As a designer, how have you seen the role of creatives evolve?
Until about the early 2010s, design was run through engineering, marketing, or some other department. At tech companies, it was never really looked at as something that would require C-suite leadership. It was always a function of something else.
So, you don't really see very many companies that are founded or led by creatives. It's mostly finance people or engineers.
Why do you think that is?
It's a great question. I mean, there is the stereotype of creatives being disorganized, or kind of fighting it. I can attest to some of that. But then Airbnb comes along, and one of their founders is a designer, so they're showing that designers can be co-founders and lead companies.
One thing that was really pushed in my career was that you’ve got to be able to tie what you do to the business goals and the business objectives. You had to be more business-focused and mindful of the greater picture of user experience, not just visuals.
But all of this didn't matter whenever I started Methodical because it was 100% about the fact that my entire career had been on the internet, where everything was deleted or overridden within six months.
It was just so frustrating because you pour yourself into this work and then it's all gone. I would be jealous of architects because they would design buildings that will be there for decades.
I thought coffee would be easy and I was like, okay, I'll design it, market it, whatever. Get it going, and then go back to my career in tech.
When you decided design would be central, who all did you have to be accountable to? And how did you justify that to them?
The space probably looks more expensive than it actually was. To make a nice space, does it always mean more money? It just means you have to be creative. The floor in our first location is just the raw concrete that has been cut up, spray-painted and poorly patched over the decades.
Our tile is just a very simple white hexagon shape which is cheap, but at the time it was unusual to use that shape. Our mugs and cups are all from thrift stores. All the planters and decorations were all thrifted.
Were there times where you had to reconsider the aesthetic focus?
I always pushed really hard on it. I think my co-founders, David Baker and Will Shurtz, trusted me big time in the sense that when I would put my foot down and say we cannot compromise on something, they said okay.
But then there are other areas that we would try to figure out a solution that was lower priced, or we would get the quote and see that we had to figure something else out.
But again, I'm trying to understand how to run a business, so the cost of the build out has to match whatever you think the potential revenue is. If it’s very low revenue, you can't spend hundreds of thousands of dollars. You'll never make that back. It’s just trying to be conscious of hitting the biggest bang for your buck, whatever it ends up being.
Besides visual aesthetics, how else did your design background impact the business?
Designers have to learn the iterative cycle, the development process and how we fit into that. That, I think, had a big kind of impact on Methodical in the sense that we would look for the MVP, or minimum viable products. When we wanted to launch something, we would create it and then optimize it to make it better, more efficient, more profitable.
The artist in me also comes into the customer experience being more immersive: someone mentioned to me how when they come in for coffee, they don’t worry about the wait because there's plenty to look at and entertain them.
Even the audio in the cafe. I got so many people telling me I was dumb for using a turntable and vintage audio equipment because it would break down. But we haven’t had major issues. We push our baristas to be DJs who know the vibe of the shop, and maybe play chill jazz if it’s a rainy day, or match the vibe of a really bumpin’, bright Saturday.
When do you find it hard to be so detailed and creative?
It's really hard to uphold the aesthetics while also making something super-efficient. That has been the biggest struggle; trying to uphold that standard while making things easy on production, efficient, lower costs, to try and save some money.
How do you balance your creative practice with this growing business?
The hard part for entrepreneurs is you've got bills. You've got a family. It’s hard to take money out of the business to support yourself. You're wanting to increase the pay for your employees or offer a better experience for them. You're wanting to cut costs in places that you really believe in. It's really hard to navigate that.
I feel like that is one of the hardest points where you can hit burnout really easily because you're trying to do everything.
In 2019, I went freelance in order to give myself more flexibility. But now the business is again reaching that point where it's just too much. So, this year has been really hard with having to work 35 hours in my design world and then another 20-25 hours with Methodical. And on top of that, having all kinds of health issues in my family and all kinds of things needing attention.
So, this fall, I’m cutting down my freelance to where it’s 80% Methodical and 20% design because the company demands it, and we’re fine — I can pay myself a little bit more to cover my expenses. It’s taken eight years to get to that point.
Is it a relief to do that 80/20 split? Does it make you nervous?
Oh yeah — both. I’ve had this other skillset that I can fall back on, which is a double-edged sword: I don’t push as hard on getting what I want to be my full-time job. But it is a big deal. Once I reach that point, mid-September, it will be a huge relief because this is what I love, and this is what I want to do.
It's like having children in the sense that your kids drive you crazy. It can be a pain. But you love them more than anything, you would do anything for ‘em. Plus, Methodical offers frequent creative projects, like visualizing a new cafe or packaging.
I think a lot of creatives get lost in coming up with big ideas, and never really finishing anything. And that's one thing that I've really pushed myself to be very disciplined in: completing projects.
How do you stay disciplined?
Money. The project completion is when that thing you conceive starts working for you.
Trying to figure out how to do that started me down the path of reading business books, listening to business podcasts, and researching everything I could think of to try and learn “financial speak.”
I have a book called “The Personal MBA” by Josh Kauffman. It’s just a glossary of boring business stuff, but I thought it was so fascinating. I want to learn this stuff to prove you can have a business that values aesthetics and design, and that is profitable. I want to prove that you can do these two things, ‘cause I always felt like it was one or the other.