PORTLAND, OR, August 14, 2020 – If there’s one character trait that Young Architect founder Michael Riscica can credit for his success over the years, it is undoubtedly his remarkable ability to be adaptable. This is an entrepreneur who, after all, raised the seed money to fund his business by selling Barbie dolls on Amazon. So when the Covid pandemic hit in early 2020 and it became clear that Young Architect’s planned Young Architect Conference (YAC) in Portland, Maine – the organization’s second annual conference – would not be able to be held in person, Michael and his #bosslady colleagues Joanna and Destiny quietly canceled the conference and turned their focus to an online event to be held in lieu of the conference – the 2020 Young Architect Summer Series (YASS.)
A proud supporter of the Conference, and now the Summer Series, Design Pup is sharing a special three-part series of articles highlighting the Summer Series, of which this is the first. In this article, we explore aspects of the Series that were tailored to entrepreneurs. The articles that follow will highlight areas of the conference focused on career growth, followed by a final article wrapping up the multitude of workshops, panels, and celebrations that promoted community support and well-being in the profession.
Do the Work You were Born to Do
A common thread stringing together all aspects of the Series was the topic of entrepreneurship. “What if you could wake up and get paid for something meaningful?,” asked Michael Knouse, Portland business coach and leader of the workshop Escape from Corporate: Grow a Meaningful Business that Replaces your Corporate Income. “What if I could get paid for ______?”
“Eating chocolate,” replied one attendee of the interactive workshop.
“Sleeping,” replied another. Others were more introspective.
“Creating art” and “Being a mentor,” two more answered.
Knouse then challenged attendees to look at these ideas from the point of view of an entrepreneur, analyzing their feasibility as “side hustles.” “Does your idea solve a clear and (ideally) urgent problem?” “Are you in control of how much you get paid?” “Is it something you enjoy?”
These foundational thoughts regarding entrepreneurship were later embraced and expanded upon by New York architect Emma Greenberg, who challenged attendees to not only find work that they enjoy doing, but in fact have it be a reflection of their own personality. “Create your [business] from your skills, passions, and portfolio” Greenberg shared in her keynote, Let Your Creativity Drive Your Personal Brand and Business. It’s a topic Greenberg knows a thing or two about. She completed the Architecture Registration Exam (ARE,) obtaining her license, and creating a business built on her popular YouTube and Instagram channels, all within just a few short years. Greenberg’s story was just one of many shared by YASS presenters and attendees alike, coming together to share the work they were each born to do.
A grassroots event, these stories wouldn’t be complete without hearing the inspirational story of Series organizer Michael Riscica. “I was never supposed to be an architect,” Riscisa shared in his keynote address, Entrepreneurship for Young Architects. His story took him from his school days, where he had difficulty learning as a student, working his way through college, and finding his way to Portland via a cross-country bicycle trip. Come 2008 and the Great Recession, Riscica found himself unemployed and at a crossroads in the profession.
“I ended up…becoming unemployed…really going through some tough times. I could barely pay my rent, [barely afford] food, and there was a turning point. I said, ‘I’m not giving up on architecture. I’m going to figure this thing out. I’m going to figure out how architecture is going to work for me, rather than me trying to work for architecture.’ ”
Riscica inspired the virtual audience of 150+ as he talked about how his experience taking the ARE during the economic downturn left him feeling the need for change in the studying process. After licensure, he worked to fill this need by creating a blog, leading to group study sessions via his ARE Boot Camp program. He published a book, started a Facebook support group, launched a podcast, and created the Young Architect Conference and now the Summer Series. A shining example of a self-made entrepreneur who brings support and guidance to thousands – the work he’s born to do – Michael’s tone during the opening day of the Summer Series set the striking tone for the rest of the 5 day-long event.
Who You Connect With will Help You Grow
In what Young Architect refers to as “The heartbeat of it all,” the foundation of the Summer Series lies in the “incredible Young Architect Community…connect[ing] with a community of peers who are committed to personal and professional excellence.” In other words, networking. People helping people. It’s what the Series – and all of Young Architect’s programs – is and are all about.
As Michael told his entrepreneurial story, he closed by outlining tried-and-true “Mindsets, Concepts, and Tools” that he’s found to be most important over the years. One of his key mindsets? Always developing his personal and professional skills by working together with others. A key concept? Networking, plain and simple. And a favorite tool? Face to face and word of mouth communication.
Riscica made a point to emphasize physical connection in communication, pointing out that while he could easily record videos of his lectures and upload them to YouTube, he has made the intentional choice not to. Rather, he spends a significant amount of time and money traveling around the country, visiting groups of ARE candidates and others in the profession in person. Michael knows that the value brought by meeting in person far outweighs the value that a YouTube video can provide, not just for attendees, but also for Michael himself.
As for the modern day challenges of the pandemic and shelter-in-place, Riscica cites video communication as being an important alternative to face to face communication. In fact, from the keynotes to the lectures; the workshops to the parties; the video-based format of the Series, while not the same as an in-person event, formed the groundwork for the networking that took place over the course of the event. And the networking doesn’t stop with the end of the Series.
In two moves unique to Young Architect, the organization has 1) put together a directory of attendees, allowing them to share as much contact information as they’re comfortable with, in an effort to stay in touch with one another, supporting each other, long after the Series comes to a close. 2) Young Architect hosts a private Facebook group, exclusive to attendees of the 2019 Young Architect Conference and now the 2020 Summer Series. The group allows for feedback and input from attendees as Young Architect plans future events, and also allows attendees to keep in touch, share thoughts, and form a cohort of friends who continue to support each other, regardless of their location in the country or the world.
Yes, I Do Work Harder than Everyone Else
In the final theme universal to all discussions of entrepreneurship during the YASS, no session would be complete without discussing perseverance.
For Greenberg, this manifested in her creating and publishing social media content on a strict schedule each and every week for years. Over time this work paid off in the form of her being recognized by an individual for her online content, ultimately leading to a new project and client.
For Knouse, this manifested in a discussion about a former business of his, where, as summarized on his website, he “Bootstrapped, grew and sold a boutique pet products company while also running the day-to-day of a rapidly growing real estate investment firm.” This was before he built his business as a business coach, where he encourages hard work and perseverance, while also encouraging self care and play (especially outdoors!)
For Riscica, this manifested in his emergence from unemployment and the lessons learned by going through that experience. Knowing better than to put all his eggs in one basket, Michael sports a business that has dozens of facets and revenue streams, meaning that – for example – when Amazon restructured its Affiliate program and reduced Young Architect’s income stream by over $2,000 monthly, Riscica was able to absorb the hit thanks to his robust network of other revenue streams.
In addition, Riscica noted that entrepreneurs are responsible for their own success. Trying things and failing is part of the process, as he discovered in his online store and jobs board endeavors, both of which didn’t end up working out and were closed. Above all, a large part of success is simply working hard, as Michael summarized by saying, “Yes, I do work harder than everyone else,” sharing that his work often doesn’t feel like work, but rather more of a hobby. “People talk about self care, and often ask me about getting burned out from all the work I do. What they don’t realize is that this is my self care. This is what I love to do. I don’t get burned out from it.”
In Michael’s work, and in the work of every single attendee at the YASS – entrepreneur or not – this spirit of perseverance, determination, and good old fashioned hard work was palpable. This unique group of young leaders – the movers and shakers of today and tomorrow – carry with them an energy that can be felt as clearly as a breeze dancing through the hairs on one’s bare arm. With this group coming together in late July to share with one another and support each other’s personal and professional growth, one thing has become abundantly clear: For today’s young architects, summer ain’t just a three month vacation anymore – it’s simply another season in which to shine.
About the Young Architect Summer Series
The Young Architect Summer Series is a 5-day ONLINE event created for Young Architects by Young Architects. We focus on personal and professional development, learning from community leaders and unsung heroes, and helping each other reach the next level of success. But most importantly, we listen to YOU.
About Portland Design Pup
Portland Design Pup is the premier open-source, free website for connecting the Portland Design Community, offering a wide array of physical events and online tools. Our mission is to make it easy for members of our community to find and participate in conversations about the impact of design in our everyday lives.
Cover image courtesy Tania Lecona/edited by Portland Design Pup.