ULI Panel: Going Out on Your Own



I was honored to participate in the San Francisco ULI panel on starting your own business last week. It was an interesting to spend an evening with other entrepreneurs, and to hear about their challenges, successes, and failures. It gave me pause to look back on those earlier years and recall all that’s happened since then. Many of the questions were structural, and had more to do with dollar figures and the technicalities of starting a business. It being developer oriented, a lot of the discussion had to do with the specifics of starting a real estate business; how various assets performed and the like. One of the most provocative questions came at the end of the evening when someone asked “how much is enough?”

At that point I wondered, how much of what? While questions about profitability are essential to understanding how to form and run a business, I find the questions about ‘why’ more important, and much more interesting. If you don’t have a good reason to start up, I have to assume it won’t go well. I never really got into architecture to get rich, but I was drawn to it as an outlet for creativity. And while that’s not what I do all day, if I’m not doing it, I’m never far from it. I’ve also gotten some grief for talking about how architects have a ‘vocation rather than a chore’, a quote I borrowed from a recent book on creativity. But it rings true for me. Architecture is typically for love, not money.

It isn’t that I don’t think about money, just that I believe there is an underlying desire that comes first. Money is another constraint that I look at when trying to do good work. Both in how the studio itself performs, but also because budget is fundamental to every project. It provides another constraint, and constraints are the framework for architecture; they define your project, and how you work with them can separate a great project from a mediocre one. The studio was founded on it’s ability to do more with less, and that includes money.

So when I consider how much is enough, I turn my concerns to the ideology that is embedded in our DNA. Values like resilience, resourcefulness, improvisation, and collaboration are key. This is how we deal with project constraints, and it means that our efforts must continually evolve. I often think about how to explore our design output in new projects, and how to keep coming up with new ideas in the face of the consistency we are confronted by due to the pervasiveness of technology and social media. It is now very easy to communicate the image of an idea (less easy to communicate the idea itself). At the same time, I’ve never been interested in different for the sake of different. But that’s just one aspect of this practice. More generally speaking, lately I’ve been struggling with psychology, history, theory, culture, meaning, age and decay, infrastructure, materials, forms and spaces, politics, academics, and the future.

I hope that Baran Studio will continue to evolve and succeed in as many ways possible. And I hope our clients continue to succeed as well – many of them come to us for our ability to assist in this. And I also hope that the work continues to feed our passions, and give us purpose. You can never get enough of that. And I believe it’s why we started after all.


This entry was posted in News, Observations.


  1. Paul Nabena November 22, 2016 at 10:57 pm #

    Hi Matt,

    You hit the nail right on the head, Great article. I just wish I was at the ULI event.
    As I read through the first paragraph about the ‘challenges of starting a business’ it made me pause for a moment because where you were at that time is exactly where I am currently as a small business owner.
    Being an avid follower of your work along with a couple of other architects in my following, has helped me stay driven & tenacious amidst the challenges of running and growing a small business.
    On a last note, it feels good to know I was once under you tutelage.

    Paul N.

    • Matt January 16, 2017 at 8:54 pm #

      Thanks for the comment Paul, and best of luck. Architecture is certainly a challenging profession, but also rewarding in so many ways. Hope to see you again soon.