Michael Wasilewski – Founding Partner of Frank Collective

A great tool to use here is empathy — putting yourself in others’ shoes in order to understand the problem they’re facing that you’re trying to solve. Also, inspire yourself and devour all reference points you can. Think of this as creative fuel for inspired work. You can’t run a car on empty very far.

Michael Wasilewski is the founding partner and CCO of Frank Collective, a bicoastal branding and content company based in Brooklyn and Los Angeles. He’s also an adjunct professor at Parsons School of Design. An experienced multimedia art director, designer, and illustrator, Mike earned his chops at some of New York’s top creative agencies, including Pentagram Design, RadicalMedia, and The Daily. He’s worked with a wide variety of global brands, including Tommy Hilfiger, Grey Goose, TED, NASA, and Viacom.

In addition to being featured in the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, his work has been published in The New York Times, Creativity, SHOTS Magazine, and CMYK Magazine. In 2009, Mike received an Emmy nomination in the show title design category for AMC’s “Storymakers.” In 2015, his website design for frankcollective.com was named the CSS Design Awards Website Of The Day and the CSS Nectar Site of the Day.

Mike lives in Brooklyn with his wife and his pup, Lorenzo. He’s a comic geek and a lover of snowboarding, golf, and the great outdoors.

Where did the idea for Frank Collective come from?

Jiffy Iuen, my partner and co-founder, pitched the idea to me, and I’ve been sold ever since. She wanted to create a company that could fill the gap between freelance creative and the capabilities of very large agencies — all with the foundation of a good life-work balance for its employees, inspiring creative work for great clients, and total transparency all around. Hence the phrase “Let’s Be Frank,” which means we’re not going to overtalk things or hide behind industry jargon. We recognize we’re regular people talking to other regular people, and communication is best when it’s simple, clear, and concise.

What does your typical day look like, and how do you make it productive?

I sometimes wish I had a “typical” day because working with 20 creatives across two coasts on several client projects at all different stages is anything but typical.

As the chief creative officer, I’m overseeing pretty much everything that’s being created and providing direction and inspiration for the team. That keeps me on my feet often, so I rarely have time to plug myself into my computer or phone. I realize this is a good thing because being chained to email or Slack doesn’t let me be as present as I need to be; in the end, it stifles creativity — our main resource here at Frank.

I’m a big believer in allowing yourself to rest and calm your brain and body throughout the day in order to be more productive. It seems so counterintuitive. People think you need to just keep plowing forward, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve just walked down the hallway, my mind detaches for a moment, and all of a sudden, I have the idea or solution.

How do you bring ideas to life?

First, research, research, and more research. You have to understand all aspects of the problem, including the limitations of what can be done, the landscape of competition and peers, and those involved.

A great tool to use here is empathy — putting yourself in others’ shoes in order to understand the problem they’re facing that you’re trying to solve. Also, inspire yourself and devour all reference points you can. Think of this as creative fuel for inspired work. You can’t run a car on empty very far.

After that, I do the opposite. I challenge all assumptions, history, and preconceived notions. I get wild with the most messed-up thoughts and brainstorm everything in this little notebook of mine. From there, I let it sit all messy and walk away from it for a bit.

When I come back to it fresh, I look it over and clean things up. I iterate and explore in a more orderly fashion while I think about how I’m going to present the work itself. This last part actually helps the most because it frames your thinking and backs up your ideas with sound rationale.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

Jogger pants. They’re just really comfortable.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I’m pretty obsessive about things, but as I mentioned, I know the importance of relaxing. It’s hard sometimes, but I like to remind myself that the world will keep spinning, regardless of what happens. That helps clear my thoughts and ground me when times get tough or stressful.

I also try to be fairly diplomatic with everyone (maybe to a fault). I give everyone the benefit of the doubt, which I guess means I’m open-minded and willing to see all possibilities. Recognition of opportunity is a big part of being entrepreneurial.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Just chill out, dude. Take a breath and enjoy what you’re making — don’t rush. Don’t overwork yourself, and don’t get comfortable. Try new things. Step back and look at things objectively. Understand why things are the way they are, then challenge them again.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

I wouldn’t say that I have one thought that absolutely nobody agrees with me on. But I do often say that nobody cares about design except designers. This is a very broad statement, and of course people do obsess over it (including me), but it’s often one smaller piece of the overall picture when you’re doing creative work for brands. Many times, it can be a thankless job of crafting the perfect image that then gets swept away with one comment. But when design isn’t done properly, you do notice. Bad design jumps out at you, and good design blends in nicely. It disappears into our lives and just works.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Stay positive, and stay on your toes. Broaden your perspective, and don’t get comfortable. When we first started, I was always worried: “What if this doesn’t work? What will people think? What if I fail?” I was always wondering whether I’d made the right choice, especially in the beginning, when I realized I was really out there on my own.

That said, something I often do now is remind myself that I’m better off for having taken these chances. That, and to go get some sleep.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Stay small and think big. This allows us to keep overhead low and do more with less, allowing us to scale only when absolutely necessary.

What is one failure you’ve had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

A long time ago, we hired someone who was a friend. When it didn’t work out for business reasons, we had to let her go. It ruined our relationship, which is something I regret often — deciding to let her go for business reasons was one of the worst days of my life. But we learned from our mistake. As a result, we’re much more careful about our hires and how we document certain things. We’re sticklers for clear expectations and communication, which is a two-way street.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

If someone can get a GPS golf ball to work, please give me a call. I’ll be your first customer.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

A lift ticket for a day of skiing with my family. Work is important, but family is first.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?

I use Google Docs and InVision  for creative collaboration. With everyone’s shifting schedules, these allow me to collaborate effectively and on my own time with comments in the documents.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read, and why?

It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be,” by Paul Arden . It’s all about moonshot thinking and achieving the impossible. This book is definitely more for creatives, but the larger-picture ideas are all there, and it’s something you could breeze through in an hour. It puts you in your place in a good way.

What is your favorite quote?

“Don’t use a sledgehammer when you need a tack hammer.” This is something my staff and clients hear from me often. It’s about using the right resources effectively instead of the total brute force of many people overkilling a project unnecessarily.

“Taking the time to do it right” is another quote I’ve always loved. It speaks to not being reactive and instead thinking things through.