Last week, we bid a bittersweet farewell to some of our longest BizDojo resident teams, Luc Design and PixelPush.
All resident departures are hard - but they’re particularly so when you feel the twinned emotions of heartbreak at their absence and fierce pride in their newfound independence. The heads of these two design-based teams (LucDesign is a graphic design company, PixelPush an animation one) met in the BizDojo Auckland near on five years ago and have a long history of collaboration on projects. Since then, both Dylan and Han have grown from one-man-band freelancers to directors, growing their teams and bringing some amazing people into the BizDojo community in the process. They have recently made the tough decision to break out on their own, taking a lease on a studio in K’Road’s iconic St. Kevin’s Arcade.
Sarin from our BizDojo Auckland team sat down with both teams on their final day in the BizDojo to talk about how each of them first came to know the Dojo, what it’s given them over the years, why they’re making the move to their own studio, and what learnings they hope to take with them into their new space. What follows is their powerful testimony on the transformative powers - both personal and professional - of community.
Sarin: How did you come to the Dojo to begin with?
Dylan Du Plessis (Director and Founder, Luc Design): I was in Toi Paneke, a Council-funded arts building in Wellington. [Katherine, former BizDojo Wellington Community Manager] introduced me to Nick [Shewring, BizDojo co-founder]. I popped in, got the tour - because I'd just moved up to Auckland and I didn't know anyone, didn't know how anything fits together, didn't know how you find clients, who you work with. So I just started to, you know, get more and more work through Dojo.
Han Law (Director and Founder, PixelPush): I quit a job that was stuck in this office, and then decided to freelance. Freelanced [from home] for a while, had steady work but just got too boring, having to talk to the fridge. I was drawing my friends and putting them up in the wall. Then the Dojo just popped up in my Google search. Generator was one of them, Dojo was one of them - not the first, but the first one that I approached and booked a meeting with Laura at the time. Laura and Elise. Both of them were really onto it, really got back to me quite quickly. Nick as well was really involved at that time, he personally got in touch quite quickly as well. Generator took a while to get back to me so I thought I'd just go and check out the Dojo. I didn't even bother checking out anywhere else. I came in and was like, "Yep, sign me in. Done."
I think what mattered to me was an accelerated integration, similar to what Dylan said - he'd just moved up to Auckland; for me, settling in to a completely new country, it gave me an integration. A social, semi-professional integration. It gave me a lot of confidence as well, and eventually made us grow up to hire people, get team members on board, that requires a lot of confidence I think. Little things, for example when you make decisions, we'd just go and ask [each other]. You get encouragement, tips and whatnot from people. Gives you a lot of perspective rather than sitting at home going "should I, should I not..."
How did you guys meet each other? And how did you first come to work together?
Dylan: Proximity, initially. There are different groups that happen in the Dojo and I suppose when you do creative things you tend to gravitate together. Since the beginning, I've been sold on the collaboration thing. Because so many of the ideas and the ideal things I wanted to achieve... my old way of thinking was "I'd better learn to be a developer" or "I'd better learn to get my animation skills back up". I kept thinking that I had to add them to be able to do these things I want to do. Then Dojo showed me you can bring in the people who are really good at these things already, and that by forming these relationships you can all achieve the same thing you set out to do. It's just not practical to learn everything.
What were some of the early projects you worked on together?
Dylan: There were just always projects we'd need an illustration for, and the illustration might as well be 3D. And I've always wanted the things we (Luc Design) do to move. It's that simple: you want to bring something to life. So much of my world was static before then.
Han: One of the first projects that [me and Dylan] talked about was a jetpack. We were talking a lot about that jetpack... I'm like "Is this guy for real? A jetpack?" Then I had a look at the 3D files, and that's why we started: because I could do 3D.
Dylan: That jetpack's been made.
Han: Should have had a stake in it!
Dylan: The old way of thinking was, "This is my skillset, now I'm waiting," almost in a passive way for people to come and take my skillset on. From the Dojo, it's suddenly this thing where you've got all the people, and you've got a potential client who can't realize how all these parts can fit together, so the better you can find a way to communicate that to them, they go "Ah, this sounds like a motley crew", but you can assure them it's okay; you understand how the parts fit together. That's how Dojo helps. Otherwise I would have kept being just my part.
For the team members you brought on... what was the experience like coming in for the first time?
Josh Ruha (Animator, PixelPush): Tammy had touched base with me three or four years prior to meeting Han. She was saying her partner was about to start an animation company. I was working at Mediaworks, at TV3, and it was a very horrible place to work... very corporate, it wasn't the right place. And I longed for that creative freedom to really explore the artist within. I found it very restricted at TV3, being broadcast media.
So I went contracting, got my name out there, bumped into Han and Dylan. I was contracting to them, and I remember coming into the Dojo, thought it was awesome, a really lively place. I saw these young entrepreneurs like Louis [Gordon-Latty, founder of Glory League] and Te [Warren, now Creative Lead at Pixel Fusion]... they were so young! I was like "Shit, man, I can do this too!" It inspired me and motivated me, just walking in was a really nice energy, coming from a very depressing corporate feel to this new place, the Dojo. It was so welcoming, very loving, very open, very supportive. I remember seeing you for the first time, you gave me a smile. I remember Tim was the first guy that told me off, I ground too much coffee and he was like "Are you making coffee for everyone?" I was really shy.
You were so shy when you first came in.
Josh: Crazy shy. I am quite shy at first, and it takes a while to warm up. But at the Dojo it didn't take me too long. I fell out of my shell. The support that's here at the Dojo, the whole energy, the atmosphere... there's plants everywhere, there's people chatting, you can go make coffee, you can chat in the kitchen, you have Friday drinks... awesome energy.
So when I was contracting to Han and Dylan, I was drawn to it, thinking "I want to be here." We worked out the logistics of me getting out of that horrible, horrible dungeon at TV3, and I am so glad that I made that choice. At first I did have my reserves... these guys were just starting up. But I could see their vision, I could see what they wanted to achieve, and I wanted to be a part of that and I wanted to help them build it and grow. And I wanted to grow together as a team, and feel part of a team, you know feel valued for your efforts and for who you are as a person. That's what I felt from these two. It was really nice to have that recognition.
We made it happen, I was so happy. I met so many cool people.
Amane Cardenas (Designer, Luc Design): Before coming to Dylan, I was in Dojo before that for a little brief period. I was working in this community space called Alphabet City in 2012 and Nick approached us to do something for First Thursdays in Co.Space [BizDojo’s original makerspace]. We did a workshop there and I kinda met a little bit of the community. I was in a kimono party, a really nice guy bought me a drink - and at the time I was by myself, so it was really nice to start hanging out and getting to know people in the creative industry.
How long had you been in the country at that point?
For a year in 2011, as a working holiday visa-er. I went back to Mexico and was like "Fuck this," and came back by myself, and that's when I started working in Alphabet City and looking for a job that would sponsor me. So I was kind of putting myself out there. That was my first [interaction] with Dojo and its community. It was pretty cool.
[Eventually] I found Dylan's ad in The Big Idea. We just chatted... and we just chatted... and we just chatted... and then [finally] some contract work. It started like that and Dylan really needed a hand, so I became full time at some point.
In my other jobs, there was only our team, and that was it. Sometimes it wasn't the greatest because we were stuck with the same people in the same place forever. For me [the Dojo] was a completely different thing. It kinda put me on the spot because I really don't like people seeing what I'm doing, or stuff that's on my screen, I get very conscious about it. My first job that I had here was a nightmare because of that. Dojo made me get rid of all those stupid insecurities because there's no control over that! I was the one that always wanted a corner desk and I fully won't be that person again.
That's the thing: you're completely exposed to all sorts of people and you don't even have to be social and put yourself out there, but there's no room for being shy. You just grow. That's been the greatest thing that I've gotten from here. To expand my world from being a foreigner, to being a person that lives here.
Dylan: You get the confidence to bring people on, and that's why I personally wanted to stay at the Dojo as long as we had. I didn't want to go into a studio and just be me and one or two other people because... you want to have people be able to escape to other industries and things that are not their problems. I think that's been an amazing thing, being able to have other things happening, other momentum happening [around us].
You were getting so many hugs last night Amane. The fact that the card is full of "We're gonna miss you, Amane", you've met some good people here, aye.
Amane: Really good people.
To add to the collaboration thing... before, I wanted to be an animator but found out I didn't have the patience for it. It's been really good to have that in my life back again, I feel a little bit of fulfilment just having it around me, even if I'm not doing it.
Han: We showed you how disillusioning being an animator is. [laughter]
Siew Wee Hng (Animator, PixelPush): The first time I came to Dojo was after a trip from Tauranga from a seasonal job, because I was holding a working holiday visa. After a week in Tauranga, I decided to come back to the city and look for another job. That's how I got to meet Han. Han was my partner's friend. The first time I visited Dojo, I thought it was quite cool, because it was quite cozy, it wasn't too big. At the same time, it was weird as well because I've never worked in a space which is not only designers - where everyone is doing a design-related job. Previously I worked in a company which was full of animators. All my peers were designers. It's kind of strange, but interesting at the same time.
I started freelancing with PixelPush and did a few jobs for Han and then I was still not sure if I would stay in the country, it was still kind of temporary. When I came to the Dojo I was like "Oh, I'm not going to see these guys later, I might go back to Malaysia" - that's the only thing I kind of regret, is I didn't invest lots and lots of feeling because I thought I might leave the country anytime soon. So when Han offered me a job, a full time role, I was like "Oh shit, I'm staying!". I'd already bought my ticket and was so ready to go [back to Malaysia]. But I thought I should give it a try, and that's how I started officially with PixelPush.
We got very busy - you probably saw me holding stuff, running in and out, we were doing some very crafty projects. I think we got closer when we started doing the Flexpaper project. After we worked together we got really close.
It's really nice to see people around. Even though I'm not talking to everyone, it just feels good, them just being there. You feel like... like people are supporting each other. That kind of support is really nice.
Hyuree (Designer, Luc Design): I came to New Zealand two years ago… BizDojo a few weeks ago.
I was so nervous. I'm still nervous. [laughter] I'm a designer, I've seen this Dojo system for the first time in my life, I think it's a cool system. I like supporting people, and I want to know the people more, but the language is a problem for me. I think about it step by step. I'm starting to learn about everything outside of my country, starting here.
What are the things that have been really important to you in this space that you're hoping to take with you in your new space?
Han: I'd like to continue the celebration of individuality. Of course when you're setting up a space, you need a culture - but what I like, and the point of being in the Dojo, especially the [Ironbank] Dojo is that a lot of companies are smaller, one- or person teams. The reason why we really bonded was 'cause everyone had ownership in some sense. Maybe not technically, but they felt they had ownership, they felt they were representing something that had part of them in it. I think that really created that meaningful bond that we had, and that's something that I'd like to carry on. Now that we're setting up our space, I don't quite know how but if there was a way that we could carry on with that, every team member felt like they had that sort of ownership... we don't all have to pull up a banner or anything, but perhaps there's a way that we can all still be celebrating something together but still be independent and individual enough.
Dylan: The looking outward. That's the dynamic we saw at [Ironbank] with one or two or three people, everyone's looking out, and they're more likely to socialise with others, they're more likely to try and collaborate. The bigger the team gets the more they start to satisfy all their social and collaborative needs within that team. Trying to keep bringing people into this space, to bring in new ideas. We're trying to work out being able to have 7Digital there, keep that feeling of not just us being isolated.
I think it makes us accountable as well. A few people locked away in an office... everyone feels isolated. I don't know if there's a fear, but you're accountable for the way you deal with things and the way you handle people and the way you deal with interactions. Because you're in the middle of the space the screens are open to everyone, you're facing so many other faces, you have to deal with stress in a way different way and you have to be less precious about your ideas and less precious how you sound on the phone or the way you talk... it just makes you think about it a bit more, which is good.
Amane: Manners. How you behave yourself. And how you be thoughtful about the people that are surrounding you. It's not like "This is my house, I do whatever I want." I think that's really important. Everyone here is sharing the same things.
It would be great if we could keep the relationships and the connections happening, for me that's one of the most important things. It's this community spirit, really, that runs and drives this whole place.
Siew Wee: Being here, we have everything ready for us. Even people do the cleaning, and everything else...
Amane: They take care of you.
Siew Wee: Yeah they take care of you. We are well taken care of. I'm just afraid that when we go to our new place, we don't have these people. You have a group in the Dojo, the Dojo Community Team, and we don't have any. We're always busy with our work, I don't know if we have time to juggle all these things!
Han: The reason why we got a space isn't because we wanted to detach. There were other reasons, for example economically, when we've taken people on and whatnot. What was a conscious decision was that being in the Dojo is great - great for individual development - but in terms of moving forward in our craft, we find that sometimes you need focus, especially in the things that we do. It's not just going to a corner to do focused work, we need to be focused and surrounded by other designers. A lot of our work is very craft- and time-consuming, and if we had our own space, we'd get to focus a lot more if we had to pull long hours, there's no distractions. There's a lot more of that honing the craft for this step. But it doesn't mean it's in isolation, it enables us to do that.
But I totally agree with what we've been saying, we've realised going into this space, we cannot afford to lose the community, that connection.
Josh: I think it's going to encourage us to work more closely as a team, be more reliant on one another for support. We're going into this new space and it's just gonna be us, and it's all about choices. You can choose to isolate, but we don't want to after being here, you realise the power of community and culture and connection, and it's exciting to see what people are doing - you get inspired and excited by them. And sometimes you clap with them.
We have the ability to empower each other to still be ourselves, but also to work together as a team toward the greater goal, to create the space that we all believe the space will become. I really want to adopt that open door policy that you guys have... you're very welcoming and very supportive and that's what I really love about the Dojo.
Even though change is scary sometimes, it's exciting. It's gonna be a great, and awesome journey. It's definitely gonna grow and stretch us, but it's gonna stretch us for the better. It'll bring out the best in everyone. That's what I think.
Sarin is the Operations Manager for the BizDojo. She would like it noted that Dylan and Han hold the title for Most Drinking Vessels Accrued On One Desk and cried more than once but less than thrice while conducting the interview above. For her current Canadian exploits, follow her on Twitter.