I started my first business when I was 24. I suppose it could have been called lean, way before lean was a thing, but in 1997 it occurred to me that the network of independent professionals that I knew, who had experiences in strategy and marketing, design, content, online/offline—I could pull from the network of people that I wanted to work with in project-specific teams.
Between 1997 and 2013 I ran that business. In 2013 I started another business out here in San Francisco called Startnership, which was essentially productizing design services for startups.
In the few times that we worked with startups in the first business, I found that the way startups needed to hustle and get things done was not how we were typically delivering stuff to other kinds of clients. So the new business was born out of the old business, thinking that there was a better way to put everyone in the room together to make things happen faster.
The Garage is very similar to that. IBM knew what I was doing, and asked if I wanted to come do it for them and help build this practice, as well as have access to enterprise-level clients, beyond just normal startups. I couldn’t say no.
When I was 24 and had no business experience, I didn’t know diddly squat about a pipeline. Sales pipeline, work pipeline, collaborator pipeline. I was just running by the seat of my pants, and it was nice to realize that having a plan was also a good thing. I learned that pretty soon after my first project ended.
A lesson learned, absolutely, is to give myself time off. I think the work/life balance mystique is much better out here, but I’m a native New Yorker and spent most of my life on the East Coast, so I’m made of more hustle than I think most people have out here. I’m still learning the lesson of work/life balance and booking time for non-client work, because otherwise I’ll just work and work and work.
I’m raising funds to bike to L.A. in a few weeks. I’m doing the AIDS/LifeCycle for the first time. After many years of loving what I call biking, now I can call it cycling. I can say I’m a cyclist now.
I like to cook. I like to write and read. I like to camp and hike. I like to do nothing. Just sit at home, read the New Yorker, drink some bourbon. Doing nothing, it can be amazing.
My calendar when I’m on vacation, it’s just blank. When I’m working, it’s 15 minutes here, 30 minutes there, four hours with a client. I put everything on my calendar, but I know that when I’m not working, it’s just blank.
The biggest changes for me I’ve seen over the years is that whatever tools—prototyping tools, design tools, workshop tools, flavor of design thinking—whatever thing you’re doing, the constant is people. Whatever typeface or color or app or site or whatever you’re doing, I’m much more interested in making sure that the people are ready to do the work than whatever prototyping tool you use.
Work with people you like. Don’t work with people who are toxic or takers or are only in it for stroking their own egos. It’s so important to have great collaborators that you trust. You’ll know pretty quickly, if you listen to your intuition, or listen to theirs, if you can get into a flow state and make good stuff happen for your clients or yourselves.
I’ve lost sleep, and had to learn the lesson of opting out of toxic or even annoying situations. If it’s bugging you and keeping you up at night, then it’s probably not a good collaboration. There’s going to be someone else who will want your services and want to work with you down the line, so better to be choosey.
-Josh Silverman, Designer at IBM Bluemix Garage. You can find him on LinkedIn.
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