You Want to Start Now?

Answer these questions first. Honesty is the best policy, says architecture professor and JDSM principal Joseph Javier

Words Joseph AdG Javier
Images Javier Design Studio Manila

Header: AJ Javier, photographed by Bien Alvarez
American Standard
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I recently concluded a Zoom interview with 3rd-year architecture students of De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde. It was for a professional practice class, and they wanted to know how it is to start and operate a small design firm. That interview made me think deeply about how fortunate I was to have opened my firm soon after graduation and how bleak the prospects for these students are when they graduate next year.

I wrote on this same topic five years ago. Anyone giving the advice I gave then in this age of COVID-19 would probably be accused of being out of touch with reality.  Practices all over have devised ways to conserve cash, from reduced work hours to retrenchment. Is this the time to leave one’s job when gainful employment and clients are hard to find?

Although I founded my firm, formally registered and all, driven by my retrenchment during the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997, that episode was so unorthodox—a miracle straight from the heavens—it is not an appropriate career model for these difficult times.

My advice? Until 2022, it is not a good idea to leave employment.

However, if you are a fine specimen whose resolve is steel and your bank account, a well of immense depth, let no pandemic nor incompetent government stop you. If your employer has not beat you to it yet and you are genuinely soul-searching about leaving employment in favor of establishing your design firm, here are eleven questions–and more–you need to answer. I listed the eleven back in 2016, an era of plenty and stability. Side by side with those questions, I add more queries to aid self-examination, reflecting the dark and forbidding days of 2021.

Should I leave my employer?

2016: Am I my best self in this environment? 

2020: Can I revisit, rethink, revise, and realign my values and beliefs to shine in this environment, despite the incompatibilities?

2016: Do I believe in the organization and the work and services it does?

2020: Can I train myself to believe in the organization, the work, and the services it provides, without compromising my fundamental values?

2016: Do the people I work for and with share my values?

2020: Can I look at the “value sharing” process in a larger sphere with others in mind, meeting at a common place where we can explore and embrace values different from ours?

2016: Are they open to ideas? Fair? Respectful of others?

2020: Plague or plenty, openness, fairness, and respect are non-negotiables in an organization. Can I live without these?

2016: Am I challenged to do my best? Am I learning and growing?

2020: Do I have the patience and forthrightness to advise the organization and its leaders how I want to be challenged, learn, and grow?

2016: Do I have good mentors, people I can learn from and look up to?

2020: An organization without a mentoring leader is an organization you do not want to be part of. Can I stay in this place for a couple more years without people to learn from and look up to? Ask this question real hard, especially in this time of uncertainty.

2016: Do I want to become my boss?

2020: Louder!

2016: Is staying good for my health and well-being?

2020: Will opening a firm with me as the boss in this age of COVID-19 prove kinder to my physical and mental well-being?

JDSM at CFW c. 1996
Grohe
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2016: Am I consistently experiencing more frustration than reward?

2020: Delaying self-gratification is a value fundamental to entrepreneurship. Can I find it in my heart to practice this value for the next two years or so?

2016: Are there solutions to my feelings of discontent?

2020: “He who is not contented with what he has would not be contented with what he would like to have,” the great Socrates declared. Can I master this Socratic doctrine for a couple of years more?

2016: Can I picture myself staying and continuing this way?

2020: Will I forgive myself if I did?

2016: Are you angry now? Good! Anger, dissatisfaction, and frustration are not prerequisites to leaving employment and opening your own firm. But they do propel the process faster.

Opening the doors to your new firm is not as difficult as you think. All you really need is the guts to decide. But before you make that jump, evaluate yourself first. Do you truly know who you are and what you want? Opening a firm or a business is not for everyone but only, as research shows, 15% of us. Are you part of the 15% percent? Answer the following questions and find out.

2020: If you are not angry, you undoubtedly are depressed by now or afraid. Is the dream of your own design firm bigger than discouragement and fear?

I often tell my students, “If your dreams do not terrify you, they are not big enough.” Why don’t you spray the fuel of terror over the flames of your fear and gloriously burn in the passion of your ambition?

If your answers to most of the questions above are “No,” be a hero. Read on, move on.

Do I have what it takes to open my own practice?

  1.    Am I a leader?
  2.    Do I believe in my talent?
  3.    Do I have a vision and a mission of the practice that I want? Do I have an organized agenda?
  4.    Do I have a career goal identified with a specific timeline?
  5.    Am I an entrepreneur?
  6.    Do I have reserves enough to support my lifestyle and business generation for at least a year?
  7.    Do I have a project big enough to work on and support the practice for a year?
  8.    Do I have the business competence necessary to open and run a small firm?
  9.    Do I have clients and customers? Do I know how to create or find them?
  10.  Do I know how to promote, pitch, and sell, or at least have access to people who do?
  11.  Do I have access to competent manpower?
  12.  Do I have access to complementary competencies, like lawyers and accountants?
  13.  Do I have the technical and creative competence to service a project on my own?
  14.  Do I have an active professional license? Do I have partners who are licensed?
  15.  Do I have a network of architects who support me?
  16.  When you answer the above questions with a yes, the final question is: Do I have the balls to actually do it?

In 2016, I told readers, “If your final answer is ‘Yes,’ close your eyes, and jump. It is time.” Today, I say, if your final answer is ‘Yes,’ close your eyes, get vaccinated, and jump. It is time. •

Joseph AdG Javier is the principal of Javier Design Studio – Manila (JDSM). Since 2013, Javier has served as Exterior COO of Benilde Architecture + Design (BAD) Consortium. He is one of the founding faculty of the School of Design and Arts architecture program, De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde, Manila; now currently serving as its Industry Consultant since 2015. He placed Top 10 in the architecture licensure exam of 1996 and graduated cum laude, BS Architecture from the University of the Philippines – Diliman in 1995.

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