Kali Ruppert, Interviewing Creatives: Young, Greene, Petersen

Kali Ruppert, SMU student and creative, speaks with three creative entrepreneurs about what they do.

Interview Analysis by Kali Ruppert:

In interviewing Aaron Young, Vince Greene, and Charlene Petersen, three distinct answers arose. Rather than the three of them converging, they each had a different opinion and they each started their businesses differently. Although this could be attributed to varying personalities, a part of it has to do with their artistic fields: art dealing, architecture and interior design. Each field has different necessities in generating revenue, and as a consequence of this, each field tends to attract different personality types. In terms of the interviewee’s advice and their personal processes, they each differed in a somewhat predictable manner. However, one aspect that did remain constant for each person was the importance of a clear vision. Therefore, in analyzing their interviews, it is interesting to notice how their methodology changes but their guiding principle, having a distinct mission, stays the same.

Aaron Young began his business without a concrete business plan, and rather focused on, “pursuing excellence.” This makes sense because he works in a creative field that is all about selling stories, and therefore requires an evangelist, who tends not to like details and numbers. The act of sitting down and writing a business plan for evangelist personalities would be difficult because they are all about action. Therefore, it’s natural that Young would insist on the creative entrepreneur to be the spirit of the business and focus solely on realizing the business’s mission while someone else deals with the numbers and financial details.

In contrast, Vince Greene works in the architectural field, which relies on a much more logical approach to creativity. In this field, architects have to design within certain constraints and therefore need to be both innovative and detailed oriented because at the end of the day, the building needs to function correctly. Therefore, architecture is more likely to attract a maven personality, who would need to have that planning stage. In addition, architects have to work with and for clients, and thus would also need to partly be a relater personality type. For Greene, he emphasized both the need for concrete plans, and the significance of being known within the community.

In Charlene Petersen’s case, her answers were less predictable because interior design does not seem to warrant a specific personality type as much as art dealership and architecture do. In interior design it is important to be able to deal with clients, but in this field each personality type could successfully get the job done, just in different manners. However, interior design also possesses design constraints, and in Petersen’s case, her clients consist mostly of middle to upper-middle class citizens, and therefore finances are part of the design constraints. Since Petersen has to be able to work within a budget, it’s natural that her advice revolves around being financially stable and smart about the business’s money.

After analyzing the three interviews, two aspects emerged. The first is that having a strong vision is essential to a successful business. Without a guiding force, the plans and processes mean little because focus or direction may require a different attitude and perspective, and therefore, the plans may not work in every endeavor. In addition, the end design may be lacking because the business is attempting to excel in too many ways, rather than focusing on brilliance in one style. The second similarity that arose from the interviews is that each artistic field has different needs. What works for selling art may not work for architecture. Therefore, it is important to understand what each creative field’s unique requirements are, and what works best for that particular artistic sector.

Aaron Young

Founder and CEO of Aaron Fine Arts, Chairman of Halcyon Gallery

Did you have a business plan when you started your business?

I didn’t, and I didn’t have a business plan because what I determined was that what I needed to do was pursue excellence, and whatever that was going to be, that was my business plan. It wasn’t based on budgets, and it wasn’t based on spreadsheets. I was convinced beyond any shadow of a doubt that if I pursued excellence the byproduct would be money.

Do you think business plans are necessary for entrepreneurship?

Yes, I do. I think more important than a business plan though is a mission statement. I think that if you have a true and real mission statement and you stick to it, the business plan will morph out of it. A business plan can have a lot of meanings. If its flow charts and budgets and all of that, I think generally entrepreneurs who are free spirits, who are big thinkers, who look at things from 30,000 feet, need to hire or partner with someone who’s going to write budgets and all of those specifics. Have a big idea, a mission statement, and then you hire someone to do the business plan.

What three pieces of advice can you offer developing arts entrepreneurs?

First, you buy art with your ears. We are in a visual medium, but it’s the stories that stay in people’s hearts. If you are a talented and gifted storyteller and you are able to explain and talk about what the artist is doing, why, how and all of the rest, that story stays in someone’s heart, so I always say as a corollary to the first quote, people forget facts but remember stories.

Second, my certainty is greater than your doubt. As an art dealer, you have to have passion and you have to have belief. When all is said and done it’s a piece of canvas that’s worth three dollars with a piece of wood behind it that’s three dollars, and some paint shmeared on it that’s two dollars. The rest is the telling of the tale and the belief you have as the purveyor. So, my certainty is greater than your doubt, is I’m so sure I’m onto something here, I’m so sure that it all matters that I will overcome whatever doubt you have.

Third, my last piece of advice would be this: when you are trying to sell art to somebody, what you have to do is give the purchaser the opportunity to give themselves permission to own it. If you’re going to buy something with your money that you earned, ultimately you need to give yourself permission to say, “ok I’ll have it.” You need to be able to create enough interest, desire, and all the rest so that the person gives themselves that permission, and a truly talented art entrepreneur needs to learn that skill.

Vince Greene

Founder and CEO of Vincent Greene Architects

Did you have a business plan when you started your business?

I did. I had not received a lot of business training because it wasn’t part of my architectural degrees so it was something I needed to sit down and work on for a while because it didn’t come naturally to me. When I first sat down I came up with a plan that had to do with what market or what area of the profession I wanted to work in and what geographical location and so on.

Do you think business plans are necessary for entrepreneurship?

I do. I think that a lot of people get lucky based on talent alone and they start a process or they start a business and because they usually have clients at the early going that are willing to take chances on them, they feel like everything is going well and they’re very successful at the beginning. But I think it’s important to know that if that client or those first few jobs that you’re working on, if something about that were to change all of a sudden, you know what would you do, how would the company react to that. I think a business plan allows you to have an idea of how you’re going to handle things if something stops being wonderful all of a sudden.

What three pieces of advice can you offer developing arts entrepreneurs?

The first thing is don’t try and do too many of the tasks that you’re not trained to do by yourself. It’s very easy, for somebody starting out, especially in an arts business, to take on things that they weren’t trained to do. If you try and take on too much then you won’t do well at the part you’re supposed to be doing well at, which is the art itself.

The second thing I would do is make sure that you are active in the community. It gets you a lot of business, which is great, but it also strengthens you and your community, and frankly, it allows you to do things that are about other things beside yourself. A lot of art companies, architecture and art and so on, it becomes all about what you’re doing as the author and you can get glossed in that sometimes.

Item three would be when you set up your business plan or you set up your philosophy in what you want to do, try as much as possible to stick to it. It’s going to be hard at the beginning of a business to do that, you’re going to feel like you have to change or that you have to do something different to make sure that there’s income and revenue coming in, but what I would say to that is if you don’t stay true to who you have been up to that point, you’re never really going to know what the business is about, you’re not going to know what your goals are.

Charlene Petersen

Founder and CEO of CashmereInterior

Did you have a business plan when you started your business?

A loose one, yes, but not a formal one that I had to present to the banks for financial investors.

Do you think business plans are necessary for entrepreneurship?

I do not think that they are necessary, no. I think if you have a really clear vision of exactly what you want to do, and can trust yourself to carry it out, and are willing to work very, very hard then that accomplishes all your goals. I think that a business plan is just sort of giving you a roadmap, but just putting it on paper doesn’t make it happen. I think the working hard is what makes it happen.

What three pieces of advice can you offer developing arts entrepreneurs?

Be willing to start at the bottom and learn everything you can, build a foundation. Know that if you’re ever going to be a business owner or an entrepreneur then you need to know how to do I think every job that you would ask your employees to do so you understand the process.

Secondly, make sure that your financial goals are realistic. Set yourself up for success and not failure. Hopefully you can either have a good investor or money saved up so that you don’t have to worry about that. Creative people generally aren’t known as business people, so if you can take the financial worries out of the equation for the first two years then that is key so you can really focus on your craft.

Lastly, it’s also financially related, is just live within the means that you have. Start with a very small studio, start with a small space because I think it’s all about, in a creative field, that you have to get your name out there and you have to prove that you’re good and that you’re worth it, so spending money on a beautiful office or beautiful systems or technology is probably not smart in the beginning because people just want you for your art. It may be on your website and that’s about it.

These interviews, conducted by Kali Ruppert, are part of an assignment for the program for Arts Entrepreneurship at Meadows School of the Arts, SMU.

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