new practice or did you seek out new clients upon starting your own firm?
We sought out new clients when we started the company. In time we've been contacted by several people whom we worked with at previous offices. It's unusual for a client to stick with one designer for multiple projects especially in the economic climate we're in. That being said, if a designer has had a good working relationship with a client in the past, it's only natural for the client to seek out that designer again in the future.
How do you go about finding new clients?
So far we've been extremely lucky in that all of our clients have approached us, mostly through referrals. A lot of the residential clients have seen our work on design blogs and find us that way. In a culture where everybody can have a pretty website, we find that a personal recommendation from a former client goes a long way to distinguish our firm from others.
How do you identify an ideal client? What makes you decide to work or not work with a client or take on a project?
We take on many different types of projects of varying scales, but ultimately we decide whether to work with a client if the chemistry is good and we think the project itself is a good fit for us. The design process can be very personal, and in meeting with new potential clients it can come down to how our personalities mesh just as much as the project's parameters. Ideally the client shares our enthusiasm for design, but we are presented with a unique and inspiring design challenge.
What bit of advice could you offer someone who is considering transitioning from working for a design firm to establishing their own firm?
Don't underestimate the amount of work involved in running a business. While it's great having the freedom to do your own design work, there is a lot of day to day work involved in managing client relations, finding new work, and managing work flow. Also, one needs to seriously consider what kind of lifestyle you want to have, as running a business means very little financial stability, at least in the first few years.
"Own entity is an interior design practice that specializes in creating, and recreating, the interiors of hospitality, commercial, and residential spaces. Combining the precision and rigor of their architectural training with the effortless style of natural-born designers, Own entity transforms interiors into experiences. "