Dan Tase on the Challenges of Running a Design Studio (ex Just Eat, Burberry, Fresha)

Dan Tase: The very important part,
if you're a designer trying to open

a studio, is that your job is going
to change from being a designer um,

and doesn't mean it changes entirely.

Even for us, we're small enough for
me to still be hands on when I want

to be hands on and still be hands off
when I don't want to be hands off.

But a huge part of our journey in
the studio was me trying to find

clients, me trying to make sure the
current clients we have are happy

and they're coming back to us.


So it's going away from spending
time in Figma to spending more

time writing proposals or doing
sales for potential clients.

Christian: The discipline of design
is now key to building great products.

More and more companies are making
space for it at the higher levels.

More people than ever
want to become designers.

And most of us who already do the
job want to find ways to have just a

little bit more impact in our teams.

Welcome to Design Meets Business.

I'm Christian Vasile and on this
podcast I bring you world class

product and design leaders who found
ways to shape products, companies,

and entire industries and who are now
sharing what they know with you and me.

My hope is that we all get to learn
from the experiences, ideas, and

stories shared on this podcast and, in
the process, become better designers.

My guest today is Dan Tase, formerly
with Burberry, Just Eat, and Farfetch.

When we recorded this episode, Dan was
the founder of Rubber Studio, but he has

since decided to wind down operations.


This is the first episode in three
seasons of the show where we discuss

what it takes to open a studio, how
to get clients, and the challenges of

becoming a studio owner after years
of being an individual contributor.

It's a great episode if you want to
understand what studio life is all

about, and maybe if you're wondering
whether it's something for you or not.

Dan, welcome to Design Meets Business.

I'm so happy to have I'm a
fellow Romanian on the podcast.

I'm making a habit out of this.

I had Ioana Teleanu last season,
I'm having you this season.

So that's really awesome.

We've been following each other
for a little while on Twitter

or X, sorry, as it's called now.

And you've got such a nice journey
from starting out in Romania, moving

to England, working for some household
brands that most people would have heard

of and doing really good work there.

So I'd like to get with you
today to unpack a little bit.

I'm going to talk to you a little
bit about where you're coming

from and the story that I've
been about and how you got here.

Dan Tase: Uh,


Thank you so much for having me.

It's it's great to talk to you and
finally put a face to the person I've been

interacting with online for quite a while
now to tell you a bit about my journey.

I think it's.

It may be atypical.

I started doing design
around 15 years ago.

It was more of an accident . I
was a failed artist.

I was doing art as a kid and in
high school I was doing graffiti.

And I wasn't a very good
graffiti writer, to be honest.

At some point, because I realized I
was struggling to be a good graffiti

writer, I downloaded Photoshop.

I downloaded a Photoshop tutorial and I
started learning how to design, I guess.

Um, it wasn't, I had no idea
it's called design at that point.

I think it was more like, I'm
just drawing in this digital tool.

I started posting my work online
and I guess the great thing that

happens when you're doing graffiti
is you have a community of artists

around you, other graffiti writers,
musicians, dancers, and so on.

And at one point one of my friends asked
me to do a poster for his next gig.

I did that.

I really enjoyed that.

So I started doing more of it.

So I think that's a very short story on
how I got into design and the rest of it

is I guess it just happened naturally.

I realized I have to make money.

I finished high school.

It made no sense for me to not make a
job out of this thing that I'm doing.

So I got my first job doing graphic design
for a very small studio in my hometown.

I then got a bigger job at
a bigger company where I

started learning web design.

The iPhone was launched around
the same time, so I started

learning app design as well.

And time flew by.

I moved to London.

I started working at companies such as
Just Eat, Farfetch, Burberry, and so on.

And I've been doing some sort of hands
on product design and design leadership

Christian: I find so many stories
of the people I brought on

the podcast to be so similar.

I don't think I've had any one
person saying, Oh, I've always

known I wanted to become a designer.

I just.

That's what I always wanted to be.

It's most of the time it's happenstance.

It just so happens that you are
probably in the right place at

the right time, or you discovered
Photoshop at the key part of your early

teenage years or whatever it may be.

So I find it interesting
that it's always the same.

Very different today.

Sometimes if someone wants to
start and you ask them, why do

you want to become a designer?

They, it's like I've always
wanted to be one because the

industry is a bit more mature now.

So I guess we're getting there
where people are perhaps growing

up wanting to become designers,
but very few of us have done that.

It's just, it just happened, didn't it?

Dan Tase: Yeah I agree.

When I was starting to learn what
design is, there was no design

university, at least not in Romania.

At that point, that, that wasn't the
thing, maybe in the UK, that was a

thing, but I think most of the designers
that I know nowadays uh, self taught.

Even if they studied design, I still
feel like you learn more on the job

than you learn at a design university.

And I don't think designers or was
the kind of job you would dream of.

You would dream to be a
musician or, I don't know,

painter or all sorts of things.

And I think design was Personally,
for me, it was a good compromise

between, my artistic side and my less
artistic side or less creative side.

I think it was a good way to make a
living and I realized I'm much better

at that than I would ever have been.

Christian: Talking about school, you just
said there was no university back then.

If you were to start today would you go
to university or how would you start?

Dan Tase: Oh I don't want to discourage
people from going to university.

My personal experience once
again, back home in Romania with

university wasn't too great.

I don't feel like I've learned a lot.

I did learn more on the job.

Generally not just like from a design
perspective but I did meet people

that went to university and I did
meet some absolutely incredible

designers just coming out of uni at
companies like Farfetch and Burberry.

I think it really depends on what you
want . If you feel like university

is going to help you, go for it.

If you feel like you want to
study design, go for that.

Um, I also know a lot of people
that are incredible designer, that

never studied design they studied
business or they studied marketing.

or studied other things . So So I think
in the end, it's just figure out what

makes more sense for you and go for that.

I think you learn a lot of
things in school about structure.

and about rules.

Generally you have to know the
rules in order to break them, right?

That's one of the key aspects of design.

And I feel like I struggled a
lot with that early on my career.

I did not know the rules.

I was just doing what felt or seemed nice.

And there wasn't as much documentation
online for you to learn the

rules without going to school.

So I think that's something
that would be very helpful

Christian: I think at the end of the
day, it's also about the environment

you learn best in, because the purpose
of going to university is not to go

to university is to learn so that
you can practice the craft later.

And there are so many opportunities
for learning today, whether that's

University in quite a few countries,
but it's also just a lot of this content

that is getting produced online and also
courses and bootcamps and Even, I don't

know if listeners are familiar with
Chris Do from the future, who is just

an absolute legend of design teaching,
if you will, design and design teaching.

And I've learned so much from
that person all for free.

So I think, there's a
good side and a bad side.

The good side is that there's
so much content out there just

for free and free available.

The perhaps not so good side is
that it's also a bit overwhelming.

If you want to start today, where do
you start with all of this content

and how do you differentiate between
what's good content online and what's

not good content online, because you
have no idea, you have no baseline.

If I would want to start today, I actually
don't know where I would start from.


Dan Tase: agree.

I totally agree with that.

And I think I was having a conversation
with one of the designers in our team this

week about how Many things are happening
on a daily basis in the design world.

And it's almost impossible to
be up to speed with everything.

Even like the feature
that Figma is launching.

I use Figma on a daily basis.

And occasionally I find this new
thing that I was never aware of.

And when I talk to someone
else, they're like, yeah, that's

been live for six months now.

And I'm like, I have had
no idea that was the case.

There's a lot of information
on the internet today.

And it's very hard to process that and to
understand what's relevant and what's not.

So I totally get where that's coming from.

Christian: One of the reasons I brought
you on is because after having all of

this experience working for these big
brands, you have decided to just go solo

and well, not so much solo, but rather
start with a small design studio in

the middle of a recession, which I find
that to be a very interesting choice.

So I would really like to dig.

into that a bit more, what made you want
to move away from working with some of

these brands, which look really great on
a resume to just doing your own thing.

How was that journey?

How is your day to day?

Let's just unpack that a little bit.

Dan Tase: Okay.


I think I'm going to start
with why we started the studio.

It was always a dream of mine to
have a small team of people that I'm

working with and At some point after
freelancing for a bit, I realized I was

getting more work that I could take on.

And I had to say no to people
and had to say no to some very

interesting and exciting projects.

And a lot of the times as a
freelancer, I felt lonely.

Although I was part of these
companies and working in a very

embedded manner, I still felt like
I'm on my own doing the work, right?

I had other designers within
the companies I was working with.

I had PMs and managers
and engineers and so on.

I still felt like I wanted something
that's a bit bigger than myself,

and it did not have to be massive,
but just having one or two other

people that I'm working with.

So at some point when I ended
one of the contracts I was

on, I decided to not say no.

exciting projects in the future
and just find other people to

support me on those projects.

And luckily as soon as I finished the
contract, I had the one project that

another one came up and I started building
this network of people and this network

of very talented designers, sometimes
engineers or strategists as well.

And it more or less turned into a studio.

I'm very reluctant to calling it a studio
simply because I don't feel like it

follows the traditional studio structure.

We have many different
projects and many employees.

For us, it was a slightly different.

We decided to just build this network of
talented designers and bring them together

for various projects when we needed them.

So the core team is still me and it's
always been me, but we've had very long

term collaborations with other people.

We have a designer that's been
with us for almost two years

now since we opened the studio.

Another designer for around a year.

And we just bring in people
to work with us on all of the

exciting projects we have going on.

But to be honest, one of the other
reasons we started this studio is

because I was a bit frustrated with
what happened in the studio world.

At that point I've worked with
other studios in the past.

I've hired studios to work with us when
I was in house and I also contracted

or consulted for other studios.

And don't get me wrong, there are
some very good studios out there,

but a lot of the times it's still
that old studio mentality of give us

a brief, we're going to go away for
six months and get back to you with

what we believe is the right solution.

Which I don't think is the
way you build great products.

So I wanted to build a studio that's
very embedded, a studio that works very

closely with clients, and a studio that
helps those clients shake things up.

So companies usually come to us when
they struggle with a problem in house,

they fail to find a solution for it, and
they need someone to push some buttons.

and help them find more
innovative or creative solutions

for that particular problem.

. But that's how it started.

I think it was more or
less than an accident.

It's still more or less an accident
that we don't have a proper plan going.

We've been around six people.

Now we're around three people.

So it really depends on the workload
and what happens in the industry.

Christian: Yeah, I think it's interesting
what you're talking about there and

I've heard that approach several times.

I'm going to mention him again, but I
actually think even Chris Do talks about

that approach where he says, the best way
to start a studio is to start on your own.

And then as you get more work offered
to you, hire other people to do it

or to help you with it, rather than
starting with this grandiose plan,

hiring people and not having any work
give them, just start more organically.

And it sounds like.

you've done some of the same.

I want to press a button there.

You've talked a bit about the difference
between how most studios work and I've

been part of a couple of those myself.

So I know exactly what you're talking
about and how you want to work.

And you said this thing, I
think it's on the website.

Great work only happens
through close partnerships.

We're in it from kickoff
to launch and beyond.

And for me, the and beyond
is really the key for this.

So let's talk a little bit about what
do you mean by and beyond and why

do you think it's such an important
part of building great products?

Dan Tase: that idea came from exactly
what I was mentioning earlier, which

is a traditional studio gets a brief,
they go away and they get back here with

what they think is the right solution.

That never works.

And it definitely did, in my opinion.

So what we do is whenever we work
with a client, we act as a plugin for

their Intel tech and product team.

So let's say client A comes to
us and they decide to work with

us on a particular project.

We're going to join the team
on a daily basis, the same way

a full time employee would.

And we tackle all the design related
aspects that would help them get that new

feature or new product off the ground.

Now, the reason I'm saying from I
guess from day one to launch and beyond

is because as a digital designer,
you have to follow up on your work.

So a lot of the times when something
gets shipped, that's not the end.

It's just the start.

You ship it.

It's out in the world.

People can use it.

You measure the impact and
then you start making the

improvements improvements to that.

So a lot of our work is actually that
it's not just shipping something,

but it's working with that company.

Post shipping and trying to
figure out what happened with it.

It could be a very quick A B test.

It could be a bigger feature, but a very
important part is following up on that

and trying to make it better off the
measuring the impact, going back to the

drawing board if it's failed and trying
to find new ways of making it work.

And I think that's a very important
reason on why companies come

back to us with new initiatives

A lot of the times we work
on something and get shipped.

We provide a bit of support on that.


Three to six months later, the company
comes back to us to do some follow

ups or iterations or to work on
something else, simply because they

really like that close partnership.

It never felt like an agency
company collaboration.

It felt like we were one team.

Christian: One of my pet peeves with
design students has always been the

fact that their incentive don't always
come from doing quality work, but from

doing the work fast so that they can
be able to move on to the next client.

It's part of why I'm not a big fan of
working in agencies because I, it's hard

sometimes to, Put your name on it when
you know that the work is just, as you

said, the work that you've delivered
as an agency is just the beginning.

It's not really where the
product is going to go.

And I think that a lot of the
exciting work in product is after

you launched the first thing.

It's such a shame not to
be able to be part of that.

After you've done the hard work of
delivering an MVP or whatever you've

been asked to deliver, I personally
just want to get my hands dirty

with whatever's coming up next,
optimization and building the roadmap

and exploring the future from there.

So But of course I'm not, I don't
want to sit here and trash agencies.

There's also a reason that they exist
and they also do good work, but.

I think it's a, clever approach
to say, we're going to stay

embedded for as long as it takes
to make this product a success.

How do you work with these companies
that have historically been used to

a different model, which is, Hey,
here's a brief, do the work goodbye.

Is that something that you discuss
early on or are they attracted to

your model because they already
believe that's the right thing?

What are your thoughts there?

Dan Tase: That's a very good question.

I think part of why these companies
are working with us, and we've had some

like big name clients to be honest,
we've also had some very successful

small startups working with us.

And it's because of that, a huge reason
is that they're looking for help, but

working with a traditional agency is
so difficult and so tricky and so risky

that they don't want to take those risks.

And we make that very clear.

Whenever we talk to a client or
to a Potential client, we have

a deck that we're going through.

And as part of that deck, we share
quite a bit about our work and about

our process, and they know all those
things from the get go they know

that we're going to be there from day
one, we're going to join the internal

processes, not just stand-ups, but
also retros and design reviews.

And we're going to be part of their team.

And we're going to contribute
to the entire company and the

entire organization, not just this
particular team we're part of.

So a lot of the times the work
we've been doing has impacted many

other teams within the business.

And we have to work very
closely with those teams.

So to be honest, it's like, uh, Once
again, like a plugin for their in house

team, whenever they feel like they need
some additional support for just a few

months or they're in the process of hiring
someone and that process takes longer than

they expected, they come to us and we help
them figure out what they need to do next.

But that's a big part of our proposition.

And of course, there are other things.

And one, one other thing that I think
we're doing very well is staying

extremely small, as small as possible.


issue I have with most agencies
is because of the model they have.

The idea is to put as many people
on a project as possible to

be able to charge more, right?

If you have 10 people, you're
going to make much more money than

if you have one or two people.

Although realistically speaking,
when you have one or two people on

a project, you're probably going
to make a much bigger impact.

You're probably going to
ship things faster simply

because there's less talking.

And a lot of the times, teams could
be half the size that they are, and

they would perform much, much better.

And that's very controversial, and I
think that's very debatable as well, but

that's what I've noticed in working with
many companies across the last year.

Christian: I think there's a
reason early stage startups move

at such a frightening pace, that
sometimes bigger, more established

companies cannot keep up with them.

And you think, how is it possible?

We have hundreds of employees,
how can they move so much

faster when they have 15?

Perhaps it's debatable whether that's the
right approach in every single company.

I agree with you, but I don't
think it's debatable whether the

smaller companies are more lean and
move faster than bigger companies.

That's also certainly
true in my experience.

And it's one of the advantages
that startups have, isn't it?

So I fully agree.

And You also notice as you join
different kinds of companies, so the

larger ones or medium size that there
are a lot of processes in place that

you didn't used to have in startups and
these are delaying you a little bit.

That's just the reality
of a bigger company.

And look, it's not for everyone.

There are some people who would really
thrive in these companies with a bit more

process, and there are also people who
thrive in early stage companies as well.

But I definitely agree with the,
with, with the staying lean.

Dan Tase: I think there's
a sweet spot, right?

I don't think processes are bad.

I think processes are great, but
there could be a thing, too much

process is slowing things down a lot.

And I also think no process is very bad.

So when you work with a very
small startup and there's nothing

there, that's good for a while.

But at some point that's, that becomes
like a pain in the ass as well.

So there's a sweet spot, just enough
process, the same way there is a

sweet spot in terms of research.

And we have this quote of saying
that we use just enough research.

There's also a book on it.

I feel like many large organizations
spend months and months and months

doing research when in reality
they could have done half of that

and still get to a great outcome.

So it's all about achieving those sweet
spots and it takes a long time for a

company to figure out what those are.

But companies in recent years.

Like Airbnb essentially removing
their PM team because they realize

it's slowing them down or Shopify
removing all the meetings because

they realize it's slowing them down.

I think there's gonna, we are gonna see in
the next few years, we're gonna see many

companies trying to adapt their processes
because they realize they are very vague,

slow, and it's not good for the business.

Christian: I'm thinking of a
few listeners that might be

sitting there listening to this.

Right now when considering that they
might want to start their own little

studio and they don't have any experience
doing it might be the first time they

don't know what's in store for them.

They just know it sounds
like a great idea.

Oh, I get to work for myself.

I get to pick and choose my clients.

I get to manage other people, do my
own hiring and all of that on paper.

That sounds great.

What should one of these
listeners expect when they go

into starting their own studio?


Dan Tase: think everyone
has their own journey.

And what I can share is
how my journey was like.

It doesn't mean you cannot have
a different journey, right?

I think that I want to
make that very clear.

I am typically not a
very good businessman.

I'm a very good designer,
but a very bad businessman.

And I make many bad business decisions
in my journey as a studio founder,

simply because I cared more about
the work than I cared about the

transactional slash business aspect.

But they're very important to the product.

If you're a designer trying to
open a studio, is that your job

is going to change from being a
designer to being a business person.

And doesn't mean it changes entirely.

Even for us, we're small enough for
me to still be hands on when I want

to be hands on and still be hands
off when I don't want to be hands on.

But the huge part of our journey
as a studio was me trying to find

clients, me trying to make sure the
current clients we have are happy

and they're coming back to us, right?

So it's going away from spending
time in Figma to spending more

time writing proposals or doing
sales for potential clients.

Now, luckily we were small enough for
us to not need 20 clients at one, right?

We only needed one or two clients working
with us for the next few months to be

happy and to not have to do sales anymore.

And luckily we've done very good work.

So those clients mostly came back
to us with more work in the future.

So in the last two and a half years,
I think we had maybe six or seven

clients with A very, very small team.

And I don't think we could
have done more than that.

But your life changes.

Previously I was a contractor
or freelancer or I was working

in house for companies.

I had to do the work and
that was more or less enough.

That was all I needed to do when I
switched to being a studio founder.

My life became much more stressful and.

I'm grateful for that stress because
I've learned a lot from it, but

besides doing the work and making
sure that the work gets done in a good

manner and managing the team, which
is what I was doing in house as well.

I had to do sales, I had to do marketing
for the studio I had generally this

payroll stress in the back of my
mind, like at the end of the month,

I'm going to have to pay these people
and I have to make sure there's

ongoing work for them to stay on.

And that adds up.

And after two and a half years, I did
feel like when we started growing, I was

much more stressed than where we are now,
when we have that smaller than a year ago.

And I think that's very difficult.

It's very difficult to not see that
as a failure, but in reality, I think

it's just the journey of a studio.

Your life changes and I think
it's very hard for you to being a

designer if you are running a business

Christian: I think
that's such good insight.

A lot of people might.

Be sitting here thinking, oh, I'll just
design more for more clients or uh, you

know, but, but this reminds me of that
shift that designers at some point in

time might have to consider, which is,
I've been an individual contributor

forever and now I'm senior enough
to perhaps going to managing a team.

Oh, this is a promotion.

And actually it's not a, going
from a a senior designer or, or a

lead designer to a design manager
is actually not a promotion.

It's a lateral move.

Because it's a completely different job.

It could still be a hybrid role.

You could still be in Figma a little
bit, but now you suddenly need

other skills, managing people, more
stakeholder management, overseeing

multiple projects at the time,
being good at giving feedback,

being good at helping people grow.

There are a lot of other things that you
haven't potentially learned during your

time being an individual contributor.

This is what it reminds me of as well,
is you've, if you're a great designer and

you might have the tendency to think I'm
a great designer, I'm going to be a great

studio owner because it's a design studio.

But what you're talking about
is completely different.

There are other skills that you
actually need to be good at.

So off the back of that.

You said you've made some bad decisions.

We don't need to go into those, but what
I'm really curious about is these skills

that you had to learn, sales is especially
around sales and getting clients.

Have you learned that as you,
you know, kind of assembled the

plane as you jumped off a cliff?

How was that journey for you?

Dan Tase: Before the studio
actually became a thing, I started

talking to other studio founders

I emailed them out of nowhere.

Some were new to me, some people
I've known for quite a while, and I

asked them to hop on a call with me.

And many of them agreed, many
of them were happy to help.

And to be honest, they were
very transparent and they shared

all of these things with me.

And I think they helped
build a solid foundation.

For me to be able to start
doing sales at a more mature

level than I was doing before.

And I think that was very important.

On top of that, I do think there's a
lot of knowledge on the internet today.

I've had massive benchmarking rounds
with other studios looking at what

they're doing, trying to get my hands on
proposals that I send my friends that are

working in house, saving all those to a
folder, trying to learn about how they

essentially sell the services they're
doing, how they promote the company.

learning a lot from that and trying
to build our own proposal and our own

pitch based on all of those things.

But I went, I don't know, I went
with it without thinking too much.

I never had a proper plan
for running the studio.

And I think that was good for me
because I'm not the kind of person

that plans things a lot in advance.

If I think too much about something,
I'm probably not going to do it anymore.

And this just happened naturally.

And I think because of that, because
I've hit so many walls, I learned a lot

and I realized how We can do better.

And to be honest, I feel like
for the last, for the first year,

we've changed our proposition.


Two or three times.

In the early stages it was more
about just getting any kind of

work that would be suitable for
our experience and our expertise.

After a few months of that, I realized,
Hey, we are really good at this thing.

I wanna do more of that.

And I think it, there's a
gap in the industry for it.

So we started going forward those kinds
of projects, and then after a few more

months, I realized that maybe that's not
working as well as I thought it would.

What if we do this other thing instead?

So you always have to adapt.

I think we've done it too quickly.

You always have to adapt to
what the market needs are.

And that's very similar to what you
do as a designer in a particular team.

You have to figure out what's working and
if it's not, go back to the drawing board.

But when you do that at an organizational
level, I think it is a bit more.

Christian: I was thinking this is,
this sounds oddly similar to what

we do as designers on a daily basis.

You have a problem, you go try to
understand what the problem is.

You go see what others have done.

Can I learn something from them?

Then you apply what you've learned and
then you iterate on the process until

you figure out the right solution.

So if anything, perhaps designers
are best equipped at doing this

because it is, but it's different
because it's on an organization level.

It's not sitting in Figma and iterating
on a visual piece of work, It's

different, but the same concept behind it.

So you mentioned sales so many
times, and obviously it's part of

any business that anyone would run.

Sales is an important part
because no clients, no business.

Someone might be sitting here and
thinking, Dan, but how do you get clients?

Where do you start?

What's the process like?

What has worked for you and what
hasn't worked for you very well?

You've already mentioned
people coming back.

So I guess that's great.

But those are, you know, returnees.

They're not necessarily the first
time you get them, but could

you share some light on that?

Dan Tase: This might be very
similar to how you would

approach this as a freelancer.

I don't think there's anything radically
different . And we've tried many things.

The first client we had was a company
I've worked with in the past that

needed a bit of help and I convinced
them to work with us as a studio.

So that was, I think that's the
first best place to start, right?

Talk to all the people you've worked with
in the past and see if any of them needs

a bit of support . And I think that's
how most studios start to be honest.

I remember some of the biggest
studios out there when I was

talking to their founders.

They either left the studio they
were working for and got one of their

clients to work with them or they were
working in house and then when they

opened the studio, the first client
was the company they were working for.

I think that's very common and I think
that's a very good start because there's

a trusting relationship there, right?

They trust you, they know
the work you're doing.

So they're going to trust your team to
continue doing the same work at the same

level, but that's not enough, right?

That's just the starting point.

What we've done on top of that, and I'm
being as transparent as I can, what we've

done on top of that is just reaching out
to all of the people I've connected with

in the past, all the people I've worked
with, all the people that I've talked

to, all the people that have known me.

And the great thing when you do this at
a certain level, once you go past just

being an individual contributor, or when
you're early in your career, is that

people, you've got the network of people
that are happy to listen, not necessarily

to give you work, but to listen or
to recommend you to others, right?

So once you've done that, we got one
other project just based on talking

to someone, that person being like,
Hey, we don't need any help, but

I've heard this person might be.

So just reach out to them and
send them your recommendation.

So I think that's very helpful,
but it gets to a point where

your network kind of ends.

And there's not much you
can do beyond that, right?

After I talked to everyone
in my network and I realized

there's no other work out there.

Most of these people already
know what we're doing.

They trust us and still
there's not a lot of work.

You get to a point where you have to
extend your network and that happens

through social media that happens
through going to meetups It happens

to just talking to new people And
it's not easy and I felt like that was

probably one of the hardest parts of
running a studio when you're you cannot

find Any more work in your network?

How do you go beyond that?

And we've tried cold emailing people
personally, I don't think it works and

I it was One of the most painful things
I ever had to do like reaching out to

the void, essentially like reaching
out to companies and people I've been

following for a long time now, a huge fan
of and not receiving an answer, right?

That's awful.

But you get to that point where you
feel like, Hey, many businesses do that.

Is it worth it?

And after doing that for a bit, I
realized, no, it's not and I don't want

to spam people into working with us.

But luckily because we're doing very
good work, the companies we got early

on stayed with us for a long time.

I think our longest client
was a year, our second longest

client is almost a year now.

So we've had those kinds of
relationships with companies where

we were working on something for a
few months, a month later, they were

coming back to us with something else.

And we didn't have to do a lot of sales.

Now, there is another option in which
you hire a business development person.

And we tried that for a bit.

Personally, I don't think
business development in a small

studio does a very good job.

And it's not because there aren't
many talented people out there.

I think it's simply because
as a small studio, you might

not need business development.

No one's going to sell your services
as well as you do as a founder.

And that was a kind of a hard lesson
for for me, but generally I do feel

a lot of it is just doing great work,
sharing it with people and hoping more

people are going to reach out to you.

Christian: You've said something there
a couple of times and obviously just the

fact that people are returning to you.

That's a statement to the
fact that you do good work.

And I think it can't be stressed enough
just how important that part of it is.

You can be great at sales, but
unless you do good work, you're

unlikely to have people come back.

And I've, I don't think it's a, it's very
debatable whether keeping a customer happy

versus acquiring a new customer, which
one is a cheaper, let's call it business

strategy, or, on a CPA level, it costs
you so much to get a new customer, but.

to keep the one you already
have, it is relatively cheaper.

So I guess it's the same with what
you're talking about with referrals

is that they come back, but not only
they come back, but they are also

more likely to recommend someone.

If they come back to you, it's
because you've done good work.

And that also means that they
are more likely to recommend

you to someone else as well.

Have you had any success with
referrals or have you tried anything

like that to just offer people?

A referral fee or

Dan Tase: something like that?

Yeah, we actually got a few
projects just with referral fees.

And we've done the opposite as well.

When we had projects that weren't
suitable for us, we passed them on

to other people for referral fee.

I think that's a very healthy way
of looking at things . There's this

documentary on Shep Gordon, he was
the, I guess a manager for Pink

Floyd and Alice Cooper and Janice
Joplin, if I remember correctly.

And he had this notion of coupons.

Whenever someone asks you for help, you're
going to help them and you're going to do

it because you really want to help them.

But in the back of their
minds, there's a coupon there.

So next time you reach out to them for
help, they know you've helped them in

the past and they're going to, they're
going to want to help you as well.

And I think that the concept is,
personally, I think it's very healthy.

I think it's a good way
of looking at things.

Whenever someone passes as a
project, we pay them a commission and

whenever we do the same for someone
else, they pay us a commission.

And I think that's a good
way of looking at it.

I don't think it happened very
frequently, but it's a pattern.

I know many studios
that get work that way.

Christian: When it comes to pitching
work, what in your experience, what

have you seen clients care mostly about
when they are face to face with them

and they're about to make a decision
whether to choose you or someone else,

what is more often than not the reason
why they choose you versus someone else?

Dan Tase: I don't want to talk about
the reason, the specific reason, I

think we've touched upon that a bit.

I want to talk about what they try
to do when they choose the studio.

Generally they want to minimize risk.

If they have two studios, both
of them set the budget, right?

I think that's a very important thing.

Generally, if you have charged them
more than they can afford to pay

you, they're not going to go for you.

That's default.

But if they have two people or two
studios that they want to choose

between, they both set the budget.

They're going to go with the one that
is probably going to provide less risk.

They're going to choose the studio
that they trust more and the studio

that they think it's going to be
maybe a bit more collaborative.

At the end of the day, the person
that's hiring you could be a

design manager, a head of design,
a founder whoever they are.

At the end of the day, if
things go bad within the company

is going to be their fault.

And those people are going to watch
their backs more than anything else.

That's why I've seen many companies
that choose a large studio or like a

very popular studio, not because they
think they're going to do a good job,

but because they think at the end of
the day, they're going to do a good

enough job for me to not get fired.

Because it happened in the past, there
were million dollar projects I've

heard of where people got fired in the
other one because nothing got shipped

or nothing was making an impact.

So in those conversations,
our goal was to make sure that

these companies trust us enough.

to handle the risk
associated with that project.

And it trusts us enough to give us the
work and making, make sure that what

gets delivered is actually good for them.

I'm going to mention

Christian: him for a third time
on this episode, but Chris Do

talks about the risk all the time.

He says the reason someone would hire
you over someone else is because you have

somehow through your discourse as you
were pitching indicated that you were

the less risky situation for similar
reasons to the ones you've just laid out

is that the person hiring you often their
job on the line because they're going

to spend a lot of money on this external
contractor or agency, whatever it may be.

So how do you then put a less, how
do you then show a prospective client

that you are the less riskier option?

Is there anything there that we
could learn from your experience?

Anything that you've learned from
someone else that you're applying today?

Dan Tase: I think there are a
few things . One is the work.

Showing that you've done maybe similar
work or work that's as risky as what they

need in other companies and that gives
them a bit of more trust . The second

thing was the collaboration aspect.

Because we are more or less part of
their team, and we act very similarly

to how they do things in house, they
would be able to, I'm going to use

the word control, I don't think that's
the right word for it, but they can

control us the same way they would
control a full time employee , right?

So they know exactly what we're doing,
we know exactly what they're doing,

we're part of the business more or less.

So there's less risk by default.

We are part of their team.

So they see what we're doing and they
can work with us on a daily basis.

I think that to be honest, that
was the thing that impacted

our proposition the most.

The ability to work with
these companies very closely.

And there's almost no difference between
hiring a full time employee and hiring us.

And that was very important
for these businesses, right?

But I don't think there's like a one,
one thing you can do to make that work.

I think it really depends where
the companies you're talking to.

Once again, for certain companies,
massive studios is the very expensive,

but also least risky solution, right?

I think it just depends on the
companies they're talking to.

And we typically ask one question
at the end of our conversations

with potential clients.

Which is, what's your biggest
concern in working with us?

And at the end of that, we're
going to understand a bit

more about makes them afraid.

And hopefully in our next
conversation, answer that question

in such a way that helps them
figure out if we're suitable or not.

It doesn't mean we're going to adapt to
who we are, or it doesn't mean we're going

to change our process for that company,
but it means we can be very clear in terms

of, hey, can we help you or can we not?

There were some instances in which a
company told us what they were afraid

of, and we realized, hey, that's not
for us, we cannot help you with that.

And we recommend it on someone else.

Christian: The first thing you mentioned
there, I want to pull a thread on.

You said they want to see someone
who's done something like this before.

And this I think is a great segue
into perhaps the other side of having

an agency, which is the hiring side.

You as an owner, you also need
to hire when you need help.

But the reason I thought this was a good
segue is because this to me also reminds

me of feedback that or advice that is
often given when asked what is good for

me to do when I design my portfolio or
when I apply for a job and oftentimes

it's the same answer is, it's, A hiring
manager wants to see that you've done

the sort of work or have solved the sort
of problems that they are looking for

this role to solve in their own company.

So at the end of the day, it's
all about risk as well, right?

Is when you hire someone is I want to
make sure this person has done the job

so that I don't hire the wrong person.

So that's why I thought it
was a good segue to hiring.

But when you need to then hire a
client comes through the door and

you think now I need a person and
I need a person to be flexible.

I need someone to start straight away.

What are the things you're looking for?

And how do you ensure that whoever
you hire is going to deliver because

you need someone to deliver today.

Dan Tase: Another very good question.

And I'm going to answer by a mix of
what I've been doing when I was in

house, but also what I'm doing as
a studio founder, because I don't

think they're radically different.

Although in house we had a much better
process in place and we had the five

step interviews, which I personally
disagree with, but I understand

why a company would want that.

Generally, what I'm looking
for in a designer is for them

to be a good communicator.

That's very important to be
enthusiastic, to be collaborative.

And generally not to be an asshole,
like being a team player and

being someone you can work with.

And I'm going to dive a bit deeper into
each one of them, if that's okay with you.

Of course, please.

In terms of being a good communicator
I'm looking for people that are able

to sell the work, that are able to
clearly communicate what they're

doing, the problems they're solving.

They can talk to a leadership team or a
CEO within a large organization, the same

way they would talk to a junior designer
within the same organization, right?

They need to have that, experience
and doing those kinds of things.

And experience doesn't mean
like years of experience.

It means just being comfortable in
having those conversations and being

very articulate when you have those
conversations in terms of enthusiastic.

I think that's a very debatable topic,
but I would much prefer a more junior

designer that's very enthusiastic
about the particular problem space

than a very senior design that's
more or less bored because they've

seen that problem 20 times, right?

Of course if you've seen that problem
20 times in the past, it might be faster

at solving it, but you also, there's
a high chance you're going to be.

I'm already bored of that problem.

You can look at it and be like, yeah,
we're going to do the exact same

thing I've done 20 times in the past.

But when you get a more enthusiastic
person, someone that might be a bit

early in their career, I guess, you would
get that level of, I don't know, joy

from working on that particular thing.

And I would always, almost always
choose the more enthusiastic person

over the most, the more experienced
person and the studio environment.

In house, that might be slightly
different, but in the studio

environment, I feel like that
made a lot of sense for us.

And in terms of being, not
an asshole or a team player.

I think a lot of it comes down
to, do I see myself working with

this person on a daily basis?

Do I see myself working well with
this person when shit hits the

fan, when things don't go well?

Because in the studio environment,
that's going to happen.

Occasionally you might have
very difficult conversations.

It happens in house as
well, don't get me wrong.

And I'm looking for the kind of people
I would be happy to learn from, the kind

of people that would be happy to have
difficult conversations with, the kind

of people that are open to feedback and
they don't take feedback personally, they

understand it's not about us as humans,
it's about the work we're producing

for the companies we're working with.

And I think that's the core
of what I'm looking for in.

It's not necessarily about the
pixels they're moving on the screen

and the work they produce or the
companies they've worked for.

I think it's mostly about the
conversation we're having and the

questions they're asking and how I
feel at the end of that conversation.

And to be honest, none of the
designers we've hired at the studio

had a portfolio when we hired them.

They had experience.

I mean, We have very senior people,
so there are people that have

worked in many companies before.

But the interview was a one hour
conversation, just talking to each

other, trying to figure out what they
like doing, what they dislike doing,

what they would like to get better at,
what they don't even want to think about

doing in the future or getting better at.

And just realizing how good they
are based on the conversation

more than anything else.

This has worked very well for us.

And I also think many companies that
are looking for in house designers.

Should do a bit more of that.

I'm not saying take me to the extreme
like we did, but I think they should

do less five step interview processes
where you do a intro call and then you

have a portfolio review that has to be
so detailed and 20 people are asking you

questions and then you go into I don't
know, a kind of a workshop with a few

people within the company to figure out
how you're going to solve a problem.

And then you have a
cultural fit interview.

Those make sense.

I understand why they happen.

I've been in those interviews as well
on both sides and I understand why, but

I think it makes it so difficult for
someone looking for a job to get that

particular job, simply because they have
to allocate like days out of their week

to be able to prepare and to do that.

I think it's a very privileged
way of looking at things.

If you're interviewing for two or
three companies, you have no life.

All you're doing is interviewing.

And if you have a job on top of
that, you actually have no life

because all you're doing is going
to your job and then interviewing

for two or three companies at once.

Christian: It sounds like you put a lot
of emphasis on the softer skills and at

the end of the day, if you think about
it, when you hire someone, big part of the

success of that hire is how are you going
to work with that person on a daily basis

and you said something there, you said, I
want to see, whether I would like or not

to work with this person on a daily basis.

And at the end of the day,
isn't that what it's all about?

Because if the skills are slightly far
from where they're supposed to be, If

it's someone you really enjoy working
with, you're probably also going to take

the time much more often to take them on
a journey and teach them and show them

the latest Figma trick or talk about
process with them or whatever it may be,

because you have that relationship with
them versus So you might bring someone in

who's super experienced and knows it all
and is probably a pro, but you don't enjoy

working with that person on a daily basis

I really liked that more humane
approach to interviews and just to

hiring is what I enjoy working with.

And of course.

There has to be a baseline of skills
But oftentimes we perhaps put a bit

more emphasis on the skills than on the
person, and then we end up in situations

where we don't actually enjoy working
with each other and then your skills

don't matter as much suddenly because
you create all of these other problems.

Dan Tase: I agree with you.

I think there's the other side
of the story as well, in which.

I've seen companies focus only on the soft
skills and not focus at all on the work.

And that's bad as well, because you
hire people that are very collaborative

and enjoy to work with, but they're
very bad at what they're doing, right?

Christian: Yeah.

Which is why I said there has
to be a baseline of skills.

I don't think anyone doubts that was
uh, you know, obviously also part of

your process, but I enjoy the fact
that you, you focused quite a bit on,

on that humane part of hiring as well.

The last topic that I want to
talk to you about is innovation.

A few weeks ago, you've been talking
at Hatch Conference about innovation

and why it fails and when it fails
and your how to make sure it happens

more of in the future, not the
failure, but the actual innovation.

Give us the cliff notes of what
you've talked about at Hatch.

Dan Tase: The Hatch talk is probably going
to be available online in a few weeks.

So if you want to watch that it's
probably going to be on YouTube.

The reason I talk about innovation
is because I've seen that fail

numerous times and in businesses,
especially when I was in house.

And that's one of the
things we do as a studio.

help with companies to shake things up and
help them become a bit more innovative.

So that's, our core proposition.

Based on what I've noticed innovation
fails for a few reasons . One

reason is adversity risk.

Companies don't want to take risk.

So because they don't want to take
risk they don't do anything or

they pause every project that is a
bit too risky or a bit innovative.

The other one is that most In
house employees, and that's also

debatable, but I think most in
house designers, for example, are

very good at business as usual.

They're very good at keeping
the company alive, but they're

not very good at innovating.

And it's not because they cannot
do that, it's because the job

doesn't allow them to do that.

a lot of the time they have to put
out fires and make sure the things

they're doing aren't breaking
anything instead of the things they're

doing actually improving things.

And I think that leads to a lack of
innovation that leads to a lot of projects

getting downsized or not getting shipped.

And a very good example I can share,
I guess, from my time at Just Eat

when I joined them back in 2014, 15,
I don't remember exactly when I joined

them, one of my first The first task
was to work with the leadership team

to come up with this list of very
innovative ideas that would turn the

business upside down and make it much
better than our startup competitors at

that point, Uber Eats and Deliveroo.

And we spent a bit of time with the
research team and the leadership team

coming up with that list of ideas.

And we were very happy about it.

We thought it's actually
going to change the business.

This is incredible.

No one has done this before.

And we went to share it with
the other designers and the

leadership team, the rest of the
leadership team and the engineers.

And when they saw that list, they were all
like, yeah, I mean, we know those things.

And that was mind blowing.

How come you know about all of these
things yet they are not shipped?

A phrase I've heard is most companies
have folders filled with great work

that never sees the light of the day.

And that's exactly what happened.

Some of those ideas were sitting in
folders, they were already designed.

Some were even validated.

Some were just sketched on a piece
of paper that someone said no to.

And I think a lot of the times it's
just about finding a way and building

some sort of internal innovation squad
for you to be able to remove all of the

distractions and ship those things that
actually matter and are very important.

But yeah, I think that's a very
long topic and we can spend

hours and hours talking about it.

Christian: I'm sure it would, maybe
I should bring you on again another

episode just to talk innovation.

Sure, yeah.

Dan, at the end of each episode, I asked
all the guests the same two questions.

And the first one is, what is
one action that you think led to

your success that in one way or
another perhaps separated you from

Dan Tase: some of your peers.

It's probably not going to be seen well
in today's day and age, but working hard.

I worked a lot earlier in
my career and I still do.

I'm not saying I don't.

I think I work a bit smarter
now than I did 15, 20 years

ago, but I worked very hard.

Early on in my career, it was
all about working and growing and

doing more and talking to people.

becoming a better designer.

I think that never changes.

The, to be honest, the only way to become
a good designer is by working and doing

the work, putting the hours in to be
able to get better at what you're doing.

And I'm not just talking
about moving boxes in Figma.

I'm talking about generally all of
the aspects of being a designer.

Christian: That's very refreshing to hear
because I don't know, maybe culturally

we come from the same place, but I also
tend to have a similar, if you would

have asked me that question, my answer
would have been in that same direction.

And I think perhaps some of
that is getting lost today.

Maybe we're talking a bit more about
the downside of working too hard and

those are also very valid, but a lot
of people that I talked to and I've

even had some in this very season on
the podcast who gave similar answers

about doing it for a long time, putting
the work in, building the good habits

and all of that but I think that's.

not going to change.

And I think you said that too.

It's just probably always going to be
one of the constants of how you get good.

So thank you for that.

I think that's a very
refreshing answer to hear.

Dan Tase: I Think a second thing
I've done, and that is probably

even more important today is.

Finding what I like and
focusing more on that.

There's a lot of advice in the
industry at the moment in terms of

where you should go as a designer.

Go into management, do this, do that.

Be more strategic, be more UX
focused . And I think that makes sense,

but that's advice coming from the
outside, not from the inside, right?

I think it's very important for you
to figure out what you like doing and

what gets you excited to wake up in
the morning and spend eight hours on.

And focus on that, find the kind of
company that would allow you to focus

on that and go in that direction.

So if you really like visual design
and you hate doing strategy, you hate

talking to customers, you just like moving
pixels and making things look pretty,

companies are looking for that as well.

It may, might be a bit harder, but doing
the opposite and going into a very UX

slash strategy driven job is going to
make it so difficult for you to enjoy

what you're doing on a daily basis.

And I was happy to like a part
of design and fall in love with

it and get paid for doing that.

And early on in my career, it
was graphic design for musicians

and music artists, and now it's
helping businesses solve problems.

But if I did not enjoy it, I think my
life would be much worth it, isn't it?

Christian: Yeah, 100%.

And if I may add something on top of
that, I don't only think it's important

to figure out what type of work you enjoy.

doing, but also who do you
enjoy doing the work for?

One of the things that I've learned
in my career is that I don't actually

enjoy that much working with agencies.

I just or for, I would much rather be in
house and there are even in house, there

are just certain types of companies that
fit within certain parameters that work

in a specific way that I like to work for.

And, you know, you could argue that's
a privileged position to be in.

And frankly, in the beginning of my
career, I didn't have these, because

I didn't know these I think in the
beginning and early career is very

important to job hop a little bit
from an organization to organization.

from industry to industry, B to B to C.

I think the more you try out,
the more certain you're going to

be when you find the right one.

Yeah, this is the one for me.

And then you can just
continue working on that path.

So I really, I always encourage
early stage designers.

Or should I take this job
or should I take jobs?

Take a job that teaches you about
what type of work you like to do.

And to be frank, that's where
agencies oftentimes come in handy

because in an agency you do get to
work on a lot of different projects.

Yeah, that's that's another great answer.

See, one question, two
great answers there.

But just because you've given me
two answers, you're not going to

get away from the second question,
which is what are we not talking

about enough when it comes to design?

Dan Tase: I don't think
there's anything to be honest.

I think there is so much knowledge
in the industry at the moment that

we're talking about everything.

I think it's harder to figure
out what you relate to and what

to trust and what not to trust.

I don't think we.

Talk to me about anything, I
think we talk about everything

and that's what I'm trying to say.

We're talking about being strategic.

We're talking about QX.

We're talking about AI.

We're talking about being
business driven and measuring the

impact of the work you're doing.

We're even talking about visual
design in certain companies.

There are so many articles from Airbnb
and these very visual driven companies.

nothing comes to mind when I
think about what I'm missing

in the industry at the moment.

that's a very nice thing to know we're
living in a time where information is

available and no matter what you want
to find out, you can Google it or chat

GPT it and there is going to be an
answer for it that's going to help you.

So I think we're talking
about a lot of things.

I'm happy about that.

Maybe we should try talking
less and doing more.

Christian: Oh, I love that.

Talk less, do more.

Oh, what a good note to end the show.

And Dan, where can people find
out more about you, get in touch

with you, read about the work
you're doing with Rubber Studio?

Where can they do that online?

Dan Tase: I think I spent quite a bit
of time on Twitter or X or however

you want to call it, so I'm generally
in there posting a lot of stuff.

On top of that, I'm on LinkedIn.

If you want to message me,
you can always find me there.

Christian: right.

We'll make all of these easy
to find for our listeners.

Dan, thank you so much for
being on Design Meets Business.

Really appreciate it.

Dan Tase: Thank you so much.

Christian: If you've
listened this far, thank you.

I appreciate you and I hope you've
learned something that makes you just

a little bit better than yesterday.

You can check out the show
notes on designmeetsbusiness.


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And I'll catch you in the next one.

Creators and Guests

Christian Vasile
Christian Vasile
🎙️ Host & Growth Product Designer
Dan Tase on the Challenges of Running a Design Studio (ex Just Eat, Burberry, Fresha)
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