architecture blog

A Modern Architecture Firm's Approach to Organizing Marketing Leads

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Wed, May 2, 2012 @ 06:05 AM

At the tail end of 2010, we realized that the worst of the recession was over for us. Things were getting better. New marketing leads were coming in and we needed to better manage them if we were to take full advantage of this potential increase in business.

As with most small architecture firms, the three principals split up the core roles of running the company. As a principal, one of my roles is marketing manager. So, as 2011 approached, I worked with Christian and Michael to come up with a system for managing leads coming into the office.

When it comes to lead generation, our office is a bit different than most architects in that about 90% of our leads come through our website. So, unlike many older offices that get high probability referral leads, we have to sort through significant noise in our web leads to find the valuable ones. This only increases our need to be more organized.

We began this process by generating two simple diagrams. The first diagram is a simple breakdown of how Modative acquires projects.

modern architects project aquisition


The basic idea in this diagram is that you get leads and filter them down to determine which ones become RFP (Request for Proposal) projects (a small win) and then, after proposals and contracts, which ones become real projects (a big win).

The second diagram describes our process of organizing and managing active leads.

modern architects lead funnel resized 600


Let's take a closer look at what each step entails.

Document and Assign Lead

1. Add Lead to Master List - This is a simple Excel spreadsheet (we use Numbers, a Mac program) that tracks the basics and is used to give incoming leads a number. Lead numbers begin with an "L" for "Lead" and the last two digits of the year, followed by three digits - L11-001. Here's a sample of the Master Lead List.

Lead # Lead Name Start Date First Contact Date Assigned To Project Type Lead Type Notes
L11-044 John Doe 06.12.11 06.13.11 CDN SFR Phone W. LA Home
L11-045 Jane Smith 06.18.11 06.19.11 MDS SLS Web Form Venice Beach

2. Create Lead Folder - Active leads are assigned to managers and the following folder structure is copied into the lead managers folder (on the server) and given the appropriate name - "L11-044 John Doe 06.12.11".

architecture lead folder structure

In the "Lead Log and Checklist" folder, there is a word processor file that is filled out with the same info from the Master Lead List and most often, a copy of the the web form data. Below that is a log for the lead manager to keep track of all correspondence with the lead.

modern architects marketing lead log


3. Add Lead to Clothesline - If you missed last year's post on "The Clothesline", check it out to see one of the ways we stay organized. Similar to the Master Lead List, the lead info is added via permanent marker (old school, I know) to the Clothesline in the office for everyone to see.

 modern architects marketing leads clothesline

As marketing manger, this provides me with a quick visual on how leads are progressing.

4. Email Lead Assignment to Manger - After the lead has been documented and assigned, we send out a simple email to the lead manager, letting them know that they now have an active lead.


Contact Lead & Follow-Up

1. Initial Lead Contact - It is the lead manager's job to contact the lead within 24 hours and log this contact in both the Lead Log and Clothesline. Most lead managers print out the Lead Log and hand write in the information while on the phone.

2. Lead Follow-up and Determination - After contacting the lead, it is the lead manager's job to determine whether the lead is "Dead", "Inactive" or has the potential to become an "RFP Project". If the lead has potential, the next step is often an in-person meeting. If that goes well, the project graduates to become an "RFP Project" when the potential client asks for a proposal.

3. Weekly Updates - At our regular Monday morning meetings, we review all active leads and managers give a quick update.

Does This Lead Management Process Work?

I'm sure for many, this process seems like overkill. There are several steps and many of them accomplish similar things. But for us, this system has created a series of checks and balances that has worked well versus the alternative of Post-it notes and haphazard internal conversations. No matter how you look at it, without proper lead management, we would be lucky to get any new projects. Besides, any aspect of running our office where we can be more efficient, only leaves us more time to better serve our existing clients.

What systems do you have in place at your office for lead management?

Post by Derek Leavitt. Contributors to this post include Christian Návar, Krystal Návar, and Michael Scott.

Tags: Organization, Architectual Practice, modern architecture firm, architecture resorces, Starting an architecture firm, Marketing

7 Tips for Starting an Architecture Firm - Tip 07: Plan It Out

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Tue, Mar 13, 2012 @ 09:03 AM

This post is part of the How to Start an Architecture Firm series.

In February 2006, Christian, Michael and I went to work on forming our own architecture firm. The following is tip number seven of seven in our start-up strategy.

Side Note: After an almost two year break between Tip 06 and Tip 07, I thought it was about time to wrap up this series. We've had an interesting two years, surviving the recession and emerging as a viable and busy architecture firm. Enjoy!

Tip 07: Plan It Out

Architecture firm start up plans

photo credit

When architects dream of running their own firms, they often flash right to the fun stuff:

What types of buildings will we design?

What will our design philosophy be?

While these are important questions, it's important to design your business with equal thought. When I think back to Modative's founding, I don't think as much about that actual first day of being out on our own as much as the six months leading up to the launch. During this time, we met once a week to hash things out while still working our day jobs for other architecture firms. Because the three of us lived in the three corners of Los Angeles, we would either meet online (thanks ichat) or we would drive to USC at night (where we all had gone to school) and sneak into a classroom at the VKC building.

VKC USC Architecture Start Up Classroom

The VKC @ USC. Photo taken by Bobak Ha'Eri, on May 27, 2007

It was important to determine certain things before we all quit our day jobs. We didn't meet to create some exhaustive business plan that no one would read, but to determine general goals and strategies for the company. If you don't establish a grander vision from the start, two things are likely to happen:

1. You'll get too busy doing actual work (projects) and your firm will operate without a vision. This is like designing a project without clear goals or concepts: it can be done, but it doesn't lead to a great product.

2. You'll have no way to measure at whether you've been successful in achieving your goals.

One of the ways we got organized was to develop a strategic plan. The first step in that process was a SWOT analysis. SWOT is an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Here was our original SWOT analysis from 2006:

SWOT Analysis






2. team approach

3. design ability

4. “technology”

5. organizational ability

6. diversity

7. presentation

8. leadership

9. network






1. former employers

2. large/ diverse residential pool

3. location - los angeles

4. network-friends and family

5. real estate agents, contractors

6. development projects

7. building possibly

8. “non-architecture” projects

9. diversity of los angeles

10. money in los angeles

11. music, movie, sports industry

12. “housing buble” burst

13. having lower fees




1.not having “own” portfolio

2. no professional license

3. weak “field” const. experience

4. no infrastructure (equipment)

5. other than type “V” construction

6. staff quantity

7. experience/ age

8. inefficient staff-to-principle ratio

9. publicity

10. financial resources

11. credit worthiness

1.other capable firms

2. “housing bubble” burst

3. # of firms in los angeles

4. general misperception of no need for architect

5. major markets outside of los angeles

6. having lower fees

7. lack of credit and cash






Looking back after six years of being in business, many of these initial SWOT assumptions were correct. Over the years we've been able to take advantage of our strengths and opportunities, while reducing the weaknesses and threats. In the end, developing a strategic plan was easy -the final document was only five pages long.

Choose Your Partners Carefully

If you have business partners, this planning process is even more critical to determine if you and your partners share the same values. We all knew each other since our early days at USC, but just as important, we had overlapping work experience prior to starting Modative, meaning that we had worked together professionally prior to starting our firm. Here's a diagram we posted on our website back in 2006 showing our experience overlap.

modern architecture firm partners experience path

Now that we've shared Modative's founding story, it's time to begin your story.


Use the navigation below to get caught up on all of 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.

posted 12.03.09

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

The bad news is that this is the last of the 7 Tips to Starting an Architecture Firm.  The good news is that we're learning and posting new tips all the time.

Stay up-to-date by subscribing to this blog by adding your email to the subscribe form. Or, if you're a technocrat, you can grab our rss feed.

Tags: Los Angeles, los angeles architects, Inspiration, Communication, Architectual Practice, architecture resorces, Starting an architecture firm

How an Architecture Firm Stays Organized

Posted by Christian Navar on Wed, Feb 9, 2011 @ 07:02 AM

When we founded Modative we went through a lot of exercises to create a strategic plan for how to organize the business operations of our design firm. Business operations is a subject matter rarely touched on in Architecture School let alone in most design firms. In fact, most firms operate in the same chaotic manner in which an undergraduate architecture student operates when struggling to weave an endless amount of work into a cohesive final project. Bad decisions, unclear goals, and a lack of clear action items inevitability leads to mass consumption of caffeinated drinks, all-nighters, and mismanagement of time and energy. These bad habits, first developed at a young age, are very hard to break and continuously infect most firms’ culture, becoming an endless cycle of mismanaged projects, bad decisions, and bad ideas. All you have to do after interviewing most architects is drive by after hours and see if the lights are still on or call on the weekend and see if someone answers the phone.

At first, you may think this is the sign of a hard-working office, but most likely it is a sign of poor firm culture, bad project management, and burned-out project teams. At Modative, we are all for hard work, and I would be lying if I said we never work extra hours or on weekends, but there are a lot of firms that run their studios like sweat shops. Not because they have to, but because they have no other choice. The continued mismanagement of project operations and lack of prioritizing and internal communication means mass amounts of energy are spent on tasks that may seem urgent at the time, but really are just the result of poor decision making, over-promising to clients, and a clear lack of short and long-term objectives throughout each phase of a project.

“The Clothesline”

architects clothesline wall

The first book I purchased on my iPad was Making Ideas Happen, by Scott Belsky. After reading about various strategies and concepts regarding methods for implementing ideas and achieving results, I realized it was time to revisit Modative’s strategic plan. It was time for our business operations to evolve into something even better. There is a section in the book that discusses using “progress as a motivational force.” So we modified some concepts found within the book and developed our own strategy to clearly identify action items by “surround[ing] ourselves with progress”. We start every Monday morning by sitting, not in the conference room, but in front of our “clothesline”: a wall made up of a series of horizontal steel cables from which 11X17 sheets of paper are hung from clips, clearly identifying projects, their schedules, and crucial action items that prioritize every project’s goals.

architecture firm organizationSome of this week's goals

We intentionally didn’t make each project sheet overly complicated. Each page has a project logo, a color, and a title. Each item gets assigned by the project manager to a team member, along with a due-date and a check box to show when each item has been completed.  The system allows for very little mis-communication and prioritizes each item so there is never any confusion about what should be worked on when. Our goal at the start of every week is to ensure that we are focusing our energy on things that truly matter that week, will make our projects better, and make our clients even happier. Through “visual organization,” we have been able to develop a system that has become integral to our office’s creative process, keeping us focused and even more engaged then ever before.

architects organization trench

No matter how creative the team, mismanaged office operations lead to the loss of a project’s full potential. A project may seem great in the end, but let’s start thinking about how much better things could have been if a project’s full potential was realized by a team that wasn’t dragged through the trenches along the way. Even award-winning firms suffer from disastrous mismanagement of project operations. Often, long after the AIA award is on the wall, the client and the office are still in recovery mode. The financial ramification brought on by a lack of a clear strategic planning to balance the creative excellence within a firm, can kill morale and ultimately affect everyone’s productivity let alone everyone’s bottom line. In Scott Belsky’s book he explains, “that everything in life is a project, and every project must be broken down into Action Steps...” Well, at Modative, everything really is a project. I’m just glad we are able to rely on our “clothesline” to clearly organize and prioritize our ideas and actions. This way, our clients can be confident that we will inject all of our energy successfully towards reaching their project’s goals.

Being organized allows us ample time to do what we love most: designing and being creative, while still having plenty of time to enjoy life and walk Bella, Modative's office dog.

architects office dog architecture Firms with Dogs
Bella- The early years (before lots of walks)     
Bella- after more organization (& after lots of walks)


Contributors to this post include Krystal Návar, Derek Leavitt and Michael Scott .

Tags: Communication, Project Strategy, Organization, Architectual Practice, Business, architecture resorces

10 Questions for Architects to Ask Potential Residential Clients

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Wed, Dec 8, 2010 @ 07:12 AM

One of the most difficult client types to gauge when they first contact our architecture firm is single family residential clients. We often find ourselves asking them the same questions from memory in order to determine our architecture fee and if their project is a good fit for our office.

After repeating this exercise all too often, we decided that there was an easier way. So we wrote up a list of 10 questions for potential residential clients to answer. This was not an attempt to remove the personal touch of discussing a clients potential project over the phone or in a face-to-face meeting, but a way to be thorough in collecting all the basic information that helps us write better proposals that cater to the client's needs.


pool house architect los angeles

Would you like a pool house with that?

The idea was to email the questions over as a follow up to that first phone call. We decided to keep it simple. Make it multiple choice when we could and encourage short answers. Our previous attempts to create questionnaires like this were often bloated, causing our clients to feel overwhelmed and hesitant to complete them.

We created the document in Pages (Apple's version of Word), but then converted it to the more universal Microsoft Word format. As it says at the top of the document, the client can choose how they want to fill it out and return it to us.

Here's our 10 question Residential Project Checklist in its full format. A link to download this as a Word file is provided at the end of the post.


Residential Project Checklist

10 quick questions to help us better understand your needs

1. Your Name:  Jane Doe

2. Phone Number(s): XXX.XXX.XXX

3. Email Address:

4. Spouse/Partner’s Name (if applicable):  John Doe

5. Project Address:
101 Terrace Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90000

6. My project falls under which categories (place an X in front of all that apply and briefly

__ Ground-up Residential
 Size: XXXX square feet
 Quick Description: Add quantity and type of rooms

__ Residential Remodel
 Size: XXXX square feet
 Quick Description: Add quantity and type of rooms

__ Residential Addition
 Size: XXXX square feet
 Quick Description: Add quantity and type of rooms

__ Pool/Pool House
 Size: XXXX square feet
 Quick Description: Add quantity and type of rooms

7. What is your estimated budget for the construction project?
 __ less than $25,000
  __$25,000 - $75,000
 __ $75,000 - $150,000
 __$150,000 - $250,000
  __ $250,000 - $500,000
 __ $500,000 - $1,000,000
  __ over $2,000,000


8. If you have a schedule in mind, please explain below:
 I’d like to start construction on this project in blank months.

9. If you are doing a remodel or addition, do you have any existing plans of the house? (please
mark all that apply):
 __ I don’t have any plans.
 __ I have physical copies of the plans (like old blueprints).
 __ I have digital copies of the plans (like .dwg or .pdf files).
 __ I drew up the plans myself


10. Anything else you care to share about your project?
    Things you must have? Ideas on green design?



Here's a link to download the Residential Client Checklist

If you have any suggestions or key questions you think the list is missing, please feel free to add them in the comments.

Contributors to this post include Christian Návar, Michael Scott and Krystal Návar.

Tags: remodel, los angeles architects, Architectual Practice, architecture resorces, Residential

Architects Answering the Important Questions

Posted by Christian Navar on Tue, Sep 7, 2010 @ 06:09 AM

People often contact Modative about a project they have in mind, but they are often unsure of how to get started. Common questions we receive are:

  • How much will it cost?
  • What will the city allow us to do?
  • How much square footage can I build?
  • Is it feasible?
  • How many units can I build?
  • How much parking do I need to provide?
  • What is the process?
  • How long will it take to permit or build?
  • I have a lot / want to buy a lot / want to lease a property. What can I do with it?

Modative was recently contacted by two individuals who posed many of the questions listed above. The first individual was a long-time business owner with a hard-to-lease commercial auto body shop in Los Angeles. The second was a young entrepreneur looking to find a property in order to open a new restaurant/bar concept. With both of these clients, their long term plans were contingent upon taking really important first steps to decide what to do with the property they own/lease/were looking to purchase or lease.

los angeles bar architect

Our services often include conceptual renderings like this one for the aforementioned restaurant/bar in Los Angeles. These renderings are valuable tools for our clients (and their investors) to envision the project's possibilities.

Since the economic climate has shifted downward so dramatically, more and more of our clients are requesting that we provide answers to important questions in order to guide them in the decision-making process before they spend too much of their cash reserves. In our ongoing efforts to give people insight into the helpful services we provide here at Modative, we’d like to share a service in which several of our recent clients have had a particular interest: Site Evaluation and Planning Services.

The beauty of our Site Evaluation and Planning Services is that within a few weeks, for a smaller financial commitment, we can provide valuable insight into what can be done with a property. The level of detail provided in our analysis is catered to the clients specific needs. Some just want the basics, like of what uses are allowed and the code restraints, while others want a more detailed investigation, like program development, preliminary layouts, conceptual renderings, and even preliminary budget analysis of construction and soft costs (architectural, consultants and city fees).

los angeles office rehab architect

A descriptive 3D Plan we provided as part of the Site Evaluation and Planning Services for an auto body shop conversion into office commercial.

While we frequently provide these services for ground-up projects such as Residential Small Lot Subdivision projects, we also do quite a few for residential and commercial rehab and remodel projects.

Check out our Site Evaluation and Planning Services page to download a sample report we developed for a commercial rehab project and learn more about how these services are a great way to get a project started without a huge upfront commitment.


Download a sample Site Evaluation and Planning report:

site evaluation  

Site Evaluation + Planning Services

A sample case study of a commercial rehab and former auto body shop in North Hollywood, California.


Contributors to this post include Derek Leavitt, AIA, Michael Scott and Krystal Návar.

Tags: Los Angeles, architect advice, Zoning Code Search, Architectual Practice, architecture resorces, Residential, Small Lot Subdivision, Development

4 Reasons to Become a Fan of Modative Architecture on facebook

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Fri, Mar 26, 2010 @ 08:03 AM

1. You Like Christian, Michael and Derek (the founders of Modative)

You want them to succeed.

You'd invest in their company if people were actually foolish enough to invest in architecture firms. Becoming a fan on facebook will be your investment.

Becoming a fan of Modative Architecture now is like buying Apple stock back in 1996, days before Steve Jobs returned. If you did that back then, you'd now be a kagillionaire. So, joining the Modative train now will get you some serious internet clout when we get around to designing the architecture equivalent of the ipod.

modative founding partners

Hey, they seem like nice, upstanding citizens. I think I'll become a fan of their architecture firm.

2. You Hate Christian, Michael and Derek

You can't wait to see them fail.

You dislike them personally, their silly modern architecture and everything else they stand for. All great reasons to become a fan. It'll be like having front row facebook tickets to their demise.

architects political ad

I don't know. That's a pretty grainy political-ad-style photo. I can't wait to become a fan and watch their architecture empire crumble.

3. You Need Culture in Your Life

Actually, you don't need culture. You need the appearance of culture.

When your ex from high school finds you on facebook, they will dissect your profile, finding clues to the level of your lameness. Like it or not, you'll be defined by the pages on your profile. It could get ugly. But alas, there between the "Britney Spears Fan Page" and "Ground Beef Taco Lovers Club" they find a gem - "Modative Architecture". Bingo.

Wow, my ex follows a modern architecture firm. That's some serious culture and sophistication.

Little do they know, you consistently turn down invites to art gallery openings to stay home and watch bad reality TV shows in your underwear.

It's the appearance of culture we're after here people

4. It's a Low Maintenance Relationship

You know your random facebook acquaintance with the horrible band. The one that asked you to become a fan of their group. You gave in. Big mistake.

Now you're bombarded with daily group updates clogging your news feed:

"Check out our new song on MySpace called 'Pig's Lair'"

"Vote for us like a bagillion times in this useless online contest"

"Come rock out with us at our Tuesday night gig at Malloy's in Salinas, CA"

Salinas, seriously?

At Modative we won't spam up your news feed. Why? because we're too busy drawing buildings and other important architecture stuff. Complex, technical stuff.

We rarely update. And when we do, we'll be just as easy to ignore as the rest of your group/page updates.


So, if you're ready to make this minor commitment, you may facebook (used as a verb) us here -  Modative Architecture on facebook


Craving more social media madness?

Follow Derek's frequent twitter updates here - @architectderek

Wait for Christian's rare tweets here - @modative_navar


Or, if you want the appearance of culture in your inbox, subscribe to this architecture blog to recieve an email every time we post.

Tags: Modern Design, website update, Architectual Practice, architecture resorces

7 Tips for Starting an Architecture Firm - Tip 05: Start and Stay Small

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Wed, Mar 3, 2010 @ 05:03 AM

This post is part of the How to Start an Architecture Firm series.

In February 2006, Christian, Michael and I went to work on forming our own architecture firm. The following is tip number five of seven in our start-up strategy.

Tip 05: Start and Stay Small

Small Architecture Firms

photo credit

I've never been a fan of large companies. It's probably because I've never worked for one. Before founding Modative, I worked for three small- to medium-sized architecture firms. Christian and Michael have similar experiences, learning the architecture business in offices where you had to do it all. There was no way to pass along unwanted tasks or hide amongst hordes of CAD stations.

Christian always jokes that in one office, the first thing the boss asked him to do on his first day was to take out the trash. Experiences like this are humbling, but also critical to developing the kind of discipline it takes to start your own architecture firm.

If I don't do this myself, it won't get done.

A philosophy that clearly ties into Tip 02: Do it Yourself.

Growing a Company on Fact vs. Faith?

Many people set out on their own with intentions of growing their offices fast. Far too often, this growth is unwarranted.

Are you hiring people because you can't possibly complete your long-term billable work with your current staff?

Or, are you hiring in a panic because you momentarily feel overwhelmed at a perceived inundation of new projects in the office?

Even worse, are you hiring so you can tell people at dinner parties that your office has X number of people or so you don't have to work more than 40 hours a week?

We have faced all of these situations here at Modative. To expand or not to expand. I credit our frequent internal debates amongst my partners and I to keeping our company small and responsible when it comes to hiring.

It would have been far too easy in our founding year (2006) to grow our company based on faith in the booming economy. But as this glimpse of the U.S. stock market shows over our first three years in business, we made the right call to base our growth on fact rather than faith.

architecture firm growth


Technology Enables "Smallness"

When I graduated from architecture school 10 years ago, most firms were organized in a much different fashion. Architecture offices relied on larger project teams to complete the labor-intensive production and coordination that 2D CAD (and even some hand drafting) required. As technology improved, these old-school firms had a tough time changing. Their principals, often from a generation that didn't grow up with computers, would eventually come to embrace new technology, but in a slow evolutionary way, dragged down by large production-based staffs. It has taken 10 years for many of these old-school firms to evolve into technology. Many of them still resist.

Having three founders that grew up with computers and rapid technology changes, our firm was founded with a much different mentality. We embrace technology because it enables us to remain small. Our new-school firm can accomplish the same amount of work with one person that an old-school firm needed 4-8 people to complete. These two technologies help make this possible:


This program is the key to keeping us organized. It's a management system for our projects, contacts, time cards, calendar, billing and much more. Check out a prior post where I describe our ArchiOffice use in more detail.

architecture office mangement software

A screenshot of the ArchiOffice dashboard.


I've worked with ArchiCAD, our CAD software here at Modative, on and off for nine years. ArchiCAD's BIM (building information modeling) technology enables "smallness" by taking much of the grunt work out of drawing production, allowing us to focus on creativity. Virtually constructing projects before they are built not only creates pretty pictures to show our clients, but it also drastically reduces expensive construction conflicts.

los angeles architects bim software

An example of how our virtual building models contain information on the structural systems, reducing potential drawing errors.


Stay tuned as we fill in the last two tips of 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.

posted 12.03.09

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

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.


Tags: Architectual Practice, Construction Conflicts, Innovation, Software, Business, architecture resorces, Starting an architecture firm

How to Start an Architecture Firm - Introduction

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Thu, Dec 3, 2009 @ 08:12 AM

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.



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


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Tags: los angeles architects, architect advice, Architectual Practice, Business, architecture resorces, Starting an architecture firm

Architects & Creative Professionals : Is It Time To Rethink Your Resume?

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Mon, May 18, 2009 @ 09:05 AM

Over the past few months I've been thinking a lot about resumes. Actually, I haven't just been thinking. I've been writing a guide to attempt to get architects and other creative professionals to rethink the way they make resumes.

The guide is formatted as 22 quick tips to get you to rethink your resume in your own creative way.

Check out Rethink Your Resume

rethink your resume

Tags: Inspiration, architect advice, Architectual Practice, architecture resorces, resume

Advice for Architecture Job Hunters

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Mon, Mar 23, 2009 @ 11:03 AM

Last week we had an interesting question posted to our Ask an Architect feature about the difficulty in finding an architecture job. I thought this Q & A would be helpful to other architecture job seekers out there, especially the less experienced, so here is a reposting of that question and answer.

The Question

How hard, on a scale of 1-10, is it to get a job right after graduating with a Bachelors in Architecture?

The Answer

Good question. A lot of new architecture graduates and young professionals are facing this same issue right now. I wish I had better news, but I don't. Things are tough right now for architecture job seekers. If you want a scale, I would say an 8 in terms of difficulty. Many firms are letting people go or on hiring freeze.
However, I'm an optimist, so lets look at some positives given your situation.

You Cost Less

Because you are less experienced, you cost less to a potential employer. This means that hiring you is less of a financial commitment versus hiring a licensed architect or someone with 5+ years of experience.

You Are Young (I'm Assuming)

Now is a bad time to enter the job market, but things could be worse. You could have just been laid off as an experienced architect with kids, a mortgage, etc. Hopefully you are light on expenses and responsibilities. This gives you flexibility. You could work in another city or overseas where the economy may be better. You may also consider going for a masters, maybe not even in architecture (I recommend an MBA).

Part Time

Although many firms are hesitating to hire because of uncertainty, many still have work that needs to be done. You could offer yourself up for some part time work. Tell them no commitment, just by the hour. This is a great way to get in. Before you know it, they could get busier, and they'll turn to you first for a full time job.


Even less of a commitment for a firm would be to offer yourself as a freelancer. You just need your own computer, software, and a place to work (probably home). Many firms love to outsource because they avoid the commitment and costs of an employee, but still have a place to get work done when they get busy. This may not be ideal for you, but given these hard times, it is a viable option that many people don't consider.

New Skills

Recent graduates often have better computer skills than professionals just a few years older. Use this to your advantage. Maybe you even have computer skills outside of architecture, like web design. Many firms utilize down time to redesign websites or reorganize themselves. Show that you can do more than just CAD.
Hopefully this gives you a glimmer of hope. Also keep checking back on our web site as we'll be releasing a guide to creative resumes in the coming months. Good luck out there.  

Tags: architect advice, Architectual Practice, architecture resorces, architecture job search