This week, you can hear the story of two young architects coming together to build their dream. These guys survived the recession by developing a company creating BIM objects for manufacturers, then designing and building tiny houses which led to getting noticed by media. Now, they’re launching their newest projects: a book, a podcast, and an architect-as-developer project. They’re not waiting for permission, they’re just getting it done.
This week at EntreArchitect Podcast, Getting Noticed Through Fun Projects with Lance Cayko and Alex Gore of F9 Productions Inc.
Growing up in North Dakota, Lance always remembers constructing things with legos and drawing in his sketch book. When he was 13, he started working on the family farm and lasted a whole year. After that, he worked with a friend’s dad replacing roofs. While he didn’t take school very seriously, he loved building and wanted to become a contractor. He attended North Dakota State School of Science to earn his associates degree, with a firm understanding of construction. At that point, he actually started to like school and see a path that he could enjoy. At the end of school, they built a house. When looking at the plans, Lance wanted to know why the designer made certain designs. Naturally, he started looking at architecture school, where he landed a bunch of scholarships; he was a good student once he found something he enjoyed learning about. He attended North Dakota State University, where he met Alex.
Alex can hardly remember a time that he didn’t want to be an architect. He recalls drawing tons of photos of ants and bees at an early age.
Lance & Alex Meet
At NDSU, Lance and Alex were in the same class. They met the second year, but didn’t hit it off right away (apparently because of their different tastes in music and hobbies). Eventually, they sat across from each other in one class and got to know each other a little better. In their third year, they had to design a giant airport. Lance and Alex were both leaders of two different teams, and by the end of the project they were so tired of trying to lead such a difficult project, they decided they should try to team up in the future.
Finally, one of the most prestigious projects at NDSU was building a sky scraper. Everyone involved had to complete personality tests to get paired so that different personalities were working together, so Lance and Alex rigged the system by answering completely opposite of each other to get on the project together. They teamed up and ended up winning the competition.
In fifth year, they had two huge projects to compete on: the thesis award and the Alpha Rho Chi award. Of course, Alex won the Alpha Rho Chi and Lance won the thesis award.
Since they knew it would be hard to get jobs in 2008, they had a conversation that maybe they would meet back up in 10 years and get to start a firm together. They parted ways, with Lance ending up in Colorado and Alex ending up in New York.
In New York, Alex actually watched people walk out of their jobs with boxes of stuff the day the market crashed. He called Lance and they talked about ideas for alternate income. Alex wanted to get his masters in construction management and learn how to build a website to get things started for their team. Around the same time, Lance was laid off and decided he wanted to learn how to build BIM models.
Instead of trying to get manufacturers on board on a huge sell during the recession, Lance started to make speculative models. He visited a few websites and started making speculative models in such a big volume, and, through a series of connections, ended up making railings for big manufactures in the US.
Through the recession, Lance was able to fall back on his carpentry skills and make a living working on his own. He landed a big house and then a clinic, and Alex decided to move down and team up with him for at least a few months until they saw where it could go.
Lance and Alex knew there weren’t going to be huge commissions, but they figured there would be plenty of small projects. Because of that, they changed the model of their company to set it up as a volume-based business to meet that demand. They found that they were getting jobs because they were quick to respond, the most professional, and they over delivered. Although it was a basic thought, most people weren’t doing that. For a couple years, they were able to scrape by doing additions and renovations.
Each year, they loved to do fun projects. The parameters were basically something fun that they can both agree on. One year, they created four different houses that could fight against the apocalypse (you can check it out here). Another time, they offered to build a friend a tiny house (see it here). They worked on it for about a year and found a crazy organic following. They had multiple offers to do a show on tiny houses and a ton of momentum grew. Though it was a nightmare to manage the process, they did it and their project went on to be featured on HGTV. They were soon approached by a local company who commissioned them to build two more tiny houses for a Fortune 500 company.
Lots of architects discuss what they get paid for. Instead, Lance and Alex have decided to take on more responsibility and risk and use that to eventually get paid more.
Now, they work hard to increase their value by taking on increased responsibility. They’d put a backup offer on a piece of land that they ended up being able to purchase, and now they’re starting the whole development process on two buildings with residential town homes and their new offices.
The fun project this year is to start a new podcast, called Inside the Firm, which will include conversations about past experiences with good and bad stories as well as the journey with their current design project.
They’ve also started a Facebook album to share a visual representation of constraints they encounter and how they’ve solved that particular problem.
What is the one thing that small firm architects can do today to build a better business tomorrow?
“Be fundamentally responsive. It’s so simple, even when you’re busy, to respond quickly even just to say you’ll get back to them tomorrow. It shows you respect and value that they’re a client or potential client.” – Lance Cayko, F9 Productions
“Do something fun that you can put your heart into. If you don’t have the time to do that, there’s so many little ideas you have that you can think about how to put out into the world. Even a website costs almost nothing. So many of the fun ideas we’ve put our effort into have come back to pay off down the road. We all have talents and ideas, so figure out how to put them out into the world.” – Alex Gore, F9 Productions
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