Published on June 27th, 2014 | by Ryan Estes
Be the one who nurtures and builds. Be the one who has an understanding and a forgiving heart one who looks for the best in people. Leave people better than you found them. ― Marvin J. Ashton
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Images: Sev Martin
Notes with Brian Muir
Awards and accolades
The opportunity to speak on the Denver Business Podcast is the biggest honor we’ve received. Ever.
Please describe a typical workday.
My girlfriend Jess and I just adopted a Siberian husky puppy so I’m up early – usually between 5 and 6. Most mornings I try to respond to urgent emails first thing, catch up on news, and then end up at my desk by 7:30 or 8.
Soulcrafting is a very young company so I don’t think we’ve landed on a typical day quite yet. I spend a lot of my time meeting with local craftspeople, talking with customers, and recruiting. All of that is incredibly fun and energizing. And then there’s also a lot administrative and operational stuff that just has to get done, which eats up a lot of time.
We just added someone you know well – Courtney O’Rourke – to our team so I’ll now be spending more time in Denver at Converge and Courtney will be coming up to Boulder as well. Courtney will be leading our content and communications efforts and spending a lot of time with awesome creators – particularly with folks in Denver.
What skills are required in your position on a day-to-day basis?
You have to be able to hold a lot of stuff together – intellectually, energetically, emotionally, relationally, etc. And then with all of that going on you have to not freak out when stuff goes wrong.
There’s other stuff I could add here but not freaking out is speaking pretty strongly to me right now.
What parts of your job do you find most challenging?
The most challenging and unnerving aspect of my job is operating in an environment without any structure. Particularly when we were starting out, I felt constant pressure to make things happen because if I took a day off the phones would stop ringing and the emails would stop coming in.
It’s actually a two-part challenge. The first challenge is to show up every day and work really hard. And the second challenge is to be smart and intentional about how you spend your time and energy, because there is no playbook. You have to figure out the right tasks and then keep yourself on task.
What do you find most enjoyable?
I love spending time with people who believe in Soulcrafting and what we are building: craftspeople, customers, investors, partners, and people who want to join our team. It’s so rewarding to share Soulcrafting with a lot of people who each apply their own hopes and creativity to what we’re doing. In that sense, Soulcrafting becomes more real every day as ownership of the vision grows and becomes less centralized.
Are there any negatives to your job?
I don’t do great in big crowds but have to do that from time to time as Soulcrafting appears at markets and other events. When things get too intense, I usually run away for a few minutes to recharge.
How many hours do you work in a typical week?
I don’t know. Probably around 80. Much of that time is away from my desk and out talking with partners and customers. Some of it doesn’t feel like work at all but probably is. Aside from the administrative stuff, which I mentioned above, I really enjoy my job and it doesn’t feel like a burden. When I get to meet a new Soulcrafting creator and tour her workshop, or visit with a customer who’s decided to devote four hours on a Saturday to learning a new skill and building something awesome, it’s a huge thrill.
That said, I’m rarely offline. When something comes up I’m able to respond pretty quickly so in that sense I’m on call for most of my waking hours.
Which seasons of the year are toughest in your job?
In New York I would have said that the summer is the toughest because people are away, business really slows down, and it’s easy to lose your focus and melt into the crazy heat and humidity.
I’m new to Colorado, and Soulcrafting is new, so it’s a bit hard to say. My initial assessment is that Colorado has so many spectacular activities to get into in every season – and so many people who want to visit – that it’s tough out here year round. At this time of year, every moment when I’m not out hiking or fishing or camping I feel like I’m missing out.
How would you describe your business culture?
Curious. Hands on. Appreciative. Learning. Honest.
How much do you work at home?
Quite a bit. I have a home office, where I work evenings, weekends, and some days during the week. I’m easily distracted and tend to work from home when I really need to focus on something.
How much vacation do you take?
Of late, I’ve used most of my vacation days for things like weddings and family events. I haven’t done a great job of carving out time for restorative periods, which are really important. Ideally, I’d like to see our team at Soulcrafting take a week off each quarter so that people can unwind, explore new things, and come back to work feeling refreshed.
How did you get into your line of work?
I started out in corporate finance, which was a great place to learn some basic business skills like accounting and financial planning but a terrible place for nurturing creativity and original thinking. Coming out of college, I knew I needed a job and wasn’t very expansive in my thinking about what was possible. Everyone was going into banking or consulting or something similarly serious and I kind of fell in line.
While working those finance jobs, I found myself being pulled (or perhaps I was fleeing) to more entrepreneurial, dynamic organizations and settings. I ended up taking two leaves of absence: first to work with a social entrepreneur in Costa Rica for six months and the second time – for a year – to study the most innovative nonprofit organizations in Latin America as a Fulbright Scholar to Argentina. Looking back, I wasn’t terribly successful in either of those projects but working closely with people who were creating amazing organizations out of nothing with crazy resource constraints really inspired me.
I came back to the U.S. and became a student of the internet and early stage technology companies before eventually landing a strategy job at a venture-backed startup in San Francisco.
What did you think you were going to be when you grew up?
I spent a ton of time outside as a kid and would often talk to my friends about never wanting to get stuck behind a desk. I didn’t have a specific job in mind – like becoming an astronaut – but I looked up to my Dad who did a lot of international travel so that idea was in the mix, too.
What lessons has your work life taught you?
Go easy on yourself. There’s enough pressure swirling around us without having to add to it.
When do you plan on retiring?
Hopefully never! Retirement is such a strange, unsettling concept. I love what I do. 10, 20, 30, 40 years from now, I have no idea what I’ll be up to – which is fun – but so long as I’m healthy and feel energized and engaged in my work I’d like to keep working as long as I can.
Did you enjoy school?
I liked school at times, loved it at others, and dreaded it fairly often, too. Especially in middle school and high school, I hadn’t really developed my own views on quality and what was important. So I was caught up in this wave of trying to do well at everything – and all of the pressure that entailed – without having those pressures rooted in something genuine. That sort of external orientation isn’t fun.
Which is not to say I wasn’t happy. I was always involved in a lot – sports, student government, the whole thing – and I developed some really wonderful, enduring relationships. It’s just that academics for me were just a means to an end, rather than something more joyful and liberating.
What kind of student were you?
I was an excellent student in high school and an above average student in college and graduate school. There was a significantly positive correlation between my academic performance and the effort I put in: I should have studied harder in college and probably should have skipped business school altogether.
How would your classmates remember you?
That’s a question I thought about a lot this weekend. I wasn’t able to make my 10-year college reunion this month. I have some hopes:
First off, I hope most people remember me. Second, I hope that they remember me as a good guy and a loyal, trustworthy friend. Beyond that, I don’t know. By the time I got to college there were so many people who were smarter, worldlier, and more connected than I was. I guess I hope those guys saw me as a person with a lot of potential despite some rough edges and blind spots.
Was there a teacher or teachers who had a particularly strong influence on your life?
My high school English teacher Anne Speyer is an exquisite teacher and a person I hold in the highest regard. We haven’t met face-to-face in years – maybe since high school. Mrs. Speyer has this way of treating people – of making you feel seen and heard – that is so rare and important, especially for a young person.
A few years ago I wrote Mrs. Speyer an email totally out of the blue. I was in the midst of an existential crisis of sorts and ended up sharing way more in that email than I had shared with many of my friends, even. I laid it on pretty thick. Mrs. Speyer devoted thousands of words in her reply to a host of interesting topics but of my predicament she simply had this to say: “You’re clearly at some kind of crossroads. Good. Sounds exciting. Keep me posted.” No prescriptions. No projection. No advice. It was brilliant.
And then there’s the psychologist Paul Lichtenberg: my friend and mentor and one-time therapist who would still be my therapist were we living in the same city. Paul is a brilliant guy, a great listener, and a very unconventional thinker. He’s very playful and loves examining (and tearing apart) commonly-held ideas and beliefs. My conversations with Paul are always a lot of fun. Except when I’m crying.
What was the happiest moment of your life?
Yikes. I don’t know. I’ll have an answer for you next week.
What is your earliest memory?
My maternal grandmother died when I was under two years old. A black town car from the funeral parlor came from our home and an older man with white hair and a gray mustache was behind the wheel. I knew my grandmother was dead and told my Mom that God was in the driveway. We were not a very religious household so that comment really got people’s attention.
When in life have you felt most alone?
When I have trouble sleeping. Not being able to do the thing that you want to do, that you’re supposed to do, that you need to do, when everyone else is doing it can be rough.
What does your future hold?
I have no idea!
We’re trying to build Soulcrafting into something awesome. We have amazing people who believe in us and are investing their time and energy to help us be successful. And we’re growing and getting better every day. So I’m hoping we have a long, successful run.
Other future aspirations:
I want to be outside more.
I want to help people grow and develop just as others have always helped me.
I want to keep asking for help.
I want to handle all of the craziness that lies ahead with grace.
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