Last week I attended another New York AIGA event called Kern and Burn: A Conversation with Design Entrepreneurs. As someone who’s started a business, and worked with many other people who have started businesses from scratch themselves, I find this topic incredibly interesting.

This event was a part of the @Parsons Lecture Series and was also a part of the NYC DesignX events that are taking part all over the city. The lecture ties into the book of the same name that includes interviews with design entrepreneurs. There were four people on the panel answering questions. Peter Buchanan Smith,
Keenan Cummings, Kate Bingaman-Burt and Tom Gerhardt.

I’m not going to paraphrase everything that was said during the evening but I will list my favorite questions and the responses. The evening was full of great advice for anyone looking to make it on their own with a startup. Not just designers but for anyone with scream of striking out on their own.

How do you tap into your passion?
You don’t know what you love until you do it and what you think you love isn’t always it. Failures are there to service the eventual success and you can’t be afraid of them. Keep iterating ideas through failures. You learn by making audits important to keep moving.

Do you have any advice about “just shipping” an idea before its ready? Deadlines are important. It can be very helpful to find a conference or event to use as a deadline to show your finished work. Having momentum and accountability is important, try telling people about your deadlines to help keep you on track.

“The best entrepreneurs are painfully self aware”

How do you find your ideal role in a business? Outsource anything that you don’t love. If you don’t love it, find someone else to do it. Find people who are doing something in a way you like and talk to them. Let yourself expand into roles that you didn’t think you can fill. Know where your abilities end and someone else’s begin.

Is the entrepreneurial spirit inherent in all designers? It depends, but it’s important for designers to be exposed to entrepreneurial thinking. Todays business models are changing for people who aren’t traditional CEOs. The “traditional” entrepreneurial personality isn’t necessary anymore. There are tools to build your business plan around the personality you have. Everyone wants to change the world in one way or another. The failure is not to try.

How do you keep things going and find help when you’re in the beginning stage and trying to keep costs down? It comes down to leadership and inspiring people. Its also helps to have your product be larger than yourself.

Money is the energy that drives the next thing but many great products that we use now weren’t created to make money. Consider Tumblr, it’s an amazing tool used by many people but the monetization of it isn’t evident. It’s also one of the things people love most about the product. Think about your end customer and do right by them.

This was a great discussion about design and entrepreneurship. We are lucky enough to live in a great time where the two go hand in hand. Having great design is critical for a new business to make it through the noise of their competitors. Think about how you want to tell your story and good luck!