In less than fifteen days, Bryony, Maya (our daughter) and I will leave Brooklyn, NY for Austin, TX. Moving away from, arguably, the Design Capital of the World to the self-proclaimed Live Music Capital of the World. About six months ago I raised the question here about the need to live and work in New York in contrast to smaller markets. Now I can admit that the question was driven by our decision at that time to move to one of the latter. Much of my career, and the growth of UnderConsideration, has been chronicled on Speak Up so here is one more entry into this wacky life and career path we have taken that hopefully illustrates the integral balance that lifestyle and work play when you are running your own business, in charge of your own destiny.
Living in New York is not easy, and that is no secret. It’s expensive. It’s competitive. It’s crowded. It requires a slightly masochistic attitude to survive the subway rush hour, the exorbitant real estate prices, the crappy A/C window units during muggy Summer days, the ridiculously small spaces of everything and the cost of eating out, ordering in or even of buying $2-avocados at the grocery store. Of course, in return, you have a wildly imaginative and active city flooded in galleries, museums, events, interesting people and endless surprises. What happened to us was that we became completely immune to all these benefits by a) procreating and b) going on our own operating from a home office in Brooklyn. Quite organically we became secluded of the New York that people outside of New York come looking for when they move here. The very New York we moved here for, actually, and the New York that costs an arm and a leg to live in.
Our new New York was not even New York anymore, it was Brooklyn. Central Park became Prospect Park. Delis became bodegas. Starbucks became Connecticut Muffins. Gristedes became Key Food. (Sorry for all the local parlance). And our regular forays into evening events for AIGA or other design socials were replaced by bath time and story time. Weekends at museums and galleries or even working weekends, turned into excursions to the park, its playgrounds and its small yet awesome zoo. Things lovingly changed. Work-wise, going across the river in the subway became a time management challenge: A one-hour meeting would eat up three hours of your day. Sure, we established our own destiny by not having a Manhattan office but when you can save thousands of dollars on an office lease and hundreds of dollars in tax write-offs every month, well, it becomes a no brainer. And we also noticed that our face-to-face meetings with clients could be counted with the fingers of a single hand and, instead, the amount of PDFs we have prepared range in the dozens and hundreds. One of the reasons we wanted to be on our own was to devote more time to the online world of UnderConsideration which lowers the need for live interaction with people. On top of that we had the surprise of a massive book that turned us into hermits that barely saw the light of day. And we enjoyed it.
Paying to live in New York without living in New York did not make sense anymore. Plus, all three of us were tired of Winters, even after surviving three in Chicago, so we were ready for a change. We decided to look at it very clinically: We can move anywhere, so what city would be the best fit for of our lifestyle? Denver and Boulder, Colorado; Portland, Oregon; and Austin, Texas all came up as the most viable options. We narrowed it down to Portland and Austin, since Colorado is cold and snowy, and talked to designers in both cities to get a sense for lifestyle and design environment. Both cities were comparable: Exciting, young design scene, with medium potential for finding clients within the city but very accessible to find clients in the region. We discounted Portland because it was just too far, specially for our family who lives in Mexico and since we want them to have as much access as possible to their grandkids going to Portland would have been a huge screw-you-see-you-never.
We were attracted to Austin for various reasons. Amazing housing market, with lovely big homes for very decent prices; it is not the cheapest market, but in contrast to New York, it’s a steal. A great public school system for our daughter and her potential sibling in the future. Great weather year-round. Yes, I hear August is infernal, but that’s why God invented central A/C. It hosts one of the biggest colleges in the U.S., which helps keep the flow of smart people as well as thousands of people employed, making Austin one of the most recession proof cities in the U.S. — somewhere I read that their first quarter unemployment rate for 2009 was a whopping 2% under the national average. There is a thriving music scene of course, and even though we are not much into it, it engenders a certain creative atmosphere that permeates everything and everyone. Dell is headquartered there, which keeps smaller tech companies thriving in the vicinity. Austin is also a two- or three-hour drive away from major business hubs like Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, handsomely multiplying the amount of potential clients. And there are dozens of other reasons that I won’t bore you with anymore.
As we found in our first year and a half of being in business, we have been able to build a self-sustaining model where we don’t require a dozen clients at a time and instead two or three suffice, leaving us ample time to do blogging and work with publishers on books. Luckily, this is what we set out to do, and it’s rewarding to see it happen after all the hard work and sometimes insane work hours we have put in. Even more lucky is that we can do this from anywhere we want. So, less than fifteen days from now we will be broadcasting and designing live from the state of Texas. Who would have thought it.