3 Creative Entrepreneurs on the Validity of Plans



Justin Nygren justinnygren

Co-founder of ArtLoveMagic and The Grove

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

For ArtLoveMagic, we did not. For The Grove, we did. A lot of it was based on the experience that my business partner Ken had in New Haven [developing a Grove there].   Knowing how they grew and what the response was there allowed us to, with some degree of accuracy, predict a little bit of where we were going to go. We weren’t shooting blind, but as anybody has done a business plan and has actually started a business will tell you, it’s never 100% accurate. So, to answer the question: yes, we did have a business plan. Do things change and do they evolve as you get your boots on the ground? Absolutely.

Do you think business plans are necessary for entrepreneurship?

I think they are a good practice for anybody who is considering starting a business. It’s a discipline that gets you as deep into the details of your business as possible because nobody needs to know those things as intimately as you in order for your business to grow. Nobody is going to care about what your projects are, about all those things, if you don’t. So going through that process gets you really acquainted with what the plan is, what the trajectory is, what failure looks like, what success looks like. It helps you to find that. The flip side to the coin is can you start a business and have it be successful without one? Absolutely. I’ve seen it happen, but I also think there’s value in spending the time really getting to know what your expectations are of yourself and of your business so that if you do go to approach an investor or go for a bank loan, you know those things and it’s all spelled out.

What 3 pieces of advice can you offer developing arts entrepreneurs?

Focus on and find your strengths. As creatives, a lot of times we are told to focus on things that we are not strong in order to get the good grades that we need to pass and that’s okay for school but that’s not how the rest of the world works. The most successful people that I’ve seen are people who focus on their strengths and then build teams around them to help offset their weaknesses. Find your tribe, find your community. The most successful ventures and experiences that I’ve been a part of have been the ones that I’ve done with a team – and a team that was focused on a common passion, a common mission, a common role. Don’t compromise. When you know who you are and you know even just the general direction that your life is supposed to go in, no matter what comes your way, don’t compromise on that. Staying true to your identity and who you are is one of the keys to success. You don’t live to please other people or live up to their expectations but to find your own expectations.

Darryl Ratcliff darryratcliff

Co-founder, Ash Studios

Can you tell me a bit about Ash Studios, the history of it, and why you wanted to start it?

Ash Studios, as a physical place, has a history that really goes back to the 1960s and 70s. It started as a plaster shop; they made things for State Fair toys – things you would buy at the Midway. In the 1980s, it became a metal working shop, then a design shop in the 1990s. It wound down and then in 2010, my creative partner, Fred Villanueva, bought the property for it to be an artist’s studio. We were introduced to each other by our mutual art teacher, Roberto Mungia, and met in 2012. I had been doing a lot of curatorial work and event production work in alternative spaces in the city for about 3 years at that point. I had never seen or experienced a space like Ash. I was instantly really excited and wanted to do something. So that’s what started it and we have a lot of shared philosophy and vision. So,we started working together and we’ve been working together ever since – about four years now.

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

There are definitely business parts to Ash. The intention for me in particular was as an art project. So, there was no business plan that existed at the start.

Do you think business plans are necessary for entrepreneurship?

Yes. Having had a company prior to Ash*, I would say definitely yes. I think when we do ventures that are under the Ash umbrella there are things we need especially with larger scale projects – we have groups to plan, there’s a budget, those sorts of planning things are pretty important.

*Business before Ash Studios was a social practice project titled Green Bandana Group

What 3 pieces of advice can you offer developing arts entrepreneurs?

Know your market, whatever that is, know it really well, know it better than anyone. Know what they want, know what they’re motivated by – it’s super important. Be bold. Don’t wait for permission. Don’t wait – launch stuff, do stuff, learn from it, fail but don’t wait until you have the perfect idea because you’ll never have the perfect idea. You’re never going to make the perfect piece of art. Just do it – get out of your head. Collaborate. Don’t do it alone. Everyone needs a team. So, find good people, people you can trust and who complement what you bring to the plate.

Kayli House Cusick

Co-founder, Oil and Cotton

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

No, I had written an art curriculum for kids and [Shannon, business partner] had done workshop programming for adults with Paper Nerds so we came in with some infrastructure, but we didn’t have investors so we didn’t need a business plan for anybody but ourselves. People would say “you need a business plan” and we’re like, “yeah we need a business plan but we’ve got business to do so we’re not writing one”. We just decided that we weren’t going to do it the way it had already been done. We were just going to what we wanted to do and that was the beauty of starting it. We did have the luxury of having an attorney do some pro-bono work for us and got our LLC. So we did that and instead of designating 10% to advertising, we started a scholarship program and gave away 10% of our seats and worked with the elementary arts teachers to nominate people for it. Word of mouth is our number one way of advertising and we write all of our press releases like crazy. We got lucky the first year and got a lot of attention from the Dallas Morning news, D Magazine, and Dallas Observer because we were new and we were over here in [Oak Cliff], which at the time was a place that people were like “what!?” We also got attention from the DMA because they wanted to have a presence here and got interested in what was happening.

Do you think business plans are necessary for entrepreneurship?

If you’re going try to do something and you haven’t already failed at stuff for 20 years first, then yes; But I was 38 when I started, I had already had a bazillion jobs, and I had run a business for 10 years. In that case, I don’t think it’s all that necessary. I think it’s good to formulate your ideas and if I was going to start another business, then maybe. This was really just such an experiment that grew into a business – we weren’t relying on it. If I was trying to get to investors or if I was brand new or if I was just leaving college and I was 24 year old, and I had an idea and I wanted to try to make it into a business, then heck yeah.

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

Be yourself. Nobody cares about seeing something that’s not authentically you in the arts. It’s not the kind of endeavour that can be fabricated. If it’s not real, then why would you bother anyways because you’re not going to make a ton of money. Be realistic about how much money that you can stand to make. You’re probably going to make something like $30,000 a year at first, if you’re lucky – be okay with that because the tradeoff is that you’re doing something you want to do. You have to be willing to be social. You have to be willing to talk to everyone at the grocery store, everyone at the coffee shop, everyone at the school. Say yes to everything for a long time before you start saying no. Always be willing to be on all the time because it’s a public business.

Angie Reisch, currently a student in Arts Entrepreneurship at SMU, Meadows School of the Arts, conducted the following series of interviews. This interview series has been conducted, attempting to identify if creative entrepreneurs begin with business plans and if such plans are perceived as necessary. Advice and commentary follow.

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