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Ways We Work

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Mustefa Jo'shen

Founder & CEO of Design Cofounders

Mustefa Jo’shen is the CEO & Founder of Design Cofounders. He cares about Design Thinking × Education × Community, and works to bring those to life through the company's mission: Design Makes Change.

What do you do?

I help people build companies by design, empower people through education, support those around me to find success and happiness in our work, and try to make change through impact initiatives. We do this via Design Cofounders, which is divided into 3 units...

DC Edu: provides professional development for individuals through two specialized programs (Design Thinking for Entrepreneurship, and Product Design for Growth), as well as a series of upcoming workshops in UX/UI and front-end/mobile development. I’m really excited about the workshops– they’re going to be virtually free intensives so that we can lower the barrier of accessibility to these core skill sets. DC Edu also provides education and professional development for organizations. Check out the stories from the DC Education students here.

DC studio (previously @tailoredUX): The studio works with startups and organizations on business, product strategy, user experience, and UI design through traditional consulting as well as workshops. We also build apps for clients on a limited basis.

DMC: Design Makes Change: DMC is really exciting. We’re hosting a series of invite only roundtables with industry leaders and changemakers in healthcare, education, and smart data in Q1, Q2, and Q3, and publishing the results with partner organizations. DMC also runs the TorontoUX community events as well as supports other community partners in Toronto. Check out the DMC design conference here.

I help drive these 3 units with a great team of strategists, designers, and developers.

We’re also building out a product called The Writing Project: an essay writing platform for students.

What do you find most rewarding about your role? Most challenging?

The most rewarding part is two-fold: First is the promise of a better future. Our continued success let’s us re-imagine our reality year over year, and it’s really rewarding to already be planning what DC looks like for our 3rd year of operation in 2016. The second is seeing our milestones grow via our three growth pillars: “people, places, things”. It’s outstanding to see the people that we work with and that work with us grow and evolve. The place (our office and second home) continues to grow and rewarding as home. It’s also really rewarding to be invited to and interact with clients and DC partners in their own places. And then there’s the things that we build, the things we do, and what we produce. People, places, things.

The most challenging part about my role in running DC is not losing the 1 to 1 relationship to everyone around me and trying to make the time for important things, from employees, to clients, to partners. It’s easy to fall into an out-of-body routine where we’re on autopilot, and the human and individual attention we all give each other is paramount to our happiness and success. And that’s something that’s a daily challenge that we make work. It’s also a real challenge in Toronto to be really open and transparent, and not profile and pose. Toronto’s very cliquey like that, and that’s something we work hard to break out of by trying to break down barriers. We have a lot of unlearning to do as a city.

Another most challenging part is the 1 to 1 relationship with myself and partner, and with my daughters, and balancing these two worlds of work and passion with my personal life and it’s passions. It’s a daily affair (mind the pun).

How do you stay up to date with trends in your industry/field?

I try my very best not to? It’s like when you record music, or make music, you try to not look at your own genre for inspiration or relevance, and instead look outside of the bubble. In our case, it’s the design, startup, industry bubble. I look to other sources of inspiration in the arts, education, and beyond to keep up with cultural and socio-political trends. That helps us grow as individuals, and is great experience to bring back to the work we do.

And Twitter.

What are your top five applications or programs?

That’s an easy one, I have them all bookmarked when my browser opens:

Gmail <- key.

Calendar <- so key.

Google Drive

Asana <- so, so key.

Google Play <- pretty key.

Slack <- key.

That’s 6. Everything else is a distraction or just social (Twitter, Instagram, and recently Snapchat. I’m trying to keep up with the cool kids).

Best way to stay on top of email?

As of the time I’m writing this, I’m at Inbox zero:

I really like gmail and the shortcuts it provides. My process is generally:

If I’m not going to get to it, respond right away letting the person know I can’t get to it. Bandaid.

If I’m going to get to it, then get to it.

f it’s a todo rather than just an email response that has to do with a project, I put it in Asana and archive the email.

If #2 or #3 fails, I star and remove it from my inbox.

I only let about 10 emails max in my starred tab. And if I start to go over roughly 10 emails in starred, I make sure to clear them out by the end of the week.

What is your best time-saving trick?

I don’t really save time. I like to think that time is something we pay for and trade off for, since we can’t get more of it, right? So the #1 trick is knowing that there’s a tomorrow, and that we can continue on what we’re doing then, versus trying to keep getting faster and more efficient. We’re already really productive.

So it’s ok, tomorrow is another day. “Sleep well and eat good, you’ll live a long life.”

One non-tech thing you can’t live without?

My personal life, and my daughters, seeing them grow, laughter, their rambunctiousness, and living the world through their eyes.

What does your workspace look like?

We recently moved into the 3rd floor of a small building on Camden Street, and worked with a great interior planner to create space for DC Edu, the studio, and for the layout to be able to accommodate DMC initiatives as well as small events for 30-50 people.

Structure of your typical day, how do you divide your time?

I either get started really early around 7:30am in the office, or at 9:30. The later start gives me a little bit of time to sleep in or to spend with the girls in the morning.

Once I’m in the office I knock off and clear out any emails / check twitter / LinkedIn, and circle back with anyone online that I need to.

Each day typically has 4 things:

Internal and external project workshops: meeting with our design or development teams to align on project work, and having time one on one with people that work at DC, whether about external projects or internal launches, or how they’re feeling for the day / week and make sure they’re happy.

Workshops and coordinating with clients: we interact with clients on projects on a daily basis, and the workshops are one of the most fun parts of my day.

Relationships, email coordination and Asana project management: I spend 1-2 hours every day in emails on business and relationships, and coordinating existing work on Asana. I spend 1-2 hours a day as well meeting folks either for studio, education, or DMC, in person, or over hangouts.

Design / strategy / content creation on projects: I split my studio time on either hands on design, or strategy and creative direction with our design and development team, or creating content.

The last part of the day is preparing and teaching our DC Edu classes on Design Thinking and Product Design. This happens twice a week in the evenings, so I have 30 mins of prep time every day, and 3 hours of classes with our inaugural cohort.

There are also lunches with the team at DC, as well as games of NHL 15 that get pretty serious with Toronto, Habs, and Sens fans all working here.

Why do you do what you do, what motivates you and makes everything worth it?

It’s actually really hard to do what I’m doing right now, and the best I described it the other day is like an out of body experience, where while I perform an individual task or interaction, another me in my mind is watching that happen, but also thinking of everything else in the DC world. And this isn’t a complaint, it’s actually a very challenging and motivating daily experience, and I’m really lucky to be able to build out this organization, and seeing this new reality of ours come to life with people, places, and things is a strong motivational factor.

Design Cofounders isn’t just a startup, or a design studio. At the end of the day, we’re building out 3 business units: DC Edu, DC’s studio, and DMC (design makes change). They’re all intertwined, and it’s almost as if we’re running 3 companies every day. It’s really important that we do this since they’re all symbiotically related to each others success, making one another special and successful. Ex: the design studio drives our education program, DMC helps drive the studio, and vice versa, etc.

What motivates me to do this is that the people around me that I work with, and that choose to join our team, see such a future in the company and for themselves here, in that there’s endless opportunity within DC for us to find happiness in our work.

Having the freedom and ability at DC to make decisions based on happiness as a core driver puts us in a unique position to do the right things, for ourselves and our clients. And that happiness makes it worth it. Building that reality for myself, the great folks that work with us, our clients and partners– it’s worth it since it’s the right thing to do for them.

When my first little one was born, it really changed my perspective on work and purpose in life. In that the time spent away from home and family, the relationships we spend building, and the things we put efforts to create must be so worth it. It’s why we have such a core focus on making an impact and happiness. They’re things that make the world a better place. Sometimes it’s easy to forget these things, and this type of interview helped give me a great reminder. Thanks.

What is the greatest piece of career advice/wisdom you've ever received?

My father used to drive me to school every day. All the way through OAC (grade 13 in Ontario). He’s fairly educated in his career, a Ph.D in Agricultural Science and a Masters in Design from Moscow. We used to often speak about success during the drives, and I remember asking him a specific question about success in career and life (something like: “would you be happy if all you had everyday was a small studio, with clay to make art?”). Anyways, I thought that was a clever question of defining success as happiness rather than achievement. I’m going to call him tomorrow and ask him for one single piece of advice, and I’ll let you know what he says.

“Keep yourself safe and healthy (mentally, emotionally, and physically) in order to be able to, all the time, and anytime, take care of yourself and the ones you love.” Dad.

Who would you like to see featured on Ways We Work?

Let’s go out of the blue and put my dad down. Jawshan Redha, scientist and artist. Curve ball.