For our July 2019 member feature, we interviewed Blake Rhinehart, Ticco member and Founder of blocs design group. Blake is a Landscape Architect who is passionate about connecting people with different skillsets. He lives and works in the Bay Area of Northern California.
You recently started a new studio, blocs design group! Tell us a little bit about it, and why you decided to go out on your own.
blocs design group is a newly founded digital studio of thinkers, designers and landscape architects who work together to create impactful projects to change communities. While building out roots locally for now, our goal is to become a fully remote studio that brings together the talents, knowledge and expertise of builders, dreamers, designers and doers across multiple disciplines and across the country to deliver a full service design studio centered on a shared passion and desire to influence the built world. Currently, blocs is collaborating with designers working on projects across the state of California and we’re looking forward to expanding our impact outside our locality and current projects in the coming months. We’re focused on finding design solutions to problems in our cities and would love to join forces on all types of projects.
Since college I've dreamed of starting my own firm and my post-college experience has given me the tools, drive, and know-how to do so. I decided to open blocs because I wanted to work on projects that would allow me to impact the world in a new way and design solutions for more localized communities. My experience to-date has been in commercial housing—mostly big, mastered-planned, greenfield single family and townhome developments. While these were a great way to learn the industry, it wasn’t how I wanted to use my skills or what I wanted to spend my life doing. blocs gives me the opportunity to work on projects that I feel can truly make a difference.
What have you learned about yourself over the course of starting blocs design group?
The process of creating something completely new from scratch is intrinsically motivating for me. Whether it is this business or starting a new project, taking an idea to reality is something I enjoy.
How do you make an effort to collaborate with your peers in other professions through your work?
Through our remote model, we’re able to tap into a trusted group of team members and partners to deliver on various needs along the entire design process—from architects, to builders, to experiential marketers, to graphic designers, and planners. Depending on the project, we craft a unique team made up of the right associates with the necessary skills.
In what ways do you hope to challenge the expectations others place on you as a landscape architect?
Our hope is that blocs design group can help push the industry forward by rethinking and challenging the old-school model of landscape architecture firms (and other designers). Our fully-remote model allows us to harness the best talent from across the country while providing a flexible and collaborative studio through the use of technology. Tech and many other industries have adopted this fluid work model - it provides flexibility and the structure to scale quickly and attract top talent. This is an area where we feel the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) industry has fallen behind, since the old school of thought is that creativity can only come from designers being in one room together. We'd like to change this perception.
What tips and tactics have worked for you when it comes to managing your time as a self-employed professional?
Spend the upfront time to build out your systems.
Starting a business or being self-employed is very time consuming and can be stressful, so it is crucial to spend the time upfront to create systems that will ultimately allow you to work faster and more efficiently. Having a system for things like invoicing, filing, and task tracking will make your day-to-day run way smoother.
Be flexible as your business grows.
If you are like me, you thought you knew what your business was going to look like. In reality, that ideal business doesn’t always fall into place. Expect to take on some non-dream projects to get started, stay flexible, keep taking small steps, and adapt as work comes in.
Drink coffee, lots of it.
As you would imagine, working a full time job and starting a business takes a lot of hours and a late nights. Make sure you are prepared to put in the time (especially at the start) to get up and running. There is an ever-growing list of things to do, and trust me when I say you’ll need all the coffee you can drink to get it all done!
What parts of running a business did you not expect to encounter? How have you navigated them?
While I knew it would be tricky, I didn’t expect the amount of complexity and nuance that comes with the business and tax code. There are so many small differences between the types of business entities, and they affect both your business liability and personal taxes. Make sure to research as you can online in order to understand the different structures, and then find a professional you trust to walk you through the process and explain your options. It’s a difficult task, but will pay off in the long run.
Do you have a professional mentor or a friend you turn to when you need guidance? How did you build that relationship?
While working at Urban Arena, I developed a close working relationship and friendship with Bryce Sigourney of Sigourney Architecture. He recently started his own architecture practice and has been a great resource to bounce ideas off of, share knowledge on firm structure and collaborate on projects. When starting a practice (especially solo) it's crucial to leverage your relationships. There is no way you can know everything, so find those who can share best practices with you!
What’s a favorite motto or words to live by that you frequently find yourself coming back to?
Why, How, What.
In Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk (If you haven't seen it, check it out!) he outlines how great leaders inspire those around them in a professional setting. He believes that the “why” should be at the forefront of a company’s ethos - it's the motivating factor for everything we do, so less focus should go to “what” we actually create. When working on blocs design group, this phrase helps us bring our mission to the table on each project.
Where can our members find you on social?
Interested in being featured or sharing your work with the Ticco community? Get in touch with our team at firstname.lastname@example.org!