Visual Potluck is a visual online community that allows users to upload images of their designs, share them, favorite them and have conversations about the images and designs they see. Jeremy and Mao, the founders and husband and wife team of this L.A. based startup are both trained architects who feel that visual inspiration is a key element to enriching people’s experience online and in daily life.
The pair wanted to create a community, Visual Potluck, in order foster visual inspiration and growth. After doing the necessary research, they realized that their idea was something that they were going to be able to execute and the team has been diligently working at it ever since.
We had a chance to speak to the Jeremy and Mao recently, and here’s what they shared with us:
Can you tell me something about your professional background and how it led up to the founding of Visual Potluck?
Jeremy: First I would like to say hello to everyone. Hello. I am an Architect and Educator. I also have a million ideas floating around in my head at any given time. I guess you could attribute that to the many late nights at Cornell in Architecture school where my mind was left to wander. I have worked on all types and sizes of projects and I have been fortunate to meet some really great and talented people along the way.
Visual Potluck is really a celebration of these people and the beautiful and inspiring “work” they create. I believe the combination of the small town where I was raised and the visual process I was taught in Architecture school has led me to explore design in all facets of life. I have traveled the world and have been exposed to many great cultures. This combination is the culmination of what Visual Potluck is today.
Mao: Hello everyone. I too am a designer (Architecture). I was trained to be a Visual person. After Architecture school I started my career in Landscape Architecture. From there I went back into the Architecture profession. Jeremy and I actually met at the first place I worked after my years in Landscape Architecture. We used to collect clippings of images for inspiration, whether it was for the design of a home or a space, recipes, planning our next annual trip or planning our wedding.
We crave inspiration in our lives and we are constantly on the search for things that are beautiful, functional and inspired us to travel more or to do better in our life. Visual Potluck started as a catalog for personal use and our professional career. Soon we realized that we should share this with everyone and try to create a place to come for inspiration and to provide inspiration to others. The main focus of the site started with the things that we are most passionate about at this time in our life.
What was the actual process like from when you had the idea for Visual Potluck until it was launched?
Jeremy: For me, I first had to convince Mao that this was a good idea. Then, once we talked it over in concept with some sketches, we knew that this was something that we wanted to do. We started sketching in our notebooks for a couple of months. Once we thought we had a good concept we went straight into Illustrator. This was easier for us to quickly iterate our design and make decisions to move forward.
From there we played with many options, but the whole time our idea was simplicity. We wanted to start with the site as pure and clean as possible. We really wanted to highlight the images and the work of the many talented and inspirational people we have found from around the world. Not only did we want to show off the work and the people, but we wanted to direct people to the source. We thought it would be best to have them tell the story of who they are and the products they create. We wanted to give people a way to get in touch and a way to buy the product and hire the creatives on our site.
Mao: The one challenge that we did face was that we did not know how to develop a website. We had a design. We studied many sites. But now we had to make this a reality. We spoke to many developers and each one had their own way and their own preference. We were unsure of which way to go. Jeremy actually started to build the site in WordPress before he realized that our idea was going to need some help from someone who spoke the language of the web. Luckily for us, my cousin has a web design and development company in San Diego. We sent him our work and after many discussions and meetings the site was launched in beta.
What’s the demographic of the typical user for Visual Potluck?
Jeremy/Mao: That is a very good question. I think right now we are defining that demographic or rather it is defining us a little. I’m not sure the site is about a specific person or product, but rather it is about beautiful work that inspires. We want the site to be for everyone. Culture should not matter, nor should age. As we say in our site. “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Each person can be inspired differently and come away with their own interpretation. But the point is, they are inspired visually.
What challenges are you currently facing with Visual Potluck that you didn’t anticipate at launch?
Jeremy/Mao: Our biggest challenges are figuring out how to scale properly and how to make this a site that lasts the test of time. We try to be strategic and think through our choices as we do not have unlimited resources or time. Sometimes, this feels like we are moving too slow. Then we realize that slow growth is better than no growth, so we are happy again. Coming to terms with the fact that time is limited as are our current skill sets, we have been getting better at not trying to do every little item ourselves. Or rather, we have been better at just doing the things we need to in order to get us to the next step in the process.
Have there been users who have used Visual Potluck in a way you hadn’t imagined or have things been straightforward in that sense?
The things that we didn’t anticipate have more to do with how people are not using certain features of the site that we thought for sure would be to their benefit. Two of these features are the “buy” link that we have on the hover and the “hire me” link that we have on their profiles. Currently these are free and intended to help connect the community with the creatives on our site.
Soon, we are going to be making a push to have people complete their profiles once they sign up. This will contribute to making the site a complete experience for the community and the creatives alike. The great part about all this is that it make you take a step back and think “Now, where did we go wrong?” I like these moments. They bring a reality to the digital world that shows you that what you create is not always what is perceived.
Tell me about how Visual Potluck is funded:
We are currently funding Visual Potluck on our own. We have not taken in any partners or any outside money. We like the boutique feel of where we are now and we think that you can sometimes do more with less. Who knows what the future will bring and we are always open to options, but for now, we are growing and building one step at time.
We are trying to make the best choices and listen to our community along the way.
Do you feel like Los Angeles is an ideal city in which to launch a startup?
We do feel like LA is a good place to launch a startup. The startup scene in LA is still young and this is exciting to us. The mix of people and ideas, we believe, opens up many opportunities to launch a successful startup. You are surrounded by technology, Hollywood, universities and millions of people of all different cultures. This is a wonderful user base for the exploration of ideas right in your own back yard.
If I were to fly into Los Angeles tomorrow, where could I get the best:
Chosun Galbee. This is one of the first places we went to together and the outdoor seating is quite nice. For us the food here is quite good and you can leave without smelling like a bbq. Although, maybe that is part of the fun.
Hamburger with Onion Rings:
Father’s Office (Santa Monica) or Village Idiot (Los Angeles – Melrose) are our current favorites. Great atmosphere, good food and an excellent beer selection.
Father’s Office (Santa Monica), The Daily Pint (Santa Monica) and Lucky Baldwins (Pasadena). Each has their own vibe and each has their own curated choice of beers.
Nagao (Brentwood), Yabu (West Los Angeles). The atmosphere is quaint and the sushi is second to none. There are many other places we have enjoyed, but these are the places that have been our go to spots for some time.
When you’re not involved with Visual Potluck, how do you like to relax and unwind?
Relax and Unwind, what is that? Actually when you are doing something you really enjoy, it is relaxing and fun to be a part of. But we all need a break. We live near the beach, so we enjoy bringing out the beach cruisers and riding along the ocean. There is a calming feeling about it and we love to be outdoors. Spending time with family and friends is also high on our list. But spending time with our son doing anything is the most precious use of our free time. When we do have a chance, we like to pop in a movie and just chill for a couple hours of mindless entertainment.
What country that you’ve not yet visited but would like to has the most interesting language or culture and why?
We have been fortunate enough to travel quite a bit. We even had the opportunity to live in Italy during our travel abroad when we were in Architecture school. Currently we think South America (Brazil). It is the one place neither one of us have been to that we would like to visit. The Architecture, culture and food are something we would really like to experience.
Are you guys rocking any favorite tunes in the office right now?
Like our site, our music selection has variety. Currently we have some Jack Johnson in our CD player and some Johnny Cash. In the morning and at lunch we rock out to some Baby Tunes with our son. While at work or on the road we have a mix that ranges from Classical Tunes to Hip Hop. When all else fails, we just open up Pandora or Spotify and let the random music flow. You never know what you will discover this way.
What’s your daily routine like these days?
Jeremy: I usually wake up at 5:30am (or at least I try to) and hit the gym. I come back home around 7:00 am and try to have breakfast with Mao and our son. I take the bus downtown, which usually take about an hour or so. As I said before I am an Architect, so I work a full time job at an Architecture firm. Twice a week, I also teach at a local College after work hours.
So one hour in the morning and one hour at night on the bus allows me some time to work on Visual Potluck, brain storm some ideas and communicate with Mao about our day and night of work ahead. On the days I teach, I get home late, so we don’t get much time on the site. On normal days I am usually home just in time to catch a late dinner with the family and read a story to our son before his bedtime. Once he is in bed, our day together on Visual Potluck begins. This is when we go over everything from the day and start to plan again for tomorrow.
Mao: I wake up when our son wakes up, which is not very consistent these days. We have breakfast together and then go for a run. After a bit of playtime, he is off to his nap and I am on to Visual Potluck. I work around his schedule the best I can. We do have some help from my mom a few days a week, so that frees up some time.
We are trying to set up our life to be a little more virtual so we can really work from anywhere. Throughout the day I will work from my iPad so I have some flexibility to be where my son needs me to be. But I do put it down and spend as much quality time with him as I can. After dinner, his bath and a bed time story, I work a few more hours before it all starts over again.