[quote style=”boxed”]Definitely to network, but most importantly to be patient about results from networking. Every person you make a connection with is a possible working relationship – being patient for them to reach out to you as opposed to constantly asking for work is the key to long term success.[/quote]
Matthew Manos is a social entrepreneur that is dedicated to disrupting the way the design industry operates. Matthew began his freelance career at the age of 16 (2005), which is the same year he took on his first pro-bono client. Four years later, he founded verynice (2009), a global design, business, and innovation consultancy that dedicates over 50% of its efforts toward free design services for non-profit organizations. Matthew has helped build over 250 brands in every sector and industry across the globe, and his studio works with a diverse clientele that range from Fortune 500 companies to small local shops. As of 2012, verynice has also provided over $400,000 worth of pro-bono design and consulting services in 6 continents to 150+ organizations thanks to our team of 100+ international volunteers. Clients include The United Nations, MTV Networks, Facebook, Toyota, Disney, and Human Rights Campaign.
Matthew’s work and ideas have been published in 100+ print and online venues internationally including Forbes, The Huffington Post, GOOD, HOW, and Wired Magazine. He is also a contributing writer for SocialChange.is, Social Earth, and Beautiful/Decay Magazine. Matthew speaks regularly at events and institutions across the United States including TEDx, Social Enterprise Alliance, and UCLA. Matthew’s current research investigates the cultural relevance of “pro-bono,” business as a medium for critical inquiry, and the development of systems that facilitate radical approaches to entrepreneurship. Representative of his passion for connecting the fields of design and business, in the summer of 2012, Matthew pioneered the first class on entrepreneurship in the UCLA School of Arts and Architecture. He holds a BA in Design Media Arts from UCLA (2010), and an MFA in Media Design from the Art Center College of Design (2012).
What are you working on right now?
The real benefit of being a multidisciplinary studio is the fact that every time someone asks me that question, I have a radically different answer. Today we are designing a classroom, an organizational structure, a brand identity, a business model, an app, a process, and a website. We like it when design goes into strange places, and typically are working on a range of projects that are very broad, but always united by strategy, innovation, and design.
Where did the idea for verynice come from?
According the the Harvard Business Review, nonprofit organizations in the United States alone allocate close to 8 billion dollars for marketing and design expenditures. Imagine if that money could be allocated to something that actually matters for these organizations: the cause. That is where the idea for verynice came from, and our hope is to alleviate even a fraction of those expenses in order to enable greater impact at large.
What does your typical day look like?
As the studio has grown, my day-to-day has become much more conversation oriented. I am constantly talking to people, and meeting new people. I typically get in to our office at the Hub LA on the earlier side (morning person), answer a ton of emails, brainstorm with my team, and strategize new projects to work on.
How do you bring ideas to life?
It’s my belief that the worst thing you can do is sit down at a table with a stack of post-it notes and say: “GO!” Good ideas don’t come about that way – they come from patient development and daily observation. To discover new ideas, I have three strategies: itch, observation, and accident. An itch is a personal annoyance that you have, and that you discover is shared with a large audience. An observation is a moment of realization that shifts your perspective on every day things – typically noticed on long walks, or on long road trips. An accident is exactly what it sounds like.
Marshall McCluhan has a brilliant quote: “I don’t know who discovered water, but it was not a fish.” What this quote is getting at is the idea that when you are so deep within something, you actually miss all of the most obvious solutions and ideas around you. I believe that naiveté is a crucial element of true innovation. Real change comes fresh perspectives on old fields, from individuals with confidence to shout out ridiculous ideas, because they don’t know better. You need to be flexible when it comes to your problems. Not a lot of people know this, but this is actually one of the reasons I chose to call the company “a verynice design studio” – I wanted to name the studio as a child would. We are all born with amazing ideas and perspectives – unfortunately as we get older many “ridiculous” ideas are not given the time of day. They key is to not let that happen.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
I am very excited by the explosive nature of social enterprise and pro bono that has been taking place over the past 2 years or so. I remember when I started verynice back in late 2008, that industry (social business) was really quite microscopic, and you would never ever imagine to read about socially conscious companies in business publications like Forbes… now the industry has started to become a household name. That is both amazing and concerning. As we saw with the “green” movement, the more something good for society is understood and recognized as something that is also good for business, the authenticity of the work and its intentions are put at risk. This is why verynice works hard to support the movement, but also speaks widely about accountability in corporate volunteerism. Keeping those definitions strong and in order is crucial if we want to have sincere impact.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
The only time I ever applied for a job was in high school. I wanted to work at Aaron Brothers so that I could get a discount on canvases and paint. Unfortunately they did not accept my application due to a lack of experience. A little pissed off, I decided to buy a bunch of their canvases and start my own painting business – I ended up selling over 100 paintings over the course of two summers and raised a significant amount of money to get me ready for my college education at UCLA. I guess you can say I took a bad situation and made the best out of it 😉
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I would go back and tell myself to always remember that getting shot down on your ideas is validation of their innovative potential. Being a business that incorporates a hefty amount of pro bono, it is almost needless to say I had a lot of people telling me I was insane. However, I found a way to make it work, and I think that anyone can find a way to make their passion work – especially if they truly, with all of their heart, believe in its potential.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Definitely to network, but most importantly to be patient about results from networking. Every person you make a connection with is a possible working relationship – being patient for them to reach out to you as opposed to constantly asking for work is the key to long term success.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
As a designer / entrepreneur, creating contracts and specifically laying out the agreed upon scope of a project before beginning work is crucial. Unfortunately when verynice was just launching I did not know the importance of these logistical components, and did get taken advantage of on several projects – the worst situation being someone stealing the artwork I created and walking away with it without any compensation or recognition for the work. So, designers: always have an agreement!!
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I really want a “got it” button integrated into gmail so that I can have a quick and easy way to acknowledge receipt of an email that does not necessarily require a response. Someone MAKE IT!!
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?
I would change the fact that corporate service and pro bono is widely leveraged in a convenient manner – far too often volunteerism in a corporate setting is seen as an extracurricular activity as opposed to an integral component of business. Through my company, verynice, I am attempting to develop a model that is replicable. I sincerely hope to create more competition for myself someday.
Tell us a secret.
I just had wayyy to much coffee.
What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?
Google Calendar is the only reason I know what I am supposed to do each day of the week. Because we typically are running 15-20 projects at any given moment, Google Docs a great way to keep track (on a macro level) of all of the projects the studio has going on. Skype is another tool I couldn’t live without due to the large amount of global collaborations verynice takes part in.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Anything by Muhammad Yunus – reading his books, especially Banker to the Poor, was a turning point in my career, and helped me learn the power and practicality of pivoting verynice to become a for-profit social enterprise as opposed to a non-profit organization. I loved the idea that I could adopt a model that would allow me to have just as much impact while remaining self-sufficient as opposed to seeing help from the government and / or donors.
Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?
I get a kick out of following all of the sharks from Shark Tank (@LoriGreiner, @BarbaraCorcoran, @robertherjavec, @mcuban, and @TheSharkDaymond) – just to see them constantly arguing with each other online (hilarious). Andy Borowitz (@BorowitzReport) is amazing to get a daily chunk of laughter. And then of course Vivek Wadhwa (@wadhwa) is a great resource for fresh perspectives on all things Silicon Valley.
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
Actually about five minutes ago. My girlfriend, Kate Slovin, (who does not normally drink coffee) had coffee at work and started emailing a series of panicked emails yelling “AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH” – she cracks me up.
Who is your hero?
I do not have one hero, I do have a lot of influencers, though. I am inspired every day by the organizations and founders I encounter. There dedication and determination – the fact that they would happily die for the cause they are supporting… it is something that is almost indescribable when you encounter a being with that kind of motivation.
How can the corporate pro bono movement be taken to the next level?
If corporations are serious about using pro bono service as a tool to create impact in local communities and the world at large, we need to shift corporate volunteerism away from being an extracurricular activity, and toward being an integral component of business. I define an “integral component” as something that takes up at least half of your time. Anything less than that is a hobby. Until we all realize that pro bono can not and should not be a hobby, this movement will not reach its full potential, and our level of impact will remain static and will lack any disruptive, sustainable progress. Giving back and creating impact is not supposed to be easy – it is supposed to be a sacrifice. That is what is so rewarding about it.
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