By Lihi Gerstner
Starting a career in a new field can be so daunting that many would-be entrepreneurs never manage, or dare, to make that dream a reality. There’s a perception that expertise in one field has only minimal carryover to another – so why bother?
This couldn’t be farther from the truth. More often than not, skill sets aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, many types of talents and experience are relevant in more than one field, and experience can only bolster an entrepreneur’s ability to build a new business, product, or service.
As Frank Lloyd Wright said, “We create our buildings and then they create us.” The same can be said of our companies. As an architect, I learned that a wide variety of skills from my previous career have helped turn me into the entrepreneur I am today and create a cornerstone for a successful startup. Here are just a few:
Building from the Ground Up
Building a brand and marketing strategy has much in common with designing a building. Before thinking about the floor plan or aesthetic design, architects first plan the foundation. The work on the foundation is as important as the interior or exterior design – indeed, any element of design is deeply influenced by the building’s foundation. As the great modernist architect Mies van der Rohe said, “Architecture begins when you place two bricks carefully together.” The same is true for starting a new venture. Both buildings and businesses are built brick by brick, story by story, and only then can an entrepreneur start dreaming of “interior design,” “materials,” and “colors” that will garnish his or her creation.
Understanding Your Customer
As an architect, working closely with clients is vital to understanding their expectations, and thus, how to get the job done right. To build a client’s dream house, for example, an architect must understand not only the fundamentals of who the client is, but also the geography of their neighborhood. That means familiarizing yourself with how they live, where they eat, where they shop, what they like to buy online, what’s their favorite color, what the local stores are all about, etc. Understanding all of these is the key to designing a product clients will not only love, but which also that fits in seamlessly with their lives.
This lesson is true for any product and marketing strategy as well. An entrepreneur needs to understand his or her target market, from what they eat and wear to how they have fun, in order to create a product which is truly desired. What website design will make the product most accessible? What time of day do they open Facebook? What type of product features will they find most appealing? All these questions are essential for building a successful business, which hinges on knowing your clients, or users, inside and out.
Building the Right Team
Aside from knowing their clients, both entrepreneurs and architects must really understand their own strengths and weaknesses. Why? Because finding partners who bring diverse skills and new insights to the table is essential to innovation – no matter what the field. When developing a business, or building a building, complementary characteristics make for a well-balanced project. An architect strong on space-orientation and design would be best to bring others with an engineering bent onto their team. Likewise, an entrepreneur who is artistic and creative would ideally find a partner who is disciplined, “big picture,” and goal-oriented.
Innovation loves diversity. Make sure your team has it.
For architects, budget is the most important part of any project. Knowing how to work within its confines and allocate correctly among various architectural elements (design, construction, finishes and, of course, unforeseen scenarios) is essential to your project’s realization. Entrepreneurs must operate similarly: allocating wisely, taking responsibility for each and every dollar, and, of course, budgeting for unforeseen elements – because if there’s anything you can predict about your startup, it’s the unpredictable.
Fear of Failure
This can be the greatest hurdle for anyone considering transitioning into entrepreneurialism. Thankfully, as I’ve discovered with my own two hands, there can be a significant amount of experiential overlap – even in spheres that don’t seem to have much in common on the surface – which can help overcome the many obstacles on your path to success. Truth is, skills developed through effort, passion, and experience are quite often universal – and that’s something you can build on no matter what the project.
And, as one of our greatest living architects, Frank Gehry, said, “Your best work is your expression of yourself. Now, you may not be the greatest at it, but when you do it, you’re the only expert.” That’s true of any field.
Lihi Gerstner is the cofounder of Splacer.