Startup Diaries: Consider Downsizing to Get the Bigger Picture

Young entrepreneur Dara Huang explains the steps she took in her journey as a Harvard graduated architect, to gain the experience she needed to establish her own unique architectural business.

I've always had an entrepreneurial spirit. It most likely runs in my family because my mother did too. She owned a restaurant, amongst other ventures. I've always admired female entrepreneurs. Especially because I know what it feels like to go to a meeting and be the only woman there. Being a woman in a male dominated industry, such as architecture and property is tough, but the challenge is also part of the appeal.  

Although today I am very happy, and my business is growing, surprisingly it took me years of being very unsettled to figure out that I needed to start a business on my own. I spent most of my 20's questioning whether my CV was shaping up the way I wanted or if I was doing the right thing from a career path point of view. There was a lot of focus on what were the right steps towards achieving my ultimate goals.

Starting a business always sounded very intimidating, but was actually easier than I thought it would be.  

After graduating from Harvard with my Masters Degree in Architecture, I felt like I had taken all of the correct steps for a great career, but somehow the path had been swept away. Although my first job was at the most famous architecture firm in the world, Herzog de Meuron and Foster + Partners, I realised that making an impact in the corporate field was much more difficult than the academic field.

For the next few years I worked on mega scaled, international projects in which I was only one person in a sea of drafters; I wasn't making much of an impact for myself. My CV was full of big names but I began to see that polishing my CV wouldn't help me learn how to start my own practice. So, against the recommendations of my peers, I sought out an unknown boutique firm in London.  

I wanted to make an immediate impact by bringing in new business, having direct contact with clients, and learning to present my ideas confidently.

I found this experience as valuable as working with the biggest names in the industry. It taught me the foundations of small business operations from maintenance to contract signing.  

Through those years, I also tested the water in different areas outside of mainstream architectural practice. I did some freelance work at Eva Menz, a product designer who does light sculptures and also Bloomimages, a visual CGI company in Germany.

It's interesting to see how dabbling in other fields has influenced my studio's work.

As a result, we offer bespoke light sculptures and I still do all of the photo-shopping / presentation images in our competitions and client presentations.  

Prior to my start-up I was scared to start an architecture and design practice on my own, because I didn't think I could make ends meet financially. My biggest fear was not getting any clients. I was therefore both surprised and incredibly pleased that as soon we were "open for business" there was so much support around the firm. Before I knew it, I had a line of contacts that I had made and previous clients put forward to me.

People often ask me how I find all of my clients, and I believe there is a very easy answer to that. Your first clients will be your friends or people you meet through friends. The second round of clients will be found through word of mouth until you are at such critical mass that referrals and client connections are spread between strangers.

My office is today in the second round and I hope that our firm's consistent use of social media, marketing, and our portfolio of completed works will be what attracts the next group of clients. Somehow we are lucky to always find ourselves in a busy position but my view is if work ever slows down, that's the time you're given to be proactive, to go out there and actively market yourself!

It actually isn't until now that the experiences I had during my time as an employee are being culminated into a style that is surfacing within my office.

The simplicity I learned from my Swiss experience, my love for material research, my years at Harvard and my time with a product designer have all made an impact on how I now operate. The best part of it is that although I am working harder, it doesn't feel like work. This feels like something very natural to me because I am passionate about my work. I am just lucky enough to collaborate with an amazing and talented staff that share and help create my vision alongside me.

Young entrepreneur Dara Huang has established Design Haus Liberty, an architectural and design firm situated in Notting Hill’s Westbourne Grove. Established in November 2012, Dara Huang has pulled together a talented team of architects, planners and designers to create a studio focused on combining art, materiality and space. The company boasts an already impressive client list featuring global giants Samsung and LaSalle IM. Dara’s previous design experience includes contributing to the new Tribeca skyscraper; 56 Leonard Street in New York City; The New Tate Modern Museum in London; Manolo Blahnik stores worldwide; and she was personally invited to compete for the design of the Samsung Pavilion for the London Olympics 2012. The daughter of a NASA scientist who emigrated from Taiwan to the United States, Dara grew up in multi-cultural surroundings influenced by living in places like Tokyo, Basel and New York City.

Sign Up to our Newsletter

So you enjoy The NextWomen. Why not sign up to our monthly newsletter?
You get a Letter from the CEO :-), the chance to catch up with the best of our recent articles - and some extra things we throw in once in a while.

We try hard for smart reading.