How has your UCLA experience helped shape your success?
I started verynice during my sophomore year at UCLA from my dorm room. In fact, most of my initial pro bono clients were actually various student activist groups and on-campus nonprofit chapters. This was all really central for me to steer my life in the direction I wanted to go and who it was I wanted to support through the type of work I was learning to do. In addition to that, UCLA is where I learned the fundamentals of design which is very much the core of what our company does today.
verynice is a global design strategy consultancy that gives half of its work for free to nonprofits. We work with a really wide range of clients including Fortune 500 level companies, tech startups, small businesses and of course nonprofits. We work across a mixture of visual design work and what I like to refer to as “invisible design” which is really looking at business models, strategic planning, user experience and marketing strategy.
Why did you choose to pursue a degree in Design Media Arts at UCLA?
In high school, I started dabbling with graphic design. I had taken a “Digital Art” class, and around that time I was also beginning to dabble with doing some freelance work. My heart was really in the arts in general, specifically with fine art. What is kind of funny about that is that I had this moment when I was applying to schools, and I was making that big decision thinking “should I apply for a fine arts degree and pursue what I love, which was painting at the time, or should I take a chance and apply for design, which was something that I was just starting to fall in love with?” Ultimately, I got very excited about the fact that the Design Media Arts program at UCLA was built around design but still had a very critical and storytelling-oriented angle to it. So, I found it to be sort of like the marriage of everything that I loved, and that was what motivated me to commit to design.
What was your favorite course at UCLA and why?
My favorite course at UCLA was actually not a design course; it was a film and literature course that focused on the Holocaust. The teacher was Todd Presner. If I remember correctly, this was a class in the Comparative Literature department. What I loved about that class was that it really showed me the ability for design to go beyond just the typical platform or aesthetics that one would imagine. What I mean by that is that Presner was starting a digital humanities program at the time which was exploring how you integrate technology, design and innovation into the humanities. That course stuck with me and helped me see design in a new way. The class taught me that design is not just a single output but can be something much richer than that by designing for social impact, movements and history.
What is your favorite UCLA memory?
I have three memories that I always look back on. The first is the day that I met the woman who is now my wife. I met Katie at UCLA. She was also in the Design Media Arts program, and we actually met online before even starting the program.
Another fun memory that I have is with my next door neighbor during my first year of college. His name is Gregory. He and I both realized it was going to be our first Halloween in college but we forgot to get a costume. It was the day before Halloween, and so we both went down to the Halloween store near Wilshire Blvd, and we noticed these awesome banana suits that they had. Each suit was about $40, and at the time that felt like thousands of dollars. To justify the cost, we came to an agreement in which we would attempt to wear the banana suits as much as possible. As a result, throughout our first year, we dressed up as bananas to pretty much every party we were invited to. It was pretty epic. We even wore the banana suits to the undie run with our boxers over the costume. I think we even jumped in a pool with them on once. Needless to say, I don’t have my banana suit anymore.
My third memory is from our senior project class in the Design Media Arts program. For some context, a senior project is basically a design project on anything that interests you. It’s a grand finale of sorts. For me, I was really interested in using that time to explore learning two things that I had always wanted to learn. Funny enough, those two things were the mandolin and the unicycle. So, for ten weeks, I taught myself how to simultaneously ride the unicycle while playing the mandolin. I made a short film about the whole process and only got hurt a few times.
How do you support and participate in the UCLA community now?
I was looking through my calendar and emails and funny enough, by way of being a guest lecturer, speaker or panelist, I have actually been back at the UCLA campus over 30 times to share verynice’s story and mentor students from various departments. It has been about seven years since I graduated, so giving back in this way is something that I am very proud of. Hopefully, by sharing my story I am providing some inspiration to students looking to start their own business like I did.
What advice would you give to UCLA students and UCLA alumni interested in your industry?
If you want to find success in the design industry, you have to do well on the projects that your teachers give you, but this has to be balanced with also doing projects outside the context of the classroom. That might look like volunteering for some student groups like I did or finding local businesses that could benefit from the work that you do and the knowledge that you are starting to obtain. Pro bono work is really how I got my business started. It is definitely a wonderful way to give back to your community while also learning things that you don’t learn in the classroom.
When it comes to alumni looking to get into the industry, I think a lot of the same advice would resonate with them as well. They are not on campus so they can’t work with student groups as much as a student could but they can still propel themselves into this space if they take on some pro bono work. This will help them show that they know what they are doing and that they want to gain the practice and experience they need to really sell their skills at a later date.
What makes you most proud to be a Bruin?
UCLA is such an incredible school, and it really is a school that I am proud to say that I graduated from. It’s also a school that I believed I wouldn’t be qualified to go to in the first place so I have always been so proud to call it my Alma Mater. One thing I have always loved about it has been the passion for social action that takes place on campus. I cannot help but think that that has really had an impact on my career and what it is I do today. Another thing I am proud of is the educators there. I quickly learned after graduating that many of the people that I called my professors are such incredibly significant figures in my field. It sounds funny to say that but sometimes when you are a student and in the classroom you don’t really think about that bigger influence that they might have.
There is a lot that is coming up for me and for verynice. We have been working really hard on creating a suite of new resources for designers, small business owners and social entrepreneurs. Keep an eye out. 2017 will be a pretty big year for verynice.