After a decade and a half of designing and building digital products, in November of 2011, it was time to move from a “me-shop” to a “we-shop.” This is a post about why I did it, what you should think about if you’re considering it, and what we’re doing next. We’ve fastened our seatbelts and prepared ourselves for a wild ride. Reading through our origin story should help you avoid some of the potholes that many have fallen into, including myself.
Center Stage are the World’s Problems, Enter Wisdom + Craft
When I embarked on the journey of creating Wisdom + Craft, clearly, it was to solve a business need. There were too many requests coming in for availability and since there was no availability to be had, clients were turned away, new business was referred out, and many times the jobs were lost to people outside of my network. Obviously, this is not a bad problem to have and it signaled that it was time to formalize an organization of trusted talent to serve a glaring need.
However, creating a new company was not a decision that was made lightly. There is a lot to consider. People, families, location, culture, capital, and so on. While Wisdom + Craft is not the first startup I’ve ventured on, it is the most sophisticated from an organizational design perspective. Even when you’ve gotten your feet wet before, it is best to assume that you really don’t know as much as you think you do about going for a swim. And because of this, there had to be more compelling reasons for braving the endeavors.
Core Reasons for Creating Wisdom + Craft
Be a For-Profit Company– for the Profit of Many
I needed to design and build a services business that would affect change and contribute to the lives of the less-fortunate somehow. A service business that serves the greater good was the only way I could see it really being a success. No truly remarkable business owner is 100% in it for the money. While there are many who believe capitalism is totally evil – and there are greedy pigs that give them plenty of fodder to throw around, there are entrepreneurs out here who do have a conscience to do the right thing by people and the environment. There is a trend that we want to get behind, making it incredibly clear that there is a Greater Good by which we abide by; that is putting our global neighbors before ourselves.
Motivation Beyond a Paycheck
I wanted to create jobs that give employees a sense of purpose and meaning. Maybe not everyone that applies to Wisdom + Craft is “there” yet, but we’d like to help them realize their talents and put them to good use. If nothing else, they will know that we appreciate and celebrate their accomplishments and contributions to the organization.
Play to Our Strengths
Engaged team members who play to their strengths have a greater sense of accomplishment when they contribute. A wise person once said, “Figure out what you love to do and then find out how to get paid doing it.” It’s easier to get into flow and when you step back as you’re doing what you love, it’s not really work.
Bring Enterprise-Grade Design Thinking to the Small-to-Medium-sized Businesses
A strong economy is built with a backbone of many intricate, small networks of teams, families, communities pursuing their passions and dreams using their gifts and talents. Many of these folks however are stuck with a complicated job they created for themselves. Big businesses know that optimized operations are tuned processes and systems. We want the focus on innovation and products that affect people lives for the better. Entrepreneurs who are stuck on the hamster wheel of trying to be all things to their businesses are not really driving their business or growing it. We want to highlight the strengths of each business we work with and be able to deliver their excellence and differentiators to the world at-large in a way that engages the customer more readily.
Build an Organization to Support the Perpetually Curious Who Want to Give Back
While our client services in UX is the bread-and-butter here, we believe what makes for a truly interesting place to come back to day after day is to encourage our team to explore new concepts that are interesting to them. In doing so, they will likely return to the organization with something new and inspirational to give back. When I imagined how the ideal organization looked, it reminded me of a video game platform. If you know how the video game industry works, basically, system manufacturers create a box and some software kits. They license out the software and support game developers with updates. As I see it, that would make an awesome experience for the designers and creative thinkers. Those who are part of our team should be able to permanently build upon what exists in the organization today. We salute and encourage those with an entrepreneurial spirit and a drive to see dreams and ideas become realities to be part of our team, ever adding strength, innovation and our solutions go to the next level. Like a skilled gamer, we are always looking to figure out how make it to the upper echelon.
Keep Education at Our Core
If there is ever a hallmark of the entrepreneurial spirit it is the desire to keep learning. Almost every incredibly successful entrepreneur that has ever made it to the public speaking circuit will tell you the same thing, they are voracious consumers of information. They read books continually, never being satisfied that they have attained all of the knowledge that they need, even when they retired. They are the best example of what it means to be perpetually curious. We want to foster and reward that commitment to learning in every person, at every level of this organization. Those who want to grow and expand on their scope of knowledge should be applauded and encouraged in their efforts.
The Hospital Model
I like how hospitals inspire and grow their professionals. In the hospital setting, RNs, Doctors and other Practitioners are expected to continue their education through taking continuing education classes, along with participating in Research and Development. In the organization, “The Playground” is where employees can feel free to experiment with new technologies, applications and programs in an effort to build on their skills and discover new and better ways of servicing the client base. The ideal Wisdom + Craft employee is one who is committed to the process of education through gaining knowledge, experimenting with what has been learned and giving back by educating colleagues and students through writing and public speaking. This ideal would be part of their core principles in life and it will be demonstrated in their previous accomplishments and future goals for success.
For the Creative Pursuits, there Should be No Such Thing as “Works for Hire”
“Works for Hire” is a bunch of bunk. Creative workers should be rewarded for their work with something akin to a royalties model: the more successful your contributions are, the more you should be compensated. None of this bull pucky of “works for hire.” When I think of what “works for hire” is for a business, that just sucks the life out of the hearts of our most valuable asset – our creative minds. If something that is created by a member of the organization contributes to the success of a client relationship or the profits of the organization, shouldn’t they get to reap some of the reward as well? We think so.
The Future is in Education
I want to leverage my background in User Experience to Get involved in Policy, particularly Education. I believe that much of the same principles that are applied to the User Experience can be implemented in the field of Education. It is my hope that through the growth and exposure that Wisdom + Craft sees come to fruition, that it will be used to further my endeavors in Educational Policy.
What I’ve Learned from This Leg of My Journey
If you’re interested in founding your own business, take it seriously, otherwise it’s just a hobby. If you do brave the pursuit, here are some points I’ve picked up along the way:
- The business is the product
- It truly does take different strokes
- Employee Engagement affects customer experience
- You can’t design culture, it happens
- Our value proposition is a holistic service to ecosystem design
- Sometimes you got build the car while you’re pulling out of the driveway
- Perfect is the enemy of good enough
- Your first team members must compliment the organization, not support the leadership
- Clear communication is key – “You have an interesting idea, but I’m not sure I understand it.”
- Articulate the Problem First – “The first to articulate the problem is generally the one who solves it.”
Where Do We Want to Go Next?
There is a lot to look forward to as we move into year 3… wow. Year 3. Stay tuned because it’s just getting started. 🙂
If you’re working on something great – even if it’s within a larger org, I’d love to hear your story. Please share!