June 2, 2017
We talked with Matt Naylor, cofounder and executive creative director at Flow Nonfiction about developing your own opinion, trusting your gut and lessons learned while building a business.
Who influenced your life and helped shape who you are today?
I had a philosophy teacher in high school who always demanded that we make sure our opinions were our own — not just someone else’s idea that we’d adopted because it sounded smart. It’s so easy to fall into group think or to get tunnel vision about the way things are always done. It takes courage to force yourself out of step with what most people are doing. But entrepreneurs thrive when they don’t settle for the popular opinion, and businesses only survive if they find a way to do something new or better.
I think part of what that has meant for our company is that we have really atypical relationships with our clients. They’re a lot more unguarded and intimate than most of what I’ve experienced in the business world. We’ve had folks come in from the outside and try to push us toward more formality in that dynamic, or encourage us to be more calculated in what we share with our partners. Every time we’ve listened to that pressure, it’s been a mistake. We are who we are and it is a big part of what makes us unique.
What are some mistakes you’ve made building your business?
By not trusting my gut about people. There have been times with clients/staff/vendors/partners where all of the resume stuff has lined up so well that I’ve talked myself out of more amorphous reservations that I’ve had. Those decisions have led to the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made as a business owner.
What we call our “gut feelings” are actually a part of our brain that’s a lot older, more primitive and more powerful than our rational brain. This part of our brain reacts to very subtle signals that our cognitive center often misses, and it gives us incredibly valuable information.
That feeling when someone is saying all the right things, but something you can’t quite put your finger on still raises subtle alarm bells. I think we ignore that instinct at our own peril. Just because we can’t quite put a name to what we’re sensing doesn’t mean we should discredit it.
How do you organize your morning?
I try to start with the boring admin stuff. If I don’t get it out of the way, it floats there in the back of my mind while I’m doing the fun things. You’re going to have to do it at some point, so I’d rather just get it over with than have to dread it.
What are some financial lessons learned you can share with others?
Before you spend a significant amount of money, make sure there’s a big difference between the world in which you do spend it and the world in which you don’t. I still work at an Ikea desk that’s propped up on cinder blocks because I just don’t think my day would be any different if I worked at a $3,000 desk that raised itself at the touch of a button.
We do spend a lot more than our competitors in some areas, like really good meals for staff and contractors when we’re on the road, because we believe a day with spectacular food at the end of it is significantly different than a day without. Those kinds of values and decisions are going to be different for every company. I think the important thing is being purposeful about them.
Any advice you can share?
Find a way to incentivize people outside of your company to help promote what you do. There’s nothing more powerful than third-party advocates, and there’s no better way to expand the network of people who are interested in what your company does.
What are your long-term goals?
For our company, this is defined less by size or bottom line than it is by the kind of projects we take on. Our long-term goal has always been to generate our own creative ideas and then find partners who wanted to help bring them to fruition, rather than having fully-baked projects come to us for execution.
When we were starting out, we took most of what came our way – as long as we didn’t have any ethical problems with the work. We got to work with a lot of great partners, but often the idea was already fleshed out by the time it arrived at our company. Over time, we’ve been able to steer more and more toward doing exactly what we want to do and getting to be a little more selective about the work we take on. Right now, I’d say we’re working exclusively on the kinds of projects that we want and we have more creative control than ever before over how those jobs look. We’re not all the way there – generating all of our own projects – but I think we’re pointed in the right direction.
Read more about being a healthy entrepreneur at Tech.Co
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