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How to Start an Architecture Firm - Introduction

 

As many architects continue to struggle to find employment, some are deciding that the only way to get back into the game is to start their own firms. For this reason, I thought it'd be an appropriate time to share the story of how Michael, Christian and I founded Modative back in 2006.

modern architect foundersModative's founders, February 2006, at the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles celebrating at the end of our last day working for other people.

 

In the last few years, we've lectured a few times at USC's School of Architecture and the Urban Land Institute (ULI)on how to start an architecture firm. The lecture has improved a bit with each iteration, to the point where I feel it's now worth posting. Enjoy.

 

What is Entrepreneurship, Really?

Starting your own firm is really more about being a good entrepreneur than being a good architect. And since most architects have little education or experience with entrepreneurship, they often make the following false assumptions about what it will be like to have their own firm.

Entrepreneurship Misconceptions

Our goal is to tell our start-up story - the unglamorous version. And while it won't apply to everyone looking to start their own firm, there are some key lessons for inexperienced entrepreneurs (like we were) looking to make their move.

 

Bootstrapping

Even though we didn't know it at the time, our approach to starting our firm was very much in line with what is known in the business community as bootstrapping.

You may be familiar with the saying, "Pull yourself up by your bootstraps". As it refers to business, bootstrapping is starting a business venture without external help and/or money.

Our seven tips for starting an architecture firm will cover how we bootstrapped our way from being three inexperienced entrepreneurs to three owners of a (nearly) four-year-old architecture firm.

bootstrapping architect start upimage source

7 Tips to Starting an Architecture Firm

Following this introduction post, our story will be organized into seven key tips for starting an architecture (or any other creative) firm. See the graphic below for hints as to what each of those seven tips will be.

Stay tuned over the next several weeks as we fill in the blanks on our 7 Tips for Starting an Architecture Firm.

los angeles modern architecture firm

7 Tips for Starting an Architecture Firm

00 architect firm

00 Bootstrapping

Not a tip, but a critical theme in our start-up adventure.

01 architect firm

01 Be Cheap

posted 12.08.09

02 architect firm

02 DIY - Do It Yourself

posted 12.18.09   
03 architect firm

03 Get Advice

posted 12.22.09
04 architect firm

 

04 Learn from the Bad

posted 01.22.10  

05 architect firm

05 Start and Stay Small

posted 03.03.10 

06 architect firm

06 Stay Flexible

posted 04.05.10
07 architect firm

07 Plan It Out

posted 03.13.12

Side Note: As an experiment, the images for each tip above were selected by typing the tip phrase (e.g., bootstrapping) into google images and selecting the most appropriate image from the first page. I think the experiment garnered some interesting results.

google images experiment

 

Want to stay up to date as we post the 7 Tips to Starting an Architecture Firm?  Subscribe to this blog by adding your email to the subscribe form on the right. We never spam our fine followers and if later on you discover you hate our guts, you can always unsubscribe.

Comments

looking forward to this!
Posted @ Thursday, December 03, 2009 12:13 PM by ray lefebvre
I like this.. Good work! Keep me posted as we Architects need to stick together. Especially in this ecomomy
Posted @ Tuesday, December 08, 2009 2:12 PM by John
I've been wanting to do this for years and this year I believe its going to happen. Looking forward to hearing how you did it.
Posted @ Wednesday, December 09, 2009 6:42 PM by Demetrius Muhammad
Thanks Ray, John & Demetrius.  
 
Tip 01 has already been posted - Tip 01: Be Cheap  
 
-Derek...
Posted @ Wednesday, December 09, 2009 7:22 PM by Derek Leavitt
This great! I always love when people discuss there personal adventures to success and all the hard work that goes in to it!
Posted @ Friday, December 11, 2009 1:12 PM by Jeremy
I started my firm in 1985 with only $500, leased backroom space from an store designer. future wife said do it and either fail or succeed and don't ever complain that "if only I......" well it worked. good luck to tohers, but being your own boss is really enjoyable. Don Rataj
Posted @ Wednesday, December 23, 2009 9:36 AM by Don Rataj
Don, 
 
Thanks for sharing. Looks like $500 is the magic number. 
 
I'm also a big fan of being my own boss. 
 
-Derek...
Posted @ Thursday, December 24, 2009 11:49 AM by Derek Leavitt
Looking forward to the rest of the tips!
Posted @ Saturday, January 16, 2010 12:29 PM by patrick
Hi, 
 
Thanks for these blogs, I work in London,recently qualified.Work for a small firm and your blog gives a bit of reality to how you can set up your own firm! 
 
Like your points say I can see many things my boss does wrong and will take bare these in mind!(there are 8 of us). Planning to set up my own firm some years down the line having already worked for a large firm (120 people). I think the hardest thing seems to be get that work in and network round potential clients. 
 
Did you guys start through previous clients/contacts/friends or use networking events and advertising etc?
Posted @ Wednesday, June 16, 2010 2:37 PM by phil
Phil, 
 
You are right on. Getting clients is the toughest part - especially at first. We actually didn't start with any clients or projects in hand. The first few projects all came about through personal connections. 
 
-Derek...
Posted @ Thursday, June 17, 2010 7:01 PM by Derek Leavitt
hi guys. i am thinking about starting a design firm as well and had a question for you. with very little personal capital to start with, what did you guys do when you had a project where you had to hire MEP consultants? how would you pay them after they have completed a job especially if you are waiting for the client to pay you? i realize the client would pay monthly, but what if that was not enough to cover the cost of the consultants.
Posted @ Wednesday, June 30, 2010 1:03 AM by Jason
Jason, 
 
There are two things that help when it comes to paying consultants: 
 
1. Get enough of a retainer that you can cover some of the early consultant payments. 
 
2. Add a "pay when paid" clause to your contract with consultants. This is pretty standard in the industry. This essentially means that you will only pay consultants after you've been paid by the client. 
 
-Derek...
Posted @ Wednesday, June 30, 2010 11:30 AM by Derek Leavitt
it great to know that people are ahead of you and are showing u how to get to where they r and how to do it without making their mistakes.
Posted @ Wednesday, November 24, 2010 4:20 PM by bismark bartels
Since having found you blog I have continued to come back very regularly. My initial intrest was your 7 Tips to Starting an Architecture Firm as I'm in the beginning planning stages of starting a landscape architecture firm with a close and very talented friend of mine and the tips have been very helpful. I wanted to ask if there were any additional blogs, web articles or books you can recommend with regards to starting a business, specifically in the design world. Thank you for any help you can give and for the great blog you started.
Posted @ Wednesday, December 29, 2010 11:03 AM by Anthony Parziale
Anthony, 
 
A few of our favorite books related to entrepreneurship and management: 
 
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team  
by Patrick Lencioni 
 
Making Ideas Happen, Overcoming the Obstacles Between Vision and Reality  
by Scott Belsky 
 
Rework 
by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson 
 
Hope you find these as useful as we have. 
 
-Derek... 
 
Posted @ Wednesday, January 19, 2011 6:32 PM by Derek Leavitt
Thank you very much for this Blog! 
i will be visiting this site regularly!
Posted @ Friday, January 28, 2011 1:54 AM by E.F. Garcia
great blog. extremely helpful. but I'm just wondering where step 7 is.
Posted @ Sunday, February 27, 2011 1:38 PM by Tim
Thanks for sharing. The blog is full of great info. I have a question how long did it take you from inception to the time you were able to start taking clients. Thanks again.
Posted @ Friday, March 18, 2011 11:46 AM by s ziemba
Tim, 
 
Step 7 is scheduled for April of 2011. I know it's been a while coming, but we've been busy. 
 
S Ziemba, 
 
The three of us held weekly meetings about six months prior to actually forming the firm and quitting our jobs. Then once we formed it was a few months until we had our first client. 
 
-Derek...
Posted @ Friday, March 18, 2011 12:31 PM by Derek Leavitt
Starting my own gig, and need all the advice I can get!
Posted @ Monday, June 06, 2011 9:15 PM by Erick
Any update on when step 7 will be published? Thanks!
Posted @ Monday, August 15, 2011 9:01 AM by Dustin
Hi guys, 
Very useful blog.extremely helpful. I am also planning to setup my own practice ... read this blog at right time .. thanks
Posted @ Wednesday, November 23, 2011 1:07 AM by Levin
I really like your blog...it really motivates me to start on my own. I only wish I had clients to start with...any advice on how to increase your marketing efforts while working at a corporate level, with no time to start up your own business? 
I've been very lucky to be employed but I will definitely be happier on my own...best to you and thanks again!
Posted @ Saturday, March 10, 2012 10:12 AM by Julio
thank you for 7 tips, these are very help full to me, so thank you very much...
Posted @ Monday, March 19, 2012 11:03 AM by vishwanath
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