Blend Work and Passion to Be A Successful Entrepreneur Graphic Designer
Paula Benson is a talented graphic designer, the Co-founder & Creative Director at Form, a London-based design agency founded together with her partner Paul West, 25 years ago. In this interview, she takes time to talk to ConnectiD about her new business Film and Furniture, a captivating website born from Paula’s personal passion for interiors and film set design.
When we met Paula she handed us a very sleek, professional business card which definitely stands out! This enticed us to find out more about her work and entrepreneurial projects, and how she keeps her address book up to date to avoid losing contacts details over time.
1. Paula, before we start start digging into why you founded Film and Furniture, what should I know about you as a person?
My background is in design. I have worked in graphic design and branding for over 25 years. I am passionate about many areas of design from interiors to graphics to furniture, as well as many forms of contemporary culture and the arts. I love ideas, concepts, music, film and business. One privilege my job enjoys is meeting many different kinds of businesses and their owners and marketers. I love hearing what makes people tick and as a designer I need to understand their brand’s mantra, values and aims to ensure we understand their vision before starting a project.
2. How did you come up with the idea of Film and Furniture? What made you create this online world for design and film lovers?
I was revisiting Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining movie and became completely mesmerised by a particular piece of the film set – the graphic patterned carpet of the corridor in The Overlook Hotel. I started researching it and ended up down a rabbit hole of conjecture and conspiracy theory about the meanings and representations of this iconic carpet. It’s been homaged and parodied many times and was featured in Toy Story 2 and Minions. In fact, the director of Toy Story has dedicated an entire website to the cult of The Shining.
With this piece and together with other research, I realised that there are many people as fascinated in the detail of furniture and décor in film sets as me, which set me off researching other iconic pieces of furniture and led me to creating FilmandFurniture as a blog. It’s grown fast and now we’re developing it into a business because this fantastic and avid audience are also interested to buy these pieces for their own home. We show people exactly where they can buy the pieces they spot in their favourite movies, including prop auction houses – from vintage classics to contemporary items.
3. What is your vision for Film and Furniture?
It’s a carefully curated online resource allowing people to identify, read stories about and buy specific pieces of furniture and homeware they see in a movie – whether it’s a vintage whiskey glass from Mad Men (picture below), a contemporary sofa spotted in Ex Machina or a luxury sideboard spotted in Christian Grey’s Apartment in Fifty Shades of Grey. Our audience can be a little geeky so we do a massive amount of research to be absolutely sure of what we’re talking about. It would take a lot of time and research for people to find out exact pieces themselves so we do all the hard work, but also tell interesting stories behind the pieces and interview the set designers and decorators too.
My vision is to create a fully-fledged market place, representing vintage and contemporary retailers who sell pieces that have been in the movies. The content and stories will always be rich, readable and well researched but the shop area will become more obvious and indepth. We started out focused on the UK – in terms of where we direct people where to buy the items, but the audience is already growing world-wide. Eventually we will have F&Fs with more specialized film genres and country-focused content.
We also have plans to do live events – screening movies with exhibitions and displays of the relevant furniture and decor. Even though the business is predominantly online I am a great believer in taking things into the real word of human interaction!
4. How do you manage your time between launching a new business, being the Co-Creative Director of Form and helping some of the biggest brands in the market to communicate their stories though graphic design?
No secrets on this one. Managing time is always tricky – whether you’re running one business or three. Time is most people’s worst enemy unless you make it work for you. I have to be super organised, but after all these years I still think I can achieve more in a day that is physically possible so I set my standards too high! I’m basically hyper-active. It is hard for me to sit down and actually relax after a full on day. I have failed to find the “pause button” yet!
I am working towards a shift of emphasis from the design agency Form to dedicating myself more to F&F. I am lucky that my partner is working with me at Form, this way I know the business is in very good hands!
It also helps to have the ability to put yourself in different head sets. I try to build in time to switch into a completely different headset, such as going on a detox and yoga week at least once a year, and doing long walks with the dog in the English countryside, and then return completely refreshed.
5. We see startups exiting the market every day. What have been your biggest challenges to date?
My partner and I have been very pro-active entrepreneurs – not always waiting for clients to call us, but often initiating our own projects or new side-line businesses, such as the urbanware fashion label called UniForm we launched in 1997 or the book Shelf Life we published on packaging from around the world. As well as Form and FilmandFurniture of course.
My background is a different world to many Tech-Startups nowadays. Now it seems it may take quite a while for a new tech business to make money and the name of the game seems to be growing fast, gathering a huge audience and raising all kinds of rounds of investments, being accepted into incubator and accelerator schemes, live pitching in front of large audiences and so forth, all of which are relatively new to me, but I am throwing myself into it all. When we started Form, we started with no help from anyone, just a couple of grand of our own hard saved money, tons of passion and talent, and we had to start making profit from day one to keep it going. Whichever way you look at it, the key is having a great idea and the tenacity to see it through.
What really gets on my nerves is this word “disruptive” often used to describe the new wave of businesses who are attempting to do things differently. It appears everyone is “disrupting” the market place! Or so it would seem from the many social media biogs and business magazines that use the word like it’s a new cool trend. Not everyone can be disrupting at the same time. And in any case doing things differently has always been the key to business success. The so called “lean-startup approach” has always been inherently woven in the fabric of a new business – You have an idea, you set up the business, you study it and you get it off the ground and you learn on the job.
6. What would be the single biggest indicator to you that you are doing the right thing?
The most important thing for me right now it is to see people excited and engaged with the idea of Film and Furniture. We grew 169% last month so we’re on the right track.
7. What movie, no matter how many times you’ve seen it, do you have to watch when it’s on? Can you fully enjoy the cinema experience when having this passion for décor?
There are two movies I will watch if they crop up – Stanley Kubrick’s – 2001 Space Odyssey (1968) and Blade Runner (1982). The former dictated so much of how we envisage the concept of “the future” which it is still relevant, even nowadays. When we were working with Virgin Galactic (Richard Branson’s commercial space project), I noticed how the team were subconsciously referencing this movie.
To answer to the second part of the question – I cannot watch anything without analysing the lights, the furniture, the wallpaper, so indeed it’s an obsession. I have always done that tough. The more information you absorb and the more passionate you get about a subject, it becomes the epicentre of your day to day activities.
8. What’s next for FilmandFurniture?
We are continuing to publish fascinating articles From Batman v Superman to High Rise to Alice through the Looking Glass.
I am working on the future business model and have a few business mentors joining me on this journey. We are launching some new partnerships and planning a live event. It is really important for the next stage to work with great people, get the right advice, partner with the right online retail experts and have the right technology in place.
9. Do you have any tips for those who are about to embark on their own start-up journey?
Ideas take time to develop and you need to have the tenacity and patience to see things through. Especially with Tech-Businesses, things do move very quickly and there is a tendency to rush things forward. Every business takes a lot of energy and we all have a “Why am I doing this? Why not get a job in a super-market – sort of day.”
My advice is to keep focused and stay strong.
10. I am curious to find out how you keep your address book up to date to avoid losing contacts details over time. When we met, you gave me one of the sleekest business cards I’ve ever seen! Still, as soon as one of us changes our details we cannot get in touch.
You’re right. I’ve dealt with some contacts database nightmares. We had a very important and valuable database built up over many years of our contacts and clients which MailChimp took a disliking to so we ended up with a fraction of our contacts on our newsletter database.
I also use LinkedIn to track down many contacts who may have moved jobs a few times, but I’m not a big fan of it – it’s a nasty user experience. When I log in online it seems to be extremely slow, their service is horrible and I frequently get notifications that I cannot find.
From what I understand ConnectiD does solve a universal problem of keeping up to date with contact information.
Many thanks to Paula Benson for sharing her experiences with us – we wish her all the best for the future! If you’d like to find out more about FilmandFurniture and stay up-to-date with the latest decorating trends and flamboyant film screenings, visit the website here!