Darrin Wilson is a Southern California native. Having grown up in San Diego and attended USC, he then settled in Orange County in Los Angeles and works on the development side of residential and commercial real estate construction through Studio Dardo. His firm handles development, construction, and architectural design for their clients. Starting out as more of a fee builder and typically working as a contractor, Studio Dardo has grown and transitioned into a group that provides spec homes. The company designs the homes, builds them, furnishes them, and puts them on the market.
It’s been a great career choice for Darrin Wilson, who has always been interested in building construction, whether it be residential houses, restaurants, or commercial office spaces. Although he has a general contracting license, he is primarily self-taught with regards to most elements of construction. His firm always spends a good deal of extra time and effort to make their projects into something special and interesting. As they have gotten more into the design side, they now handle material procurement, as well as finding unique applications for different types of buildings, such as specialty flooring, radiant heating, and ensuring that certain styles of architecture are represented within a community.
Where did the idea for your career come from?
I have always had my own company. We started out with smaller projects and worked our way up to doing a lot of custom homes and then got into custom spec homes. We focus on being solution-based because there are always unforeseen challenges, such as structural challenges, finish challenges, specialized carpentry work to make a component of a house’s interior interesting, working on hillsides, or building in a subterranean situation. All these examples require us to think differently and find our way through the unique challenges that each project presents.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I don’t really think of my day as a workday. I am always working. We have a good blend of clients and some work very odd hours on different coasts, so my work time can really vary in order to meet our clients’ needs as we go through the design phases discussing the use of different materials and talking about what projects are going to look like in the end.
This weekend, I was out in Palm Desert looking at a project and then on the phone with some contacts in Atlanta and New York City on Saturday night because they have very different work schedules than we do in California. We currently have a few projects that require me to check on the job site in person sometime during the course of a day.
Our office is a creative space for us. It is the old Spago restaurant in West Hollywood. We have a barber shop there, a bar, and a lot of creative space. I spend most of my time there with our team reviewing projects that are happening that day, or that week, or that month. We meet with our clients as they choose their design ideas, but we also have projects that don’t require meeting with clients.
Our office has a lot of working material samples. We have a gigantic bench carved out of marble and we have certain types of stones that we’ve used throughout the properties we’ve built in the past that are on display. It’s a unique way to showcase those pieces.
Our business is divided into different areas. We work on some development, work with specific clients, and then work on our own projects. We also handle maintenance on some projects and check in on those consistently to make sure everything’s running smoothly.
How do you bring ideas to life?
That’s not a big struggle for us. In fact, that’s probably the easiest thing we deal with. We have lots of ideas. I think that one of the things our team is the best at is the development of ideas or projects and the execution of those ideas. Most of our time is spent on that. But we have lots of projects that we develop. For instance, looking at old historic buildings or houses that need to be repurposed, or developing new neighborhoods that people are moving into, or analyzing what environments people would like to build on. We also like to consider some of the old places that don’t seem to be working as well anymore and try to figure out how they can be repurposed and reused in their present environment.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Particularly with residential jobs, the amenity space has become really important in recent years. An amenity space could be anything from a home office to an outdoor leisure area. As people spend more time at home, it’s clear that they are gravitating more towards outdoor spaces on their property. There is also a trend towards amenity wellness, which generally means air purification throughout the entire home. So rather than a home just being an air conditioned space, people want to have conditioned air, radiant heating, radiant panels, ceiling panels, air conditioning cooling panels, as well as a lot of indoor/outdoor spaces that are either combined or opened up. The amenity section of homes is super important right now and I think that will be a trend that will stay with us for quite some time.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I think one of the habits that makes me productive is being positive. I also like to engage with clients. I prefer to get a read directly from people on what they want, what environments they want to create, and what they are doing rather than reading about it in a file or listening to home ownership trends on the news.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I would tell my younger self that resilience is one of the most important traits to cultivate. We are all given certain challenges in life and being resilient is really important. Keep pushing and working towards your personal goals. It is more important to establish goals for yourself and not just listen to what others say is important. Your goals are choices you make for yourself.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
The San Diego Padres will win the World Series this year, and they’ll beat the Dodgers on the way.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Creativity is a personal thing. You should follow your own drumbeat. Follow your own practice. Believe in your ability. If your interest and your will is strong enough to pursue something, follow it. Don’t worry about where it will take you or what others think about you.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
The most important thing is being present in all aspects of the business. That is a hard thing to delegate, I believe, at least on our particular projects. Clients want answers. You should be knowledgeable on all the things that are handled by your business, whether it be media pieces, or a new company-wide directive, or sales tools, or how people speak to other clients. On our end, I think the most important thing is delivering what you say you will. Keeping your word is key.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
In the beginning, I think I took on too much work for a small startup company to handle. But somehow I managed to persevere and pull through it okay. That being said, from that point onward, I was careful to be honest with myself about acknowledging my capabilities and limitations.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I have a sneaking suspicion that in a few months people are going to want to get together in large groups to have a good time like they did before 2020. I think anything connected with concerts, festivals, or exhibitions is going to be big once the coronavirus fully recedes.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
The best $100 I recently spent was on a pair of sneakers. The shoes were on a sale, and I felt it was a good deal.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
The ability to directly source materials from a Google search or a web engine search is very helpful. As the company is building, it means a lot to be able to properly source and pay for things directly rather than going through different middlemen and retailers.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I recommend The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck by Mark Manson. It keeps the same tone as following your own drumbeat while fleshing out the concept out further. We all make mistakes, but you have got to get up and fight through that and find your own way. Sometimes things do not work out the way that you want, but you have to keep pushing to realize your own dreams.
What is your favorite quote?
“Pick, focus, and grind.” I’m not sure who said it, though.
- Pursue your own dreams.
- Be positive.
- Be present for your clients.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.