Building a business is very hard work. Trying to change the culture of the business you’re in? That’s about as easy as riding a unicycle while playing the mandolin. Not that I’d know. If I attempted that feat, there’s no chance I’d still have working fingers capable of typing these words. Just ask Matthew Manos, founder of verynice, a design studio… and more.
What makes his company very nice? Not teddy bears or soft principles, that’s for sure. Rugged bootstrapping and a vision of social entrepreneurship tell part of the story, but it’s best to hear a more in-depth version from Manos himself:
How’d you come up with the name for your company?
I remember asking myself: “What would a very nice design studio look like?” The question was derived from a frustration I was having at the time (and one I continue to have) regarding the abundance of greed in the corporate design scene. I didn’t think that was very nice. Then, like magic, I put “very” and “nice” together as one word to give life to “a verynice design studio.” As time went on, I realized that A) putting very and nice together as one word would forever confuse people, and B) we weren’t really a design studio…
Throughout our first 3 official years as a company, I noticed that we were offering a lot of services that weren’t really in the typical wheelhouse of a design studio – things like product development, business development, and research. As a result, in 2012, we dropped “a” and “design studio” from the name, leaving us with “verynice.” We are just verynice.
What’s the very first thing you do at work everyday?
The very very first thing I do is get my “ya-ya’s” out. If you know me, or if you have worked with me before, you know this: I do not procrastinate. BUT, something that is very little known about me is that I procrastinate HEAVILY in the first 15-20 minutes of being in the office, even if I have a deadline that would mean life or death for the company. After those 15 minutes, no Facebook (unless it is for the studio), no browsing of blogs, and no instant messaging.
How many people did you start the company with and how many people work for you now?
I started verynice by myself, and for the first 3 years, I ran it by myself. The company now has two full-time partners (including me), one entrepreneur in residence, one volunteer in residence, and one intern. The last three positions are all part-time.
Remember the early days starting up? Maybe you can share one anecdote that describe the struggle you went through?
When verynice started, it was really before the concept of “social business” entered the mainstream. As a result, a lot of early mentors tried to convince me to split verynice into two different companies, one non-profit, and one for-profit. I really didn’t want to do that, and it was a struggle explaining why the two needed to be one-in-the-same, not separate. Luckily I stuck to my guns, and as a result we have become significant leaders in the social enterprise movement.
How do you handle frustration? When/how was the last time you dealt with frustration?
Like a lot of founders / entrepreneurs (I hope), I am extremely hard on myself. As a result, I get very “silently-stressed-out,” and it makes me frustrated. To relax, I do a lot of writing. Both fiction and non-fiction writing along with illustrative work (pen, pencil, and acrylic painting) that is all inspired by my fiction writing. It is very liberating to not only invent another world, but live in it, momentarily.
What’s your office environment like? Is it the kind of place where everyone is bumpin’ away to house music or is it more traditional?
I have a sign hanging in my office that says “No effin’ dub step.” It is our only company rule, because I hate dub step. Our office is situated in The HUB LA, which is a community space of changemakers and social entrepreneurs in Los Angeles. We have a private space with four desks, and access to a couple of conference rooms and a kitchen. In the middle of the space, though, is a co-working space of sorts, where a good amount of people come in and out all of the time.
How do you picture your company in 5 years?
I hope that in 5 years we look even less interesting and even more ubiquitous due to the fact that all design studios around the world have adopted our model of 50% pro bono.
Who or what inspires YOU? Role models? Quotes? Running? Video games? Snack food?
“I don’t know who discovered water, but it wasn’t a fish.” – Marshall McLuhan.
How’d you fund this venture? VC? Self-funding? Crowd-funded?
verynice cost me $75 to start. The company was started in a blurry transition point during my very long freelance career, so immediately upon launch, I had clients. 100% of our clients come to us from word-of-mouth. Recently, I have begun to put more emphasis on social media marketing, but even so, we spent only $400 on that this year. It is a very lean operation.
Got any great bootstrapping tips for the lean startups out there?
You don’t need as much stuff as you think you do. You know that fancy email client that costs you $50 a month? Yeah… just use gmail. You know that fancy office that you really like? Yeah… just wait a few years.
What would you be doing if you had one year off and $500,000 to spend (and you couldn’t spend it on your current startup / projects)?
My long-term goal is to start a hybrid foundation / venture capital firm of sorts that exclusively funds young social entrepreneurs that are armed with impractical ideas. The funding would take the form of sweat equity, mentorship, and small financial investments. I would put that $500k towards funding 50 people.
Do you consider yourself a successful entrepreneur right now?
Website you couldn’t live without and why?
The Awesomer is a great website for killing some time and just having fun. They always have the best stuff.
Mobile App you’re in love with and why?
Tiny Wings. I am a Tiny Wings prodigy.
Dogs or cats?
I am originally a dog person, but I have two black cats. They are goof balls, and have actually successfully inspired me to like cats, too.
iOS or Android?
iOS. Counting down the days until I can get rid of this Android.
What’s the greatest thing about your company/website/idea?
The greatest thing about my company is that there is nothing like it. I have found that the fact that we can be as successful as we are while still doing half of our work for free makes others question their models. I hope that we hold people in the social design space accountable to the claims they make. Otherwise, no real economic change can be accomplished.
Where can our readers get ahold of you?