I spent most of 2012 and 2013 taking big risks with my career. Let’s list them!

  • Founded a design company with actual employees and overhead.
  • Left said design company after 2.5 years with no backup plan other than ‘art’.
  • Spent an entire month drawing ONE poster, and another month promoting it.
  • Got rid of 100% of paying clients. Again to ensure more time for ‘art’.
  • Got a two year lease on the Fringe Focus workshop.
  • Bought tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment for use in future projects.
  • Spent nearly four months on a secret woodworking project.
  • Spent an average of two weeks on each poster I drew in 2013.

Every risk there worked out very well except for one: My biggest risk in terms of time wasted – “Spent nearly four months on a secret woodworking project.

Working independently, I measure risk based on how much time I spend on a risky project (all projects are risks in that sense). There are only 24 hours in a day, so every hour used on a failed project is an hour you do not get back. Ideas that don’t pan out, materials that are wasted, hours spent producing items that won’t sell, all of those take away from your successful projects.

Time invested in starting my workshop was a success. Time invested in my ACME Corporation poster was a success. Time invested in my screen prints were a success. But that forward momentum can be halted by spending too much time on a bad project. I spent four months on a project that didn’t work. I never launched it at all.

The 4 Month Boondoggle

From June 2013 through August 2013 I spent a lot of my time on a secret woodworking (game set) project called Marauders.

The project involved a lot of illustration, materials research, and production. I bought a 20,000lb shop press, I bought a CNC router, I drew some fun things. I invested in some custom leather belts and piles of hickory. Towards my intended launch in September 2013, I realized my method of production was not working. I had inevitable wood warping problems, finishing problems due to how the game set would be handled, and it simply took too much time to produce each set. I had a GREAT idea, but the final product would have been too expensive for me to produce. So I shelved it for now. Marauders WILL launch someday, it’s pretty damn cool looking.

Lesson learned: Cut your losses

It’s good to start projects where you don’t know if it will succeed. If we didn’t take risks, we wouldn’t find success. But after months of trying to make one big idea work, I let it go. I could have spent more time and launched it, but the potential upside was lower than the time invested. Short of a gigantic insane success, there’s no way Marauders would have made enough money to justify 6 or 9 months of work. My screen prints are time well spent. My photo prints are usually time well spent. Making housewares on my laser is time well spent. Kill the big project if it isn’t working.  Eventually I used some of the artwork from this project on Marauders coasters because that’s some small positive from a big loss.

Lesson learned: Small failures are good

A project you wasted 4 months on not making a profit? BAD. A project you wasted 1 week on not making a profit? Annoying but not bad. A project you wasted 1 day on and not making a profit? Who cares! You gave it a shot, and only one day is lost.

Lesson learned: Take small risks

If you can develop an entire idea in one day, do it. You may not know if your drawing / blog post / website edit will be successful at all, but the potential upside is almost always greater than one wasted day. Spend one day updating your contact page, or one day taking photographs, or one day writing a new post. There are people developing mobile apps in one day, people overhauling their company’s homepage in one day, and people making great artwork all in one day. The positive potential is huge, and the downside minimal. Put something new in your store tomorrow, reach out to a bunch of potential clients with goddamn infographic you drew, I dunno! But things made quickly still have value.

My small plans for 2014

I did a lot of BIG posters last year that take a lot of time, this year I’m going to introduce some 8×8″ mini prints that I can get to you sooner.

Fringe Focus Make Days in which I gather your ideas in the morning, design it during the day, and get materials / build the product / launch it in the evening.

My 365 ‘make something’ whatever project for this blog.

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