At EntreArchitect, you’re encouraged to share your knowledge. When we share with other architects, we all benefit. We are able to learn from one another and the profession will grow. One of the goals of EntreArchitect is to provide a platform for other entrepreneur architects to share their stories.
We want to interview you! What’s your story? Do you want to share your knowledge or the story about how you were inspired to pursue this profession? How do you become an entrepreneur architect?
Join us for our series called The Entrepreneur Architect, where each guest has the opportunity to share their story and answer some questions that will provide value to each of you.
This week on EntreArchitect Podcast, The Entrepreneur Architect Series featuring Michael Kilkelly.
Michael Kilkelly is a principal at Space Command, an architecture and consulting firm in Middletown, Connecticut. He’s also the founder of ArchSmarter.com, a website dedicated to helping architects work smarter not harder. Michael has received his bachelor of architecture from Norwich University and his masters of science, design and computation from MIT. Previously he was an associate at Gehry Partners in LA where he worked on several high profile design projects including New York by Gehry and the Guggenheim. He writes regularly about architecture on ArchSmarter, Arch Daily and Architect Magazine.
Michael’s Origin Story
Michael liked to play with legos and draw as a kid, and had a hunch that architecture might be the profession for him. However, he had no idea what an architect did on a daily basis. Aside from going to the library and taking a drafting class in high school, he had very little exposure to architecture. He felt that he had both the technical and creative components necessary to pursue architecture as a career path.
When he got into school in Vermont that he realized what architecture really was; it wasn’t totally what he expected. He pursued his 5 year bachelor of architecture. They did a lot of hand drafting, built physical models and had a computer class. His thesis was set at Burning Man. He was making physical models and hand drawing while using rendering and animation on 3D studio. After graduating, he worked for a firm in Connecticut for several years where he worked to figure out how to integrate design and technology.
He knew he wanted to go back to school, so he headed to MIT. His degree there was mostly up for him to define, with a big requirement to pursue a thesis at the end. His research was into construction documents and how to better develop them to support architects.
Following MIT, he worked in the Boston area for a few firms, a landscape architect, an internet startup developing project management software for construction companies, and another medium-sized firm. Then, an opportunity came up looking for something with both architecture and technical experience.
In 2005, Michael and his wife move to LA where two of his kids were born. He worked for Gehry Partners for several years before moving back to New England.
He’d seen people work their whole lives at a firm and one day be let go, and he knew that working for someone else wasn’t always the most secure option. Michael read up a lot on business and thought the move back to Connecticut would be a great time to jump out on his own. He offered to do some consulting and remote work for his previous company as a great consistent transition into working for various clients.
Since then, Michael has been working on developing consulting projects, building out ArchSmarter as a sustainable business, and getting local architecture projects.
The Entrepreneur Architect Questions
What is one big goal you’ve achieved in your career and how did you get there?
Michael’s biggest goal, apart from becoming licensed, was to start his own firm. He didn’t know what that would look like, but he knew it would be a lot of work. Michael wanted to build something that was his own.
What was the inspiration to start ArchSmarter?
A lot of it came out of working at Frank Gehry’s office where Michael was working on a huge project and putting in a ton of time. They had a deadline coming up, and as the technical person, Michael had to do a lot of cleanup. He began looking at ways to automate the tedious tasks, learning how to program and looking at more efficient workflows to make gradual improvements. He got an eight-hour process down to one hour, and was able to hand it off to someone else. He was thinking about things from an innovative point of view, which brought him some security when the recession hit.
He wanted to build a platform to talk about working more efficiently for architects and engineers. Studio culture in school didn’t teach him how to balance work and life and manage his time well, and Michael wanted to change that. ArchSmarter was a reaction to that. How do we do things? How can we approach it differently?
How does ArchSmarter deliver information?
Michael started by writing a blog about the issues he faced. Then, he released a program to teach Revit. He built an audience, and then went where his audience guided.
What was your biggest “aha” moment?
Michael saw the inefficiency in the firms he worked for, and that was the biggest moment he’s seen that’s impacted his path. Once he began ArchSmarter, he saw feedback from others who wanted to work smarter too. Hearing back from others affirmed that his work was something that people needed and spurred him on.
What makes your firm unique?
There are a lot of people who write about technology or train on products, but Michael’s zone of genius is breaking concepts down into small bites and using humor and narrative as a teaching tool. What does technology mean for you as an architect? How does it affect and impact you?
At what age did you decide to become an architect? 12 years old
What’s your target market? For ArchSmarter, it’s architects and engineers who want to be more efficient. For Michael’s firm, he does residential and light commercial projects.
Stipulated sum, hourly or percentage-based fee? Stipulated sum for his firm, and hourly for the products on ArchSmarter
Other than architecture, what makes you happy? Spending time with his family, watching his kids play soccer, getting outside, cycling, practicing yoga, and completing projects around the house
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? John Connell told him he could practice architecture however he wanted, but how he made a living was a whole different story.
What’s one personal habit that contributes to your success? Michael makes his bed daily and reads each night before bed.
What’s an app or resource you’d recommend? Michael uses The Hemingway App to improve his writing.
What book would you recommend and why? The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business by Josh Kaufman, Badass: Making Users Awesome by Kathy Sierra, and Here by Richard McGuire
What’s a parting piece of guidance? Find opportunities to be creative in your business
What is the one thing that small firm architects can do today to build a better business tomorrow?
“Produce content of some sort. Every company is a media company whether they know it or not. You don’t know what will come out of it.” – Michael Kilkelly
Want to be a guest on the entrepreneur architect series? Connect with us on any social media platform or email [email protected]!
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