Recap: Design + Business: The Art of Entrepreneurship with Raven Manocchio

Homegrown 2013 kicked off in a new venue this month with Raven Manocchio, founder of the Raleigh, NC, design firm BLDG25. Raven led a lively discussion about the joys, drudgery, and pitfalls of building design-based businesses. He showed us why every designer is an entrepreneur and explained why now is the perfect time to begin acting like one.

Raven considers every day a day to create. He suggested that we all look for opportunities, and that we realize that a human’s biggest stumbling block is failure. We all have a fear of failure, but failure is only the opportunity to try again—and learn that our true opponent is really ourselves.

Remember to keep your ego in check. Raven mentions “I” vs. “i”. A  capital “I” represents ego, and a lowercase “i” represents you. He believes you need to have a strong sense of self without letting your ego get in the way.

Now is the time

It’s cheaper, easier than before. The digital revolution is upon us. We have the opportunity, so what’s your idea? Try! To make a point, Raven asked “When was the last time you used a payphone or a paper map?” No one answered. This made me realize how far we have come and how far we have to go.

Raven’s 5 steps for successful design projects:
  •       Ideate
  •       Design
  •       Prototype
  •       Test
  •       Iterate
Designer businesses

Raven pointed out a few successful businesses that were started by designers: Airnb, SlideShare, YouTube, Vimeo, Tumblr, Flickr, FeedBurner.

Raven debunked the myth that MBAs are qualified to start a business just because they have an MBA. He noted that most MBAs do not have experience with user testing, they have never built a brand, and have never tried to sell something. Designers have.

Business realities

6,000,000 NEW businesses per year

40% fail in 1st year

80% fail in 5 years

Times are changing

We need to see more business courses in design schools and designers need to learn more about business. Raven cited Stanford as a good example of a successful program that more schools need to follow. A group at Stanford have devoted a lot of energy to building the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design. The “D” school, as everyone calls it, is dedicated to infusing design thinking into Stanford students and guiding them as they use it to tackle a host of social and business problems. Another sign of advance, KPCB (Kleiner Perkins, Caufield, Byers), the most successful VC firm launched a design fellow program.

To close, Raven answered questions from the attendees. The question of finding your niche came up. Raven explained that he believes in bringing together specializations so that you work in a multi-disciplinary space. This enables you to attack big problems from wide angles. A variety of talents brought together breeds creativity. He used the analogy that an industry focus is greater than product specialization. Another question that I found helpful was at what stage a new business should talk to designers. Raven replied in the beginning. All in all, hard work, decisions, and dedication are what it takes.

A huge thanks to Raven for sharing his process at our January Homegrown series. This one was another great success. I’m looking forward to February’s “Storytelling: Finding UX Moments That Count” with Amber Howard.

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By Maura McDonald
Published January 13, 2013