Called “crazy or genius” by Forbes, Matthew Manos is an author, educator, and entrepreneur. He is the Founder of verynice, a design strategy practice that gives half of its services away for free to nonprofit organizations. With clients including Apple, the American Heart Association, UNICEF, Disney, and Google, verynice’s work has reached millions of people across the globe. Matthew has delivered lectures, facilitated workshops, or exhibited work at 200+ events across 19 countries and territories, including two TEDx talks. He is also Editor-in-Chief of Reginald, a library of pay-what-you-want creative problem solving toolkits. He is an Assistant Dean at the USC Iovine and Young Academy, where he serves as an academic strategist and curriculum designer.
Where did the idea for Reginald come from?
In 2008, I founded verynice, a design strategy practice in Los Angeles. We work with clients across sectors to solve problems creatively, and specialize in brand strategy, user experience design, and strategic foresight. verynice is most well known for our “give half” model; a commitment to giving half of our services away for free to nonprofit organizations.
Once verynice turned 10, I had a thought… At its core, pro-bono is about making expertise available to those who might not otherwise be able to access it. But since the late 1800s, despite incredible technological advancement, the ways in which that expertise is delivered has not changed. Face-to-face pro-bono consultation and training severely limits the amount of people that can benefit from the pro-bono work.
This is why I started building Reginald, a free library of expertise. Reginald partners with leading agencies, practitioners, and other organizations to turn their expertise into a replicable methodology that can be made available as a pay-what-you-want toolkit. By the end of 2020, we’ll have over 25 toolkits in 6 languages available. And, so far, Reginald’s toolkits have offset the equivalent of 100,000+ hours of consulting and training.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
There has yet to be a day in my career that I’d feel comfortable defining as “typical”. In many ways, that is exactly how I stay productive… I have only ever struggled with productivity when I’ve felt stuck on a treadmill of doing the same thing over and over again. I am also very militant with my time… my calendar is always time-boxed, and I rarely defy it. Here’s what today looks like:
04:30am – wake up to feed our newborn twins
04:30-06:00am – scroll through social media, check and respond to simple emails, send thank you notes to anyone that’s donated to one of our toolkits overnight, and generally “accept” the challenges on my plate for the day.
06:00am – eat some oatmeal, walk the dog, hop in the shower, respond to more complex emails (ones that require more than a paragraph answer, or that require me to review a document of some sort… I don’t like doing that kind of thing on my phone)
07:30am– feed the babies again, send out calendar invites to potential new hires for verynice.
09:00am– participate in a panel discussion on social entrepreneurship (virtually) in Kyiv, Ukraine
10:30am– feed the babies again
11:00am– prepare materials and language for the launch of a new toolkit that’s coming out next week
11:30am– complete this interview for IdeaMensch!
12:30pm– prep for upcoming client workshops and meetings
2:00pm- client call (from the bathroom so that my wife can feed the babies… we live in a studio apartment, so it’s hard to find a quiet place!)
2:30-3:30pm- mess around on the internet or read a comic book
3:30pm- keynote talk for Iowa State University’s design program on verynice’s work
5:00pm– wind-down/family time/mapping out the next day… more diapers and baby feeding, too.
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 everyday things – typically noticed on long walks, or on long road trips. An accident is exactly what it sounds like.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I’m really encouraged by the growth in people acknowledging how systemic many issues in our society are, and observing how businesses are slowly waking up to that as well.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I time-box everything that needs to get done for each week, the week before. This practice has allowed me to accept the challenges of the week ahead, while simultaneously allowing me to enter each week with time pre-allocated for the core goals.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Success is up to you to define. Do not get preoccupied with the standard definition of success. Not only is that not necessarily the right trajectory for everyone, it can be damaging to the core mission that your idea was built upon.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Intellectual property is silly.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I almost always share ideas, or announce that a new product is “coming soon” before I’ve even finished it. I’m a big fan of getting feedback and pulse-checks early and often.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
I believe the single most important thing a business can do to succeed is define a mission, and consistently pursue it without being completely married to “what” you do and “how” you do it. For example, verynice has always had a mission to alleviate expenses for nonprofit organizations. That has never changed. But what has changed constantly are our offerings… we launched as a graphic design firm, and now we’ve gone full strategy and focus a lot of energy on developing toolkits. This has allowed us to keep a sense of consistency with our brand and ethos, while remaining flexible enough to evolve with the needs of our clients.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Trying to do everything. For years, verynice tried to be a one-stop shop for anything and everything our clients needed. This resulted in us taking on some aspects of projects that we A. did not enjoy, and B. were not the best at. It was scary, but about 11 years in, I made the bold decision to specialize for the first time. That was the best decision I ever made.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
A food delivery app that actually cares about people who have food allergies.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I bought a bunch of graphic novels recently. I love comics, and many independent bookstores are struggling right now. It’s a win-win.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I don’t find any web services to help with productivity. They are mostly useless with tons of bells and whistles that were created to make investors happy. I only use Google Calendar to time-box, that’s it!
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I don’t read business or design books – just poetry and graphic novels. One story that really touched me recently was The House by Paco Roca. It’s a touching story about family, and I burst into tears while reading it.
What is your favorite quote?
“We don’t know who discovered water, but it wasn’t a fish.” – Marshall McLuhan
• Define success for yourself
• Giving something away is not the same thing as losing something
• Time-box out your calendar one week in advance