Don’t underestimate the power of sharing your vision, goals, and strategy. Galvanize your team around your company’s vision, mission and values as early as you can.
Lukas Dryja, 35, is a design thinker, product strategist and entrepreneur. With a passion for building solution-oriented products, Dryja has ignited several successful businesses in the digital arena. After completing a Bachelor of Design at the Ontario College of Art and Design University in Toronto, he honed his abilities as a design specialist at a selection of leading Toronto agencies, with client work spanning advertising, branding, graphic design, and application and interactive design. Unable to quiet the voice of his enterprising spirit, he launched branding collective, Kolor, in 2007, accomplishing the design of the inaugural Globe and Mail iPhone app, Ontario Government identities for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and the rebrand of LG Fashion Week, amongst other major projects. Shortly thereafter, Dryja also co-founded Form & Method, a consulting shop that specialized in the design and development of web and mobile applications.
In 2010, with the mission of propelling the careers of creative professionals, Dryja and his Format co-founder Tyler Rooney, worked to simplify the website-building process and created a platform that allows photographers, illustrators, designers and artists around the globe to make a beautiful online portfolio within minutes. Over the span of eight years, the proudly self-funded company has grown from a team of two to a team of fifty and amassed tens of thousands of users in over 195 countries around the world.
Where did the idea for Format come from?
The idea of an online portfolio platform designed specifically for creative professionals had been percolating in my head since 2004 when I graduated from one of North America’s top design schools. I became increasingly shocked by how few of my talented classmates were able to showcase their work online. After two years of ideation alongside my co-founder, Amazon.com alumni Tyler Rooney, we officially launched Format in 2010.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
As most entrepreneurs would say, my typical day is anything but typical. At a scaling startup there are often many priorities on the go and I am pulled in many different directions. My time is most often divided between strategy discussions, executive recruitment, leadership meetings, discussions with potential partners, and professional development time with my team.
For me, I find I am most productive in the morning: I get online pretty early at home, answering any emails or Slack messages, and take time to plan the day ahead. Last year, I also hired a Chief of Staff who takes on much of the operational work that I was doing so that I can remain focused on the strategy of the business and take time to plan for the long term as well as help overcome the more difficult challenges the company is facing.
How do you bring ideas to life?
In order to bring ideas to life, I personally utilize Design Thinking, a process that is deeply rooted in how knowledge advances from one stage to another. Depending on the scope of work this process can be extremely fast, taking up one day, or last longer, extending into a few weeks. At first, I ensure that I observe and understand the core problem. I then look to define the need and align with those who I am collaborating with. Next, I frequently challenge assumptions and look to redefine the problem in an attempt to identify alternative strategies and solutions that might not be instantly apparent with the initial level of understanding. I then move on to solving the problem with some form of prototype or minimal solution which helps me ensure that I can test my initial assumptions much faster. This is a non-linear process that I often reorder based on needs of the problem. Overall it ensures that I’m able to explore a breadth of solutions and result in an outcome that solves for the root problem.
As a company, Format brings ideas to life through the autonomy that everyone has to impact their work, from ideas, processes, and tools to different ways of working. I like to empower my whole team—from the senior leaders who continuously improve on their own department’s processes and knowledge to all team members who can utilize their choice of technologies—to have more impact on the way they work. This starts with meticulous hiring for smart, dedicated, and ambitious individuals who are very capable in their fields and driven to make an impact on our community and customers. Format’s success and the ability to bring our ideas to life is truly attributed to the amazing talent of our team.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I tend not to get too excited by trends, as they come and go. I’m a long-term thinker and often visualize what the creative community will be like and need 10-15 years from now. What excites me is the way technology is constantly evolving, and how that technology can be used to give creatives the tools and freedom they need to express themselves in new and meaningful ways. As such, I’ve embarked on a journey to discover and define this creative future and ensure that as an organization we are doing our part to make it better.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
While it’s not necessarily a habit, I have become more productive as an entrepreneur due to the trust that I put in my team. Giving my leadership team the trust and autonomy to make their own decisions enables me to focus better on what I need to do and not get caught up in the minutiae.
Entrepreneurs are closely tied to their ideas and the companies they have founded, but I am fully aware that sometimes I need to step back and let others take the reign in order to help this company succeed. While I am extremely invested in Format, decision making, and what happens here, having built such a wonderful team based on trust I feel comfortable stepping back so that I can think big picture. This makes me more productive as an entrepreneur.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t underestimate the power of sharing your vision, goals, and strategy. Galvanize your team around your company’s vision, mission and values as early as you can. Share the goals for the company and explicitly state how you are going to accomplish them, openly and honestly. This alignment and shared purpose will quickly remove any roadblocks that you will inevitably face along the way.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
This is a tough one as I don’t think there is something specific that most disagree with me on.
I personally believe conflict is healthy and overall conflict is something I have never shied away from as it can bring people closer together once it’s resolved. I wouldn’t say that most disagree with me in regards to conflict but it’s something that I definitely think I’m more comfortable with than others.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Never stop learning and always be willing to change. Whether you read books, listen to podcasts, attend conferences, work with people that are smarter than you, or meet with other entrepreneurs, it’s the inherent learning that others have gained through their own experiences that can help you grow. Never stop expanding your horizons and learning from others who have a different perspective than you. Not only will this help you grow as a human being but it will make you a better and more well-rounded leader.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Focus on the right things. At Format, we focus on our goals, our metrics, and our team. We know what we want to accomplish and we put plans in place to get us there. Things don’t always turn out as planned, but knowing where we want to go gets everyone in the company rowing in the same direction. That focus is truly vital to our success.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Early on in my position I assumed that everyone was capable of functioning the way I function, at the same speed and same intensity. I quickly learned that this was an unreasonable expectation and had to adjust how I view and measure other people’s performance. I pride myself as someone who learns quickly and embraces change. Thankfully I was able to adjust how I perceive and review the performance of others. This lesson not only improved my personal well-being and satisfaction but improved my relationships with my colleagues.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I recently had my first child and am shocked at the markup of products targeted towards new parents. If you are looking to start a business that has a significant impact on people’s well-being as well as great margins consider creating products targeted towards new parents.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
A spa gift certificate for my wife. We have an 8 month old baby boy with no immediate family helping out, which means that my wife has had a hard time finding time for herself. Seeing how happy and refreshed she was after a single spa visit was invaluable.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
Evernote, it functions as my second brain. I write everything down in Evernote and if I have a hard time remembering something I simply search the app and am able to find it very quickly.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“Radical Candor.” At Format, we believe in being respectfully candid with one another and giving each other constructive feedback to foster growth and development. We work very hard on delivering meaningful feedback that doesn’t get lost in translation. Radical Candor by Kim Scott teaches just that.
What is your favorite quote?
There isn’t just one but here is one that stands out at this time: “The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion.” – Paulo Coelho
- Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you.
- The faster you are willing to change the faster you will become your best self.
- Practice empathy, it will provide you clarity when you are trying to understand problems.
- Customers don’t always know what they want.
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