Diving into the business pool

We've finally made the plunge.   I still cant say that i have a clear answer to the "what would you do if money were no object?" question.  Nor can i say i have a plan for how to change the world for the better, or any idea what my "business plan" is (so its a good thing im not seeking investors).  Honestly, i can't say I've answered many questions...but i did spend the last week and a half creating a business. It dawned on me at some point after the NY Times article that as we have people over for dinner and as we discuss our ADU, that we are providing a service of sorts.  Not that we can't continue to talk about the difference our small home has made in our lives and recommend it to others, but that at some point we are providing a service that others are charging for.  At some point it would be nice to point them to a menu of options for how we could continue to help them...for a fee.  It also dawned on me that i still spend countless hours at night mocking up designs for other people in 3d because i simply enjoy it (and of course hoping it's also helpful to them).

Those two things combined sounded an awful lot like a potential business that i might actually enjoy.  I'm still not looking for full time work and have no desire to build into a major company...but hopefully it can become a way to market myself and get a few jobs doing something i'm passionate about while helping improve the lives of neighbors... and that seems to fit the bill for now.  And so...i decided to make it so.  To give it a run.

I've wanted to do this for some time and have been struggling with names and commitment.  DangerMade just seemed a bit unapproachable in a normal business world and we needed something that fit on numerous levels.  We spun out on names and positives/negatives of each for quite a while.  Nothing seemed perfect- likely nothing ever would.  Throughout, we kept coming back to zenbox.  It is after all, how we describe our new living space- as our little zen box.


Ipostcards It was an interesting experiment, this foray into business creation.   The first ever official tour of Portland ADUs was coming up, and i didn't want to regret missing another opportunity like with the Times.  I finally made a commitment to the name, purchased the url and set about making an identity for our business.  I tried to take advantage of the fact that jen was out of town to go heads down, focus on the task at hand and power through at least enough of a business identity to feel comfortable putting myself out there.

I kept running into personal walls that told me it wasn't worth it, that i couldn't provide enough value or that there were already too many other people in town offering the same thing.  At one point i actually questioned whether the universe had jen leave this week just to push me.  To see if i would finish this on my own.  They sound more like her words than mine- further proof she's had quite the influence on me over the years.

I started with a logo design.  We would need something fitting of our new name and our business ideas.  A zen box.  It needed to be simple, yet elegant.  Evoke an asian influence and a sense of design.  Once i thought i had a decent start, i moved onto trying to design a  business card and marketing materials, and then a website.  I kept bouncing possibilities off jen and others, but then set about a week-long sleepless adventure of website creation, business and marketing design etc.

I would now like to formally introduce you all to zenbox design.  Still not a clearcut idea of what niche we will fill, but at least an offering of our services to others.  Architectural design, 3d visualization, consulting on building Portland ADUs, design services for ADUs, small spaces and local restaurants/bars...and of course some custom furniture and installations as needed/desired to make those places special.  For those of you interested, you can follow us on facebook and pinterest as well (both still a work in progress, much like the website).


zenbox designs

I spent countless hours over the next week working day and night trying to pull all our past projects into one place.  Some are still missing, but i feel like we've got a solid start and a good representation of what we can do.  I then went to try getting business cards printed and realized that i had waited too long (as normal).  What i was told the day before was a same-day turnaround had turned into a "we can print, but you'll have to cut" timeline, so i spent the better part of a day hunched over a paper cutter and slicing sheets into business and postcards.  I was frustrated but proud.  The toil of a small business owner.

I was making a run at this thing, and while i had a few opportunities to turn back or give up- i kept going.  Not the bryan of old who would decide to enter a contest, spend all the hours on the design but then back out at the last second and never send it in...this guy wouldn't be swayed by fear of rejection and was planning on keeping his deadline.

I gave out my first card before ever leaving the printer.  A lady at the cash register next to me overheard me describing what i do to the printer and she was interested.  Especially interested in that part about "we no longer pay rent or mortgage".  It was terrifying and yet hugely gratifying at the same time.  Sure my website was unfinished (and the card was maybe just slightly off square), but if she builds an ADU in her back yard next year i will at least be at the table when it comes to hiring a designer.  It's a start.

That evening i even went to a networking event.  The type of thing i would never do without Jen.  I'm pretty good at joining conversation once i know someone (at least good enough most people laugh when they hear me describe myself as timid), but mingling is a skill i've never learned.  Around friends i hardly shut up, but put me in a roomful of people i don't know, and you'll surely find me cowering in the corner downing cocktails trying to muster the courage to approach someone.  I might as well be my 15year old self shaking on the sidelines of a school dance (or my 25 year old self trying to approach a girl).


Jen is typically my social crutch, but i went even though she wasn't around.  A good chance to work on my feeble networking skills i thought.  I showed up.  I printed my name proudly on my sticker and for the first time wrote out "zenbox design" beneath it.

It felt good.  Damn good.

I then proceeded to go to the bar for my free glass of wine, turned around to look at the crowd and took a deep breath to muster the courage and decide which lucky person I was going to approach first.  Then...i exhaled, skirted around all of them using a stack of wine barrels to shield me from the crowd and eventually ran into someone i knew.  I jumoed on that opportunity to sit down at their table and for the rest of the night avoided my entire purpose for coming.  ahhh, shit. Well...baby steps. I got there. i put on the tag. that's probably plenty enough personal development for one day.  I don't wanna pull something my first time in the water.

The following day Portland's first ADU tour took place.  Sadly we were not put on the list of ADUs being toured, but i volunteered for the event and toured the other homes.  A great chance to meet other ADU owners and hear their stories.  A great learning experience listening to the questions and concerns of the nearly 800 portland residents who came out to get a feel for what's possible.  It was a day for showing off the projects of others, so i didn't get a chance to do much marketing for zenbox, but it did reinforce my passion for whats happening and refresh my excitement after a hard week of work.  And i made a handful of connections along the way.

Now i have the energy to continue on, to find our first client and to see where all this goes...but first, i am in tremendous need of a nap.adu tour1adu tour 2adu tour3