205 - TZL - David Shove-Brown

TZL - David Shove-Brown

TZL Open [0:03] Welcome to the Zweig Letter Podcast putting architectural, engineering planning, environmental consulting advice, and guidance in your ear. Zweig Group's team of experts has spent more than three decades elevating the industry by helping AEP and environmental consulting firms thrive, and these podcasts deliver invaluable management, industry, client, marketing, and HR advice directly to you, free of charge. The Zweig Letter Podcasts elevating the design industry one episode at a time. Randy Wilburn [0:49] Hey folks, and welcome to another episode of the Zweig Letter Podcast. I'm your host, Randy Wilburn and I'm excited to be with you today. It's been a minute since we've had a chance to sit down and chat with folks and I'm excited to have David Shove-Brown on the podcast today. David is a partner at //3877, which I actually figured out what that was related to and we will talk about that in a little bit but David is an architect with a background in residential restaurants and healthcare, and just an all-around great individual. David, for those of you that read the Zweig Letter on a regular basis, David was featured back in June of 2021 in an interview that Lisa Andreessen did for The Zweig Letter, to talk about a lot of things that were happening and are happening in the design industry that firms and firm leadership or dealing with during the pandemic. And so, after reading that and talking with a few other people, I said I've got to get David on the podcast just to talk with him directly. He was kind enough to oblige and I really appreciate that. And so without further ado, I want to welcome David to the podcast. How are you doing today?

David Shove-Brown [2:01] I'm great. Thank you so much for having me. I love this. This is awesome.

Randy Wilburn [2:04] Good. I've watched a couple of videos that you've done. I won't call you a ham, but certainly, you're not afraid of the spotlight.

David Shove-Brown [2:14] Let’s see if I can confirm or deny those allegations? Well, it depends. If you ask my 11-year-old kid, I get the usual Dad, you're embarrassing me?

Randy Wilburn [2:23] Oh my gosh. It’s all good. I really appreciate that. One of the things that we've done historically with the Zweig Letter Podcast and we've done it for over 200 episodes. Whenever we have somebody that is not a known entity to our audience from the vantage point of being part of the Zweig Group, we always like to ask them what their superhero origin story is. So I would love for you just to share a little bit about yourself and your background. And I know we have a couple of things in common because of where you went to college and where I spent my summers with my grandparents there in Washington, DC. So I would love for you just to give the Zweig Letter audience the cliff note version of David from a superhero perspective. David Shove-Brown [3:08] From a superhero perspective. I don't know if I got that. So I was an Army brat. My sister and I were born in Panama and then we moved to the States and then moved around a bunch, and we ended up in New England when my father got out of the service. I started to look at colleges and high school and did the whole where the heck do I want to be and found Catholic UNDC which sort of shocked everybody because well, I'm not Catholic, and I'm not sure that anybody would ever describe me as super pious. So, found the school, loved the city, came down here for college and never left. And from there, I've had a bit of a little sort of circuitous route to get to where I am in my career with some time in academia, some time working on my own, working for firms, and things like that. So, I'm not that different from my folks who had sort of different careers as they evolved so I think the mixture of all these different experiences have sort of culminated in this one thing that brings myself and my business partner Dave Tracz, who was a college classmate and best friend together. And I think for us, it's really driven us to create this cool melting pot of different people with different backgrounds and different experiences to just do good work. Randy Wilburn [4:22] It's so funny you say that. As I was reading a little bit about some of your experiences, you had a very unique story to tell about a very pivotal moment in your early career before you actually even got into architecture where you were looking down the barrel of a gun called biology class. And it really challenged you and honestly, your challenge was being collective, those of us that have been able to see the work that you've created over the years of your career have been our benefit because of some advice that your mother gave you ultimately helped you pivot into a whole different career and focus.

David Shove-Brown [5:01] Well, the funny part about that whole story is, I talked about the biology class, and going to my college or my counselor for high school and I brought it up. And, several months later, I was with my parents and my mom said, I don't remember that. This is such a major earth-changing thing for me. My kid is at home trying to learn the periodic table, and I'm like, I got nothing. I got oxygen. I got hydrogen, that's what I can bring to the table because I never took calculus, or never did chemistry and so, it was such a pivotal thing. And my mother just for her, it was just being a mom. And, sort of seeing what her kid was good at and liked and quite frankly, wasn't as interested in and not as skilled in so, you know, it's amazing the sort of differing perceptions and perspectives of these events in one's life.

Randy Wilburn [5:47] And obviously it all worked out, right because now you got your architecture degree at CAU.

David Shove-Brown [5:55] Yes, I've got two degrees there. So I did five and a half years of school and a couple study of bronze and here I am.

Randy Wilburn [6:03] Here you are. I love that. You know, it's funny, Mark Zweig wrote an article just the other day, about one of the things that the design industry really needs to push for, and your story harkens me back to that article. And it's simply that we should be encouraging our kids, our young people to consider a career in the design industry, in the AEC space. So it's like, no longer just hoping that your kid, your son, or daughter comes to you and says, hey, Mom, hey, Dad, I want to be an architect or I want to be an engineer. It's maybe sharing with them all the different opportunities and potential that exists within the design industry for an individual to create a satisfying career that lasts a lifetime. David Shove-Brown [6:47] Absolutely. I had nobody in my family. I didn't know any architects when I was a kid. Nobody in the family was an architect. And so, this was a whole new thing, and then to see college classmates of mine go into all these different industries and all these different avenues from the design starting point were really fantastic. And so it's really cool to see how far all of these folks have gone and with such diversity. It's great.

Randy Wilburn [7:14] Yeah, that's something that I'm really excited about. I do think that more and more organizations, more and more companies need to be intentional about getting out there and giving back even at a young age where you can't recruit any of these kids to come work for you tomorrow but you can go to the high schools and junior high schools and encourage them to look at STEAM and STEM and all these different opportunities that are available to young kids that these kids are not traditionally considering. David Shove-Brown [7:44] Well, yeah, I love doing little high school fairs. And quite frankly, I've taught in elementary school, one for the school my kid used to go to. And it's so awesome to go and show and talk about what you do, and talk about what effect it has on people and not just drawing and designing a space but understanding the business of restaurants and how people live in their homes. Like, the whole sociological side of it is so much fun to talk about. Randy Wilburn [8:13] Yeah, it really is. And so, as I was kind of doing a little bit of research on you, it sounds like you not only have a love for architecture, but you also have a love for landscape architecture for the whole environment. So it's not just the building, but it's also the land that that building sits on. How did you decide to ultimately pick one versus the other, even though technically they're both merged together and the way that you look at things? David Shove-Brown [8:43] Well, it’s exactly that. I went into the architecture side because I loved that game of art and math and sort of tying them together. You know, designing something and then going how do you build it, or how do you get it to stand up, or how do you even create this physical form. And so, it wasn't really until I got into architecture that I really started to understand landscape architecture and interior design, and how all these things marry together and create such amazing experiences. So, for me, it's so much fun to work with people in the landscape space and in the interior design space. All these things come together to create really fantastic designs.

Randy Wilburn [9:20] And it's funny that you mentioned that because I'm a huge Frank Lloyd Wright fan, and you probably know this, but Frank Lloyd Wright designed a lot of his buildings around nature, and my cousin still owns a house one block over from one of a couple of homes that I think he designed and built in Oak Park, Illinois. And this

particular house, and I've seen it before, has a tree in the middle of the entryway to the house, and it was built around it. When my cousins were growing up one of their friends actually lived in that house, their parents owned it, and it was quite interesting to see that and to see how there's really no disconnect between nature and really good design. The two just become one if it's done properly.

David Shove-Brown [10:11] One of my inspirations and I can actually say he's a good friend is Antoine Predock. And he has a great quote that he gave to me and some students, which is, ‘Architecture is nothing but landscape and drag.’ When he said that I was like, it is. It's that connection of inside and outside and sometimes the line between the two is very blurry, which I think is great.

Randy Wilburn [10:37] If I remember correctly, you connected with Antoine. He was over in Italy?

David Shove-Brown [10:43] I connected with him through a mutual friend and invited him to come to do a seminar with some students of mine in Italy. Such a cool dude, and have stayed in touch and really very inspirational with what he's done.

Randy Wilburn [10:58] Do you still teach at Catholic University right now?

David Shove-Brown [11:03] No, I mean, I'll go lecture and things like that on occasions but something had to give at some point. A few years ago, where it was just between the firm and between family and all of those things coming together. There are only so many hours in the day, and I had to pull away from teaching on a full-time basis.

Randy Wilburn [11:21] I understand that. There's nothing like giving back in that way because whenever you're molding the minds of the next generation, I mean, there are so many really great outcomes that come from that. So I can imagine that you may find yourself back in the confines of a classroom at some point in time in the future.

David Shove-Brown [11:42] I just spoke at GW University Corcoran a couple of weeks ago, and so I love going out and talking to students. I think for me, the thing that's most pivotal is that you don't have to know your path early on and it doesn't have to be so straightforward. You can bounce around and enjoy the drive. It's a lot of fun to see the sights as you're going through it all.

Randy Wilburn [12:07] Oh, absolutely. I always tell people, that life is not as linear as you think it is. There are a lot of zigs and zags in there, and if you take a moment and take time to take in those zigs and zags, it's a much more enjoyable journey in my estimation. So listen, I want to talk about //3877, which I'll just put it out there, that is the latitude and longitude of where you guys are located in the DC area. I'm just curious. I'd love for you just to tell the audience a little bit about your company, and what you guys focus on from a practice standpoint. David Shove-Brown [12:46] Sure. So my business partner, Dave, and I, so he's DT and I'm DSP with two days in the office. We got two Dave's, three Meghan's, two Matt's and two Jesse’. So when Dave and I started the firm, we made some really solid conscious decisions to really focus on clients and customer satisfaction, and not just getting a job, but really getting a client and staying with them for the long haul and really focusing on the industries that we knew and really enjoyed. So for us, that was residential, that was hospitality, that was restaurants. We certainly have branched out a little bit from that. We both had done some office space where we had done some space or some work within the fitness arena. And so, those were sort of our core factors or core sectors that we wanted to focus on. We're not the people to design arenas. We're not the people to design a civic building and that's okay. We don't need to be, there are lots of great folks for that. So we wanted to focus on those industries and do really well within them, and understand what we were good at and what we weren't as good at, and being quite frankly, honest with ourselves and with everybody else to say this is what you should come to us for. So, we started off with the two of us in my kitchen in Capitol Hill. And so, it was Dave and me. It was, my wife worked out of the office in the basement. We had our newborn daughter, two dogs and a nanny. So every day was an adventure. And we've grown to just over 30 people, and we've got architects, interior designers, and we've got some office folks. We've put together a team of just insanely talented people. Basically, we hire them and get the hell out of the way and just let them create and it's so fun to watch. It is awesome.

Randy Wilburn [14:39] So you're kind of a contemporary of mine. I might have you by a couple of years. I'm 52. But when you got into the design industry, it was a lot different than it is today. [CS: Oh, yeah]. Now would you imagine that it has become what it is today versus what it was like in the 90s? I talk to people about the 90s and the design industry, whether you are a civil engineering or engineering firm, or whether you are an architectural firm, and I say this all the time, so anybody listening to this podcast has heard this expression, it was an old wineskin mentality for the industry in terms of how things are done and that's not how we do things. It is so drastically different. I'm sure when you tell the young heads and explain to them that you guys don't know what it was like in the 90s, or maybe even the early 2000s, for that matter. So much has changed in the design industry space, yet so much has stayed the same from a good perspective in the sense of design sensibility and understanding. So a lot of the old stuff that may be needed to go away went away, but a lot of the new stuff, along with the traditional abilities to design and create really wonderful things have remained.

David Shove-Brown [15:52] Well, there are still some of those 1990s early 2000s firms out there and people out…

Randy Wilburn [15:58] There are but listen, they're not recruiting well. And trust me when I say this, that's the biggest challenge right now. And that's why firms have to physically think about how they do things and where change needs to be made. Some of them are being pulled, kicking, and screaming into the 2020s.

David Shove-Brown [16:19] Well, the hardest thing, I think, for people to understand is that you have to be sometimes critical of yourself. You have to be able to say, I don't know the answer to this, but I've got this person over here in the office that's really good at that sort of thing. Letting them run and not being the micromanager. Not being the person that dictates design. The philosophy is that anybody in the office can have a good idea. I don't care what your title is. And I learned this in academia that a lot of times people had sort of feelings of themselves based on their degree, and quite frankly, I don't give a damn. For me, it's how you are as a human. How are you? What do you think about? What's the thought process? What's the process for design? How do you treat the people around you? That to me ends up telling me way more about how you are as an employee, or as a team member than whatever your portfolio looks like. So you have to be able to say to yourself, okay, I'm really good at this sort of thing, but not so good at that thing, and balance them out.

Randy Wilburn [17:20] You're absolutely right, and I think that a lot of firms are doing a good job of acclimating to the way things are today to these Gen Z and millennials in the way that they work because I think it is a lot different than what we've experienced in the past. So, tell me this, I would love to know, going into the pandemic, and like I said, we’re slowly coming out of it. We still have a little way to go, but people are getting excited. Mask ordinances are being removed, that even happened here in Fayetteville, Arkansas where I am. I don't know what it's been like in DC, for you guys during these last two years, what was the biggest aha moment for you going through this pandemic, as an organization as a design firm? David Shove-Brown [18:09] For me, it wasn't an earth-shattering realization, it was a reassurance that our team was the right team. I should have done a better job in the last two years of writing things down and thinking back to conversations that we had and things that we did. Those memories are starting to slowly trickle away and I wish that I had written down more, but for me, the compassion that our team had for one another and for us and for our clients, that to me was so reassuring, and to think that we had created a firm that really was what we wanted it to be. It wasn't a dictatorship. It wasn't two people sort of ruling the day. It was a whole bunch of people working together and supporting one another. When this is all said and done, that's the thing that I'm going to think back on. Randy Wilburn [19:17] I think adversity creates opportunity, and I think that's the case for anybody, right? If you get knocked down, you got to get back up and figure out a way not to get knocked down again and to keep moving forward. You guys instituted a couple of things that I think are really interesting. Actually, some things are totally the purview of tech companies and all of that, and I've heard a few companies in the Design Space Institute have unlimited PTO and hybrid work models. We've all been in a hybrid work model just because of the pandemic but you've been able to embrace some of those changes and have found a silver lining and all that has been really helpful for your growth as an organization. I'd love for you just to kind of talk about those specific two items, which are huge, right? And unlimited PTO like people, hear that and they say, oh, I can never do that because then nobody will ever come to work. And in actuality, the statistics show that in companies that offer unlimited PTO, people take fewer vacations than people….

David Shove-Brown[20:22] For us, it's not a sort of free for all with unlimited PTO, you have to plan far enough in advance. We have to look at it and say, hey, you know what, as you're starting to go through that process of, you know, I think I want to take a vacation with my family in August, let me look at some dates. Part of that should not just be looking at airfare and looking at hotel rates, but also looking at the office calendar and going, oh, wait a minute, I've got two other people at my level out that same week, maybe look at the week after. And with that planning, quite frankly, it only helps you in the sense that if I know that I've got coverage when I'm not in the office, we make a point of saying that so and so is out this week. When Dave's traveling or I'm traveling, one of us will say, look, don't call, call me first and then let's try to figure out what the solution is. There's not a lot that can go completely sideways in a week, so getting somebody to have some time away for a week is really important. And so, if we've learned nothing in the last couple of years about mental health, physical health, what are we doing? So, before the pandemic, we had started Tuesdays and Thursdays doing office runs, and a bunch of us would just put on some running shoes and just go at various different lengths, and sometimes people would do yoga and so on. You realize that that hour away made the other time in the office more efficient. One, you were planning for it. You were saying, you know what, at four o'clock, or at lunchtime, or whatever, we're going to go for a run, I need to schedule my time to get my stuff done. But it also said, okay, I'm running in there with some people, and you can have conversations about work, or maybe not, but you're not getting interrupted with your phone or email or any of that stuff. So take that and then say, how do you progress it beyond an hour? How do you progress it to a long weekend or a week or two weeks, and really understand the benefit that it gives to you and to the office? So that was something that we really wanted to do and to bring to the workspace. The hybrid thing was sort of twofold as well. We figured it out, we had no choice, we had to figure it out. It wasn't like anybody said, you know what, we're going to be trendsetters, and we're going to work from home. That week I just remember disconnecting monitors and giving people computer monitors to take home and we're going well, I hope that our bandwidth can handle it, we haven't really tested it for this kind of thing. So we figured it out. We figured out how to be creative across the web and work and design in differing spaces. The other thing that it allowed us to do is to say, with a hybrid model of two days out of the office three days in the office, it gives people two days to really focus on their own stuff so that when they get to the office, you can focus on the teamwork, and being together and saying, okay, I know that we've got Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday to work together, figure out what we need to do so that Friday comes around, and then Monday comes back around, I can either clear out some of that stuff, or I can focus on planning for the next thing. And so, it's been a great thing for us that we've seen. And the other funny part about this is, even for a Monday, we've got a handful of people that are here because some of them are so sick of their apartments or their houses. My office in my house, I shared for about a minute and a half with my wife, who

spends her life on conference calls. And so then I got sequestered out to the living room and after about three days wondered why my back hurt because I was using a laptop and my coffee table. And so, you try to find the best workspace and for me, it was coming in and getting out of the office and being able to say, you know what, I'm going to do my work, and then I'm going to go home and get out of work. So for us, those were big steps and it's working for us. I don't know that it would work for everybody. I don't know that it will work all the time. But we also have really put forward the notion of open communication. We share just about everything with the employee. The only thing people don't know is each other's salaries. Everything else is an open book. So you want to know what we made last year. You want to know what this project is earning. Do you want to know what the schedule is? All of those things are open information, so for us, we believe that that fosters open communication. I had those days over the last several years. So I was like, you know what, I can't function. I need to get on my bike. I'm taking tomorrow off to get on my bike and clear my head. And people go, okay, cool, do it. We got you. That's the kind of atmosphere that we've created, which has really helped with those things.

Randy Wilburn [25:17] I love you saying that. Mark Zweig has been touting open-book management for years. I can remember in the 90s when it was almost heretical to mention that in some circles, but now you see more and more design firms embracing open-book management and just really being transparent with the whole team so that there aren't any surprises and everybody feels like they're part of the solution?

David Shove-Brown [25:44] Not only that if you don't have all the information you can't properly function, right? We worked for those firms that they said, okay, we want you to be more profitable. And you'd say, okay, well, what are we charging for the project, or how much time have you allocated? And they’d go, oh, I can't tell you. I know what the rules of the game are so I don't know how to compete. And so now, it works twofold. We can say, okay, here's the schedule, here's the proposal. Now, here's what we're spending money on so that we can say, yeah, we're going to have a better holiday party, or we're giving X more in bonuses and raises this year, or whatever it is so that everybody goes, yeah, okay, we're all in this together. And they're going to turn around and give us more money at the end of the year if we're profitable. I’m in.

Randy Wilburn [26:34] There's nothing like that. When you're able to do that, that level of transparency I think is so important for a thriving and growing organization. Any

type of organization, but especially for a design firm. It makes a huge difference and it bleeds over to how you interact with and manage and take care of your clients as well, Would you agree?

David Shove-Brown [26:56] Absolutely.

Randy Wilburn [26:59] I saw that you said something specifically about how you guys manage your clients' expectations with regard to being upfront with them to let them know that, hey, we're not perfect, we're going to make some mistakes but we're all in this together, whatever that together is, whatever that project is, to see this through to the end. How has that helped you in working with clients that you've had to serve over the life of the company? David Shove-Brown [27:27] If you start the conversation early, then it's not so hard, right? If you start the conversation, look, we're not perfect, we're going to make some mistakes. There are going to be things we don't see, things that we don't know about. We're going to react to them and we're going to try to fix it. We're going to try to do it in the right timeline and at the right costs, but we all need to work together. Having those conversations before something happens is a hell of a lot easier than going, oh, boy, we got a problem and it snowballs from there. The same thing with money. When you have a conversation about money and say, this is why the fee we've proposed is this much. I'm not retiring from the next job. We have rent. We have electricity. We have salaries. We have all these things that go into it and understanding how long a project takes, and then say, look, maybe we're not the right firm because we can't do it at a certain timeline or for a certain price, I'm going to help you find somebody. But having that open communication early is so much better than reacting to an adverse situation. For us, it helps that philosophy. We're all on the same team and we're all trying to do this together. We're all trying to have a great project and work through it. Because Dave and I have been friends for so long, and, I don't really think we've had a couple of disagreements but never had a serious argument. I think that trickles through and people see that you can work things out with communication. It's amazing what a little conversation can do, especially looking at the last five or six years. A little communication goes a long way, and instead of sort of building it up and maybe missing and this could be the one sort of side effect of hybrids. Instead of building up and maybe misinterpreting something just have a conversation. The number of times I have to remind people like no more emailing, no more texting, you will pick up the phone,

have a call. You can get a lot out there and then sometimes you realize you know what, I thought Randy gave me a weird look the other day. Oh, no, he stubbed his toe on the wall as he came in. He wasn't even looking at you. So, just having some of that conversation just mitigates so much turmoil.

Randy Wilburn [29:48] You're exactly right. And actually, it is about having really good positive communication and having individuals that are strong active listeners in your organization. I can always tell a successful design firm by virtue of those that don't struggle in the area of active listening. Not that we're all perfect in that area, but to me, it's an ongoing thing, right? I mean, my wife, if you ask her, she'll say I'm not the best listener but it's something that I'm constantly working on. I take the Kaizen approach to active listening, where I'm just consistently trying to improve in that area. But I have seen the firm leadership that operates and they are strong, active listeners that trickle down to the other people on the team because when people that are subordinate to you know that you actually are listening to what they have to share and say and that you actually care about it. It speaks volumes to them, and they typically will fight fire. They will do anything to help you achieve the objectives that you're trying to achieve on a larger scale for the company. David Shove-Brown [30:55] We've all been with those people and you can tell they're not listening to a thing you're saying because their brain is already processing the next question. I could light myself on fire right now and you wouldn't even notice so we need to do it again. We did improv with our team. And, improv is nothing but listening. It's not about being funny. It's about reacting to what someone says. You can't sit there and go, I can't wait to deliver this next joke, and by the time that it gets to you that moment has passed. So now your joke is out of context, the funny thing you were going to say has no relationship to where the conversation is gone. So that whole idea of improv is about listening and responding to what's being said and done. So, yes, we can go into a meeting with a list of questions but it's terrible when somebody goes, oh, how many bedrooms are you thinking? And then they go, well, we really like bedrooms but for us, it's about our living space. And you go, how many bathrooms are you thinking? No, like, go back to that thing. Let them go and let it evolve and you'll figure out how many bathrooms they need. But let them talk about the life that they live and talk about the concept for their restaurant, and what that experience is like. Let it be organic and not so regimented. Randy Wilburn [32:19] It's almost like taking Simon's cynics focus to start with why. Why is somebody wanting to design something in the first place, right? You gain that

insight and information, and then all the little details and little pieces will all fit in nicely because you understand what they're trying to accomplish. And if a client has this idea that they want something that you know can't be delivered, at least you can have that conversation with them early on and everybody will benefit from that.

David Shove-Brown [32:50] Well, and sometimes, too, somebody can come to you with a preconceived notion of what that thing is that we're designing. And we're not a drafting service, right? If you want somebody to just do what you want to just draft, that’s great, then hire us. But for us, let's look at it from a different angle, or let's look at it from a different perspective. And sometimes we have clients who are like, I never thought about that, that's completely backward to what we thought about but it works. Maybe you end up with exactly what you thought but maybe you don't. Maybe you have a route that's a little bit more interesting and you find something along the way. Randy Wilburn [33:27] And I think that to me is the difference between a really good design firm and design firm leadership that operates in our strong active listeners, especially when engaging with the client. Because they can make that whole creative process really enjoyable between the creative process and the actual end result. You have some projects that you just can't wait for them to go away, and you have others that you're like, I wish this would just keep going on because this has been so enjoyable and that's really how it should be.

David Shove-Brown [33:59] I mean, if you get the right project, not even during the design process, but through construction and after they're open and things like that, where people call on you. It's really awesome what you did there and that to me is really incredible.

Randy Wilburn [34:14] It absolutely is. Well, David, I want to land this plane and I want to basically find out from you what your thoughts are between you and your partner. How bullish are you guys about the future? I don't know what your backlog is. I don't know what your client list is right now, but how bullish are you for the future? Given everything else that's going on, we're coming out of the pandemic, unfortunately, we have this whole Ukraine situation going on, and so, life still happens, right? But how excited are you guys about the future for //3877 and just for the designing of really great architectural and landscape architectural projects?

David Shove-Brown [35:00] We're super excited. We were able to after like the first few weeks of just sort of shock of a couple of years ago we were able to say, okay, we know that we have this time, and so, we started a list of all the things that we wanted to do in the office that we never had time to do, right? Like, how do you organize the server file structures and you find something and you're like, I don't have time for that I'll just leave them and it just keeps getting kicked down the lane. So we did that stuff. We found time to do those things, which then allowed us to become more strategic as we are moving out of this. We've got the first layer chipped away now, how do we look at being more productive, more profitable, more efficient, working smarter, not harder, all of those things and being able to say, okay, quite frankly, who are the clients that we really want to work with? Who are the people that through all of this in the last couple of years are the ones that are the good humans? Because, I understand something's going to go wrong and you may lose your temper, and that's fine. But at the end of the day, I want to deal with good people. And so for us, we've been able to foster those relationships and we're at a point now where we've got a great backlog. We went from 1000 to zero to 2000 so quickly. We came into December of last year and into the new year going, we have too much work, how are we going to get this done meanwhile, our team is coming to us going, if you guys take one more job, I'm going to stab you in the neck. So then we said, okay, we got to clear some of this out. We've got to work more strategically and come up with a plan. And so, we've been doing that really focused on tracking business development and marketing as we lead into new jobs and understanding staffing. And quite frankly, there was a time when we were doing staffing and projections, we were looking at staffing people saying okay, well, they're probably going to work faster than we think so we're going to staff you, Randy, for 45 hours a week. And in that, take into consideration that nothing can go off the rails. You can't have a question on a project that causes you to have to work an extra hour on something. So we had no comfort factor. We had no safety net. So suddenly, people are going, I’m working 50 or 55 hours, what the hell! So we've actually reframed our thinking to say, okay, let's schedule people for 35 hours, and allow for some of that built-in safety net, so that people can get stuff done. People can spend the right amount of time on projects and not go, I got to get this thing just out the door, and hope that it's correct. Let's spend the right time doing it. So, I mean, we're super excited. We brought staffing back up. We've hired some folks after having to let people go. We were able to give raises and bonuses last year. During COVID, when Dave and I were the only two people in the office, hoping my landlord was not listening to this but we were stealing paper towels from the restroom rather than buying rolls of paper towels. If my rent goes up, I'm going to know why. Now we're at a point where we're able to do some fun things. We're thinking about some office events. We're thinking about, what are the things that we can reward everybody for everything they've done in the last couple of years because it's just been awesome.

Randy Wilburn [38:31] Yeah, it has. It's monumental that we've all survived through this. And actually, like I said, and I've said it over and over again, and I'll continue to say it, we're resilient and we're stronger because of everything that we've been able to endure over the past few years.

David Shove-Brown [38:46] I gave a presentation down in Florida a couple of weeks ago and we talked about office culture. And one of my slides that I presented just simply said, compassion without humility is just sympathy. And for me, having this compassion and understanding of what is compassion from the last couple of years and not just going alright, yeah, I'm really sorry, Randy, you can't leave your house, that's too bad. You’re just placating. And so for us, it's being able to be humble and look at ourselves and go, okay, not only can Randy not leave his house, but what can I do to help that? What can we do to make that better? And then all of a sudden, that's compassion. And you find that even though you're sort of at your lowest energy level, or you're taxed emotionally, that little bit of giving somebody that little bit extra that comes back and that for us is what's really happened over the last couple of years. You've found those people that not only said they were compassionate but acted it and that's really what's been amazing for me to see.

Randy Wilburn [39:55] I love that and that's kind of like hearing one of my favorite catchphrases, how can I help? How can I help in this situation? We never know what other people are going through until we know.

David Shove-Brown [40:09] The whole duck theory, right? You look at somebody and they may look calm and cool, but their feet are going a million miles an hour under the water. You don’t know.

Randy Wilburn [40:17] You’re so true. Well, David, this has been great. I appreciate you sharing your wisdom and just a little bit about your background and experience and what you guys have been doing at //3877. It certainly is a testimony to you taking your company from your kitchen table on Capitol Hill to the heights that you guys are at today. Who knows what the future holds but I certainly will be rooting for you guys on the sidelines as I continue to keep tabs on how things are going there. If people want to reach out and connect with you after listening to this podcast, what's the best way for them to do that?

David Shove-Brown [40:56] So obviously visit the website //3877.design and there you can click on any of the people and get our email addresses. But my email is my initials dsp@studio3877.com. Love to chat. I'd love to hear what other people are doing and learn from other companies and individuals just because there are so many great ideas out there. It's fantastic.

Randy Wilburn [41:22] Absolutely. I also have found this industry to be one of the most collaborative industries. I mean, people are competing, but there’s a lot more collaboration going on than people realize.

David Shove-Brown [41:32] That's what kept some of our sanity over the last couple of years is talking to other firms who are technically our competition. But we're all in it together trying to help each other.

Randy Wilburn [41:42] That's perfect. I'll definitely end on that note. I appreciate that. We'll make sure that all your contact information is in the Show Notes and people can check that out. And we'll make sure that everybody has information on how to reach out to you. So David Shove-Brown Brown, partner at //3877 Firm there in Washington, DC. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast.

David Shove-Brown [42:04] I cannot thank you enough, Randy. This was awesome. Next time you're in DC you best be coming over.

Randy Wilburn [42:11] I'm coming over because you know, it's so funny. Do you remember the Brickskeller? I heard it was closed. I was so upset to hear that. It was touted as a little dive bar right on the edge of Rock Creek Park right before you hit Georgetown. And for those of you that don't know, it was like the greatest little bar but their big claim to fame was that they carried every beer made in the world and I used to go there. Every weekend I was at the Brickskeller enjoying some beers.

David Shove-Brown [42:47] We've got beer on tap here in the office.

Randy Wilburn [42:49] Say no more. We don't have to leave your office. I will visit you the next time I am in the District of Columbia so I certainly appreciate that invitation. Thank you so much. [DS: Thank you]. Absolutely. Well, folks, that's another episode of The Zweig Letter Podcast. To learn more about one of the oldest newsletters in the design industry, visit zweiggroup.com. You can read articles online, listen to this podcast and sign up for a free subscription to the newsletter and have it delivered right into your email inbox every Monday morning. Sign up today. For more info about Zweig Group's Advisory services or any Zweig Group publications, visit zweiggroup.com. You can subscribe to the Zweig Letter Podcast wherever you listen to it, and please consider rating and reviewing us on Apple podcast. I'm your host, Randy Wilburn and we'll see you back here soon. Peace.

TZL Open [43:43] Thanks for tuning in to the Zweig Letter Podcast. We hope that you can be part of elevating the industry and that you can apply our advice and information to your daily professional life. For a free digital subscription to The Zweig Letter, please visit the zweigletter.com/subscribe to gain more wisdom and inspiration in addition to information about leadership, finance, HR, and marketing your firm. Subscribe today.

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