Walter Craven

Founder of Make.Work.Space

Walter Craven is the founder of Make.Work.Space. Originally from Boston, US, he attended the Rhode Island School of Design where he started off studying architecture before switching to sculpture to find a greater freedom of expression. He then moved to the West Coast and started buying and redeveloping large obsolete commercial buildings around the San Francisco Bay area, turning them into workshops for his furniture designs, and cooperative spaces for the local artistic community. He’s always brought a social perspective to his understanding of space, which is the same driving ethos behind this latest endeavor.

He then moved from San Francisco to London, which he sees as the capital of the design world and the ideal location to design, manufacture and introduce the next-generation work pods. Walter has several of his early furniture designs in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco. He also collects and races vintage motorcycles, including 20+ British manufacturers, kept in California.

Where did the idea for Make.Work.Space come from?

The idea for the company and it’s hero product I am currently developing was influenced by my personal experiences during lockdown in London. I was distracted, lonely, unfocused and it was all I could do to keep my head on straight. I don’t do well sitting still. I thought long and hard about how I might better my experience by creating a space which would act as a focus chamber: a place where I felt that once I entered, It would require some action on my part. It felt like one had to deserve the space and with the user being such an important component, the “activator” of the space, the name of the company easily gelled with the product, hence the name make work space.

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

I like to wake up early, usually before the sun rises, but I can’t ever seem to wake early enough to beat the birds who like to sing outside my window at 3 am. I get dressed, drink a lot of water and eat the same breakfast I’ve eaten for years; two eggs over easy – nothing else. I get kitted up for the 9 mile cycle ride to work as I like to arrive at the office before the rest of the team arrives. I like the peace and quiet of the office as it allows me to focus and plan out the day. Mondays, I’ll draft a plan for the week ahead and get ready for our weekly Monday morning staff meeting.

Most days start with reviewing the goals and tasks which need completing for the day. These tasks are usually not generated on the spot but are laid out in advance using our project management and task software. If there happens to be an unforeseen issue which comes up and needs immediate addressing, which often seems to occur, I’ll prioritize the action, but will also make sure that it doesn’t send the train off the rails and negatively affect the global schedule or the daily jobs which need doing.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I follow a pattern I’ve used for years – capture the idea in simple words either by way texting of a message to oneself or a handwritten scribble or a quick email. I find that once I “hook” or tie a string to an idea it tends to stay with me. I then like to let the idea stick around for a while and see if it develops in my mind. If its an idea which I feel needs to be physical, I tend to make a small mock up either by hand in the workshop or on one of our 3dprinters. Only a small percentage of my ideas become “full scale.” Our workshop and design office are full of sketches and models of ideas still settling and may one day see production.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Trend or not I am very excited about the new “work from anywhere” paradigm with all its sentiments and associated connotations. The future of work has drastically changed and it is up to us to now inform and define this future. The dramatic shifts in the thinking behind working from home, office, remote locations – anywhere – excites me tremendously and I consider my current involvement in this thinking a big responsibility.

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

Never be afraid to be upfront and tell your staff, your funding partners and vendors the truth. Transparency creates and deserves respect. Follow up with a phone call after sending an email; it hammers home the point that you mean business and it also can be good at setting the pace of a project or a deal.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Don’t be afraid to play the long game, breath, take your time, enjoy the journey. You are at the place you need to be right now. Enjoy it. There is a reason the rear view mirror is so small and the windshield very large.

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

Baked beans and spaghettiOs taste best straight out a of a can – and cold.

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

Constantly reassess your relationship with yourself. Listen to and get to know the different voices in your head and understand what they are trying to tell you. This sounds a bit crazy I know, but the voices (i think) we all have in our heads – Some will be quite positive – cavalier even, whilst others will often be or become negative and devolve into a false and dangerous narrative. Don’t ignore but listen to these narratives. Analyze them, learn from them and know when to take the good bits with you and leave the rest.

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

Don’t look at the face of a business but look through the business, Look at what it can and someday may become, not simply what it is today. Describe as closely as possible what you want this business to be in 3-5-10 years and then shelve it for a few days, come back to it and then rewrite because it will change and your vision will likely become more clear after you’ve “slept on it.”

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

Early on in my career, I designed and built high end modern furniture. I hired a team, started production line, started making product and attending all sorts of furniture shows nationally and world wide. My designs were quite well received and sales started to happen. I made so many mistakes with that business there are too many to list but the top few were not focusing on messaging and brand, direct sales and defining a distribution network. I thought I could rely on press for my sales and marketing, Wrong. The products were stacking up in our warehouse and the bills were piling up. I made the hard choice and stopped production, hired a sales and marketing person and pivoted the business to towards servicing other interior designers and architects who needed design and manufacturing help. We still did our own furniture, but the pivot saved the business.

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

Platforms for residential drone delivery of small goods with lockable delivery cabins. We have reams of sketches and we have made several compelling product animations – this kind of delivery and distribution network is extremely exciting

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

I just bought a wonderful used pair of sculls (oars) and my rubbish rowing seems to have become a bit less rubbish when I use my own sculls.

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

We use a fair amount of varied software platforms but for me, Slack is my go to tool at the moment. My entire team communicates using the DM functions for direct coms but mostly through specific well-defined channels which keeps the team abreast of any updates, changes or important action items. Outside contractors can also participate, and all related messaging, quotations, technical specifications for products we are working on are all collected on this one platform, Its easy to use and convenient. We have Slack linked to asana and other software as well.

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

Growth of the Soil” by Knut Hamsun. 1917. A story of man’s relationship with the earth, modernity and family. The book has many thought provoking ideals and wonderful imagery but mainly focuses on principals of self reliance, perseverance and evidence of hard work yielding results.

What is your favorite quote?

Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly. Robert F Kennedy

Key Learnings:

  • Stick with and develop your ideas – see them through their development to the end
  • Look through your product or your business – not at it
  • Be honest and transparent; with yourself and with your colleagues
  • Don’t be afraid to pivot and don’t be afraid to fail