Nov 19, 2014
Welcome to the SuccessLab Podcast
episode #25. In this episode I talk to Matthew Manos, an amazing
entrepreneur out of L.A. I had the pleasure of meeting him when he
visited Phoenix to help with Pro Bono Week. During our chat, I ask
him how he grew his business based initially on nonprofit work. He
now has three offices spread across the country and is a notable
author. In the Biz Hack I take off from last week’s tip on
maintaining focus and give you a cool tactic some us in the
mastermind started implementing..
Official bio: Matthew Manos is an
neo-philanthropist, creative director, author, and founder of
verynice, a global design company that dedicates more than 50% of
its work to free services for nonprofits. Matt was also named one
of Seven Millennials Changing the World by The Huffington Post.
Whew! And I’m leaving quite a bit out.
- Can you tell us a bit about your journey?
- I’m a graphic designer by trade. I started my freelance career
when I was in high school. I took on my first pro-bono project when
I was 16 years old, and fell in love with the idea of working with
nonprofits. And seeing the power of design in the social sector,
and what it could do in terms of creating a message or making a
vision clear, or just communicating in general. I started
getting a big enough stream of clients to turn this all into a
business, and that’s what verynice is now.
- For businesses already working with for-profit clients, can
they reverse engineer this and start folding in nonprofit work?
- Yes. It’s been done both ways. The way we started was 100
percent pro bono and then gradually adding paid work. But the way
most people start to integrate this model is to start with 100
percent paid work then integrate pro bono.
- How do you manage it all? How do you manage work/life balance?
- I’m still trying to figure it out. But I do have an incredible
team and leadership at verynice. We couldn’t do anything without
our team and our volunteers and contractors. We have a vast network
of people we collaborate with.
- Do you have a staff in place to help?
- The first time verynice had another staff member aside from
myself was when I brought on a business partner, Bora, in 2012.
Prior to that we were exclusively working with contractors on a per
project basis and volunteers on a per project basis. Pretty rapidly
after Bora came on and we had two people running this thing, we
started to see a lot of efficiency in our work and our bandwidth
growing. The challenge of staffing only came when we absolutely had
- How do you find quality freelancers and contractors?
- It’s all about how you position yourself. We slowly started to
get featured on design blogs and that started to attract really
quality designers looking for a place to give back using their
skills. Around that time there really wasn’t a lot of messaging out
there around pro bono in the design industry so it was a desire
that a lot of people were looking for. We were sort of that place
people would land if you Google “volunteer design opportunities.”
People found us that way.
- How do you manage communications with your team spread across
LA, NY and Austin?
- It’s actually simpler than you might think. We are still small
teams. The three office managers will typically connect weekly, and
Bora and I (the managing partners) will connect daily. It’s
really just done through keeping a constant stream of communication
over Google Hangout or phone or email. Just quick check-ins.
- I know for me, and this seems true for number of entrepreneurs,
it can be hard to let go of certain projects and delegate. How have
you been able to do that?
- Very often with designers we really like making stuff. So for
me, the first time I brought on a freelance designer to work on
something with me, it was terribly emotional because I really
wanted to have my hands in the project. But over a couple of a
years of experience managing designers, I started to see the value
in collaboration, and the value in surprise of really just letting
people run with what they think is the best fit for a
creative problem. Now I hardly do any design because of that love
- Just try it. A lot of times when entrepreneurs are afraid to
let go of certain tasks it’s really because they haven’t
experienced what that feels like. So I would recommend just trying
it. Even if you’re still early stage. The point of starting any
business isn’t to allow yourself to keep doing the same thing, but
to create some sort of legacy where you’re almost not needed any
more. That should be the goal of any founder. It’s also a very
- Have you been able to automate certain processes in your
- We continue to build upon our questionnaire which is the first
place a nonprofit or for-profit will request our services. This has
made the on-boarding or vetting process such easier and
- With your business model at verynice, you give away 50% of your
work for free. I know you discuss how to do this in your book, but
can provide any tips?
- What’s important is to treat every project like you would a
paid project. In a paid project you always have things like
agreements or a set scope or a schedule. And very often with pro
bono, people forget to set that kind of stuff in place. As a result
projects can go wrong really fast and get really stressful for both
parties . My biggest advice is to slowly take on more and more pro
bono projects but always remember to utilize the same systems
across the board.
- Do you have any favorite communication tools you use with your
- We use Google Hangout a lot for the remote teams. Internally we
use Slack, which is a chatting platform which is great for sending
cat pictures around.
- Do you have a tip, tool or even a book you can share? Something
you’re loving right now?
- Do you have a mentor?
- Starting a company when you’re 19-years-old is complicated to
find mentors. A lot of people wrote off the idea entirely except
for my mom and dad. So they were my mentors at first. Overtime
people have reached out to offer advisory services.
- How can people connect with you?
Last week’s hack was all about maintaining focus. It was a
trick Jack Dorsey, CEO and co-founder of Square, implemented when
he was simultaneously guiding Square and Twitter. So check that out
if you missed it. This week’s hack is also related to maintaining
Biz Hack: A few
months ago a couple of us in the mastermind group buddied up and
began emailing each other our daily most important things (MITs).
At the end of the day we recap what from the list we accomplished.
Initially this was just a form of accountability, but I also
discovered it helped me refocus when the day felt it was getting
off track. I could quickly refer to that email, zero in on my MITs
and regain focus. Also knowing you are submitting your list of
accomplishments to someone at the end of the day can light a fire
and make you super productive.
Action Items: Find
someone you can start this focus exercise with. It doesn’t
necessarily have to be email, but it should be some sort of daily
check in. Be sure to find someone who is equally as committed to
the idea as you are and who isn’t afraid to call you out if they
think your list of to-do’s is too long and unrealistic. The goal is
not to set yourself up for failure, but to really hone in on what
is most important for that day, and be held accountable.
Quote of the week: “There may be
people that have more talent than you, but theres no excuse for
anyone to work harder than you do.” ~ Derek Jeter
Next week we’re in The Lab with Zach
Goldstein from a rapidly growing startup out of Silicon Valley
called Thanx. We talk about how he took Thanx from idea to
the marketplace. It’s a very insightful interview, so don’t miss
it. For any other past episodes checkout SuccessLabr.com and if you’re in iTunes, please
rate the podcast. I’d love to hear what you think. Until next time,
have prosperous week!