It was a slow and long process of trying many things before Farm Design Solopreneur learned how to face his fears and do the things that scared him. In the process, he not only transformed his company but emerged a stronger person. Hear his story about growing up in a small farming community in Montana from humble beginnings to having a thriving design company in Pasadena, where he and his team work on some of the coolest branding projects.
Facing Your Fears In Design w/ Farm Design Founder Aaron Atchison. When the economy tanked, and work dried up, what can you do to get work. Why making the extra effort on your presentation can dramatically impact your business.
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[Chris Do]: Welcome to the Futur! We are live today on Facebook and Youtube! Hello, beautiful people! What are we going to be talking about today? Well, before I tell you, I just want to let you guys know I miss ya and I hope you missed us, and here we are back on the livestream. But! Back by popular demand, today we are going to be talking to Aaron Atchinson, he’s the founder of Farm Design based in Pasadena, and he is one of–he’s a man who has come from humble roots. Humble beginnings, and that’s his description, not mine. Now often times when we look at successful graphic designers and successful businesses, we make the assumption that it was preordained. That everything lined up for them and that that path was inevitable. This was most definitely not the case, so you guys are gonna want to definitely stay tuned to this because we’re gonna have a conversation with Aaron. He grew up in a town of 300 people. Small town. Stick around! Roll the titles!
[C]: Alright, we’re back. Now you guys noticed I’m not in the black box. I’m sitting next to my good friend, and we are good friends. We’ve known each other for, I think somewhere close to 20 years if not longer.
[Aaron Atchinson]: Yes.
[C]: It’s been awhile. It’s been awhile, so, there’s a familiarity here, and I’ve been prodding and pulling and pushing and hoping and begging for Aaron to come on the show and do it live with us, and he finally agreed, so lots of things have changed in his life, but before we do that, let’s tell everybody who you are and let’s get back and rewind the tape if you will, let’s cut to my deck.
[C]: This is Aaron Atchison, and he is the Founder of Farm Design. And if you guys want to look him up, what’s the web address?
[C]: Man, you sound good in that mic. Dang! Alright, anyways, you grew up in a small town called “Geraldine, Montana.” Tell me about Geraldine. What do you remember growing up there?
[A]: Geraldine, Montana is in the central part of Montana, it’s a rural community, a farming community, a town (at that time, the population was 300–it’s actually, probably, maybe, far less than that now), but it was a lot of agriculture, um, built around community and the high school.
[C]: Yeah. So there are–we have a picture of you, your brother, and your dad, you sitting on a boat in a lake somewhere, you shoveling something. What is, what are you shoveling there?
[A]: That would be grain in a grain silo.
[C]: That’s how much I don’t know.
[C]: A grain silo. Do you have any horror stories about the grain silo?
[A]: In the grain silo?
[A]: Normally when you hop in those things, there’s like a ton of mice running around in there and, and I don’t like mice, so, you know, so we normally let the dogs in first and the dogs sort of scare all of the mice out and then we hop in there. That’s my horror story.
[C]: Okay, so as I mentioned, you grew up in a town of 300 people, high school population of…?
[A]: The high school, 50 kids and my graduating class had 11 kids, but we had an exchange student, so, I would say, pretty much we had 10 from the time I moved there from when I was in 5th grade ‘till the time I graduated. So it was the same (basically), the same 10 students.
[C]: Okay, so, you go to high school and then you graduate. What did you study in school at Montana State?
[A]: I always wanted to be either a baker or an architect growing up. There was something–fascination I had with baking. I like baking pancakes in the morning, but I chose to become an architect so I went to Montana State University, which is in Bozeman, Montana, um, to study architecture initially.
[C]: And, how does one who studies architecture at Montana State wind up in California doing graphic design?
[A]: That’s interesting. I was actually born in Los Angeles.
[C]: Oh! You were?
[A]: So my brother, who’s a year older than myself, we were both born and raised in California. Uh, my mom was really young when she had two of us. Later I found out in life that she, she was 16 years old when she had two boys.
[A]: So, we actually moved around quite a bit as kids ‘cause my mom was trying to figure out where her path was and trying to just survive, and trying to figure out how to raise two young boys. So we moved around a lot.
[A]: Um, we ultimately ended up (um, what I consider my hometown, which is in Montana). So we bounced around a lot, and we settled there when I was about ten years old.
[A]: Yeah. So, um, she met a gentleman and they got married. His name is Larry Atchison, so I took on his last name.
[A]: Um, but yeah, I think a lot of my, sort of, experiences in life, I refer back to that time that I lived when I was in Montana.
[A]: Because I think I learned a lot of, like, discipline and a lot of the qualities that I sort of, I can attribute to growing up there.
[C]: Uh-hm. It must have been tough for you growing up because you, your mom was like in her teens…
[C]: And I imagine that there wasn’t a lot of money. You’ve told me stories about you actually having to go outside to go to the bathroom in what is referred to as an “outhouse.”
[A]: It’s still called an “outhouse.” Yes, but, we–I…one point we lived in a house where we didn’t have running water. And so, when you don’t have running water, you don’t have plumbing, and so we had an outhouse that you had to walk (I think it was maybe a hundred yards away). Which was terrible when it was snowing because then you always, like, in the middle of the night, you have to go to the bathroom. You have to go to the bathroom and then you throw on your sneakers and your hoodie and you run out through the snow but, yeah, it was–it was tough, but you know, when you’re a kid you don’t, you don’t think about those things. It’s just, it’s just the fact of life.
[C]: Do you have any horror stories?
[A]: Horror stories?
[C]: About going to the bathroom and there’s a raccoon?
[A]: Oh gosh, no. Nothing quite like that. I always feared there was something actually in the outhouse. Like, you know, but nothing. Nothing like that. So I–fortunately no horror stories.
[C]: Like there wasn’t a pennywise holding a red balloon in a hole and saying, “Come here!”
[A]: No. Not in the country. Yeah, clowns are smarter than that. They don’t move out in the country.
[C]: They only hang out in suburban neighborhoods under the city. Okay, luckily for you. What–I mean, I can’t even fathom this. Look, I grew up kind of poor, too, but just not even having running water…how do you wash your hands and what does it even, how does it even work?
[A]: Yeah, wow. There was actually a creek, and the creek was maybe 300 yards away, and so part of growing up is my brother and I, we always had chores, and the first thing I had to do waking up in the morning was start the fire, ‘cause we didn’t have heating. We didn’t have centralized heating so, we had to like chop wood and we had to start the fire to heat the house up. So I had to wake up at (I think around) 6:30, start the fire, that was my responsibility, and then to get water, we had these um, buckets (and I think they were maybe like 3 or 4 pound buckets), and I at the time probably weighed 70 pounds soaking wet, so I was, I was tiny. And then we had to go out to the creek, then we’d have to–a little pull, and we’d pull it up, and we’d carry it back to the house so–
[C]: A lot of hard work!
[A]: Boil water and, um, if you’ve ever seen “Hee-Haw” (which I’m kind of dating myself), like, there are scenes in there where they would bathe and they were sitting there in like a big, um, stainless steel, um, bucket, and they’re bathing themselves with a ladle. That’s how we literally bathed. And we didn’t do it all the time because it was, it took a lot of effort, so, um, we, oftentimes we bathed once a week. It was very challenging! But it was, it was just the way of life! And it was like, you didn’t know any different. It was, it was actually pretty cool.
[C]: It sounds a little bit like now from thinking about it, it sounds like camping. So for the first part of your life, you were just camping all the time.
[A]: We were, yeah. We were always camping.
[C] Was it fun?
[A]: It was a lot of fun! You know, it was uh, ‘cause there was a creek that ran out in front of a house that we lived in and we’d go out and we would go fishing and we’d bring the fish back in and that what we’d have for dinner. And we’d cook it right then and there. Um, so, yeah. And you were outside a lot and there’s animals, and I’m an animal person, so we had horses and cows and dogs and yeah, it was just, being outside and exploring. When you’re a kid, you’re just constantly, you’re curious and you’re exploring.
[C]: Alright. Let’s get you to California. And we’re gonna speed up the timeline here a little bit because I really do want to get into some of the mindset stuff that we’re going to talk about.
[C]: You’re in California now, what brings you out to California?
[A]: You know, okay, so, I went to Montana State University initially to study architecture. Um, I still had family here in California so, um, during the summers I would normally go and visit them and um, they would take us to like Disneyland and uh, then I was introduced to surfing, so, during the summers I would surf as much as possible. Um, but I really made the big transition when I discovered–at the time I didn’t know what it was called, but it was graphic design. Graphic design I had no idea what it was, I didn’t really know what a logo was, um, growing up in the country, they’re just, you’re not exposed to a lot of media.
[A]: Um, so when I was at the university, there was like these, some wacky kids, uh, at a department next to the architecture department, and they were doing some wacky stuff, and they were putting stuff on the walls, and I’d walk past their, um, their uh, studio space and I’d poke my head in and one day they were painting pizza boxes and it really piqued my interest. I’m like, “What are they painting pizza boxes for?” I walked in there and they were telling me they were designing logos and boxes, so I wanted to learn more, and it sparked my interest because I liked the simplicity and how impactful a logo and packaging could be. So that sort of led me to my next career path as um, or, in school rather is, I decided I’m going to move to California, change majors, mainly so I can surf in California, and then I, uh, I went to Cal State University, Northridge, uh, where I studied art with an emphasis in graphic design.
[C]: Okay. Now, I’m going to spare you guys all the kind of details but, you started out in, in your home studio doing design and you’ve been doing that for quite some time. Now you and I met under kind of strange circumstances. I’m gonna let the guys know out in the audience here. We met through a mutual friend, a former employee of mine who said like, “I know you love to play Halo, Chris, so come and I’m gonna bring my buddy in. “And I know you’re a super competitive guy, I won’t get into all the juicy details, but we would all bring our X-Boxes together and, and do a LAN party and play Halo together. And that’s really how I got to know you. And I remember, there’s a couple times we wanted to play, so I would just grab my X-Box and go meet you up at your house and we’d plug the things in. I–we would go into one room and we’d have these LAN parties and just do battle for lunch and unplug and just run back to work.
[A]: And I didn’t know you that well at the time. You were just that guy in the other room that I just wanted to kill. And so Halo is like one of those sports like–and you were probably equally as competitive. And so, I would come visit my friend and I would come to your office and you guys would actually print out sort of like…
[A]: Floorplans of the maps of Halo and you guys were strategizing. You had like rulers and lines, like you’d go here and here. I’m like, “This guy is intense.”
[C]: Isn’t that how everybody plays Halo?
[A]: No, just you.
[C]: We weren’t going to lose, so that’s really how we got our start, but as our kind of casual friendship built up around gaming and just competing, and then I started to learn more about you and your design practice, and I’m gonna get you guys to 2008 a little bit right now. Okay? So let’s look at 2008. This is the studio in which you worked out of?
[A]: Yeah, I…
[C]: Talk to us about this.
[A]: Yeah, just, uh, after I graduated college, um, I got a job as a creative director at a small agency in Culver City, here in Los Angeles. So I worked there for 5 years. Um, I sort of cut my teeth sort of learning the principles of design, and working with clients, and, uh, working with vendors. I, I learned a lot. It was, it was uh, a fantastic experience in my life. In 2000 I decided I was gonna, I was gonna branch out and I was gonna do my own thing and so I had a spare bedroom in my apartment, um, and so I converted that spare bedroom into my studio, if you will, and really it was just a computer on a desk. Um, I, I was, I had enough confidence in my ability and skill level and I had some relationships and I had some small clients, so I’m like: “Okay, I’m going to take that leap of faith.” I had a little bit of money in the bank account (I think, uh, at that time, I had literally 9,000 dollars in my account), so I said–
[C]: That’s pretty good.
[A]: It was pretty good! I figured that I could live without any income coming in for three months and so I kind of had a time scale, like, “Okay, if this is going to happen, I, I gotta make it happen in three months.”
[C]: And how old are you at this point? Do you remember?
[A]: Yeah, I was exactly 30. It was on my 30th birthday, I’m like, “I’m leaving.”
[C]: Wow. Okay. And what year is this?
[A]: It was 2000.
[C]: Oh, 2000.
[C]: Okay. Well, interesting. Alright, I’m trying to map your timeline, as to kind of, well…
[A]: I took the 7-year plan in, in college if you’re doing the math. But, yeah…
[C]: Okay, let’s look at some of the work. So it makes sense to hear your story about your love of surfing and outdoors and just be, you’re kind of into sports and you’re an athlete and competition, and this is kind of…
[A] Yeah, that’s where my passion was.
[C]: Yeah, this is a time capsule into kind of the work that you were doing. And I remember talking to you at this point in time, and, I’m going to tell a little story you guys. So here’s my, here’s my story. I’m over at Aaron’s house and he’s showing me the work that he’s doing and he’s talking about doing work with new clients, and I remember you were showing me this very ornate packaging you were putting together. I remember this, and you were going to ship this to whatever, or self-promo pieces, and I had asked you at this time, “Aaron, why don’t you get an intern in here to do this? There’s somebody else that could be doing this while you do the high-level stuff.” And I remember your response. Do you remember it, or should I tell this part?
[A]: I, I didn’t listen to you much back then, so, you were my mortal enemy, so, no.
[C]: How am I your–?
[A]: Refresh my memory.
[C]: Hold on. How am I your mortal enemy?
[A]: I do remember you telling me I should do a lot of things to improve what I, my practice, right.
[C]: Basically it was me giving you valuable advice that just hit you like a rock and fell on the floor, at that time.
[A]: Pretty much.
[C]: Your response to me was: “Hey, Chris. If I don’t do this, what else am I going to be doing? And, I don’t know, I’m just a simple guy, I just want to do the work, I see something that needs to get done and I just do it. Why would I hire anybody else to do this? What else am I gonna do?” And I remember telling you, “Well, you should be working on your business and not in your business. Be thinking about how to grow and scale.” And do you remember that now?
[A]: I do remember and I think a lot of those, um, the way I was brought up growing up on a farm is like you’d…work had to be done, you just rolled, rolled your sleeves up and you got out there and you did the work. And so, when I started my practice, I still had that sort of mindset where things had to be done (I knew how to do them), and so I just rolled my sleeves up and did it. You were always, you were always sort of, kind of like that uncle that always wanted to like give me advice and I, I think I was pretty stubborn back then (still a little stubborn).
[C]: I just want to say for the record: A younger uncle, please.
[A]: Perhaps, perhaps.
[C]: Don’t paint me into that picture. Just a younger uncle. The younger, cooler uncle. Keep going.
[A]: But when you said, uh, back when I first started my practice and you saw me sort of doing all these little, little tasks when you said, “You need, you should outsource that, or you should get someone to help you.” Uh, for me, I was not afraid of hard work, so I kinda didn’t understand your principles. I also was always concerned that I would be giving away something…um, I always wanted to be close to my craft, and I always, I love designing and having my hands on things and working, so, for me it’s like it didn’t feel like work so it didn’t feel like I was, I needed to give away anything. I wasn’t that busy all the time anyway, and I think that to your point is, so, it’s like, “Well I have the extra time and if I didn’t have extra time, I would just stay up later.
[A]: So that was always just, that was my mentality.
[C]: Yeah, so some people are guessing correctly how old Aaron is. I’m not going to tell you, but you can do the math. Now, I remember also talking to you because you would work really hard, and I’m, I would never accuse you of not working hard, but maybe I would accuse you of not working as smart as you need to.
[C]: And I remember then, for periods of time you would just disappear. You would disappear and go surfing in Costa Rica, and you’d go on these epic adventures, meanwhile I was toiling away kind of in the factory, if you will. I remember saying this to you one time, I was like: “Aaron, I think you suffer from ‘Peter Pan’ syndrome. Like, you never want to grow up. You’re still doing projects–” (now, we’re in our 40s at this point, I think).
[A]: No, we’re in our late thirties.
[C]: Late thirties?
[A]: Careful, we were in our thirties.
[C]: We’re in our late thirties, and I was telling you, “Like, you work on projects that I think 18, 19, 22-year-old kids would love to work on.” Uh, action, sports-oriented things and brands, and I remember you working on certain events that was kind of like–
[A]: Like X-Games type of stuff. Yeah, absolutely.
[C]: And, the other part to it was not only just reflected in the clients that you were working with and the things that connected and resonated with you, but, this idea that you would work and then you would disappear. You would just plan these trips and you would just disappear, and, and, and you liked the idea that you could pick up and go wherever you wanted, kind of in this more “transitory-transient” lifestyle.
[C]: And, I said to you, “One day, when you want to focus on your business, your life will change and it will change for the better.
[C]: And what was your thought?
[A]: I think that my thought process during those, those years–I think–and it was right around from 2000 and 2008 was when I was a solo, solo designer.
[A]: “Solopreneur,” sort of working out my, my, my practice out of my home. My, my philosophy at the time was: I have skill and I’m willing to work hard, and, I had a certain level of success early on. I had certain clients and I would look at the bank account and I’d see the money coming in and, and it was pretty decent. You know? It was anywhere between 50 thousand to 90 thousand–was probably one of my best years. So that’s where the range was, and for me that was really good. And so I had this philosophy: I’m gonna–as long as I’m hitting a certain number, then whatever time I have leftover, I’m gonna experience things in life. So I would travel, um, so yeah. It was very much sort of a, sort of a “fixed” mindset. I wasn’t looking at [the] “big picture,” I was sort of “living in the now,” and I would look at your career and I saw you working so hard, like, always working, and I was the antithesis of that. I’m like, “Chris, why aren’t you enjoying life? Have you ever traveled out of the country?” And you were like, “There will be a time for that.” And I thought you were crazy. I’m like, “I’m not gonna be young for the rest of my life. I want to experience these things while I can still move.” And, so that was my philosophy. So–and it worked for me for a while, you know? I was like, I was getting clients, the money was okay, I was able to support myself. Um…
[C]: But before we get into that, I want to dwell on this for a little bit because the reason why–and some of you guys that are tuning in or watching this later will realize really quickly–the reason why I brought Aaron on the show was because he can speak to and relate to so many things that you guys think. So here we are: We’re two contrasting personalities. You, you come–we’re both, we, we came out of the world kinda poor, and we worked our way out of it, but you came from a really small town, some financial hardships, and some, some family life that was less than ideal, but you worked through all that stuff, right? You made it work, and–but there was this idea of you just wanting to be (this is where we differ) this “solopreneur,” doing the work yourself and doing it all by yourself, and having great pride in being able to do it, and then saying, “What’s wrong with you? Why don’t you want to enjoy your life and I can’t see that. You’re like probably just grinding away at the, in the salt mine, kind of in the cubicle, if you will,” even though I didn’t work in a cubicle. And on the flipside, I’m over here thinking, “This guy has so much potential. He could do so many things but he just needs to learn to grow up at some point in his life.” And I’m just using it in the broadest sense, like, you’re a mature person, but I was just thinking: “Why doesn’t your work evolve? Like, my work doesn’t look the same as it did just a few years ago, let alone when I was in my 20s. I needed to do work that was going to be appealing to companies that could afford to pay me what I wanted to be paid.” I just want to get a little bit of your mindset. How you viewed yourself versus me and just, this is your opportunity to just dog on me if you want (at that point in time).
[A]: Yeah. I, I think…I, I think a lot of my motivation was: “I’m just gonna work hard.” And that’s where it came from my childhood and growing up on a farm, it was like, “That’s gonna get me through tough times. It’s like, just the solution is just to work really hard.” And, and I did–I wasn’t looking very, sort of, proactively, like, “What’s gonna happen long-term?” Uh, because I had a certain level of success early on, um, branching out as a solopreneur, I thought that was it, like, it was just things were gonna happen and materialize and it was just gonna happen. I was just a lot of–a lot of things were very reactive, um, where the clients came in, um, and how I adjusted with those clients, but, it wasn’t until, you know, I fell on some hardships where it made me sort of reanalyze who I was as a person, uh, especially at that time in my life where, uh, now I’m in my late 30s, I, I expected a, you know, a certain level of success and, and comfort, and, you know, having stability and um, finances, stability in sort of my relationships and really, I started to uncover that I didn’t have a lot of these things.
[A]: And that’s when there was that, that “oh crap” moment, and um, that sort of come-to-Jesus, like, “Uh, maybe I do need to grow up.”
[C]: Well let’s talk about that. So this is where I think we wanted to kind of pivot and we can circle back, you guys, if you want to ask those question on Facebook and on YouTube that we have two guys in the other room, along with Erica, Emmanuel, and Sam (two interns joining us here). So they’ll be monitoring your comments and you guys lets me know if you hear a really good question, okay? Feel free, feel free to interrupt us. Let’s talk about this point of, of change in your life. What happened here? So, I think if you guys were paying attention, if you were alive during this time in 2008, basically the, the bottom of the universe opened up as far as it’s concerned with the financial market. People were committing suicide, stocks (like Apple stock was like at 18 dollars a share), everybody thought the total economy was going to collapse and it impacted so many businesses (ours, too). And so let’s, let’s talk a little bit about 2018, uh 2008.
[A]: Yeah, so I think my, my business and myself was really just kind of on cruise-control, and things were fine, you know, there was money in the bank and, um, I was living the life I wanted to live. I had a lifestyle that I enjoyed, and then I think it was around 2007 is when the, the housing market sort of burst and the stock market went kind of, kind of went bonkers.
[C]: The subprime…
[A]: Right? And what happened is, clients, the phone stopped ringing, and that was when, um, I saw the bank account starting to dwindle.
[C]: How much was in the bank account at this point in time?
[A]: You know, I, I think I was always right around anywhere from 5 to 20 thousand dollars?
[A]: And–but that was fine when money was continually coming through, but then once the phone stopped ringing, uh, I had to re-evaluate what was happening. Um, I think a lot of my clients, uh, they would keep the work in-house now because their marketing budgets were a lot tighter.
[A]: Uh, companies or start-ups who were thinking about bringing something to market, they didn’t have that luxury anymore.
[C]: They didn’t have financing.
[A]: It was terrible.
[C]: Banks didn’t loan any money.
[A]: Yeah, and so there was just, absolutely nothing.
[C]: Yeah, money dried up all over the place and I think I remember, too, two of your bigger clients in the action-sports space, they had problems financially, too, right?
[A]: Yeah, I think, uh, in the action-sports industry, I did a lot of, um, lifestyle brands, um, action-sports and their sponsors stopped sponsoring the events, and so, those events just, they just disappeared. Another big client I had at the time I had a retainer with (Honda motorcycles), and so retainer is they, they had a one-year contract and I would get paid monthly, so it was kinda like a salary, so it was that stability. Um, they stopped having work because they then tightened-up their budget and kept everything in-house, and so then that was that moment where I needed to figure out what to do next.
[C]: Well this kind of stuff doesn’t happen overnight. There’s a slow progression or, it might feel like it happens overnight, but–
[A]: It felt like it happened overnight.
[C]: Right. Like, one client calls you and says, “Aaron, it’s been great working with you, but we can’t do this anymore.” There goes Honda. The action sports guys say, “We can’t do the next event this year, all our sponsors pulled out.” And, slowly but surely you start to see that 20 thousand become 18, becomes 12, becomes 8…
[C]: And so talk to me. When did it hit rock bottom for you?
[A]: It, it was pretty quick. Um, I knew that (I mean), I probably started living beyond my means (‘cause I had a nice car)–
[A]: And I, I was more concerned about status and what people thought of me, so I, I kind of was–had a certain lifestyle that I was used to living. Eating out, dressing a certain way, um, and so when I couldn’t afford to do those things, and the money wasn’t coming in, that’s when I’m like: “Okay, what do I do now? Do I, do I actually brush off my résumé and look for another job?” And I had a lot of pride because I sort of had a certain level of success with Farm Design and, um, I’d built something. To feel like I had to let that go and, you know, suck up my pride and go on interviews again, it was really tough. And I actually did that. I had to.
[C]: You, you put together your resume.
[A]: I put together my portfolio, I put–uh, I rewrote my résumé, um, this is my late 30s now and I was going to, I went to a couple job interviews and I never got the work. I’m like, “Wait, wait a minute. I thought my stuff was pretty good.” But, they weren’t hiring.
[C]: Why do you think that was?
[A]: I think everyone was starving. Everyone was hungry, everyone was looking for work. Uh, they had to be über selective about who they picked because, you know, they probably had limited resources as well and maybe I just didn’t fit. I think also maybe my portfolio was very one-dimensional, but that worked for me in terms of my business model. I focused heavily on, uh, an action-sports sort of “youth-lifestyle” sort of. That’s who I appealed to, those are the type of clients I appealed to.
[C]: How did that make you feel?
[A]: Uh, pretty inferior, actually. Um, it, it, it made me think and it kept me up late at night, uh, just wondering like okay, what did I do wrong? Um, you know. The fear of, “Can I make my car payment? Can I, can I pay for rent? What is my girlfriend gonna think?” It’s, it’s those sort of things, like, it can emasculate you, so, yeah. I think, you know, I–that was the time when I like, really hit rock bottom. It wasn’t fun. It was scary.
[C]: I can, I can only imagine. I mean, even the act of putting together your résumé, not as a design exercise, but because you actually have to go out and get work, that just must have been hard to say, like, “Okay, it was a good run. It’s been 8 or so years and it’s been great, and now I have to change and everything is changing and…did you start to regret some of the decisions that you made prior to that point? Because sometimes when you’re in that dark place–
[C]: –you ask, “Why did I buy that expensive car? What, why did I not take that opportunity, or there was that one client that I could have done something different from but I walked away ‘cause I was too or what. I don’t know what it was. I’m just…
[A]: I, I don’t think I regretted the decisions I made with my business. I, I look back at it as a learning experience, like, “Okay, I probably should have done something different. Um, I, I certainly (I think with a lot of people) lived beyond my means.
[A]: Um, having a nice car and living a certain way, and at the end of the day, what does that all really mean? It’s, it’s superficial. And it took sort of hitting that rock-bottom to start to see those things, and re-evaluate and, um, assess who I was and, and if I needed to change my mindset to sort of right the ship because everything was, like, the business, the accounting, the–my relationships, it was like, it all kind of like came to a head.
[C]: Did it cause friction in your relationship?
[A]: It certainly didn’t help. Yeah. Um, because we split all of the–at the time, I was in a long relationship as well, and I think I wasn’t–probably it was a 15-year relationship
[A]: And so, why didn’t I commit to that person, so I think there was a lot of things I didn’t want to grow up.
[A]: So, you know, that whole “Peter Pan” syndrome thing. It, it affected everything.
[C]: If the label fits you well. I know you resented me even throwing that at you.
[A]: I didn’t even know what that meant when you brought it up.
[C]: I made it up.
[A]: Yeah, okay.
[C]: Peter Pan. Peter Pan never grows up!
[A]: That was me.
[C]: Okay. Wow, okay, so if you guys want to get the razor blades out, now would be a good time to actually put them away ‘cause we’re gonna, we’re gonna pivot. There’s a reason why Aaron is here. I wanted him, and I’ve encouraged him to just kind of open his heart and share some of the pain points there because what happens next, I think we can learn a lot from. Now if we had a commercial break, this is when I would cut to a commercial break, but we don’t, so we’re gonna keep going!
[C]: That’s how we roll. Okay, so I’m gonna bring up this slide here, and I remember you doing this (I have my thoughts and opinions on this as well), but you started another business.
[C]: Let me, let me just set the stage and then you, you take it from there. So, so here you are, you can’t get clients because you actually didn’t build a sales pipeline or sales or marketing strategy and all the things that you had done in the past, are no longer applicable because there are too many buyers and too few sellers. Oh, I’m sorry, let me say that the opposite: There are too few buyers and too many sellers of work, and so, you went out and tried to get a job. You did the whole resume dog-and-pony show and you weren’t able to get the work either, so now it’s like, what does a person do? And you got pushed into a pretty tight corner. This is when you started a company called “Mugo,” a portable MP3 music player–
[C]: –that was kind of tapping into a big trend, and the trend was custom-vinyl-artwork, built around artists that have a following. Right?
[C]: Take it away from there.
[A]: Yeah, I, I think when I, when I was at that place in my career, I…I, I had to make a decision: Do I just bury my head in the sand and just, you know, did I fail or do I try to learn from my mistakes and do something with it? And when the opportunities weren’t knocking, they say to build a door and so because no one else was calling me, that I felt like I needed to create my own opportunities. Um, I took a lot of the lessons, uh, I realized I learned a lot, design, doing branding for my clients in helping them build something. Seeing their vision come to fruition. Um, so I’m like, “Well I need to take the lessons that I have, the skills that I have, the foundation and do that for myself.” So I was very passionate about music and collecting vinyl toys, which, you know, I think I probably got a lot from you because you collect a lot of vinyl toys as well and I think I got that inspiration and I, I created this thing called a “Mugo” and what my goal was to bring a product to market. I didn’t know what I was doing. It was all just by the seat of my pants. Um, literally, uh, designed something, um, try to figure out how to find, uh, vendors and manufacturers. I knew that I needed to go to China because looking for local vendors, it was too expensive and the price-point wasn’t right, so like, how do I find vendors in Asia? And then, so a lot of this stuff was incredibly reactive, but I had a goal, like I needed to create another sort of income source. I’m gonna create my own business, separate from branding. And that’s what Mugo was. Um, and that was probably a two-year “labor of love,” getting that thing. Trying to get it off the ground.
[A]: Um, and then, sort of, in the middle, there’s occasionally those small little projects that might come in, but I was, I was–that whole time–I was, everything was running on fumes.
[C]: I remember.
[C]: I remember. So sometimes…a wise friend could come in and offer you advice, and you would ignore it because of our competitive spirit.
[C]: And then, sometimes life sends you another message, knocking at your door, and pulls the rug out from underneath you, and you can’t attribute these…the “global forces at work,” if you will–this whole “subprime market,” it just “bottomed-out” as something that is a consequence of your action, things just do happen, but then it’s in those moments you learn that, “Oh, we didn’t prepare that emergency earthquake kit. Oh, snap! Now we gotta go do something about it.” And you tried one thing after the other, and, where is it in this part of your journey is it that you start to make these kind of fundamental changes that lead you to kinda where we’re gonna take this conversation in a little bit. What happened? Can you, can you remember? What were the triggers and how did your mindset change? Because so much of what we try to teach on this show is about “mindset.”
[A]: Yeah. I, I think one thing that I took from my childhood, and my, my growing up on a farm and an agricultural community is, uh, my father always taught us to, sort of, “feed the soil and not the plant.” And it was a very literal uh, um, lesson that he was trying to teach us. And what that, what that meant was, in, in order for the crop to thrive is you really need to put your focus on the soil. And, so, he taught us how to fertilize the soil, how to do crop rotation, so all of these things it was, was putting the focus on, on a foundation.
[A]: And, and if you focus on the foundation, then that crop will thrive and you’ll be sustainable. If you, if you lose focus on that foundation or the soil in this metaphor, um that’s, that plant will eventually wither and die. So, when I was going through this transition, I, I was–uh–reminded of that lesson and, and used it as a metaphor that I think what I had spent so much of my time focusing on was, like myself and what I thought other people, um, wha–the importance of what they thought of me, the type of car I drove, the type of clothes I wore–and I focus more I guess on the plant, and I didn’t focus on the foundation. So, I shifted, needed to shift in my mindset to, um, thinking in a belief system that is more long-term and more foundational. So by developing something like creating my own product as something that, um, I can put a lot of the, the work into creating it. But then that would have sort of long-term effects in terms of sales, and the lessons that I learned from that I can parlay that into other opportunities. Um, and I think that’s what truly happened when I, when I started to do that–is that other opportunities came out through this experience. Uh, opportunities that I didn’t even foresee, but um, but then I sort of grasped those opportunities, and I think that’s when things started to happen. The big shift was, in conjunction with Mugo ‘cause I had to fund that and I had to just survive, is I needed to decide like, “How am I going to grow my business?” if that’s what I wanted to do. And I was reminded of, of what you always told me is like, I think there was, there was someone you met. There was a kid you met at a portfolio review and you called me up and you said, “Hey, there’s this kid, you know, he’s, he’s okay. I, I liked his energy. Give him a call. Um, try him out as an intern. Just give him one day a week.” And, you know, at that point, it’s like, I have nothing to lose. And so, I actually listened to you that time.
[C]: The one time.
[A]: The one time–or maybe the first time.
[C]: Okay, the first time.
[A]: It was the first time. And so, uh, I called him, he came in and I interviewed him, and his portfolio was, you know, it was average, but I, I did like his energy, and so I said, “Okay, I’m gonna take this leap of faith, I don’t know how I’m gonna pay for this kid, you know, it was 10 dollars an hour, and so I said, “Well, what if I, if I fed you lunch everyday, too, would, does that sound appealing?” And he said–he was as hungry as I was. So I, I hired him, and I said, “Let’s come in, let’s try two days a week.” And he didn’t have a vehicle, and he drove a bus, it took him 2 to 2 and a half hours just to get to my place, so I knew that he was really passionate and hungry as well. So what I started to see is this, what I thought as like, maybe this kid can help me with small little tasks and errands, is what it did is it really sort of lit a fire and it re-sort of, um, brought the passion back and the energy for my craft as a designer because, uh, he would come in and I would give him tasks and I would teach him certain things and I could see the look on his face when I would teach him these things, and, and that sort of, sort of fueled my fire, and then, surprisingly what I did not expect, is he taught me a lot of things–’cause I had way too much pride. I thought I knew everything. I thought I knew everything. But he taught me a lot of things, and that’s when I sort of had a really big pivot point in my career and my life and um, looking at myself like, you know, maybe I don’t know everything. Maybe I need to re-look at this.
[A]: I-I look at my career when I was a, a solopreneur, and I look at it as, as I was a–really a small plant in a small pot. I was this one guy in my apartment, working in this little room, wake up and I’d go to the room and I’d do my work. I was a plant in a small pot, and what I needed to do was focus on that foundation and, and grow that foundation, so I needed to get a bigger pot, so I could allow sort of my roots to grow. So, I got another computer, um, I got another workstation, I got the intern and we started doing stuff and things started happening. I didn’t know what it was, but I just knew something was different.
[C]: Mm. Okay. Let’s hold that thought for a second here. I want to que up Emmanuel and Sam and, and Erica. If you guys have any questions, get your questions ready. I just want to read some comments from the livechat. People are saying: (This is Akman Raw–I don’t know how to say your name, but he’s like) “I’ve learned so much within the last 30 minutes.” So thank you for saying that. People are saying, “This is amazing.” Uh, “Salut.” “Teach and learn, Farm Design.” Uhh, “Amazing, you guys.” “Check it out.” “Mind blown.” So some good energy coming in. I wanted to share that with you so you could feel some of the audience feedback. Uh, uh I have tons of thoughts and ideas and questions to kind of dive in, but I’mma kick it out to the new dream team. New dream team, you got any questions or comments about this?
[Emmanuel] We have a question from Lallitz Gallery, umm, he’s asking, “How does a solopreneur handle his/her company during a recession?”
[C]: I think you’re hearing it right now.
[C]: I believe you’re exactly hearing the story of how a solopreneur handles their company during a recession. And we’re gonna talk a little bit more about that so let’s okay, that’s a good question. Anything else? Anything? You guys can ask your own question, you guys. As you’re listening to the story, both of you guys are graphic designers. Emmanuel, raise your hand so people know who you are. So Emmanuel’s from, from, from Italy. From Milan?
[C]: Okay, so, it’s ironic that you’re here and I’ll be going to Milan in a couple of weeks. That’s kind of weird. You come and I–
[E]: I’ve been waiting for you for ages.
[C]: I’m sorry. And then Sam. Sam’s from Art Center, right? You’re studying graphic design. What, what term and major are you?
[Sam]: Um, I’m about 8th term at Art Center.
[C]: Oh! You’re about to graduate.
[S]: Yeah. So, haha. Yeah.
[C]: Okay, any questions so far, you guys? As you’re hearing Aaron just pour his heart out here, just on the table and the floor! You got anything for us? Erica, I, I hear, I hear you smiling and laughing in the background, so, what’s, what’s resonating and what’s connecting with you?
[Erica]: Uh, well mostly I’m focusing on the edit…
[E]: But, it is really great to hear a story, um, of how someone got started and the troubles they went through, and how they realized their mindset, and I’m looking forward to, to more of it, even though half of my attention is mostly on the edit.
[C]: Okay, okay. But I, I hear your smiling and laughing at the key moments. Uh, when I make my little jokes and insert the jabs, so I, I know you’re paying attention. Okay. Anyways, people are wondering what happened to Aaron and Molly. Are they gone forever? And yes, they are gone forever. Or have they been shipped off to another country? No, they’re in the other room, working very hard, you guys. Just relax. We’re bringing in lots of different kinds of people, different energy for the topics that are relevant to them and what they’re passionate about. So let’s talk a little bit about this, so, before we kind of just broke away for a moment from the story.
[C]: You’re kind of in this dark place. You don’t know what else to do. So you wind up bringing in somebody to help you. And I have to imagine, because I think we had these conversations before, and this is gonna touch upon a lot of what our audience is gonna feel. So when you’re not successful, you feel like, “Well who am I to take on people and to mentor? Like, I’m not even worthy of doing that. And, I’m barely making it as it is, financially. How can I afford to bring in another person? What are they gonna do for me? I don’t have any work to do, what the heck are they gonna do?”
[C]: Right? Does that sound about fair?
[A]: It’s pretty fair.
[C]: Okay, now so despite all that, you finally, finally let some words of wisdom trickle into the thick skull. And you actually do bring in a kid. You bring in a kid.
[C]: And it was very generous of you, actually, because a lot of people do unpaid internships, and for you even to say, “Look, I, I, I’ll pay you hourly and then I’ll buy your lunch,” because you’re a good guy. So if you have a loaf of bread, I think you’re the type of guy who doesn’t just cut half and give it to his employee. You cut whatever you think the employee needs and you eat the crumbs that are leftover. So kudos to you, you’re a good, you’re a good man, Charlie Brown. You are. Okay? So you bring in a guy and you start to learn how to delegate. You learn how to collaborate. You learn how to manage.
[C]: And most importantly, you’re, you’re teaching and you’re sharing what you know. And this is what they, they always say (like, teachers say this and it’s a cliché, but it’s totally true): “You learn more from the student than they will ever learn from you.” And, and I wanna explain that a little bit, but I don’t want to explain it. I want you to do it. Like, what do you mean when you say that, like, you didn’t realize you would learn so much by actually having somebody that you were gonna teach?
[A]: I think it’s interesting…um, teaching someone things that you know. First of all, I really didn’t think I knew that much. I think I had certain levels of skill, but I say, “If you’ve been paying attention in life, you should’ve, you should learn something.” And so, having someone there where you can bounce ideas off and, and share information you realize, um, how much you actually do know. And then it starts a conversation. And that conversation stimulates and challenges each other, and I think that’s what it, it–one of the challenges of working by yourself is, “Who’s there to challenge yourself?” It’s like, do you have that intern–, that internal sort of voice that, that can do it for you?
[A]: So, having an intern or a student there who can, that can challenge you on your thoughts, who can bring new, uh, dialogue and information to the table, I think is what really started to, um, where I started to grow up as a person…
[A] And made me want to learn more so I can share more.
[A]: And so, we started with that collaboration. Between the two of us, uh, I, I think, I felt like I was becoming a better person and more knowledgeable, and I could see him, he was always there on time, everyday, the front door, ready to go, to, to the next task and so, that just sparked the fuel even more, and like, “Okay, where do I take this? What’s the next step?” And so I brought in another intern because the work started picking up. Um, and so I brought in another person. At that point I, I had moved and I had a house…
[A]: And, um…
[C]: So we’re gonna, we’re gonna talk. We’re gonna do the transition talk right now? Is that right?
[A]: Roughly, but I think it’s, it’s important because, uh, I, I had a garage.
[A]: So, I moved out of the apartment with the spare bedroom and I now had a house with a garage…
[A]: And a yard. And, I put in more computers. And so I’m like: “Okay.” I felt comfortable bringing that one person on. So little baby steps, little progressions, sort of, uh, scaffolding my, uh, my efforts and, and trying to build for something greater. Uh, I didn’t want to jump in head-first. I was doing little baby steps, but at least I was moving forward with the goal that I needed to do something where I can be sustainable and something that I can have to grow my business, and um, and my career. So I hired another employee. Um, it was my–it started out as an internship, uh, she was fantastic, and so I offered her a job after a few months.
[A]: But we were in the garage! And, it was difficult–I was surprised that she took the job offer because it’s like, this person who just graduated school, who I thought was incredibly talented, why would she want to come and work in my garage? So she saw something, I think in me, perhaps? I think she saw something in, in my vision, like how I wanted to grow the business, and so I needed to get that bigger pot, and so I took another leap of faith, and I got an office space in Old Town Pasadena. So, it scared me to death because now I have more expenses, more overhead, I have to pay for rent and utilities, and more computers, and the salary, um, so, it’s, it’s pushing me out of my comfort zone is really what allowed me to start to grow and, and, um, mature as an individual, and mature as a business owner.
[C]: Mm-hmm. Okay, so, we’re gonna cut to my slides here. This is where Aaron’s office is now, right on the main strip in Old Town Pasadena. It’s right on Colorado. He’s right there above the Vans shoe store.
[A]: Vans Shoes and…
[C]: Yeah. And something else.
[A]: It’s that second floor there.
[C]: And Lush. And you can see him on the second floor there with the orange lights. And I’m gonna show you guys a little about his office space. And he’s gone through some expansion. Uh, you’ve knocked out some walls and kind of moved–opened up your office, and soon, I think, you’ll probably outgrow that office, too.
[C]: Right? That’s a probability.
[A]: That pot is probably…I’m out growing that pot, and so I’ll probably need to get a bigger pot. So, yeah.
[A]: Yeah, it needs to just continue to grow.
[C]: So here, you can see Aaron with his dog, Shelly?
[C]: Shelby! And, and some of his staff. Alright. And now we’re gonna look at some of his work…I know the Internet is really smart, so all our fans are probably already crawling all over your Behance site or on your website itself–uh, your website proper. But let’s take a look at some of your work. So, now you’re in the food and bev space and you’re doing really well. You’re killin’ it. You’re, you’re branding some really awesome restaurants and, just, really fun “dream” projects, if you will. Doing things from (What is this?) Craft Cider, and to Cold Brew Coffee from Califa, Califia?
[C]: Calif-fee-ya, thank you. And then doing coffee packaging for Static.
[C]: And some fashion stuff, too.
[A]: You’ll start to notice that I transitioned away from youth-lifestyle, and into…um, a portfolio that can appeal to clientele that probably could afford to pay us, that I can afford to pay my staff, and so, in order for me to do that, I had to get out of my comfort zone of doing what I knew, while I needed to–we needed to craft a portfolio that can attract clients that we wanted.
[A]: And so…
[C]: I feel like I’ve heard that before. How…I can’t put my…
[C]: …finger on it. I just…
[A]: I think I came up with that.
[C]: Yeah, probably. Okay, keep going.
[A]: But I think uh, from a lot of your audience, it’s like, how do you get to that next level? How, how do you attract a certain clientele?
[A]: And, I, I learned this from students, is, uh, I would ask–be asked to do a lot of portfolio reviews at my alma mater at Cal. State Northridge and AIGA, and, there was always–I’d get the portfolio from the student and it would be their–they would show work from school task, and it, the projects that they were probably the most proud of were something that was actually, they, did in real life that was actually printed, but oftentimes those projects weren’t that good. It’s like: “Oh, I designed this logo and this brochure for a bank,” for example, and I’m looking at–the design is not that great, but they think it’s the best piece in their portfolio because it was actually printed, or there was an actual client. And so, I, I learned from that, that, you know,
[A]: I don’t think you have to show something that you actually did, I’d rather you, you show me something that’s, uh, exemplifies your capabilities and your design skills. So if that means you have to do something on your own, or if, if you’re in class and your professor gives you a project, do the project, but then go the next step, and, and expand on that project and that system, uh, for your portfolio. So from that lesson (‘cause I didn’t want to look at projects that didn’t appeal to me), so when I started, uhh, sort of “Farm Design 2.0,” and I have employees, like, we needed to like, um, attract a new clientele, so we asked ourselves, “What sort of clients do we want to attract?” And we would, we were interested in maybe doing some sort of beverage company, we liked coffee, so, and we liked restaurants, so I tasked the, um, my employees, “Okay, let’s come up with a hypothetical project, and let’s start crafting something.” So we actually put a project brief together, we, we acted like we were the clients and we needed to have parameters, so it wasn’t the wild west and just running all over the place. We needed to have parameters, and we designed things, we mocked them up, we shot them for our portfolio, we put them out there. We put it out on Dribble, we put it out on our website, and then people started calling because they liked something–a beverage project, and then they had a beverage project themselves. And so we started getting clients based on the work that we were putting out there. So we weren’t waiting for clients to come to us, we were like, “Okay, we need to put something out there, you know, put a little bait in the water for them to bite and so we could bring them in. We have to craft something.”
[A]: Uh, a good example is, uhh, we…we, I! I had an opportunity for a restaurant branding project. Honestly, I don’t remember how the guy found us, he was gonna do a pizza shop, and that was extremely exciting. It would have been our first restaurant project. He came in–and this is when we first opened our office in Pasadena, we didn’t have a lot of furniture, we didn’t have anything on the walls, it was like, I was like: “Oh my God! I, we have to look professional!” So we were actually printing stuff out and putting them on the wall like we were like super busy. He came into the office and, and we would pretend like we were really busy and we did the dog-and-pony show, and he, I thought for sure we got the project. And he didn’t call us back. And I was like, that was our opportunity to get into the restaurant business. But because we didn’t get that project, I’m like, “Okay, guys. We need to create that hypothetical restaurant project.” And we took that as an opportunity, and we put that on the Internet, and then we started getting calls to do restaurant projects. But I think that only works if you do good work. It can’t be mediocre work. Otherwise, you’re going to probably get mediocre clients.
[C]: I don’t think anybody wants medio–mediocre work, period. Even mediocre clients don’t want mediocre work. Let me, let me ask you a couple of questions. So you’re fussing about doing this artwork, trying to create the appearance and the facade that you’re a happening studio, and then you don’t get the work. Any other reasons why you don’t think you got the work?
[A]: I think there wasn’t a certain polish. I still was sort of refining sort of our, our game in terms of, “How do we sell our skills?” Look, “Who are we?” We were still trying to define who we were, um, so I think they didn’t have necessarily confidence in our ability. We probably didn’t have that body of work yet, um, to sort of lean against, um, so I think there was, there was two-fold. Um, did they have the, the trust in our ability to put–to do something? And, do you have something to support that, that I can see? They like case studies.
[C]: Yeah. I’m gonna mention a couple of things, ‘cause, I want to fill in some of the gaps for our audience. I remember talking to you about this and, and, and I think I’m glad that you’ve ultimately had made those changes, but I remember looking at your portfolio. So now you, you have your foot half into this other world (we’ll just call it the “adult world”), and half of the other foot in the youthful action-sports-lifestyle brand world. And I think even at this point (‘cause you and I, we’ve had so many conversations, especially when you still lived in Santa Monica), we’d go out to lunch, first it would be once a week, and then twice a week, and it seemed like we’re having lunch every single day. And I was just meeting up with you, we would chat, basically, just trying to help a friend level-up his business game, which is something I felt really good about. But I remember seeing like really beautiful, mature typography and work for real estate clients, and some beautiful identity design work that was in conflict with this other (if you guys remember back to surf brands, those kind of stuff he was doing), it was diametrically opposed in look and tone. So I, I don’t know if I articulated that clearly to you at that point in time. You do need to make a choice. Because it’s, it’s kind of schizophrenic. People show up at your site, they’re gonna see something or they’re gonna ask themselves: “Which designer am I getting? Am I getting the more sophisticated, mature person who can understand big businesses? Or do I want that youthful, edgy energy?” And I think at that point you weren’t quite ready to let that go, but ultimately you did, and you started to change portfolios. So, a recurring theme here–that I’m gonna try to do my best to articulate is your ability to look in the moment, and make some really hard decisions that seem to go against every fiber of your being. We trace it back to “I just want to do the work,” “I have great pride and ownership,” “I think it’s good–and it’s ethical for me to do the work,” and then to let that go, to let that go and it transformed you. Then to take on more employees and then to make a big commitment. Anybody that’s been out there who has had to sign a lease, it’s like a 3-year lease, you’re making a commitment–a promise to pay somebody else rent that you’re not sure if you’re going to be able to do for the next 3 years. That is a big “gut-check” moment. And you’re doing all these things (you call them “small, scaffolding steps”), but really, they’re giant commitments internally that you have to get over. And to also let go of some of the past to make room for the future.
[C]: And you did all that and I, I–kudos to you. It took you awhile (I, I always say, like, you would be ten times big and successful if you just moved a little faster), but you’re, you’re super successful now, and I want to show a little bit more of your work. But, there’s another thing that I want to talk about here and you’ve mentioned it a couple of times so I feel that I need to point it out.
[C]: When Hugh Barton was on here, the psychotherapist, he talked about the difference between “self-confidence” and “self-esteem.” I’ve never heard this before explained this way (and I hope I don’t butcher this prat): “self-confidence” is how you feel about you and your work when nobody is around; “self-esteem” is how you feel when other people are around. And I think they’re one and the same because you truly cannot be self-confident if you don’t have the self-esteem. Well, why is that? Because you had mentioned twice now that you brought in this superstar designer, and you weren’t sure if she would want to work with you because you’re working out of your garage. So I’ve never suffered from that because I always thought, “I have a lot to share, and the work is going to be really good.” Don’t worry about the Ikea tables and the cardboard box that we work out of. And then that, that popped up again when you had clients come in, and you’re like: “Oh! Let’s make sure we look a certain way!” When I wanted to spend all my energy working on the internal, working on the mindset, the self-esteem, the self-confidence, so I could learn how to talk to people. ‘Cause in theory then, when all that stuff goes away, when it, when it gets torched or something happens, you still have the stuff inside, and that’s the important stuff. But, the last thing that you mentioned, which is (a thing that we referred to as “closing the gap”), a lot of creative people, they know their fullest potential and they keep saying to themselves: “If a client ever gave me the opportunity, I would do this amazing work!” What they’re doing is they’re putting the burden of work and the leap of faith and the risk in the client’s hands. You said to yourself, very wisely: “We want to do this kind of work. Realistically, looking at our own work, we’re not going to get this kind of work based on our portfolio. So we need to make the time and energy and, and put the resources together to, to put this kind of work out.” And it, and you for, for doing what you did, almost–it felt instant results. You put out the projects, it got talked about, it got shared on all these sites and these blogs, and then all this attention was now turned onto you.
[C]: And it was wonderful, so you were rewarded for making your efforts about showing the people, the world, the potential that you believed in yourself, but hadn’t shown before. And that’s how you go about and get this work.
[C]: So you guys out there that are scratching your head and thinking about this right now, how do I make that transition from being a “poor, broke person” (but not broken person, just a broke person), and, how do I make that transition? How do I get out of that? So close the gap. You have to do good work. All of the conversation we’re having right now, you guys, means that you have to know your craft. That’s the beginning part, but that’s not the end. That’s just the beginning. Okay. Any other questions? And I’mma show more of your work and we’re gonna kind of figure out like life lessons, things that you can peel away from this.
[C]: Okay. Any other kind of questions, you guys? People are saying this is like the “best livestream ever,” it’s like, that’s a little hyperbolic, but I’ll take that. Okay. Somebody’s putting in quotes (air quotes). Gianfranco, uhh, he’s saying “Adult-design equals money?” I don’t know. Alright.
[S]: We got a couple of questions.
[C]: You do? Okay, fire away, man.
[S]: Yeah, um, this one comes from Galley Taylor?
[C]: Alright, speak into the mic, dude.
[S]: This one comes from Galley Taylor.
[C]: Much better.
[S]: And, she’s asking, uh, if: “When you look for a client–uh, when you look for clients, do you look for one with definite budgets for service, or do you look, do you work with clients to organically develop a budget for your service?”
[C]: Do you understand the question?
[A]: Yes, I do. You know I was, when you’re hungry, you’ll take any client. So when you’re developing and you’re trying to build that foundation, you’ll take pretty much any client, as long as they’re willing to pay you for your craft. So as you evolve and you become, um, more polished, uh, I think the rules change a little bit and, um, I think, fortunately for, uh, my business (Farm Design) that uh, we’ve evolved quite a bit in a really short period of time.
[A]: And so the rules that I look for in a, in work, uh, I call it the sort of the “3 Ps.” It’s 3 rules I wanna try to hit and I, to determine if it’s the right project for us and, and the 3 Ps are: Portfolio, profit, and people. So portfolio is, I look at it when someone calls me, is it gonna be a project that I get really excited about? A juicy project? Something that I, I want to put into my portfolio? I want to take pride in? Um, the other one is: profit. Uh, I want to assess to see if the, the client is qualified, if they have a budget, and, uh, so I dig deeper, and I, you know, you ask those questions, sometimes it’s unveiled when you, when you do a proposal. And the third one is, um: people. Um, they say like 85% of your problems come from 15% of your clients, um…
[C]: It’s actually 80-20, it’s the Pareto Principle, but yes.
[A]: So I fudged it a little?
[A]: So I’ve worked with a lot of–what I consider–like, “bad” clients, and, and it just, it takes the soul out of you when you work with certain people that either they don’t respect you or they don’t respect your craft, or conversely so. So I think it’s really important when you’re in a business relationship that, um, it’s a healthy relationship.
[A]: So my role is: I need to have at least 2 of those working for me. You can’t just have one and I think that the, the unicorn is if you can have all 3. So, when assessing like type of work that uh we want to work for, or the type of people, um, so I don’t necessarily have to have make money every single time I take a job if the people I respect and they’re fun to work with, and it’s a portfolio piece that’s really exciting. ‘Cause I know that’s an investment that’s gonna get the next job. Um, but you can do any, any combination, but for me it’s gotta be at least 2 out of those 3.
[C]: Yeah. Okay. 2 out of the 3. Any other questions? Emmanuel? Sam?
[E]: Yeah, we have a question from…
[C]: Fire away.
[E]: Jaimie Montaño. Uhh, she’s asking: “How do you produce good work when you’re in a hurry because you’re super low on cash?”
[C]: You got it?
[A]: Yeah. “How do you produce work?” I, I don’t believe in working fast. I, I think, um, as a, as a creative director guiding my design staff, I, I never say: “Work faster. Hurry up.” Because I, I think you’re just going to get inferior work. They’re just gonna like, “Uhhhhhhh.” There’s gonna–there’s that tension and they’re trying to craft something. I, I believe in being highly productive, and so, um, trying to do something in a short period of time, I think, part of it is you gotta be realistic with the project and the timelines that you take on. I, I think it would be a disservice to your client if you take on a project that you can’t meet the deadlines, and if you can’t do it at a certain uh standard and quality that, uh, that you believe in, then, you, you, you simply shouldn’t take it. You have to be able to walk away from a project because ultimately you’re going to tarnish that relationship and they’re not gonna come back. Um, I buh–I believe in building relationships so that client continues to come back. I, I’m personally not a salesperson, so I, I don’t do traditional-like sales, cold calls. I don’t do a lot of outbound sort of marketing ‘cause it’s just not my style, so, when I have an opportunity to work with a client, I wanna make sure I, I put my best foot forward because I want to be able to continue that working relationship.
[C]: Do you guys have a follow-up question for him? I’m trying to monitor Facebook and, and YouTube as well. Wel, why don’t we do this?
[C]: Okay, go ahead, Erica.
[E]: Um, so, do you have any projects that you regret doing?
[A]: Any projects that…?
[C]: You regret doing? Any projects that you regret doing.
[A]: Oh, wow. That’s a great question. Absolutely. I’m trying to–haha–I, I think, oftentimes, the projects that I regret are because I didn’t align or have the same values or principles as my client. Um, so I think it’s not necessarily uh if I made money or didn’t make money, if, or, um, if it’s uh, a portfolio piece or not, I think the projects that I regret most are aligning with someone that they didn’t respect our craft or I didn’t respect their vision, and so, I try to avoid those relationships. But! Sometimes you don’t know until you get into that relationship, so, it’s, it’s, it’s challenging and, and sometimes you have to be willing to accept the fact that it may not be a good relationship and like, and just, say, “You know, I just don’t think it’s a good fit. And I think, uh, I wish you the best of luck,” and you just part ways. But, um, “projects that you regret,” it’s…I think, I will continue to encounter those, and–but I’m always trying to like do my, uh, best due diligence to sort of curb the, that. But it’s, it’s challenging.
[E]: Uh, I have a follow-up.
[C]: Go ahead.
[E]: Um, so how do you deal with those projects where you realize that “Maybe we shouldn’t have taken this?” But you did and then you have to follow through with it?
[A]: I seldom, I, I don’t like to leave people in a lurch. I think there’s something about my personality, so, I, I, I don’t typically will walk away from a challenging situation. Um, I, I think if it’s the, the client, and it’s a tumultuous relationship where there’s tension and we’re not seeing eye to eye, then I’m just gonna have that conversation with them that, you know, I think maybe there’s someone better for you. And then we sort of figure out some sort of exit strategy. I think otherwise if we continue down this uh, this tumultuous relationship then I don’t think we’re gonna be able to produce our best work, the experience is gonna be tarnished and at the end, ultimately, neither party is gonna be happy, so, why go through that, that long process? I think it’s best to just be open and transparent, and just say, “I, I think we’re not the best fit.”
[C]: Okay. I, I wrote down some things here. Let’s see here. There was a question from YouTube that asked: “Is that fake restaurant project still available on your site somewhere? And what’s it called?”
[A]: It’s not on our website anymore, but it lives on the Internet because one of the great things is…the, there’s a, an influential blog called “The Dieline”…
[A]: Um, there’s a, other blogs out there, and when we put projects out there, and with technology and social media, um, people pick it up if it’s noteworthy and they share that information. So, the projects still live out there, I think the one I was referring to is called “Old Boy Blues?”
[C]: Mm-hmm. I’m gonna find it.
[C]: “Old Boy Blues.”
[A]: And, the designer that worked on that, she was actually an intern at my company. She is now my art director and she’s been with me for 5 years. So, this project was, you know, it was kind of a labor of love and we, we were like trying to feel it out. And it was all mock-ups. It was hypo–purely hypothetical, but that got us our first restaurant project and today, we, we do a ton of restaurant work and I think on any given day, we’re probably working on 2 or 3 restaurant projects.
[C]: I am not finding your project here. But I will trying finding–
[A]: “Old Boy…Blues?”
[C]: Uhh, I’ll try, but let me do “Farm Design” and see what I come up with. You can keep talking to me while I find this.
[A]: I, I think, um, talking about how, um, technology can help drive marketing for yourself, is even the Mugo project that we were referring to earlier is, it got picked up by The Dieline. I didn’t expect this. Um, they picked it up because I had posted something on my website, uh, The Dieline picked it up and posted it, and then I started getting all these calls, and one of the calls I got was from Dreamworks. Uh, Dreamworks contacted me and they said they wanted to do uh, a licensing partnership deal with me on, on Mugo. And this is all because I put something out there. I tried to create an opportunity, I didn’t know where it was gonna take me, but I knew that I needed to put something out there and create my own opportunities, and then I was able to get Mugo into Walmarts and Urban Outfitters and, and retail, but I, I learned a lot from that. I’m no longer doing Mugo, but I think that opportunity taught me a lot of lessons about the business side of design and it took a lot, um, less off the creative side, so when I’m going into meetings with clients, I can talk about the business side, which I learned through Mugo. Like, what is your go-to market strategy? How, you know, what is your, um, what are your costs? Um, what is your distribution channels? You know, you ask these questions and I never would have been informed and knew how to ask, because I was a designer, I was more talking about the right font and the colors.
[A]: But I think if you talk uh business on a strategic level and you bring value to um, the relationship, then that’s when, uh, they’re more intrigued and uh, see you as a valued partner as opposed to just as a designer.
[A]: And that’s when my business really started to grow, is when I changed the dialogue from “design” to “business strategy.” And I think that’s a big part of why my business sort of took another step.
[C]: Okay, I’m gonna make a note to follow up on this, but I found “Ol’ Boy Blues.”
[C]: It’s right here on the screen. It’s ‘cause I was typing “old,” I didn’t know it was “Ol’ Boy Blues.” So this is what it looks like. I remember you working on this. And this reminded me to kind of ask you this question about mock-ups and things like that, because some people in our pro-group, I, I told them you’re gonna be on the show and they said, “Ask him about how he does such a great job with his mock-ups and Behance.” Are there any tips that you can share with us? How much labor is put into these photographs that we are seeing here?
[A]: Well, we’re not photographers so we just, we just do the best we can. We just try to figure it out, and I think that’s the, that’s the whole key to these things. It’s just, you figure it out. Just, just go into it, not necess–you don’t have to know the outcome. You just have to be willing to take that first step. Um, so this, we, we–
[C]: Now take for example this image here.
[C]: Is this a stock photo that you comp’d the thing onto the brick wall?
[A]: No, we actually, there was, this is one of the alleyways behind, uh, one of our office, our office in Pasadena, and we, we shot this, with the, with the SLR camera and then we actually photoshopped uh the graphics onto the brick wall there.
[C]: Who’s the guy wearing the vest carrying the crate and the bicycle?
[A]: He was an employee at the time.
[C]: Oh! Okay.
[A]: And uh, so yeah. He modeled for us.
[C]: Alright. And he had a vest and an old straw hat.
[A]: That’s his style.
[C]: Okay. What restaurant are we photographing this in?
[A]: Yeah, so we’re like: We need to get that contextual shot, and so we actually went into uh, uh, a burger place, and we said, uh, “We’re doing a student project. Would you mind if we shot some photos?” And they said, “No problem.” So we ordered some food and we took some snapshots.
[C]: Yeah, I remember at this time, you barely even knew how to use the camera, too.
[A]: I was terrible.
[C]: I remember ‘cause you were asking me questions–
[A]: I still don’t know how to use the camera.
[C]: Okay, well that’s fine. But you knew enough now on how to take a shot that’s kind of lit well and kind of understand lighting. And it’s a key part to you being able to do such great mock-ups.
[A]: I, for us it’s a lot about storytelling, so it’s like we wanted to tell the story, the brand story, contextualize it and, and so that was, that was circa–there might be a date on there–circa 2012, maybe? 13?
[C]: Something like that. That’s okay. And then I want to look at your portfolio now on Farm, Farm Design on Behance. You get a lot of leads on, from Behance.
[A]: We get a lot.
[C]: You get a lot. And so I want to talk about this for a brief moment ‘cause I’ve been harping on this to our audience. And they’re like: “Chris, I can’t get any work!” And I said, “Are you on Behance? What does it look like? And how much effort and energy did you put into those things?” So, I’m gonna step onto this one since it’s the newest one.
[C]: This “Ciderworks” thing here. Let’s take a look at it. Go ahead and talk us through this thing. What are you doing here?
[A]: This is a project that we just launched yesterday. It’s called “Bivouac.” It’s a cider company in San Diego, California, they came to us maybe a year and a half ago because they saw some logos that we put on Behance that also was just a hypothetical project.
[C]: Which one was that?
[A]: That was, um, uh “Rust Coffee.”
[C]: Rust Coffee, okay.
[C]: You guys look–
[A]: So we, we put…you know, so they found us on Behance, uh, they contacted us and we started–uh, they do cider. They wanted to do canned cider. They wanted to have a restaurant, um, sort of a, uh, uh, a watering hole for their clients or consumers, and, this is a year and a half process. And so when we put this together, it’s, it’s a combination of uh, telling a story, telling a brand story and hitting a lot of sort of the different facets of the brand, um, we try to look at sort of micro and macro sort of stories. A lot of what you see here are (those cans and boxes), those are mock-ups. So, whether we do a uh 3-D model, um or we use stock photography sites–uh, those I think we got from um, yellowimages.com, they do all these really great, sort of mock-ups with lighting, and so um we buy those off of there. And a lot of these other ones, like, when we look at stock photography, like you here, you have here with the guy holding the, the beer bottle, his…finding the right stock photography that doesn’t look like stock photography, that also aligns with the vision of the brand, so, it’s not just like pulling a photo and dropping it in there. It’s like you have to really curate and think about how that story works. Is it the right demographic? Does it have the right lighting and the tonality? Um, that one there, we loved to use stocksy.com is a really great sort of stock photo site. They don’t feel stock. We also use Shutterstock, um, dot com, but Shutterstock typically is, is good for, um, more sort of pedestrian-looking images. They do look kind of stock. But it’s a combination of mocking things up, shooting things, shooting them in-studio, um, shooting them out-of-studio…
[C]: Well here’s what I wanna do: I want to break this thing down. And I’m gonna prep you for this in case you don’t want to do it. But, I’m gonna ask you a little bit about the business part of this thing, but not just yet.
[C]: Let’s talk about these cans. Is this CG? Computer generated? Or is this photographed?
[A]: Can you tell me? What do you think?
[C]: I think it’s CG.
[A]: How can you tell?
[C]: ‘Cause I know you don’t know how to photograph cans.
[A]: Okay. You are correct. It is, it is a mock-up.
[C]: Hold on! I’m sorry for that!
[A]: It is a mock-up. But, I think–
[C]: It’s beautiful!
[A]: I think some of the best, um, interpretations of branding are mock-ups. I don’t think it has to be a photograph.
[C]: No apologies. No apologies, dude. I don’t care. I think it looks great! I, I’m only guessing because I-you said, “I still don’t know how to take photos.” And to take a can sweating like this, it’s not that easy to do, and I look at the gradations a lot. You used that yellow? What, what?
[A]: Yellow Images.
[C]: Yellow Images for this. How much did it cost you to buy the model for this and put uh, put your label on it?
[A]: A dollar fifty.
[C]: Two hundred and fifty dollars, okay. A dollar fifty, you guys!
[A]: A dollar fifty.
[C]: A dollar fifty. So that’s like–thanks for sharing this. Now, I, I just want to take a moment and say this to you guys that are out there: Aaron could have hoarded these resources. He could have said, “You guys just figure it out.” Because if you guys go look for 3-D mock-ups, you might spend quite a bit of time, trial and error, in finding the right vendors. So I really appreciate you saying that, and I’ve not heard of “Stocksy” before, and we’ll talk a little bit more about that. So he’s sharing his resources–he’s basically saying: “You guys, go out there and make better comps.” And, and I’m not, I’m not gonna feel the competition from you right now.” Let’s keep going on here. Why did you put this kind of “mountain-scape” behind it? Tell me about the thinking behind that.
[A]: Sure. Well, Farm Design is a branding agency, so, we are trying to attract clients and build brand systems for them. So it’s not just a logo, it’s not just a website. We like to build systems. In order to build a, uh, a brand system that is effective and can connect and communicate with their audience, you have to have many different facets to it. And so, there’s a lot of sort of tertiary, um, secondary and tertiary sort of, um, artifacts (is what we like to call them), so, a primary artifact can be a logo. And if you scroll down a little bit farther, you know, you also have secondary marks, colors, textures…
[C]: Hold on. Lemme, let me drive this a little bit.
[C]: Tell me about the mountain though. So are you, where does this label go? Is this for an ad? Or you just added this for you, for the presentation of it? Did they actually use this?
[C]: They did. Okay.
[A]: That one was actually born from one of the moodboards we created.
[C]: I see.
[A]: And we actually used that uh, “texture,” if you will–
[A]: Um, uh, sort of kind of a misty, uh, ethereal background, um, to capture the essence of this adventure and outdoor lifestyle.
[C] Yeah, it’s just a cold mountain.
[C]: I want my beverages to be cold, right?
[C]: Okay, this restaurant photo: Is this their actual place? Their business?
[A]: This is their actual place. It just literally opened up 2 days ago.
[C]: I see. So this is fresh off the press.
[C]: Where is this?
[A]: San Diego.
[C]: So you drove down to San Diego and you took this photo?
[A]: It was given to us and we’re actually going to go there and shoot it with, uh, consu–our, uh, consumers in the space, ‘cause I think it brings a different dynamic. So even though we posted it now, we’re going to constantly update this to sort of enhance and improve it so we want to reshoot these and, and bring a different energy to it with having people in it.
[C]: Why is it important for you to constantly improve and revisit these presentations you have on Behance?
[A]: Because I know that there are clients out there that are constantly looking at us. Not only today, you know, next month, a year from now, so, why not? We have the opportunity. This is, this is dynamic information. It’s not static. It’s like, once you put it up there, it doesn’t have to–it’s not permanent. It’s not like we’re printing something, an you have to burn it and reprint it. It’s, it’s so easy just to repopulate it and, on this forum, and because clients down the road, they’re gonna see it, and they’re gonna want. And they’re gonna see those details and the nuances, so we’re always trying to improve our craft…
[A]: Constantly improving our craft.
[C]: Alright, I want to say this to you guys. There’s this concept from Jim Rohn’s book, “The 7 Strategies for Wealth and Happiness.” He talks about the minors and the majors, what you don’t want to do is mix up these 2 things. You don’t want to make a minor effort for a major result or a goal. And you also don’t want to make a major effort for a minor goal. When you’re talking about your lead-gen source, basically all your sales and marketing, in terms of inbound, is coming from Behance, so it behooves you to do the very best job, and I’ve seen him do this and assign teams to do this, they could spend days, if not weeks working on the layout, the typography, the color palette, the phrasing, the order, and revisit with photography, and that’s why your work stands out. There are a hundred thousand, maybe a couple million people on Behance. Well, why is it always that the best work rises to the top? It’s because they put the time and energy into it and you need to do the same. I, I want to go back and it’s getting close to us breaking for the show here, and I’m sure our livestream audience probably doesn’t want it to end, but it’s gonna end at some point, so I want to dissect this really quickly, just give me shorter answers as what slide you want to talk about. This is a deep-dive into his portfolio, his sales and marketing technique because of the work that we’re seeing here. “Embrace your adventure.” Did you guys write that?
[A]: Yes, we did.
[C]: And so there’s a little typographic–
[A]: Brand voice.
[C]: And they can use that. I saw it on the can. And again, there’s another photo here. I’m assuming that’s stock photo.
[C]: And then, this is another 3-D mock-up.
[A]: Yes, again, Yellow Images.
[C]: Mm-hmm. Really good. Look–look at that corrugated cardboard there! You guys, that’s lookin’ really slick.
[A]: I, I say, ‘cause when I look at portfolios and I can tell that it’s a mock-up, that, I–I say it’s revealing the man behind the curtain. I want to try to craft something that you can’t quite tell, like, “Hmm, is that real or not?” That’s the level of detail that we’re trying to get, so like how the light hits it, how the shadows reflect, all those little nuances, if you can make it where you don’t reveal the man behind the curtain, then I think, then it’s okay. Then we’re gonna post it.
[C]: Are they giving you the 3-D model? Or you give them the artwork and they render it for you?
[A]: It, it’s actually really great because if you subscribe to a premium version on YellowImages.com, you can actually have them do a 3-D render for you. You just give them the drawings, and I think in 2 to 4 weeks, then they’ll give you something. But then they’ll use that as, uh, they’ll sell that on–
[C]: The stock model.
[A]: As a stock model on there, ‘cause they’re just trying to build content as well, so for a small fee of 300 dollars a year…
[A]: They’ll actually make custom renders for you.
[C]: What’s the limitation and how many can you get done?
[A]: I believe it’s just one angle.
[C]: Oh, I mean in a year. Uh, you pay 300 dollars in a year–
[C]: Okay, guys.
[A]: If you were to hire a CG guy to do it–
[C]: Of course.
[A]: The’re gonna charge more than 300. This, I think–
[C]: For sure.
[A]: I think they’re in Russia.
[C]: Well, whatever. Okay, so if you guys should be in a 3-D, mock-up rendering business, you are now just out of business. Okay, let’s keep going here. “Ride the winds of change.” Something you wrote…the feather…the same misty mountains…these coasters. Are these mock-ups?
[A]: It is a mock-up, and you can tell, like, we even put like a, like a, uh, water stain on the actual coaster, uh shadows and we, so we composited all that together with the background, um…
[A]: Yeah, the whole thing is, like, is a composite. And this entire project here, I would say we probably invested around 100 hours to sort of mock this up. ‘Cause this is maybe 2 people working on it for over a week?
[A]: That’s, that’s how important it is to us, because I know the investment of that time and effort–I have to pay these, my employees to do this!
[C]: Yeah, I understand.
[A]: So it’s an investment, and we know that this is gonna beget the next project.
[C]: Right. And I’m gonna say something that is both a complement and an insult to you. You ready? I tell my team: “Guys, look at these mock-ups. This is the gold standard,” to my team. And, “We can do better than this because we’re better than them, aren’t we? Are you telling me we’re not as good as them?” So I, I kinda just throw it out there. So if you guys (my team) can’t make better mock-ups and layouts than this, you’re not worth that much to me. I don’t say it quite like that, but, you know.
[A]: Where is the insult?
[C]: The insult’s: We’re better than this.
[A]: I think anyone can be better than this, and, and I know that–and, and with that–
[A]: It’s like, we’re all, we also know that we can be–get better at this game as well, and so, a year from now, we expect our portfolio and our mock-ups to be better…
[A]: …than it is today. So, you never just settle on your laurels.
[C]: I, I do want to say this: Your mock-up game is tight. So, you’re, you’re already at that kind of upper echelon. Are these your shoes?
[A]: That is me, yeah.
[C]: I can recognize your foot.
[A]: Wait, that was also a composite because the, the…
[A]: …photo wasn’t great, and so we composited things together.
[C]: A lot of color-correction, shadows, reflections, uhhh beer stains. All that–err–water stains. So this is, so you guys know when, when they say that they’re a branding agency, they truly are ‘cause they’re writing copy, they, they’re working on a lot more touch points than just the mark itself or just one package. They’re trying to create the entire kind of visual reflection of what this brand is all about. Okay, so I think you did a great job there of explaining all that stuff, of course, this is the sort of stuff we see in a lot of sites, and you like to do these multiple logos (that you call them “brand artifacts”), I think that’s, that’s the thing that you like to, to do for your clients. This is a stock photo, I’m pretty sure of it.
[C]: This guy’s throwing hops, or whatever he’s doing right here.
[C]: Okay. Great. Good job, man! And I, I do want to say this to both designers and clients who are potentially watching this episode, is that: There are a lot of really great images out there. Maybe too many. And the problem is the ability to hone and find just the right image. So the image might not cost you very much in terms of payment, like, to buy an image off Shutterstock or Stocksy, it’s, it’s really pennies compared to what it would cost to commission somebody. What you are paying for is somebody with an eye who can curate this stuff and scan hundreds of–if not thousands–of images to find the one right fit for you. And that is a skill, and that is worth paying for. ‘Cause they’ve taken an asset that is a dollar and they’ve made it a hundred-thousand dollar image.
[C]: Because they’ve selected the right one, they might have gone and color-corrected it and adjusted some things so it becomes something that–
[A]: Absolutely. Those details, the curation is so important. And, it’s like, you can tell pretty quickly if that’s a stock photographer–photograph, or a mock-up. We try to, sort of, increase that perception of what that is and be able to tell a story. So your focusing on the story. And I think if you do it really well, I think that’s, that’s what we’re trying to accomplish.
[C]: Okay. I want to talk a little bit about business now. Could we talk some business?
[C]: Alright. How much did you get paid for that project?
[A]: The Bivouac?
[A]: That was an interesting one because it was, uh, I actually got stock options in the business.
[C]: Woohoo! Excuse me! It’s the dinger on that! There we go. Alright.
[A]: Oh my God. Did you really…?
[C]: Yeah, I did.
[A]: Nah, um. So I’m actually, uh, part owner, but very small.
[A]: Very, very small. But if this thing gets sold to Budweiser, you know.
[C]: You’ll, you’ll, you’ll combine that with–
[A]: Um, but in lieu of, uh, in terms of cash, it was, um, I think it was 45 thousand?
[A]: 45 thousand?
[C]: Good for you!
[A]: So it was in 3 payments, uh, spread out over a year and a half but, um, yeah.
[C]: Excellent. And when you told the client–we’ll talk about some of the mindset stuff here–here, let me put this down, uhh, 45 thousand dollars, we always have these kind of fears, like, “Uhh, is it too much? Is it too little?” Tell me about your mindset when you’re like working on the estimate for this thing.
[A]: Okay, so, the, the individual who contacted us actually was already engaged with, with another agency down in San Diego, an agency that (when I was in school, over 20 years ago), I looked up to. I would buy books because their logos were in it, and–
[C]: I know who you’re talking about.
[A]: They were, they were, they’re amazing. They’re still amazing. And when I heard that he’s working with them, I’m like: “Okay, we’re kind of not in your league, or the league that you’re looking for.” But he said, “I saw the ‘Rust’ project,” (and you can–) it’s on our Behance page it’s–and that was a hypothetical project. He said, “I just love what you guys do, there’s something about that.” And so, he wanted us to put a proposal together. I, I knew the agency that he was already engaged with, but that he was having, um, concerns with. And, so I, I took a risk, like, I’m gonna go bid higher out of my comfort zone because you’re always pushing us and, and on the ph–when we chat, we have our tea time and you’re always saying: “Ask for more! Why are you ask–you can, you can ask! Like okay, this is this one time
[C]: Okay, okay.
[A]: This is this one time I think I’m gonna listen to Chris again. I’m gonna try to go out of my comfort zone, because probably my comfort zone is…far less. And so I put that proposal together, and my number (I said it was 45) I found out that the other agency, I think, was 120 thousand.
[A]: So I was woefu–I was like woefully less than them, but I was con–incredibly content with what I got.
[A]: But could I, could I have asked for more? But, it’s like, you know, you’re always sort of trying to figure out what your comfort level is, and what your value you bring to the project, and you, you’re always assessing if the client can afford you.
[C]: Right. I, I want to talk about this for a brief minute. ‘Cause there are not many people who are on this show, who know me as well as you do. We’ve had thousands of hours of talking–sometimes personal, sometimes business–uh, in the last 20 years that we’ve known each other. I just want to give you guys an opportunity here, for you to totally mock me right now. When I’m talking to you and I’m like, “Aaron, blah blah blah.” You can par–you can, you can do your parody of what you think you hear when I say these things. I would love to hear you say that, for our audience, for our fans, I think they’re gonna like it. What do you hear? Like when I’m barking these things at you, what do you hear? How does this sound like in your brain?
[A]: I mean…
[C]: You ready?
[A]: Oh my gosh…
[C]: You–do your close-up! Right there!
[A]: Oh my gosh!
[C]: Tell the people how it sounds in your brain. I’ll get out of your shot, go ahead.
[A]: Well, I mean, when we first started, we were kind of like enemies because we were like–
[C]: We’re not enemies!
[A]: No, we were! We started out as enemies! Like, I just wanted to crush you.
[C]: I never saw it like that.
[A]: And then
[C]: It was easy to crush you.
[A]: You know, I always admired what you’ve been able to accomplish and build before even before you started The Futur, and it, it was really impressive, but I think a lot of my pride and stubbornness is like, I, I don’t want to listen to someone who is “up here.” I, I probably would listen to my parents, but I didn’t want to listen to you. And so it, for you it was just like, I, I can figure it out. I’m gonna do it my own way. And, I had to sort of realize that you’re giving me like really sound advice. So, it’s hard for me to, to parody you, but I just…I had to break down walls and sort of let you (like I, I, you’re younger than me, but I consider you like my “wise uncle”). I don’t know if that’s an insult, but no! You, you provide so much knowledge, whether it’s right or not, it’s like I, I, I start to filter it, and I start to slowly let it creep in. So it’s a–it’s been a slow burn, but I, I think I’m, I’m more open to, uh, listening to you because I think you provide, like, great content for your, your audience and I think, I think they see incredible value. So I, as, as much as you want me to mock you, I’m gonna thank you. Can I, can I just pivot? Can I just–can we do that?
[C]: You can do whatever you want, man. I was trying to give you your opportunity to blast it out of the universe!
[A]: No, I, I’m–that’s not, that’s not my personality.
[C]: How are you not gonna mock me because other people have and they’ve done a fantastic job, so here’s what I heard (uhh, Aaron used these words): “Enemy, creep, and burn.” So, you can put those things together.
[C]: Yeah. It’s all good. It’s all good. We have a great relationship, you guys. Okay, umm, Erica, Emmanuel, and Sam: Do you guys have any last thoughts before I close out on the deck, you guys?
[Emmanuel]: Umm, I have a question from Aina San: “Umm, what do you do when you’re professional opinion or own project differs from what client wants? And he can’t be convinced?”
[C]: Did you hear what he said?
[A]: Nah, I didn’t hear…
[C]: Basically, what do you do when your clients start to take aw–the project away from what it’s supposed to be? How do you respond to that?
[A]: God, that’s a great question. We’re, we’re challenged with this all the time. All the time. Uh, I think at the end of the day, ultimately they are the client, and they hired you to provide them a service. The best that we can do is we can, we can shepherd the process the best we can. We also know that we probably know more than them on a branding standpoint. So the best we can do is we can say, “Our professional advice is that, we would urge you to do this.” Ulti–ultimately at the end of the day, they’re gonna do what they’re gonna do. And that’s the way it, it’s gonna be. Um, so you’ve got to pick your battles, um, but you try to do what is best for the client, and, but at some point you gotta, you gotta just let them do what they’re gonna do.
[A]: I, I hope that answered the question.
[C]: It, it’s your answer. That’s good enough for me.
[C]: Alright, guys. I want to thank you for coming on the show. Aaron, before we say goodbye, I want to look at some of your work and talk a little bit about your journey, and I’m gonna send this out. Alright? With some music, I think.
[A]: Can, can I say–
[C]: You can say whatever.
[A] That when we talk about my journey, it’s like I, I wanna give a shout out to the people that aren’t here in the studio, and that’s all my employees.
[C]: Past and present.
[A]: ‘Cause yeah. Because they help shape who I am and they help shape the business, and so this output is a collective, uh, a collective group of really talented and young individuals. Um, so I just don’t, I want to make sure everyone knows that this is not me, this is a collection of like I think really like-minded, um, individuals.
[C]: Well, I can’t leave you there.
[C]: I, I can’t. When you say, “This is not me,” I, I see a man transformed from the guy who’s like, “I, I can’t even hire an intern to cut things for me.”
[C]: From 10 years ago whenever that was in 2000-ish. Somewhere in 2005, to now, 13 years later. What has happened to that man? What happened to Peter Pan?
[A]: You know, I realized that in order to grow, that you have to accept that you don’t know everything. And so, I, I, I think I was very humbled when I sort of hit rock bottom, um, and I sort of reassessed who I am and who I wanted to be, so for me, I want to do things that are greater than myself, and do things that are fulfilling, and I think one of the greatest things that, um, I’ve learned and that is fulfilling to me, is helping others become better people as well, so, I–for me, it’s no longer working. The work doesn’t–it’s not, I’m not doing it for myself, I’m doing it to support and nurture my staff, and my clients, and I think that is the biggest reward. It’s not a monetary thing, um, it’s not re–awards on the wall, it’s really like, seeing individuals that I work with, and clients that I work with, succeeding in life, and, there’s a couple of designers and my, my staff, they actually are taking things that they learn from me, and then they are mentoring students now, so they are volunteering their time on weekends, and they created their own program, and they’re sharing information that they learned from me, so there’s–that is, that is pretty powerful.
[A]: So I just wanna like keep empowering people to empower people and, and to be in that situation–I wasn’t in that situation when I was a solopreneur. I was just focusing on me. Now I’m focusing on something beyond me, so when I say this isn’t just me, I, I’m trying to lead a team, and I just, you know, they’re the ones that are sort of helping with the vision, and sort of guiding this path that we’re all going down. It’s not–I’m, I’m just trying to like, pave the way.
[C]: Mm, mm. Okay, so here’s what I’m hearing from you. Is that when you’re working by yourself as a solopreneur, it becomes, kind of like this echo-chamber and (I hate to say it like this, but) it was very ego-centric
[A]: Very much.
[C]: And it was about all “me, me, me, me.” It’s like, “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha,” and that’s what it became. And what I’m hearing from you now is that (if, if I read this correctly), it’s that now you take great pride, not in the work that you do, but in terms of how you’re transforming other people’s lives, so when your team grows, and they do great work, you can take pride in that that you were able to create space or guidance or mentorship, or just helping them define the right clients, to get to that place. And then you also couple it off with, “It wasn’t about I wanted to do from a design point of view (which is self-centered and selfish), it was about trying to help your clients also have that same kind of success. So you can’t have a successful business without being a different kind of person.
[C]: Everybody wants to be successful, so few people are willing to do the work that’s needed to change, and, and to me, that’s what you’ve been able to do. You’ve taken everything that I think is uh, an accumulation of your experiences and biases, and you’ve gone against that. You’ve let go of so many things. And that’s what has been, I think, the key to your transformation.
[A]: Uh, uh, I think that’s pretty accurate. I think it’s, it’s getting out of your comfort zone and challenging yourself, and I think that’s when you grow as an individual. And then, learning from that and you challenge people around you to help them grow, so, getting out of that comfort zone, I think is a big part of growth. In order to get out of your comfort zone, you have to be able to accept the fact that you don’t know everything.
[C]: Okay. So let’s look at a couple, few, last slides and we’re gonna close up the show, or close out the show. Here’s some more things. Of course, you guys can go to Behance and look up Farm Design. There’s a couple of Farm designs there, but you’ll recognize the work and then you can look the rest of his portfolio, and I believe Aaron is relaunching the site on Thursday-ish, so if you go to FarmDesign.net–
[C]: –You’ll be able to see the freshly minted site. And this is really wonderful, beautiful work. It’s got really great attention to detail, patterns and textures and color palettes, and I, I truly appreciate and love all the contextual applications that you provide. So seeing it in context makes it feel so real and so rich. I don’t mean in terms of price, but it’s just a feast for the eyes and I think that’s what you guys want to do. And you see this diversity.
[C]: Now, I look at this little boy, who loved basketball and you’re, you’re an athletic dude, and I see like what you’ve become, as the boy from, from Montana, to the, to the man who’s like running in Spartan races and you’re pretty hardcore. And, and you’re super competitive. So competitive I, I’m like, you just, you leave me in the dust. You keep doing these things. Okay, I’m just trying to limp across the finish line myself. And, you, you were a guy who was afraid of commitment, afraid of being out in the public, to speaking at TED (a HUGE accomplishment there), kudos to you, and, making the ultimate commitment, and getting married. And before anybody starts to cry, we’re gonna end the show on that. Okay? You guys.
[A]: End it quickly!
[C] Yeah. Okay, so I’m gonna–Ey! Let’s cut back to me! Aaron, thanks for coming on the show, dude! I know this is a big moment for both of us because there was a lot of fear, questions, concerns, and all that kind of stuff about what’s it entail, and I’m so appreciative that you’ve been so transparent and sharing of all the highs and the lows. I was a little shocked that you were able to talk about the money. I wasn’t sure if you’d go there.
[A]: Me, too.
[C]: And, you just let it go, baby! It’s all out there! So guys, um, we don’t, I don’t have, um, an applause track, but thank you very much. I’m gonna close out this show. Let’s cut this thing. Let’s, let’s do…let’s try this music. This sounds appropriate, I think.