Figure out what you want and what makes you happy
Tamara Olson is the founder of Studio Simpatico. It is a creative design and digital studio based in Manhattan. It collaborate with clients who need help creating experiences that engage and delight their audiences.
Tamara spoke with our magazine about her life and work.
Tamara Olson, Founder Studio Simpatico
My Professional journey
My professional journey goes back to the mid-90s when I was frustrated by the limitations of pre-made Geocities templates. I stayed up searching Yahoo! until 4 am until I figured out HTML. (The next day of fifth grade was tough to get through.) 23 years later that’s still how I work: keep tackling and researching things I don’t understand online until I figure them out.
Though most of my full-time jobs before starting Studio Simpatico were design-focused (UX design at Google on Ads and Classroom, an internship on the Apple.com design team, UX design for the Observer), I’ve always stayed pretty “in the weeds” and hands-on with front-end development. The biggest change for me professionally was three years ago when I walked away from an amazing job at an amazing company (Google) because I felt the entrepreneurial itch. That’s when Studio Simpatico was born.
We’re a small design and development shop based in Manhattan. We mostly take project-based work and are now three full-timers and four to five part-timers. We’re still growing, so I’d say the challenges are very much present tense.
We didn’t take out any loans or start with any significant capital, so for us, it’s really been about slow, sustainable growth. Carving out time to grow (create a culture and positive work environment, interview people, figure out how to delegate, train, look for new business, etc.) – while continuing to keep current clients happy and bill enough to keep the lights on– is really, really hard. Not impossible, but grueling.
Finding a partner in crime in Sinan Imre (who is hard-working and talented, but also extremely good-natured) has made it much more fun.
Every day’s a bit different, which is what I love. I whiteboard with other designers. I keep our office stocked with yummy snacks. I field emails. I code WordPress themes.
I visit with old, new, and prospective clients. I think about how we can make the studio space more collaborative. I stay up until 4 am researching things I don’t understand.
I picked something I love, so that makes it easier. But I do try to keep a prioritized to-do list, and at the beginning of each day map out what I plan to get done with specific pockets of time.
I think it’s called the Pomodoro technique.
How do I hire my team?
I believe good teams happen when people with superpowers work together effectively. I look for people with superpowers who are also kind, collaborative and self-starters.
That’s not a particularly original answer I know, but it works.
Advice which changed your life
A former manager told me that when you receive advice, keep in mind the source. The (usually well-intentioned) feedback giver is telling you things that helped him and that he wishes he would’ve known somewhere along the way. It’s not always going to be relevant or right for you. Sometimes it is. But sometimes it isn’t.
Tara Mohr talks about that in Playing Big: don’t be so eager for feedback that you take it all. Always consider the source. I tend to be overly empathetic and a chronic mediator. This helped me keep that in check, and not forget to listen to my own gut.
Advice to Entrepreneurs