CREATIVE THOUGHTS WITH

Erik Reagan


Co-Founder & Operations Director of Focus Lab LLC

Erik Reagan

CREATIVE THOUGHTS WITH

Erik Reagan


Co-Founder & Operations Director of Focus Lab LLC

Erik Reagan

It is my pleasure to introduce you to Erik Reagan, the Co-Founder and Operations Director at Focus Lab, a creative studio, in Savannah, Georgia. Erik and co-founder Bill Kenney launched Focus Lab in 2010 and have been rocking the design world ever since. You can read up on their “Origins” story here

Why is Focus Lab so great? For starters, they have over 100,000 followers on Dribbble and Instagram combined. Erik and Bill utilize those platforms to both share their latest work and discuss the process behind it. That information provides young designers with valuable insights.  They also pioneered Sidecar, a learning resource and marketplace for creative professionals built for designers by designers. On top of that, they’re latest endeavor is Quokka, a new online platform for creating and managing professional proposals. Quokka is currently in private beta mode but you can sign up for updates here.

Erik and I first connected on Twitter and he was gracious enough to take me up on my offer to do an interview. Erik is one of my favorite creative professionals to follow and I’m thrilled to share my discussion with him.

You can follow Erik here:
TwitterInstagramMediumNewsletter


You and Bill launched Focus Lab in 2010. After several years of working together how do you balance your leadership roles?

In the first few years we didn’t really give a lot of thought to distinct leadership roles. Over time we recognized some natural strengths, thought, and started leveraging them intentionally. Initially Bill focused heavily on leading our design efforts while I focused on leading our development efforts. But we realized we needed someone doing more “business-y” things with more intention. So we decided that I would scale down my development work and time and focus on very purposefully building a strong business foundation. That’s mostly continued to today where I am responsible for our Operations while Bill is our Creative Director.

 

Since Focus Lab’s inception and throughout your journey there is no doubt you’ve picked up a lot of industry experience. Now, you’re sharing that wisdom through Sidecar. How did this design resource center come about and where do you see it going?

Sidecar was originally an idea for us to sell CMS plugins and create a revenue stream that wasn’t tied to client services. We tabled that idea after some research though. It wasn’t right for us at the time. A couple of years later we revisited the idea of creating a new revenue stream. We found a great opportunity in creating a place where we could sell helpful tools and assets to our fellow design community members while coupling that with educational content. We launched Sidecar two years ago and it’s been wonderful to have it out there!

As with most “side projects,” we had a lot of ideas for Sidecar that didn’t make it into the 2015 launch. This year we’re launching a new version of the Sidecar site that realizes more of this original vision. Our team is beyond excited to ship this!

 

We first connected via Twitter after I shared your Medium article “5 Confessions of This Public Speaker ”. When it comes to public speaking and presenting, what tips or advice can you give? What struggles did you face and how did you overcome them?

I love teaching in any format. The main reason is that I learn so much when I do it. My simplest tip for public speaking is to just give it a try somewhere. There are organizations like ToastMasters that provide a good entry point to practicing and learning the art. (I’ve never participated in a ToastMasters but I’ve heard good things.) There was also a book I read that really helped my speaking. It’s called Steal the Show and gave really practical pointers and steps to improving public speaking.

My main struggle in speaking has been overcoming imposter syndrome. The first time I was asked to speak about something my immediate thought was, “Why would anyone want to hear me talk about that? I’m not qualified to be a speaker.” But that inner voice was wrong. Most of us have some form of that inner voice. And we need to work hard to shut it down when it comes up.

 

What books or articles would you recommend reading for the young entrepreneur or graphic designer?

Entrepreneurship books I love to recommend are The E-Myth, Street Smarts, The Advantage, and EntreLeadership. For the graphic designer who isn’t worried about building a business I’d recommend QBQ!, IdeaSelling, and Crucial Conversations. These last three mostly center around communication which is an area that can be challenging for many in the creative services world.

 

Before Focus Lab, you were a worship leader at a church. How has religion and your faith influenced you in running a design agency?

I think there are two key ways my faith has influenced me running Focus Lab.

The first is that I don’t look to Focus Lab to set or define my worth. Whether the company succeeds or fails, whether it’s booming or busting, my sense of self-worth is intact all the same. I derive that sense of worth from Jesus and what I believe He did for me and you.

The second is simply how I treat people. I can’t claim I do this 100% of the time, but my goal is to treat people with compassion, respect, and love. That includes my team, our peers, and our clients alike. I recognize that these things aren’t unique to my faith, or to Jesus’ teachings, but I can tie my connection to these things to my faith directly.

 

Focus Lab has an impressive following on Dribbble and Instagram with over 100,000 followers combined. How have these social platforms influenced the way you run your company? (Side note: on an episode of Overtime, Bill talked about his early days on Dribbble and how to grow a following)

These tools fall into two main categories for me. There’s professional improvement and feedback (mostly Dribbble, particularly in its earlier days) and then there’s marketing. Instagram has mostly just been a marketing tool for us while Dribbble has been both marketing and development. The interview you mentioned in the question talks a good bit to that. I also wrote an article about how our use of Dribbble has affected Focus Lab. Lastly, Bill recently wrote an article that may be of interest which speaks to growing a design audience.

 

When was the first moment you realized you had something special with Focus Lab and felt like you were finally “off and running”?

This is a tough one. I’ve had many moments where I sit back and genuinely acknowledge that we have something special at Focus Lab—and that it’s not something that “just happened.” One event comes to mind from about 4 years ago. We posted a job opening for a designer and we were overwhelmed with literally hundreds of applicants. I think we were somewhere over 600 or so. Our team was something like 13 or 14 people at the time.

Six. Hundred. People. Wanted to work at Focus Lab. That was awe inspiring. It was a good reminder that we were building something people wanted to be a part of.

 

How do you find such exceptional talent at Focus Lab? What do you look for in an employee?

There’s an excellent book by Patrick Lencioni called The Ideal Team Player. In this book Lencioni describes three core traits that every great team member will have. They are humble, hungry, and smart.

The humble is fairly self-explanatory, but this is someone who knows they still have much to learn—no matter how far along in their career. The hunger comes in the form of wanting what’s ahead of them. It’s about a dissatisfaction with their own status quo and the drive to continually get better. The smart part is mostly about people smarts. It’s about soft skills and communication.

This book goes into detail on these three traits and I encourage everyone to read it. It will either help you become a better team member yourself, or help you find, hire, and/or develope team members who work for you.

So when it comes to finding team members like this, I think there are a few things that work for us. The main one, though, is that we’ve been working hard to build a company where great people want to work.

 

Between Focus Lab, Sidecar and Quokka how do you keep it all running so smoothly?

It’s easy to say it runs smoothly when you’re looking from the outside in. It’s not chaotic or falling apart by any means. But there are always things we’re trying to improve and smooth out. Your question brings out one of the things we’re still trying to figure out.

We aren’t running Focus Lab, Sidecar, and Quokka in the way I hope we can someday. It’s pretty difficult to balance them all. The general idea is that Sidecar and Quokka are treated like clients of Focus Lab (even though they’re brands within a single entity). One day I expect Sidecar and Quokka to have their own teams. But for now we’re all just one team working on all three where needed. That won’t work long-term though so we’re working on some ideas that we hope help make this smoother over time.

 

Freestyle: Please use this last part to share something we haven’t covered but would like the creative community to know about you! 

When I was coming up in school I hated reading. Nearly every reading assignment frustrated me and I dreaded having to do the work related to the reading. So I assumed I just hated reading as a whole. That stuck with me for a good while, until I was about 23 or 24.

I was encouraged to pick up a book about business or leadership (I can’t remember which one). I read it and it blew my mind. There were only ~150 pages but those pages were rich with content worth well beyond the $14.95 I probably paid for it. Immediately I fell in love with reading. I realized that it wasn’t reading that I hated. I just hated reading things I wasn’t interested in reading.

I’ve read a lot since then. And I can connect many ideas at Focus Lab to books I’ve either read or listened to. If I had to claim a “secret weapon” that Bill and I have discovered at Focus Lab, it would be reading great books that stretch, challenge, and teach us.

It is my pleasure to introduce you to Erik Reagan, the Co-Founder and Operations Director at Focus Lab, a creative studio, in Savannah, Georgia. Erik and co-founder Bill Kenney launched Focus Lab in 2010 and have been rocking the design world ever since. You can read up on their “Origins” story here

Why is Focus Lab so great? For starters, they have over 100,000 followers on Dribbble and Instagram
combined. Erik and Bill utilize those platforms to both share their latest work and discuss the process behind it. That information provides young designers with valuable insights. They also pioneered Sidecar, a learning resource and marketplace for creative professionals built for designers by designers. On top of that, they’re latest endeavor is Quokka, a new online platform for creating and managing professional proposals. Quokka is currently in private beta mode but you can sign up for updates here.

Erik and I first connected on Twitter and he was gracious enough to take me up on my offer to do an interview. Erik is one of my favorite creative professionals to follow and I’m thrilled to share my discussion with him.

You can follow Erik here:
TwitterInstagram,
MediumNewsletter


You and Bill launched Focus Lab in 2010. After several years of working together how do you balance your leadership roles?

In the first few years we didn’t really give a lot of thought to distinct leadership roles. Over time we recognized some natural strengths, thought, and started leveraging them intentionally. Initially Bill focused heavily on leading our design efforts while I focused on leading our development efforts. But we realized we needed someone doing more “business-y” things with more intention. So we decided that I would scale down my development work and time and focus on very purposefully building a strong business foundation. That’s mostly continued to today where I am responsible for our Operations while Bill is our Creative Director.

 

Since Focus Lab’s inception and throughout your journey there is no doubt you’ve picked up a lot of industry experience. Now, you’re sharing that wisdom through Sidecar. How did this design resource center come about and where do you see it going?

Sidecar was originally an idea for us to sell CMS plugins and create a revenue stream that wasn’t tied to client services. We tabled that idea after some research though. It wasn’t right for us at the time. A couple of years later we revisited the idea of creating a new revenue stream. We found a great opportunity in creating a place where we could sell helpful tools and assets to our fellow design community members while coupling that with educational content. We launched Sidecar two years ago and it’s been wonderful to have it out there!

As with most “side projects,” we had a lot of ideas for Sidecar that didn’t make it into the 2015 launch. This year we’re launching a new version of the Sidecar site that realizes more of this original vision. Our team is beyond excited to ship this!

 

We first connected via Twitter after I shared your Medium article “5 Confessions of This Public Speaker ”. When it comes to public speaking and presenting, what tips or advice can you give? What struggles did you face and how did you overcome them?

I love teaching in any format. The main reason is that I learn so much when I do it. My simplest tip for public speaking is to just give it a try somewhere. There are organizations like ToastMasters that provide a good entry point to practicing and learning the art. (I’ve never participated in a ToastMasters but I’ve heard good things.) There was also a book I read that really helped my speaking. It’s called Steal the Show and gave really practical pointers and steps to improving public speaking.

My main struggle in speaking has been overcoming imposter syndrome. The first time I was asked to speak about something my immediate thought was, “Why would anyone want to hear me talk about that? I’m not qualified to be a speaker.” But that inner voice was wrong. Most of us have some form of that inner voice. And we need to work hard to shut it down when it comes up.

 

What books or articles would you recommend reading for the young entrepreneur or graphic designer?

Entrepreneurship books I love to recommend are The E-Myth, Street Smarts, The Advantage, and EntreLeadership. For the graphic designer who isn’t worried about building a business I’d recommend QBQ!, IdeaSelling, and Crucial Conversations. These last three mostly center around communication which is an area that can be challenging for many in the creative services world.

 

Before Focus Lab, you were a worship leader at a church. How has religion and your faith influenced you in running a design agency?

I think there are two key ways my faith has influenced me running Focus Lab.

The first is that I don’t look to Focus Lab to set or define my worth. Whether the company succeeds or fails, whether it’s booming or busting, my sense of self-worth is intact all the same. I derive that sense of worth from Jesus and what I believe He did for me and you.

The second is simply how I treat people. I can’t claim I do this 100% of the time, but my goal is to treat people with compassion, respect, and love. That includes my team, our peers, and our clients alike. I recognize that these things aren’t unique to my faith, or to Jesus’ teachings, but I can tie my connection to these things to my faith directly.

 

Focus Lab has an impressive following on Dribbble and Instagram with over 100,000 followers combined. How have these social platforms influenced the way you run your company? (Side note: on an episode of Overtime, Bill talked about his early days on Dribbble and how to grow a following)

These tools fall into two main categories for me. There’s professional improvement and feedback (mostly Dribbble, particularly in its earlier days) and then there’s marketing. Instagram has mostly just been a marketing tool for us while Dribbble has been both marketing and development. The interview you mentioned in the question talks a good bit to that. I also wrote an article about how our use of Dribbble has affected Focus Lab. Lastly, Bill recently wrote an article that may be of interest which speaks to growing a design audience.

 

When was the first moment you realized you had something special with Focus Lab and felt like you were finally “off and running”?

This is a tough one. I’ve had many moments where I sit back and genuinely acknowledge that we have something special at Focus Lab—and that it’s not something that “just happened.” One event comes to mind from about 4 years ago. We posted a job opening for a designer and we were overwhelmed with literally hundreds of applicants. I think we were somewhere over 600 or so. Our team was something like 13 or 14 people at the time.

Six. Hundred. People. Wanted to work at Focus Lab. That was awe inspiring. It was a good reminder that we were building something people wanted to be a part of.

 

How do you find such exceptional talent at Focus Lab? What do you look for in an employee?

There’s an excellent book by Patrick Lencioni called The Ideal Team Player. In this book Lencioni describes three core traits that every great team member will have. They are humble, hungry, and smart.

The humble is fairly self-explanatory, but this is someone who knows they still have much to learn—no matter how far along in their career. The hunger comes in the form of wanting what’s ahead of them. It’s about a dissatisfaction with their own status quo and the drive to continually get better. The smart part is mostly about people smarts. It’s about soft skills and communication.

This book goes into detail on these three traits and I encourage everyone to read it. It will either help you become a better team member yourself, or help you find, hire, and/or develope team members who work for you.

So when it comes to finding team members like this, I think there are a few things that work for us. The main one, though, is that we’ve been working hard to build a company where great people want to work.

 

Between Focus Lab, Sidecar and Quokka how do you keep it all running so smoothly?

It’s easy to say it runs smoothly when you’re looking from the outside in. It’s not chaotic or falling apart by any means. But there are always things we’re trying to improve and smooth out. Your question brings out one of the things we’re still trying to figure out.

We aren’t running Focus Lab, Sidecar, and Quokka in the way I hope we can someday. It’s pretty difficult to balance them all. The general idea is that Sidecar and Quokka are treated like clients of Focus Lab (even though they’re brands within a single entity). One day I expect Sidecar and Quokka to have their own teams. But for now we’re all just one team working on all three where needed. That won’t work long-term though so we’re working on some ideas that we hope help make this smoother over time.

 

Freestyle: Please use this last part to share something we haven’t covered but would like the creative community to know about you! 

When I was coming up in school I hated reading. Nearly every reading assignment frustrated me and I dreaded having to do the work related to the reading. So I assumed I just hated reading as a whole. That stuck with me for a good while, until I was about 23 or 24.

I was encouraged to pick up a book about business or leadership (I can’t remember which one). I read it and it blew my mind. There were only ~150 pages but those pages were rich with content worth well beyond the $14.95 I probably paid for it. Immediately I fell in love with reading. I realized that it wasn’t reading that I hated. I just hated reading things I wasn’t interested in reading.

I’ve read a lot since then. And I can connect many ideas at Focus Lab to books I’ve either read or listened to. If I had to claim a “secret weapon” that Bill and I have discovered at Focus Lab, it would be reading great books that stretch, challenge, and teach us.