Investment Partner Spotlight: Meet KITE Architects

The KITE Architects staff (Photo credit: Cat Laine - Painted Foot) Not pictured: Heidi Ambrosino

The KITE Architects staff (Photo credit: Cat Laine - Painted Foot) Not pictured: Heidi Ambrosino

KITE Architects is located in Providence, Rhode Island (and opening a Los Angeles studio in Fall 2019).

Principals Christine West and Albert Garcia assumed full ownership of KITE Architects in 2013, after a decade working alongside the firm founders, Bill and Linna Kite. They had big shoes to fill…

Bill and Linna started KITE Architects in 1974 and designed many of Rhode Island’s most high-profile projects. Over 80 designers had been employed by Bill and Linna throughout the years, many of whom eventually left Bill’s mentorship at KITE to start their own local architecture firms. Bill and Linna’s retirement marked the end of an era. It also put Christine and Albert at an interesting career juncture: How would two young principals go about effectively assuming this mantle? How would they craft their vision for the future of KITE while respecting its past?

The evolution of Christine and Albert’s business partnership is a case study in thoughtful, strategic leadership. Working with a team of committed emerging leaders, they’ve grown KITE Architects “2.0” into a robust bi-coastal practice. They’ve diversified the firm’s portfolio to include boutique hotels, electric substations, and commercial offices while maintaining KITE’s foothold in institutional, adaptive reuse, and modern residential projects throughout New England and, as of Fall 2019, Los Angeles.

CVG’s Emily Hall (EH) and Erin Poppe (EP) “virtually” sat down with principals Christine West (CW) and Albert Garcia (AG) to discuss KITE’s unique history, what makes their partnership successful, and their working relationship with CVG.

KITE Principals Christine West, AIA and Albert Garcia, AIA (Photo credit: Cat Laine - Painted Foot)

KITE Principals Christine West, AIA and Albert Garcia, AIA (Photo credit: Cat Laine - Painted Foot)

EH: What was the transition like when Bill and Linna Kite retired from the firm in 2013? And what opportunities emerged with that change?

CW: There was a very carefully orchestrated handoff. Albert and I were each offered ownership positions in 2008, so we became Bill’s partners right before the recession started. Over the next five years, we operated as a trio. The slower handoff allowed Albert and me to continue leading projects that really established ourselves as leaders. We were very fortunate to have a number of very large institutional projects in place while the recession was blindsiding a lot of other Rhode Island firms. In 2013, when we were starting to see traces of economic improvement, Bill and Linna decided that was a good moment to retire. 

We took their retirement as an opportunity to hit the reset button and create “KITE 2.0.” We moved our office and re-examined all of our professional-consultant relationships. Because we were starting to grow again, we took on a different path with hiring staff and built the senior levels right out of the gate. We became more careful about our firm operation in terms of looking at numbers and metrics and our finances to be more intentional about how we grew. We looked at all the different project types that we were doing to figure out what Albert and I were both interested in, and how we could fit it into our business plan.

AG: During that transition time, while the staffing levels fluctuated, we refined our tools and processes for working with key staff. The design work during that period continued to be very strong, and I am very proud of that transition in terms of the quality and the care that went into it. 

KITE Architects Founder, William L. Kite, FAIA

KITE Architects Founder, William L. Kite, FAIA

EH: What were the challenges during that time?

CW: Bill had established such a legacy in Rhode Island that one of the things we were wary of was not making it appear like the firm was gone because its founder had retired. Albert and I had, by that point in 2014, been responsible for the majority of institutional work and some residential work; we each had a very strong hand in the firm’s portfolio for over a decade. 

We were fighting the perception that Bill was responsible for everything and now we were starting from scratch. That was a big worry. So we embedded ourselves in the community; I was already volunteering on a number of boards, and already knew a lot of the people that Bill knew in the local community. That really helped make a more seamless leadership transition… but that was just one part of the strategy. We also had great clients. There was a period where we were designing the Dean Hotel — our associate Phil Derby was with us through that — and it was critical to have a signature, high-design project like that out there, keeping us at the forefront of people’s minds.

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The Dean Hotel    in Providence, RI (Photo Credits: Christian Harder)

The Dean Hotel in Providence, RI (Photo Credits: Christian Harder)

EH: What were the biggest learning moments from that transition process for each of you?

CW: The first would be the need to be intentional. Intentional about our clients; intentional about how we set up the work; intentional about how we represent ourselves to the community. The recession taught every architect the perils of economic instability, and what we could do to survive the next one. Being intentional on every level required doing a lot of homework; it meant digging into records of past projects, and figuring out if residential design was the right fit for us. Was it something on which we could sustain our business? Could we do it well? Was it something we were interested in? 

We came out of that exercise saying, “Yes, but if we do residential, we’re going to focus on contemporary houses, new construction, and mid-century modern” — the things that we really find exciting. 

The second overall lesson was that it really put a focus on Albert’s and my business partnership, and the need to understand and respect each other. We are very different personalities, and at the end of the day, that’s what the firm is built on. I really appreciate how thoughtful and patient Albert is in comparison to my more impulsive energy (CW laughs ).

AG: One of the biggest challenges was the transition from a sole-practitioner to the next generation of collaborators. While for the first 30 years of the firm’s history Bill largely executed the work with various partners and an amazing design team, the firm was represented as that of a sole practitioner. At the end of the day, some of the most successful projects and periods for the firm were from partnerships and the effective teams we had in place. 

Charleston Beach House    (Photo credit: Warren Jaggar)

Charleston Beach House (Photo credit: Warren Jaggar)

EH: What do you value most about each other as business partners?

CW: We share the impulse to do whatever is necessary to not only keep the firm running, but keep it running well. We work at building an environment where people enjoy coming to work every day. We have an eye for quality, but it’s not at the expense of a fun culture. I think that Albert’s more emotionally intelligent side helps balance the more methodical, organizational things that I like to plan.

AG: Christine has the superpower of being able to x-ray through the process, be it design or management; to see everything in real time, as well as how it will move forward and what it was like in the past. Seeing those different realities is mind-boggling to me. I don’t know how she does it. 

CW: I really admire how Albert is focused on craft and technical excellence when it comes to design. I think a lot of people with that approach might lose sight of the “human factor” and the values it represents. It’s not just about architecture as a beautiful object; it’s about the family that lives in that home. It’s about creating community and an order for a higher purpose. 

Albert also has a great way of working with clients that is very attentive and personable. He’s not the loudest voice in the room, but the relationships he develops with clients are based on earned trust that comes from integrity.

Rhode Island’s Governor, Gina Raimondo, with KITE Principals Albert Garcia and Christine West

Rhode Island’s Governor, Gina Raimondo, with KITE Principals Albert Garcia and Christine West

EH: Do you have any advice to other emerging firm leaders approaching partnership status?

CW: As far as advice, it’s like any long-term relationship. You have to understand where your own desires, interests, and talents start and stop – as well as where you can make room for that other person, and where that accommodation will start to eat into what you need. That’s where you need clear communication about boundaries. 

As our firm evolves and changes, we’re always talking about roles and responsibilities and our position relative to staff and clients. An active dialogue with each other, as well as the outside world, is necessary. And if it’s not something you can work through or reconcile, then maybe that firm structure isn’t for you. In our case, it worked out great.

AG: I think it’s important to listen when something doesn’t feel right, or when it creates conflict internally or externally. Resist the urge to bury things and not deal with them. When you suppress your natural tendencies to call issues out, things can blow up. So have the conversation about the problem, then have another one about it after that. You might not find the solution in one sit-down, but at least you’re keeping the communication channels open. The dynamics and the process do evolve and change, as they have for us since 16 years ago. One size doesn’t fit all.

CW: Very early on in our working relationship, I remember when the School of Architecture building was full-throttle with an aggressive schedule, and a design decision needed to be made. I was talking on more of a project manager role, and Albert was taking on more a technical role. There was a meeting where I was very impatient (“We’ve got to decide and move on, we don’t have time to weigh other options”).

After the meeting, Albert took me aside and said that was not going to cut it. We had to talk things through if we were going to work together. It was a real wake-up call for me, and I really appreciate how respectful, firm, and clear Albert was in how we were going to work together. That really set us off in a good direction.

AG: Also, learn how to manage suffering. Sometimes you’ll get stuck trying to create or solve something, and you really need to listen to your teammate when they tell you it’s not working. It might be hard to hear in that moment, but you need to hear it. That quality in a partnership is invaluable, and led us to developing a strong friendship in addition to our firm dynamic. 

EH: What led you to consider working with CVG? How has it influenced how you run your firm?

CW: Well for me (because I was the one who suggested it) having come out of that transition period, we had grown the firm quite significantly in a period of about four years — to about six or seven people in 2016. Two things became clear to me: one, we needed to grow to become profitable and therefore more financially stable; and two, that Albert and I didn’t have the resources between us to figure that out. 

We needed resources: organization, structure, and the kind of mentoring in marketing and financial management and HR and all the things that CVG provides. We needed to make the firm about developing the institutional processes that would make the business a long-term success, instead of building a person-dependent design firm. 

I can sit here all day and figure out how to develop billing strategies, but if that’s not understood, accepted, and able to be done by multiple people, then what happens if I leave? The firm needs to operate sustainably without us having a hand on the wheel at every moment. I think that’s a big lesson that we learned from the transition: that a firm can survive its founder, and it can survive in the hands of different people if we are very intentional about how we operate.

AG: In a way, CVG provided a structure to place and organize a lot of things that we had been nurturing and shaping, but there wasn’t complete clarity. But now we can take a more holistic look at where we are and how we can hone the things that keep us successful.

A CVG on-site working session with KITE Architects, February 2018

A CVG on-site working session with KITE Architects, February 2018

EH: What do you hope a client thinks when they walk through KITE’s door for the first time?

CW: They usually think, “Wow!” because we have a really nice office. But I hope they understand that this office we created is a symbol. It reflects not only the design feeling that we want people to have when they’re in the space, but also how it really feels to be in a space that was carefully orchestrated. I hope they see our staff as the very talented and dedicated people that they are, with a wide variety of interests. I hope they feel that we are invested in that client’s success and goals, and that we’re deeply sympathetic to them. I think we’ve created a nice atmosphere and cultivated that approach, so that their trust is well founded.

AG: I think when you first walk into our office, you see the space and how a lot of different design elements we layered into it. I think it’s important that when someone comes into our space for the first time, it helps them anticipate what’s to come in their design process and collaboration.

KITE Architects’ office in Providence, RI (Photo credit: Albert Garcia)

KITE Architects’ office in Providence, RI (Photo credit: Albert Garcia)

EH: If you weren’t architects, what would you be?

CW: An electrician or materials scientist.

AG: Probably a swim coach; there are a lot of parallels.

CW: I can see you being a swim coach. I don’t think I’d be a good electrician. Practically speaking, I’d probably be in real estate finance in a different universe.

EP: What’s the next chapter for KITE?

CW: We have a lot of new leaders emerging. Phil Derby, who has been with us for pretty much forever; and then Kyle Bamrick, who is leading our Los Angeles presence and is a strong collaborator to our leadership team. The LA location offers a lot of opportunities that we hope to be pursuing. The partnership with CVG has given us the courage as well as the practical advice to explore that opportunity. I don’t think we’d be where we are with that location if it wasn’t for CVG, and I think we owe you all a lot for that. It’s exciting to get away from the habits that we formed as a 45 year-old firm!

Visit KITE Architects’ new website, designed by CVG in collaboration with web consultant John West.

Remote Employees: Watch Webinar

Can This Hiring Trend Work for Your Small Architecture Firm?

Talent recruitment and management in architecture is changing at a record pace. For small firm leaders who struggle to retain or attract key team members, offering the flexibility of remote employment can tip the scales. But how can firm leaders effectively manage from a distance? What are the pros and cons of this emerging trend?

Join CVG's CEO, Todd Reding, for lessons learned from small architecture firms who are navigating this staffing model. In Part One of this two-part series, Todd discusses the employer perspective of this arrangement with Kari Sebern, principal of Sebern Structural Services, who leads a growing engineering firm based in Panora, Iowa with a remote employee in Denver.

Stay tuned for Part Two (date TBD), at which Todd will speak with a remote employee architect about his perspective on this new hiring model.

Learn about contract details, technology advancements, management tactics, and questions from attendees about how this all works. If you've been considering staffing remotely, or are struggling with a remote arrangement, you won't want to miss this conversation!

Todd L. Reding
President and CEO, Charrette Venture Group

Todd has served in many roles in both the private sector and non-profit organizations. While serving as the Vice President for Alumni and Development at Grinnell College, he earned an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. He was named the President and CEO of ASI Signage Innovations in 2008 and in 2011 he was among the first employees of the software startup, FunnelWise. Today he remains a senior advisor to the company, while also serving in his role at Charrette Venture Group. Todd is also an Adjunct Lecturer on Entrepreneurialism at the University of Iowa and chair of the board of trustees of Grinnell Regional Medical Center.

Kari Sebern, P.E.
Principal, Sebern Structural Services

Sebern Structural Services, PLLC (s-cube) is a full service structural engineering company located in Iowa and Colorado. Since its start in February of 2010, s-cube has prided itself on excellent customer service and efficient design.  Kari Sebern, P.E. founded s-cube as an opportunity to provide local structural engineering support central and western Iowa and in 2018 expanded to Colorado.  s-cube provides consulting services from project inception to construction completion or as each individual project warrants.  The s-cube team brings a unique perspective to each project with experience ranging from complex high rise lateral designs to deck designs.  Services vary from full scale Revit models to hand sketches.

CVG Completes Partner Firm Rebrand: EDI is Now Equiterra

The new Equiterra website incorporates dynamic video imagery with updated branding and messaging to better communicate the firm’s expertise in regenerative design.

The new Equiterra website incorporates dynamic video imagery with updated branding and messaging to better communicate the firm’s expertise in regenerative design.

The marketing team at CVG has been working hard with Albuquerque-based Investment Partner, EDI (Environmental Dynamics, Inc.), to update their brand identity and website. The comprehensive rebrand includes a new name—Equiterra Regenerative Design, graphic identity, and website created by Charrette Venture Group.

After 22 years as EDI, we felt it was important to refocus our energy on the values that originally inspired us. A shared passion for sustainable design brought our group together initially and we’re excited to see how the new brand helps us grow as a thought leaders, reaching more people, and having a greater, lasting impact towards positive change for our environment and communities. - Kent Beierle, principal and cofounder at Equiterra.

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Equiterra, a combination of “equilibrium” and “terra,” means “balanced earth” and represents the outcome this innovative architecture firm is working to achieve through regenerative design. 

During the rebranding process, we collaboratively developed the idea of visually representing the lens through which Equiterra makes its decisions. Instead of selecting a basic color palette, we chose a variety of environmental elements to layer throughout the firm’s graphic identity.

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Our branding guidelines specify environmental elements that represent the variety of ecosystems in which Equiterra works. These visual patterns are represented throughout the new graphic identity.

Our branding guidelines specify environmental elements that represent the variety of ecosystems in which Equiterra works. These visual patterns are represented throughout the new graphic identity.

To have a positive impact through our projects and our business practices, we need to constantly be using the lens of regenerative design - Delcie Dobrovolny, principal at Equiterra.

CVG’s Creative Director, Lisa Saldivar, said, "The Equiterra rebrand was an exploration of how to translate big, innovative ideas into a simple and clean visual language. It was an incredible experience to collaborate with the Equiterra team and we couldn't be more excited with the final designs we built together!"

EDI’s logo before rebranding as Equiterra

EDI’s logo before rebranding as Equiterra

EDI’s homepage before rebranding as Equiterra

EDI’s homepage before rebranding as Equiterra

The rebranding process has infused our firm with fresh energy. Galvanizing the core values that have always guided us, we hope to reembrace our commitment to a legacy of positive and meaningful change. - J. Stace McGee, principal and cofounder at Equiterra.

CVG offers branding and website design services as components of our five-year Investment Partnership contracts. Curious to learn how we work with small firm architects to strengthen and stabilize their businesses? Schedule a free 30-minute consultation with us:



CVG Welcomes Our 20th Investment Partner!

The RoehrSchmitt team, from left to right: Bobby Smith, Keppen Kettering, Principal Chris Schmitt, Michael Parotti, Principal Michael Roehr, Lewis Black bobblehead, Kyle Huberty

The RoehrSchmitt team, from left to right: Bobby Smith, Keppen Kettering, Principal Chris Schmitt, Michael Parotti, Principal Michael Roehr, Lewis Black bobblehead, Kyle Huberty

Meet RoehrSchmitt: “A unique firm keeping it real” in Minneapolis

CVG is thrilled to announce the milestone of partnering with our twentieth small architecture firm! We know you’ll enjoy getting to know them as much as we have…

When we first met with RoerhrSchmitt principals Michael Roehr and Chris Schmitt, we couldn’t help but note how aligned their goals and culture are with those of CVG and our partner firms. RoehrSchmitt has a great reputation in the Minneapolis region. Their innovative portfolio is growing and diversifying — and they are hiring additional staff. But the principals felt that they needed a boost to get to the next level; in fact, Chris said “it’s like we need a personal trainer for our business.” With that, we knew RoehrSchmitt would be an excellent fit with CVG.

Michael and Chris founded RoehrSchmitt in 2006 on the belief that at its core, good design requires taking a fundamentally optimistic view of the world, and they're committed to the idea that there should be no conflict between doing what’s best for their clients, their communities and themselves. 

We come to work each day jazzed to find that sweet spot where the interplay of quality and value is balanced and optimized, where work and play are virtually indistinguishable. - Michael Roehr

As dedicated architectural generalists, they endeavor to create beautiful buildings, recognizing such buildings cannot be deemed successful unless they satisfy the pragmatic demands of the program and client – they’ve got to work, be affordable, perform well over time, and make a positive contribution to the world we share. 

RoehrSchmitt specializes in adaptive reuse, library design, office and tenant improvements, and interior architecture. 

The Lakes Center - Commercial Tenant Improvement , Minneapolis, MN - Photo by Kyle Huberty

The Lakes Center - Commercial Tenant Improvement, Minneapolis, MN - Photo by Kyle Huberty

The Miller Textile Building - Adaptive Reuse , Minneapolis, MN - Photo by Kyle Huberty

The Miller Textile Building - Adaptive Reuse, Minneapolis, MN - Photo by Kyle Huberty

Northfield Public Library - New Addition , Northfield, MN - Photo by Kyle Huberty

Northfield Public Library - New Addition, Northfield, MN - Photo by Kyle Huberty

Seeking solutions that balance resilience, value and identity is central to RoehrSchmitt's practice. Listening to their client's goals and looking for the unique opportunities presented by each project defines their strategy for creating distinctive work that meets the challenging criteria of firmness, commodity and delight.

Our business model is constantly evolving to optimize the relationship between innovation, quality and value. - Chris Schmitt

Principals Michael Roehr and Chris Schmitt

Principals Michael Roehr and Chris Schmitt

Check out their website and be sure to read their thoughtful commentaries on adaptive reuse (Sometimes Less is Enough) and historic preservation (Does Preservation Matter?). 

Welcome to the CVG community, RoehrSchmitt!

Beyond Bookkeeping: Watch Webinar

Beyond Bookkeeping.jpg

Tips for Small Firm Architects

As a small architecture firm leader, are you curious about outsourcing bookkeeping? Are you stuck because you don’t know:

  1. How to find help that you trust;

  2. Which financial positions provide which scope of services;

  3. What to expect from a good bookkeeper;

  4. Where to begin?

These questions often keep principals from moving forward with a key operational decision that can have a huge impact on your firm’s financial health -- not to mention work/life balance. A good bookkeeper not only takes tasks off your plate, but he/she can help provide real-time financial information that impacts all aspects of your business decisions. What if your bookkeeper could integrate time tracking with your proposal efforts? Or use your project management software to alert you when a team is over-budget? 

Join us for a conversation between Rena Klein, FAIA, VP of Investment Partnerships at CVG and Tabatha Sumner, a bookkeeper who specializes in the architecture and design industry. Tabatha has helped multiple CVG partner firms realize highly impactful change in the way they organize their financial information for operational benefit.

About Tabatha Sumner

Tabatha Sumner has 14+ years of experience providing bookkeeping and operational support to small businesses and individual clients. After transitioning her career to a position in Architecture & Design five years ago, she recognized this as a niche industry, the needs of which she innately understood. She then formed Lumen Business Services to provide speciality bookkeeping support to A&D firms nationwide. Tabatha has a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from San Diego State University. She is a certified QuickBooks Online Pro Advisor and an associate member of the Association for Women in Architecture and Design.

About Rena M. Klein, FAIA

Rena M. Klein FAIA is a nationally recognized expert in small firm practice and author of The Architect’s Guide to Small Firm Management (Wiley, 2010). With 20 years of experience as the owner of a small architecture firm, and over 10 years as a consultant and educator, Rena brings a special understanding of design firms managed by entrepreneurial architects. Rena served as executive editor of AIA’s The Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice, 15th edition (Wiley 2013) and is past-chair of the national Advisory Group for the AIAPractice Management Knowledge Community.

Watch Webinar: https://zoom.us/recording/share/gsbkG67gtChS_4J4geHso4CnF-OO654jO6O7ciYSj8KwIumekTziMw



Inside the Firm: Listen to CVG's Podcast Interview Live from AIA 19

“Inside the Firm” speaks with CVG’s Todd L. Reding, Xylia Buros, and Emily Hall about trends they are seeing in the small architecture firm marketplace.

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On this very special episode of Inside the Firm recorded from the 2019 AIA National Convention floor Lance is joined by the core team of Charrette Venture Group – President and CEO Todd Reding, Director of Marketing Xylia Buros, and Vice President of Marketing for Charrette Venture Group Emily Hall! CVG is doing amazing work in the architecture community and helping to create some of the finest entrepreneurial architects. You don’t want to miss this episode. Join us as we go back Inside the Firm!



Investment Partner Spotlight: Meet Propel Studio

Propel Studio from Left to Right: Tuan Vu, Lara LaFontain, Nick Mira, Oak, Sam Sudy, Lucas Gray (Photo credit: Josh Partee)

Propel Studio from Left to Right: Tuan Vu, Lara LaFontain, Nick Mira, Oak, Sam Sudy, Lucas Gray (Photo credit: Josh Partee)

Propel Studio is located in Portland, Oregon.

Propel Studio Architecture, Inc. partnered with CVG in 2015, making them CVG’s second-longest current investment partnership. From their firm’s first official project “designing a driveway” to leading a community design workshop in Aridagawa, Japan, Propel has made bold moves growing their business. When they decided to increase their ADU (Accessory Dwelling Unit) portfolio, they doubled it within a year. After establishing themselves as experts in ADU design in Portland, they are now adding custom “Northwest modern” residential projects to their diverse portfolio -- in addition to pursuing new projects in Vietnam and Japan. This strategic and incremental approach to growth has contributed to a net revenue increase of 146% since 2016.

How did this trio of friends come together and build their team? CVG’s Erin Poppe (EP) and Emily Hall (EH) “virtually” sat down with principals Nick Mira (NM), Lucas Gray (LG), and Tuan Vu (TV) to discuss how Propel Studio got their start, the firm’s nagging pain points, what they have learned from each other, and their relationship with CVG.

Propel’s founding principals (Photo credit: Josh Partee)

Propel’s founding principals (Photo credit: Josh Partee)

EP: How did Propel Studio start?

NM: Our firm started in the end of 2012, when we each realized how dissatisfied we were working inside of bigger firms. There weren’t many face-to-face opportunities with the clients we were designing for, which didn’t allow us to be personally engaged in our client’s lives or invested creatively in the outcome of the project.

After starting Propel, one thing I quickly realized is that the front-end of attracting, winning, and starting projects – which bigger firms always handled for me so I could focus on drawing – is what brings on a better portfolio and understanding of your work.

TV: We lacked opportunities for interaction and direct communications with clients, limiting our creativity and ability to work new ideas into our designs and collaborations with clients.

[Note: Prior to starting Propel, Lucas worked in a 30-40 person firm in Portland and a few firms abroad. Nick and Tuan worked together at a 120-person firm alongside Lucas’ wife, Kristin. Lucas and Tuan studied together at the University of Oregon.]

EH: What was Propel’s first paid project?

LG: Our first project was redesigning a driveway into a patio for someone I met through a neighborhood organization. Then our second project was redesigning a driveway, because this client saw our first project. From there we got a few ADU projects and our firm grew from there.

NM: Then we had another driveway after that!

EH: What was the first project you really celebrated?

LG: Our first real architecture project was an ADU for a guy in our neighborhood. The design was interesting with alternating sloped roofs; a lot of people have since asked us for something similar, which is a great feeling. That project started us down this path into the ADU world, and we’ve done about 50 of them since. It’s a good revenue stream and we’ve gotten efficient in how we approach those projects. Everyone on the team does ADUs now, though Sam has really become the specialist and leads most of them. The rest of us have at least one or two ADU projects that we touch on throughout the year.

The Namaste ADU, Completed in early 2019 (Photo credit: Carlos Rafael)

The Namaste ADU, Completed in early 2019 (Photo credit: Carlos Rafael)

EH: What were some initial growing pains?

LG: Similar to a lot of firms, there’s a huge learning curve on the business side of things. We all knew how to design, do drawings and models, and use software; but we didn’t have experience with writing contracts, or establishing appropriate fees and rates. Our first ten projects had stupidly low fees, which is ridiculous looking back.

NM: We didn’t even know what our costs were in running a business. All the taxes and licenses, insurance … all the costs of annual operations, we just didn’t know! So we based our prices on what we thought sounded good.

EH: So I’m assuming you weren’t exposed to much business training in architecture school...

NM: Professional practice in architecture programs are all focused on the legal responsibilities of an architect; how to cover your exposure, how to set up the legal side of the firm, but nothing at all about the finances or the costs or how to manage employees.

LG: There aren’t any financial classes taught, which is silly unless you work for larger firms. You’re not exposed to anything about the inner workings of a firm in that situation. So the problem is, when you’re starting your own firm, you’ve had no exposure to anything other than project management. And the previous firms we worked for were not transparent and didn’t offer opportunities to understand the business or contract side of their operations.

EH: How has CVG supported the evolution of your business?

LG: CVG helped us dedicate the time to think about the business side of things, which was always on the back burner before. They walked us through what our expenses are; what our billable rates should be per person; what projects were and weren’t profitable, and how to market based off of that. We weren’t exposed to this education or information before partnering with CVG.

EH: How has your team grown over the years?

NM: Sam was the first employee, but we had a few practicum students intern with us from time to time. We weren’t really nervous to hire our first employees, because we didn’t realize we should be. It wasn’t until we grew into a 5-person firm that we realized the challenge of financial commitments.

Propel’s first office was a mezzanine aboveADX, a community workshop, c. 2014 (Photo credit: Propel Studio)

Propel’s first office was a mezzanine aboveADX, a community workshop, c. 2014 (Photo credit: Propel Studio)

Propel’s second office in NE Portland, c. 2015 (Photo credit: Propel Studio)

Propel’s second office in NE Portland, c. 2015 (Photo credit: Propel Studio)

EP: What are your significant milestones or learning moments from your growth process?

TV: For me, it was seeing a project being completed from start to finish: the Champions Barbershop. From my experiences in seven years split between SERA Architects and YGH Architecture, I’d only worked on a specific facet of the projects, like feasibility, or construction documents. I was never truly running my own project. The opening day of my first project that I lead from start to finish was a big deal and super satisfying, especially because the clients were so happy with the end result.

LG: I think the best and worst thing about this job is client reactions. When we have a good client that’s appreciative of the work we’ve done, and getting to experience the completed space with them feels great. There’ll always be hiccups and bumps, but the end experience is always gratifying.

Champions Barbershop (Photography by Joshua Huff)

Champions Barbershop (Photography by Joshua Huff)

EH: What do you look for in clients when you first meet them?

TV: These days, we set up consultations with potential clients. We tend to ask a lot of questions in the beginning, just to make sure that it’s the right fit in budget and scope of work but also to gauge their personalities and spot any issues in their fees or expectations.

LG: In every relationship, the goal is to set realistic expectations and then meet or exceed them. That first meeting is where we try to understand what the client’s expectations are, and quite often they’re not great at knowing that. They haven’t worked with an architect before, or been through this specific design process. So we help decipher those expectations through education on the process and phases. We’re getting better at communicating pre-qualifications or information about deliverables, though, and our proposals are getting much more detailed. Hopefully that clarity from the start prevents future conflict.

Nick Mira facilitating a community engagement workshop in Aridagawa, Japan

Nick Mira facilitating a community engagement workshop in Aridagawa, Japan

EP: What makes your team stand out?

LG: One thing is that we’re all engaged in the community and volunteer organizations outside of the office. Sam serves through Architects in Schools - going to elementary classrooms to teach kids ways to engage with built environments and design. Lara organizes Bold Type Talks, a lecture series for people to talk about topics related to the field of architecture through a diversity and equity AIA committee that’s geared towards engaging professionals outside of the white-male dominated business culture. I have served on neighborhood association boards and AIA boards and currently volunteer on the AIA National Small Project Design committee. Nick served on the neighborhood association for a while and we volunteered to design the poster for Nick’s neighborhood farmers market.

(Note: Lucas received a 40-Under-40 Award from the Portland Business Journal in recognition of his community leadership)

TV: I’ve volunteered with the Asian-Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO) organization and the Jade District here in Portland, which also reinforces our long-term goals of opening offices in Japan and Vietnam too. We really want to share the value of sustainable design that we found in Portland in those international communities.

EP: What makes the three of you a powerful partnership?

NM: From my perspective, we do compliment each other and fill the gaps for one another; which makes a good collective in that together we can design, deliver, and market really well. For Tuan, his design creativity, skills, and speed are amazing. I want to learn how to push design and deliver as quickly as he does. Lucas also has a great visionary mind for design, but he’s also great with the marketing and the storytelling and the strategy of business development. He helps make sure that the ship is going in the right direction.

TV: I think it’s worth mentioning that we all started as friends, and that’s important. We are all trying to carry Propel in the same direction, but at the same time our friendship has been strengthened through traveling and working together; which is really helpful when it comes to troubleshooting or goal setting or working through the challenges that every small business faces.

Lucas, Tuan, Nick and their partners sharing a meal at a Chinese Hot Pot restaurant.

Lucas, Tuan, Nick and their partners sharing a meal at a Chinese Hot Pot restaurant.

EH: If you weren’t architects, what would you be?

LG: Happy! (joking) I think we do a lot of non-traditional architecture in the office, which includes graphic design or branding or art installations. I think we’re interested in a lot of other design pursuits that’s not traditional architecture. I also work on small scale developments on the side.

TV: I’d do something related to art. Maybe becoming a hyperrealist painter, or perhaps return to the days when I was a DJ.

NM: I think I was so frustrated working for big firms, that I was going to try and open an architecture firm or try to switch careers entirely and work in computer science – even though I have no training in it. There’s so much technical demand in architecture that I think I have the patience to learn how to write software. Then no one bugs you, because it’s all so cryptic.

EH: What do you hope that a client thinks when they walk through your door?

NM: Wow, these guys are cool!

LG: We’re getting to the point where we have a body of work that can be marketed towards specific project types we want more of. We’re trying to weed through what we’ve finished and only show the projects that share our aesthetic preferences and architectural values. We just moved into a new office space, and started setting it up, and we want to make sure that our physical spaces reflect our design values. We want to do minimalist, Northwest modern style; we don’t want to do traditional-style ADUs, houses, or commercial projects. We want our office aesthetics to pre-qualify anyone that walks through our door to want our look.

NM: We also want clients to see that we’re creative and always in process on projects.

TV: A creative group of individuals in a thriving office culture, where client’s dreams will be turned into reality. Also, these guys are cool.

LG: We find unique solutions to problems. Every ADU we’ve done is different and each responded to what that specific client wanted and needed, as well as the context in which it was being built; like the landscape or an existing house we had to work around. We used materials in unique and beautiful ways to create interesting forms. We like to push design thinking to solve problems in a unique way.

Visit Propel Studio’s website to learn more about the firm and their work.

Master Your Professional Bio: Watch for Our Free Webinar

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Join Us - July 10th at 2pm ET

Do you have a hard time writing about yourself... and feel stuck with a lackluster biography as a result? Join CVG's Director of Marketing, Xylia Buros, on a webinar designed to help you craft a compelling professional bio that you'll be proud to share on your website, social media, for speaking engagements, and beyond.

Every professional architect needs to clearly demonstrate the value that they bring based on their unique experience and education. Take advantage of this free webinar to breathe new life into your professional narrative.

The CVG Business Assessment: A Thorough Consultation, No Long-Term Commitment

Did you know that CVG Offers Stand-Alone Business Assessments for Small to Mid-Sized Architecture Firms?

Firm owners regularly engage CVG’s leadership team to explore how their business practices compare to industry standards. Our deep-dive into the financial, operational, and marketing/business development health of your practice reveals how you excel and identifies actionable areas for improvement. At the end of the Business Assessment process you’ll have a clear benchmark of your firm’s performance and specific actions that can improve future profitability.

The best part? CVG works exclusively with small and mid-sized design firms, so we bring a very specific perspective to the table. We respect what makes you unique -- and we’ll work with you to leverage those qualities to achieve more profitability and a healthier work/life balance.

If you’ve worked with larger corporate consulting firms, you know that one size does not fit all when it comes to advising small architectural practices.

We have a defined process and deliverables for CVG’s Business Assessment. Here’s what you can expect:

  • CVG submits a request for past financial statements, payroll details, proposals, partnership agreements, etc.

  • Once all materials are received, we input key data points into our Profit Planning Spreadsheet and apply our proprietary formulas.

  • We review your website, messaging, brand strength, social media, communications, business development activities etc.

  • You receive a comparative report demonstrating key financial performance indicators, short-term profit planning, and recommendations for improvement. You also receive an assessment of your marketing and business development program with an analysis of your strengths and weaknesses and actionable recommendations.

  • Throughout this process you will meet with members of CVG’s team of experts. We will ask several questions along the way and walk you through the findings presented in our Final Assessment Report.

The total time for the assessment ranges from four to six weeks, once the materials requested are received.  

Want to learn more? Schedule a quick call to get started!

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“The information that CVG provided for our firm through the business assessment process was extremely helpful, to say the least. The assessment contained a long list of encouragements of what we were doing well and helpful recommendations on how to get better. We actually knew a lot of things that we were not doing well, but we were unclear and overwhelmed on how to improve in those deficiencies.

During the process we were given practical and achievable steps that were the perfect segue to further growth for our firm. I would highly recommend CVG’s business assessment to any firm that wants to be the best version of themselves that they can be.”

EQUIP STUDIO
Sims Key, Principal

Celebrate with CVG & EntreArchitect in Las Vegas: 6/6/19

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Join us in Las Vegas (USA) for the 4th Annual Meetup with EntreArchitect and Charrette Venture Group during the 2019 AIA Conference on Architecture. We'll be celebrating our community of small firm architects AND honoring the winner of CVG's 2019 Architecture Business Plan Competition, EVIA Studio.

After all your conference obligations are fulfilled, come enjoy appetizers & cocktails on the strip with friends and fellow small firm entrepreneur architects. Conference attendance is not required. If you are a proud member of The EntreArchitect Community or a friend of Charrette Venture Group (and you are if you're reading this!), you are welcome to join us.

June 6th, 2019 - 7:00 - 9:00 pm at El Dorado Cantina

Save the date and time. Cash bar and light hors d'oeuvres provided.

Don't miss out! Register to attend below.


Watch Our Free Webinar

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Originally Broadcast Live on 5/17/19

Does cash flow keep you up at night? Most small firm architects struggle with managing collections, invoicing, and expenses (like payroll!) at some point in their firm's life cycle. We'll discuss best practices for stabilizing cash flow, including the perspective of one small architecture firm who got their cash flow under control after implementing these tactics.

Join the founder of Charrette Venture Group, Matt Ostanik, AIA and Charrette Venture Group's CEO, Todd L. Reding to discuss best practices from their experience advising dozens of small architecture firms. Lindsey Love and Lindsay Schack, the principals of Love | Schack Architecture, will share their first-hand experience managing cash flow -- and how a few small changes had a big impact on their peace of mind.

EVIA Wins CVG’s 2019 Architecture Business Plan Competition

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The competition jury (M. Arthur Gensler Jr., FAIA, FIIDA, RIBA, Founder, Gensler; Matt Ostanik, AIA, Founder and Chairman of the Board, Charrette Venture Group; and Mark R. LePage, AIA, Founder, EntreArchitect) and the CVG team are pleased to announce that Leah Alissa Bayer and her firm, EVIA, have won CVG’s Fifth Annual Architecture Business Plan Competition. EVIA stands for “Evolving Integrated Architecture.”

Jurors and CVG facilitators interviewed three finalists by video on April 23rd, 2019. (Top: CVG’s Todd L. Reding and Emily Hall, facilitators, Middle: Juror Mark R. LePage and Leah Alissa Bayer, EVIA); Bottom: Jurors Art Gensler and Matt Ostanik)

Jurors and CVG facilitators interviewed three finalists by video on April 23rd, 2019. (Top: CVG’s Todd L. Reding and Emily Hall, facilitators, Middle: Juror Mark R. LePage and Leah Alissa Bayer, EVIA); Bottom: Jurors Art Gensler and Matt Ostanik)

Leah describes her Palo Alto-based architecture firm as “an ambitious new architect-led research, design, and development firm specializing in creating contextually sensitive, story-rich, and future-minded single and multi-family residences. We design and manage beautiful, high-performing, resilient housing for the modern lifestyle along the Pacific West Coast with local offices in the Bay Area, California and Bellingham, Washington and a professional team spread across the US.”

EVIA’s conceptual plan for the main residence of an off-grid, extreme environment, resilient residential development in Hawaii.

EVIA’s conceptual plan for the main residence of an off-grid, extreme environment, resilient residential development in Hawaii.

Operating as both designer and developer, EVIA’s innovative business model aims to tackle "increasing housing shortages, eminent climate change, and the financial distress of young generations" by creating "more high-quality, resilient homes that support modern lifestyles.” Through a strategically-phased launch of multiple business facets, EVIA’s vision includes:

EVIA, Inc.: A social purpose corporation managing the administrative functions of all business facets.

EVIA X: The (partially crowdfunded) real estate development facet of EVIA focused on creating affordable and healthy multi-family communities.

EVIA Studio: A multi-disciplinary, virtual architecture and engineering team designing designing a variety of high performance housing solutions.

EVIA Labs: A research team studying and testing new approaches to design, construction, materials, and lifestyle habits.

EVIA Nexus: An online social platform for people to review, compare, and discuss their home's performance data with their local community.

EVIA’s conceptual elevation for a mid-rise multifamily development in Mountain View, CA

EVIA’s conceptual elevation for a mid-rise multifamily development in Mountain View, CA

The jury was impressed with EVIA’s ambitious long-term vision for her company, combined with her highly organized plan for introducing new business facets and scaling existing facets. They noted Leah’s excellent presentation and her balanced, overall grasp of the multiple pieces required for EVIA to succeed. “She really did her homework,” juror Art Gensler stated.

Bayer notes, “As a new founder, the competition was such a valuable experience and one that I whole-heartedly recommend to any entrepreneurial firm out there starting to get off the ground. Just by participating in the process, I was finally able to focus and clarify the thoughts and dreams I’ve had about my business that had been swirling around in my mind for years. With valuable feedback from the jury of awesomely successful leaders, EVIA now has a solid, detailed plan to inspire us as we grow and guide us as we move forward. We are so much more organized and empowered because of this process.”

Congratulations, Leah! We’re looking forward to tracking your success over the years!

For more information about EVIA, visit https://www.eviastudio.com/ or email Leah at leah@eviastudio.com. To be put on the mailing list for next year’s CVG Architecture Business Plan Announcements, email emily@charrettevg.com.

Investment Partner Spotlight: Meet ThoughtCraft Architects

Credit: Trey Thomas Photography

Credit: Trey Thomas Photography

ThoughtCraft Architects is located in Boston, MA and Chapel Hill, NC.

ThoughtCraft Principals Chris Johns and Jason Hart began their Investment Partnership with Charrette Venture Group in mid-2016. At this point in their long history as friends and design collaborators, Chris and Jason were at a critical juncture deciding if and how to commit to the continuation of their young firm (then named CUBE design + research) with the exit of an existing partner --  and the news that Jason was moving several states away. It was a moment when they could have amicably parted ways and celebrated the handful of successful projects they had completed while working nights at one of their small Boston apartments.

Instead, the friends made the decision that CUBE would exist in two locations, and that they would focus on building a sustainable business with a solid shared infrastructure. It was a defining decision that shaped the future of this (soon-to-be) growing firm.

Erin Poppe, Emily Hall, Chris Johns, and Jason Hart “virtually” sat down to discuss how ThoughtCraft has changed over the years, their nagging pain points, what they have learned from each other and their relationship with CVG.

Credit: Shawn Tomkinson Photography

Credit: Shawn Tomkinson Photography

EP: Tell us about how the firm started…

JH: Chris and I have known each other for about 23 years. We all started at junior college in Florida, at 18-19 years old, then we ended up in graduate school together at MIT in Boston. As we neared our end at MIT in 2003, there was an opportunity to design my father’s house in SC. We knew enough to be dangerous in the evenings as we worked on it between our jobs and theses.

Chris then got a job in California after graduation, and we did a couple little competitions together remotely collaborating. So the foundation was starting, but we didn’t really know it yet because we were just working on projects as friends because we liked to work together.

We had some professors contact us about work, which spawned more work. We never said we’re going to do this for a long time. We were just constantly working together, we were used to critiquing each other, we were roommates, we were friends, and it started from that.

EP: When did it “get real?”

CJ: In 2008, we put out some speculative ideas into the public realm around a major controversial project in Boston, which was going to require the demolition of a Paul Rudolph building. We were big PR fans, having grown up in Florida and being familiar with the Sarasota School of Architecture. Jason would walk by there all the time, on the way to his then-job. We started talking and thinking about how bizarre it was that they were tearing down this building. All the preservationists want to put it in a glass jar, while the developer wanted to tear it down. No one was talking about solutions between those two extremes.

So we put out some ideas that got us at the table with the developer. I came back from my job in California, and it looked like we were going to have a major project that would kickstart our firm. Then the economy fell apart. But that got us thinking a little more seriously about the business and the potential.

There was a period of several months where everything was in flux. Jason quit his job and focused on licensure. I moved back to Boston. But we were getting recognition from our ideas about that Paul Rudolf building and innovative historic preservation. A few key projects came to us during this time, because of our unique point of view.

As a project won in 2009, ThoughtCraft’s renovation of the historic Hayden Building in Boston was a significant milestone in the firm’s history. It enabled the young design firm to showcase their innovative approach to historic preservation. (Photo: John Horner )

As a project won in 2009, ThoughtCraft’s renovation of the historic Hayden Building in Boston was a significant milestone in the firm’s history. It enabled the young design firm to showcase their innovative approach to historic preservation. (Photo: John Horner )

EH: Fast forward to having a beer with CVG President Todd Reding in Boston, and deciding to pull the trigger with this partnership…what were you struggling with at that time? How did you envision CVG helping?

CJ: Trying to pay ourselves was something we wrestled with for years. In the beginning it was just us and we had day jobs, so it didn’t matter so much. Whatever money we made on commissions was spent on continuing to work together and maintain whatever infrastructure we had.

So the growing pains largely came from our financial instability, and the fact that we were building something from scratch. We didn’t have a backlog of clients that we were taking from another firm; we didn’t have any real training in business, networking, marketing or anything like that to outline how we were going to do this. So we all had our heads down on the Hayden Building project, focused on doing an amazing job, and we weren’t paying a lot of attention to what came next.

Of course, we all had our own systems and ways of doing things that we built firm practices from. But we weren’t diligent about creating strong systems – so it took a while to get to a point where we could bring on staff and delegate. We needed help with putting the right systems in place.

JH: We had been in business long enough to realize that even if we didn’t have a set office, we knew how we wanted to manage the firm in terms of services and projects we provided. But the challenge was learning how to facilitate all the financial aspects while still doing the work. It’s a very common story, where we struggled both separately and together.

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Above: CVG worked closely with ThoughtCraft to create    their new brand identity    that transformed the firm from “CUBE design + research” to “ThoughtCraft Architects” in 2018.

Above: CVG worked closely with ThoughtCraft to create their new brand identity that transformed the firm from “CUBE design + research” to “ThoughtCraft Architects” in 2018.

EH: And how do you feel that the ThoughtCraft/CVG partnership has evolved?

JH: We didn’t have any explicit expectations in our relationship with CVG. We wanted to create a successful and sustainable practice, and I think we’re on the way to that. I feel like we understand a lot more about how and what we’re investing ourselves in. While our earnings are not where we want them to be yet, our infrastructure to get there is much more robust.

[Editor’s note: By the end of 2018, ThoughtCraft had doubled their net operating revenue since starting with CVG in 2016. While they are still working to earn more revenue, the systems they have implemented are making an impact.]

CVG is a huge resource that helps to organize and prop us up. Each person in the consultancy has a lot of experience to offer, and we can reap those benefits without having to go through the learning pains on our own. Our partnership differentiates us, because while everyone has the same issues, we’re actually building the infrastructure of a large firm in a small practice so that we can be truly sustainable in our business practices while excelling as a design company.

We tell people that we want to grow, and want to be prepared for that growth. It’s deliberate and intentional. Too many firms are reactionary. If you don’t have the infrastructure, you don’t have the systems, knowledge or ability to know where you’re going before you get there. Our relationship with CVG is about growth and preparation for that.

Credit: Shawn Tomkinson Photography

Credit: Shawn Tomkinson Photography

EH: Do you feel you’ve differentiated ThoughtCraft as a business among your peers and competition?

CJ: There’s a different culture, a different way of working, in a small firm – regardless of how prepared you are or how well the business is run. Most employees don’t understand the inner workings of a firm, unless they receive that exposure from the higher-ups in a larger setting. We give that transparency and in turn, receive trust. It allows everyone to have a greater understanding of their role’s impact on the growth and success of the firm. That differentiates us.

I’m very proud of the work we’ve done together. It’s a rare thing to have, and the work drives us. Sure, the financials have been a drag and we need to improve; but that’s why we’re with CVG. We’re trying to make a real business out of what was our hobby and enjoyment, which I am far happier doing instead of working for other people at other firms.

There’s a great deal of trust between Jason and me. We can always rely on each other to be an honest sounding board. That’s critical, and personally I can’t imagine being a sole proprietor after I’ve had an equal partner as committed and trustworthy as Jason. Having him here helps me keep it together.

JH: What he said.

EP: What have you learned from this experience?

CJ: I’ve learned that I value the collective effort a lot more than doing it alone. The design of the business is as important as the design your business performs in architecture. That had never crossed my mind before working with CVG, but I’ve become more passionate about designing the business as much as I am designing buildings.

JH: I’ve always been self-critical, but this has taught me that I can be more tenacious than I ever thought I could be.

CVG's CliftonStrengths Team-Building Evaluation

CVG applies strengths methodology to architecture and design firm management.

The Gallup CliftonStrengths (StrengthsFinder) assessment was developed by scientists and psychologists to identify your top five strengths from a list of 34 potential talent themes.

CVG has assembled the largest database of strengths results from architecture and design firms in the country. 

CVG has built a special expertise applying CliftonStrengths to architecture and design firms. We provide a comprehensive strengths analysis that includes:

  1. All of your employees taking the CliftonStrengths questionnaire

  2. One-on-one reviews of their results with each of your people

  3. A group workshop to discuss how your team’s strengths impact your firm’s work and culture

  4. Comparison of your team’s results with our database of strengths results from other architecture and design firms

  5. Discussion about how CliftonStrengths can be used to improve your project teams, business development, hiring, and more

Our Process

We begin by granting your staff members access to the CliftonStrengths assessment, which they then complete online. CVG’s Strengths Expert will then schedule a one-on-one review with each person to share and discuss their results. Following that, our Strengths Expert will debrief your firm’s leadership on collective strengths trends, then she will meet with everyone for a team workshop to do the same. You will also receive a written report and summary that can be used for future coaching.

The initial strengths questionnaire is taken online. The one-on-one reviews are completed via web meeting. The leadership debrief and team workshop can be completed via web meeting or via live meetings at your office.

Benefits to Design Firms

Investing in the CliftonStrengths assessment and workshop can lead to gains in employee engagement, productivity, and well-being while preventing burnout or worse. CVG finds that architecture and design firms often engage in our services because they want to be more aware of themselves and use the information to improve their collaboration internally, with their partners and with their clients.

CVG has assembled the largest database of strengths results from architecture and design firms in the country.

CVG has assembled the largest database of strengths results from architecture and design firms in the country.

“Participating in [Clifton Strengths] was a rewarding process for our company. The survey confirmed the traits that we value in our staff, while illuminating subtler attributes that we can leverage though employee growth within the studio. I sincerely appreciate the increased sense of awareness we now have for each other.”

FACILITY SYSTEMS, INC.
Ryan Elder, Principal
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How Does Your Firm Compare? Find Out with a $500 Discount in March.

CVG Offers Stand-Alone Business Assessments for Small to Mid-Sized Architecture Firms

Firm owners regularly engage CVG’s leadership team to explore how their business practices compare to industry standards. Our deep-dive into the financial, operational, and marketing/business development health of your practice reveals how you excel and identifies actionable areas for improvement. At the end of the Business Assessment process you’ll have a clear benchmark of your firm’s performance and specific actions that can improve future profitability.

The best part? CVG works exclusively with small and mid-sized design firms, so we bring a very specific perspective to the table. We respect what makes you unique -- and we’ll work with you to leverage those qualities to achieve more profitability and a healthier work/life balance.

If you’ve worked with larger corporate consulting firms, you know that one size does not fit all when it comes to advising small architectural practices.

We have a defined process and deliverables for CVG’s Business Assessment. Here’s what you can expect:

  • CVG submits a request for past financial statements, payroll details, proposals, partnership agreements, etc.

  • Once all materials are received, we input key data points into our Profit Planning Spreadsheet and apply our proprietary formulas.

  • We review your website, messaging, brand strength, social media, communications, business development activities etc.

  • You receive a comparative report demonstrating key financial performance indicators, short-term profit planning, and recommendations for improvement. You also receive an assessment of your marketing and business development program with an analysis of your strengths and weaknesses and actionable recommendations.

  • Throughout this process you will meet with members of CVG’s team of experts. We will ask several questions along the way and walk you through the findings presented in our Final Assessment Report.

The total time for the assessment ranges from four to six weeks, once the materials requested are received.  

The Business Assessment is provided for $3,500.00. In March 2019 CVG is offering the Assessment for $3,000.

Want to learn more? Schedule a quick call to get started!

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“The information that CVG provided for our firm through the business assessment process was extremely helpful, to say the least. The assessment contained a long list of encouragements of what we were doing well and helpful recommendations on how to get better. We actually knew a lot of things that we were not doing well, but we were unclear and overwhelmed on how to improve in those deficiencies.

During the process we were given practical and achievable steps that were the perfect segue to further growth for our firm. I would highly recommend CVG’s business assessment to any firm that wants to be the best version of themselves that they can be.”

EQUIP STUDIO
Sims Key, Principal

Meet Xylia Buros, CVG's New Director of Marketing

CVG is delighted to welcome Xylia Buros to our growing marketing team! Xylia is a marketing and communications strategist with more than 10 years of experience in the architecture and design industry. For the past two years, she has run her own consulting business that helps innovative firms increase their revenue and visibility through effective communications strategy and media relations. Previously, she served as Marketing Manager at two prominent architecture firms in Portland, Oregon, and as Programs Director at the Portland chapter of the American Institute of Architects. Xylia graduated magna cum laude with a BA in English Literature from New York University (NYU) and has written about art, design, and business for numerous publications. 

At CVG, Xylia works directly with our Investment Partners to ensure that all marketing and business development efforts are aligned with their strategic goals. Recently, Xylia and Emily discussed Xylia's passion for architecture and marketing within the design industry...

1.     What inspired your career focus on architecture and design marketing?

 I’ve always been drawn to the written word and communications, and throughout my career, I’ve worked as a publicist, magazine writer and editor, and content specialist. After 4 years of working in the arts and music world in Chicago and NYC, I became interested in design, architecture, and sustainability and decided to change track. I ended up taking a workshop and living at Arcosanti, Paolo Soleri’s famed urban design experiment in Arizona, for about four months, which strengthened my interest in architecture and its ability to effect positive change.

After Arcosanti, I moved to Portland, Oregon, where I was fortunate to be introduced to Randy Gragg, a well-known architecture critic who was running a design magazine at the time. I was brought on to produce the magazine’s first design awards program, which resulted in me getting immersed in the Portland design world. It was a hugely successful project: we gave out 20 awards at the gala we threw at the Portland Art Museum and raised $20,000 for a new scholarship fund benefiting architecture, interior design, and construction students.

Through that design awards project, I had been connected to AIA Portland and they recruited me as Programs Director at the Center for Architecture, where I managed the continuing education program for architects and helped organize the Architecture + Design Festival and Oregon Design Conference. I was responsible for marketing and publicizing our events and programs, so that was when I really married my PR/marketing skillset with my love for architecture. I then served as Marketing Manager at two great firms in Portland, leading teams, overhauling content, managing website redesigns, submitting targeted proposals and awards submissions, and growing the visibility of the firms through PR and media relations.

 2.     What is it that attracts you to small design firms?

I’ve worked at a 300+ person firm and 35-person firm, and while I gained valuable experience at the large firm, I preferred the collaborative and almost family-like ethos of the smaller firm. For me personally, when working with firms to grow their business, it is more rewarding to help scale up a smaller company and really make a huge impact. I also like to get to know all of the design professionals in a firm so I can more strategically help position them in the marketplace and publicize their talents. Also, most small firms have overcome many hardships to pursue their vision, which I really admire.

 3.     Tell us about your "location independence" and world travels... 

I started my own communications/marketing consulting business 2.5 years ago so I could travel the world while working full-time on a flexible schedule. I’m a lifelong traveler, with both of my parents having worked in the airline industry. After 14 years of working 9-to-5 with 2-3 weeks of vacation per year, I figured I would never see everything I wanted to see in the world if I didn’t make some bold changes. I gave up my apartment, put things in storage, sold my car, bought a new laptop, and took off in the fall of 2016. I’ve worked from 5 continents since and have been to more than 45 countries in my lifetime, from Finland and Brazil to Japan and Morocco. 

My favorite places to live and work remotely have been Lisbon, Portugal; Bali, Indonesia; Chiang Mai, Thailand; and Medellin, Colombia – all known for affordability, fast wifi, and a robust coworking scene with many location-independent workers supporting each other. I was thrilled that CVG’s team works remotely; I’ve learned many best practices on how to work effectively and productively with remote clients and am excited to keep implementing them.

 4.     How has your travel influenced your perspective on marketing?

My recent world travels have reminded me how crucial it is to be able to effectively communicate. As a writer with an English lit degree, I’ve always appreciated this, but facing communication issues over and over again in my daily life while living in foreign countries has brought a new light to the issue. How can I communicate my needs with 100% clarity to people who are greatly different from me, who speak another language, who have contrasting opinions and values? This translates into marketing and communications because you should never take for granted that your website or marketing materials are truly conveying what you think they do. You always need to get another set of eyes and enlist strategic partners to test your messaging and make sure that it’s accurate and compelling.

 5.     Do you have a list of favorite architectural firms whose marketing/branding you love? 

I do! Here is a quick shortlist of my favorite architecture firm websites (although this gets updated frequently):

COOKFOX: http://cookfox.com/

Studio Gang: http://studiogang.com/

Lever Architecture: https://leverarchitecture.com/
Your Architect London: https://yourarchitect.london/

Klein Dytham: http://www.klein-dytham.com/ (Special shout-out to my friends at Klein Dytham who founded the PechaKucha presentation series 15 years ago. I co-organized the Portland, Oregon, series for 4 years and got to visit Tokyo twice to meet the PKN founders and other city organizers from around the world. Life-changing!)

 6.     What are you looking forward to doing most at CVG?

Many things! I’m very excited to be part of a dynamic team again. I love collaborating and skill-sharing with colleagues to find solutions for our clients. I’m really impressed by the quality and range of our investment partners, so I’m greatly looking forward to getting to know them all better and help them get more recognition for the work they do, and to help them achieve their firm’s business goals for the coming years.

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What Fun We Had!

CVG & EntreArchitect Celebrate with Small Firm Architects in NYC
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JAMB Collective Awarded The 2018 Architecture Business Plan Competition Prize

The breeze was warm and the sun set over the Hudson as architects from around the country joined us at Pier 66 on a beautiful June evening. Over 100 people attended the CVG / EntreArchitect cocktail reception held during the 2018 AIA Conference on Architecture. For many of us it was a rare opportunity to meet in person after developing online friendships and national mentorship networks. And several CVG Investment Partners raised a glass with us! We were thrilled to welcome team members from BuildingWork (Seattle, WA), UK Architects (Hanover, NH), Springhouse Architects (Dayton, OH), and Propel Studio (Portland, OR).

We hope you'll join us next year in Las Vegas! We're searching for a venue as nice as this one at the 2019 AIA Conference on Architecture. Join our mailing list to stay updated:

Announcing CVG’s 2018 Architecture Business Plan Competition Winner: JAMB Collective!

Founding JAMBers. Left to Right: Desmond Johnson, AIA NCARB NOMA; Christian N. Jordan, AIA; Katie Miller Johnson, AIA, LEED AP; Abigail R. Brown, AIA, LEED AP BD+C; Michael Anglin, AIA, LEED AP; Jared Edgar McKnight, Assoc AIA

Founding JAMBers. Left to Right: Desmond Johnson, AIA NCARB NOMA; Christian N. Jordan, AIA; Katie Miller Johnson, AIA, LEED AP; Abigail R. Brown, AIA, LEED AP BD+C; Michael Anglin, AIA, LEED AP; Jared Edgar McKnight, Assoc AIA

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The JAMB Collective business plan creates opportunity for small firms to “stay small, act big, and do good.”

The JAMB Collective model is a decentralized membership network of small firm architects and resource providers. Members will have access to collaboration opportunities (think several small firms join forces to land a big project) and support services (administrative, marketing, legal, accounting). A portion of membership dues will go towards social impact ventures in the form of underwriting pro-bono work, project grants, sponsorships, etc.

Jurors applauded this plan for its big-picture thinking and potential to change the game for small firm architects. They commented:  

"JAMB Collective's innovative concept for a subscription-based practice network is an idea that has the potential to change the profession for small firm architects throughout the US and beyond."  -Mark LePage

"JAMB’s proposal democratizes access to networks and resources that have, historically, limited the reach of individuals and smaller practices. And, although the concept is embryonic, a model that allows small teams new modalities to practice on a global scale is really interesting. This is precisely the kind of ambition and innovation we should be rewarding and cultivating in our profession.” - Eric Reinholdt

"The JAMB Collective is spurring an exciting dialogue on the future of small firm practice models in the a/e/c industry." - Amanda Welu

CVG asked members of JAMB Collective to summarize their business plan through a brief Q and A:

1. Describe the basics of JAMB's business plan in a few sentences.

JAMB Collective leverages decentralization and technology through a membership business model for small to medium sized architecture firms in an effort to provide access to resources typically brought in-house by larger firms. The revenue generated by the membership model will allow JAMB to provide access to those resources to the JAMB member firms. JAMB will also be responsible for offering grants to member firms for social impact projects (offsetting fees for pro bono work, sponsoring a local community project, etc.).

2. What is the Mission Statement?

At its core, JAMB exists to develop successful collaborative networks while providing a substantial revenue for undertaking social impact initiatives. We connect, support, and open new doors, giving small firms a chance to stay small, act big, and do good. 

3. How will the membership model work? As a curious potential member, what would I receive in return for my membership dues?

Each JAMB member firm will have access to, for a monthly fee, services such as: legal consultation, accounting advice, marketing professionals, and business development advisors, to name a few. The membership also allows firms to view a national database of other member firms’ qualifications and portfolios in an effort to provide the opportunity for collaboration on projects that would otherwise be difficult for a small firm to pursue and even land.

4. What is your team's history together? How did you come up with this vision?

JAMB was created as the brainchild of six diverse strangers, all working in the architectural space, who were brought together by the AIA’s Practice Innovation Lab in October 2017. The Practice Innovation Lab was a think tank/summit that challenged 10 teams of 6 to explore and cultivate innovative business models for the future practice of architecture. Although the six of us applied as individuals to the Lab from all across the country, once we began working as a team, the collaborative energy and unfiltered creativity led to the design of a business model that ultimately earned the “People’s Choice Award” at the culmination of the Practice Innovation Lab. This collective momentum continued well beyond the Lab, as the six of us returned to our various regions of the country and began the process of realizing JAMB’s vision.

Christian [of Philadelphia] is the team lead and brings a wealth of knowledge and guidance to the team.  He, along with Mike [of Tucson], are principal and owner, respectively, of smaller firms and were, therefore, able to draw on that experience to help inform the challenges and opportunities that smaller firms face. On the opposite end of the table, Desmond [of Atlanta] and Jared [of Philadelphia], both work for larger firms and are able to provide a contrasting perspective.  Abi [of Washington, D.C.] brings her advocacy expertise and energy as the Community Director of the Young Architects Forum, and Katie [of Detroit] has an impressive track record of creating start-ups within her business and design backgrounds. It is through these varied experiences and diverse backgrounds that JAMB’s vision was born.

5. What problem does this business plan solve?

According to the AIA’s 2016 Firm Survey Report, 5% of US architecture firms have more than 50 employees.  Those firms account for 51.3% of all architectural billings. This membership model gives small firms the opportunity to compete with large firms through strategic sharing of staff, supplying local market expertise, and access to dedicated administrative (marketing, legal, accounting) personnel.

We realize that there are advantages to remaining a small to medium size architectural firm (client contact, project involvement, personalized culture…) but there’s also tremendous expertise and service provided by those smaller firms from which larger projects may never benefit simply because the qualifications of those firms are often times limiting in the Request for Qualifications (RFQ) process.

6. What is your biggest challenge? How are you dealing with it?

Perhaps not getting ahead of ourselves. We are all very excited by the prospects of JAMB, and eager to continue the momentum we have started, but we also take this very seriously and want to be sure that we begin to implement JAMB in a way that is both organized and sustainable. The scalability, the offerings and the impact of JAMB are sublime. To that end, we want to get firms signed up for early adoption and start putting the ideas to work.

7. How can interested parties learn more?

Visit our website www.JAMBcollective.net and send us a note – we’d love to have your firm be part of the #JAMBsessions!


CVG would like to thank all contributors to this year’s Architecture Business Plan Competition, specifically our jurors; Mark LePage (EntreArchitect), Eric Reinholdt (30x40 Design Workshop), Mac Walcott (Walcott Adams Verneuille Architects), and Amanda Welu (DELV) and competition semi-finalists; Balanced Architecture, Rogue Architecture, The Kezlo Group, and Three Dot Design.

Join us in celebrating this year’s winner and meet other small firm architects at the CVG/EntreArchitect Waterfront Reception at the 2018 AIA Conference on Architecture in New York City on June 21st. Attendees do not need to be registered for the conference to attend our reception. We hope to see you there!

 

NYC Waterfront Reception for Small Firm Architects

 
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Charrette Venture Group + EntreArchitect Waterfront Reception New York 2018

Join us in New York City (USA) for the 3rd Annual EntreArchitect Meetup with Charrette Venture Group during the 2018 AIA Conference on Architecture.

After all your conference obligations are fulfilled, come enjoy waterfront cocktails on Pier 66 with friends and fellow small firm entrepreneur architects. Conference attendance is not required. If you are a proud member of The EntreArchitect Community or a friend of Charrette Venture Group (and you are if you are reading this!), you are welcome to join us.

Save the date and time. Cash bar and light hors d'oeuvres provided.

Don't miss out.  

CVG Announces 2018 Architecture Business Plan Competition Finalists

Charrette Venture Group and the 2018 Architecture Business Plan Jury have selected five finalists for the 2018 Architecture Business Plan Competition. "Our jury noted that most submitting firms were positioned for financial and operational success; however, the business plan finalists best articulated the 'what, why, and how' of their path to growth" notes CVG C.E.O. Todd Reding. "Successful plans exhibited innovative missions and execution strategies, clarity of purpose, and specific goals to be achieved."

The jury includes Mark LePage (EntreArchitect), Eric Reinholdt (30x40 Design Workshop), Mac Walcott (Walcott Adams Verneuille Architects), and Amanda Welu (DELV). Juror profiles can be viewed here

Finalists will present their business plans to the jury on May 18. The winner will be announced the week of May 21st and will receive cash and prizes valued at approximately $5,000 including travel and lodging for at least one member of the winning entry, or team, to be in New York City during the 2018 AIA National Convention.

2018 Architecture Business Plan Competition Finalists:

Kate Hamblet
Balanced Architecture
Henniker, New Hampshire
https://balancedarchitecture.com/

Jeremiah Russell
Rogue Architecture
Little Rock, Arkansas
http://www.roguearch.com/

Jason Winters
The Kezlo Group
Crownsville, Maryland
http://www.kezlo.com/

Rachel Worley
Three Dot Design
Louisville, Kentucky
http://www.three-dot-design.com/

Christian Jordan
JAMB Collective
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Twitter: @JAMBCollective

 

CVG would like to acknowledge that the best planning efforts are the result of a full team's input. We've credited the individuals who submitted their firm's entry above, but encourage you to visit their websites to learn more about all team members.