CreativeMornings with George and Sara Aye, a mix of crazy and awesome

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Your passion shouldn’t be about what you do, it should be about why you do it. The husband and wife duo that started Greater Good Studio in Logan Square, used their design talent to solve social problems. While it may have been a giant leap to start their own business and follow their own rules, the couple is glad they did.

“We’re probably more broke than we’ve ever been, but we are happier than we’ve ever been,” Sara Aye says.

George and Sara Aye shared their knowledge with us at this month’s CreativeMornings. These are their steps for a successful and fulfilling career:

1.Start your own company
At the top of George and Sara Aye’s list, starting your own company was their first suggestion. To do this you only need one of the following things to get started: 1.) A trust fund 2.) an inheritance 3.) a spouse with an income. While the first two would have been nice, the Aye’s had only the latter option. That meant stretching their funds and dipping into savings while George worked at the School of the Art Institute, but they still recommend this route. During this time the Aye’s say you should do freelance and live modestly. You’ll be surprised when you plan out just how much money you need and stretch it. George Aye says he was really good at eating Ramen during that time.

Why it’s crazy: You have no clients, no boss and no guarantees.
When you’re first starting, you might have a small number of clients. Don’t worry. “You just need one. You don’t need a ton of clients but you have just one that will lead to more.” Sara Aye says. “So good work begets good work.”

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Why it’s awesome: You can choose your own battles, and you have to fake it until you make it*
*But of course, you actually have to make it. Sara and George Aye say the most important part of starting a company is deciding why you’re starting it, not what the company will do. For them, solving social issues with design was the mission behind Greater Good Studio. From there on, faking it is the next step. While you might not have many clients at first, it’s important to look like you know what you’re doing. She says it’s good to sell yourself as an actual design company and that pressure of letting someone else down and looking like a fraud is what pushed the couple to work harder. Once you’ve established your company, you can chose your own battles and turn down clients that don’t fit your mission.

“We find that our company, and I think many companies, are defined not only by what they do but what they choose not to do,” George Aye says.

2. Work with your partner
Before getting married, the couple taught at the School of the Art Institutes and ran a T-shirt company. Later, they had a daughter.  Working with your partner, Sara explains, is crazy, but good.
“It’s definitely crazy,” George Aye adds. “Don’t get me wrong its definitely crazy.”
While working with your partner work is never-ending and there is a blur between family life and work, Sara Aye says.

Why it’s crazy: You have no boundaries, work never ends and you share credit.
The couple agrees that you’re more honest with your partner and there is a much quicker response to your work in this situation. “We think about this stuff at every moment, whether its breakfast or dinner, and we just can’t help it,” George Aye says. “We actually talk about it in bed half the time.”

The other tough part about owning a company together is that you have to share the credit, although others might just know you as “so-and-so’s wife or husband.” “I think there’s an awkwardness in our society about being married and working together, like people might have some doubt, like ‘oh are they going to be objective with each other; is she just agreeing with him cause she doesn’t want to hear about it later,'” Sara Ayes says. Sometimes you just have to let it go and make a name for yourself by doing things separately so you are always making new connections to share with your significant other.

Why it’s awesome: You have real empathy and a short feedback loop.
You know what each other is going through because you’re experiencing it together. “Our incentives are aligned in a way that they’ve never been before,” Sara Aye says. Since they are both working at Greater Good Studio, they work together, sometimes taking on responsibilities for the other while they tend to business. “That empathy is really, really nice,” Sara Ayes says. “You sorta feel like you always have someone in your corner.”

Since you are so close with the person you are running a company with, giving honest feedback to your partner is easier than to anyone else. The couple says they’ll leave a meeting and give each other advice on how to improve as soon as they step into the elevator. “It’s so immediate that it really makes for a short, tight, feedback loop where you feel like you’re constantly improving,” Sara Aye says.

3. Work in the social sector
When they started Greater Good Studio, the couple asked themselves if they could actually start a company where everything they do is inherently good. While they weren’t sure at the time,  they went for it and began working in the social sector.

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Why it’s crazy: Design isn’t in the budget.
Face it — design isn’t always in the budget. Sara Aye suggests finding the projects you want and making them work. Sometimes this means your client won’t always be your funder. You have to find unmet needs as well, which is easy. Finding the resources/assers, on the other hand, can be challenging Sara says.

Why it’s awesome: It’s not just a job, you work with a lot of motivated people and the work actually happens.
Since most of the people working in the social sector are crazy passionate about the work they do, they don’t see it as a job. “They’ll answer your emails at 10 p.m., they’ll reach out to their personal networks, they will call you back and make things work in a way that other clients haven’t because this isn’t just a job for them,” Sara Aye says.

While working in the business sector, George Aye says he’s seen a lot of projects that are designed, but are never used. This is the opposite for the social sector since clients do not have the money to redo designs. “If you’re going to do this work, it will actually get made,” George Aye says.

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