Produce or perish
Patience can seem a long forgotten virtue in today’s business world but, according to Cam Curran and Phil Tortoroli, co-founders of the Brooklyn record label Styles Upon Styles, it’s been a major key to their success in a crowded industry. “My advice? Stay consistent and plan to stick around for a while,” Curran says. “I’m talking decades, not years -- because as soon as you take a year off or shutter the operation altogether, no one is really going to care that you're gone.”
That rise-and-grind mentality has led to a sustained run of triumphs for the upstart label including the discovery and cultivation of artists like Denitia Odigie, Vorhees, Rosehardt, and Gabriel Garzón-Montano. But entrepreneurs looking to mimic the label’s success will have to match the duo’s considerable energy to plan, produce, and repeat.
“In our industry, people only ever remember what you've done lately,” Curran says. “So if you're jumping in without a plan for the future or the resolution to keep it up or an actual passion for releasing records with all the tedium that entails -- just really think it through before you commit.”
The first takeaway is that the product doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be as good as it can be; it’s more important to put out something you’re proud of, on time and a regular schedule. The other takeaway is that to do that, you’re going to have to do a lot of mule work. But even that can pay off big: not only is it getting your work to completion, you may just lull your brain into big ideas for what’s next. Nothing inspires work like work, especially when you’re exploring the nuances of your skills, tools, and process.
You never stop learning, but you set your own syllabus
By now you know that being your own boss isn’t all trashed alarm clocks and unlimited summer Fridays. When the business is linked to just a couple people’s work, your personal reputation rides shotgun to your professional one so you’d better know what the hell you’re talking about.
“Everything our firm produces has our names attached to it,” says Ashley Bigham, the co-founder of Ann Arbor-based architecture firm Outpost Office along with her husband Erik Hermann. “Architecture is a small discipline and we aim to contribute to it through our design work. Putting our names on something, even an Instagram post, means something.”
Personal investment in every venture is its own kind of reward, though, and the Yale-educated architects have embraced independence with gusto by vacuuming up as much industry knowledge as humanly possible.
“Right now, we are definitely in the ‘all knowledge is good knowledge’ camp,” Bigham says. “You never know when that knowledge can feed into a new project. We often test materials, colors, or fabrication techniques which we end up using on completely different projects. Right now we look at every fail as a future success.”
The duo’s try-and-try-again attitude has been central to their maturing firm’s philosophy and can be applied to everything from startups to artists. The Beckett line “Fail again. Fail better.” isn’t emblazoned on the walls of a thousand Silicon Valley companies for nothing.
Grinding has also led Bigham and Hermann to explore the more philosophical corners of their discipline, a path uncovered after conducting deep research for potential clients. “We just started our podcast, Site Visit,” Hermann says. “And we did this because we wanted to have more conversations about architecture with more people and want the world of architecture to be more accessible to everyone, not just design professionals.”
Bigham and Hermann’s best advice? Bust your butt and never stop absorbing knowledge, especially from the successful people in your field.
“Find someone a few years ahead of you in the field who you admire and study their success. What moves did they make to get where they are? What were they doing 5 years ago?” Bigham says. But most important of all: “Never stop working. Hustle and fake it. If you don't have something to do, invent a project.”