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How to Build Your Empire: Gaining Your Creative Freedom


Candy WashingtonThe life of an entrepreneur is anything but predictable. Hopefully with some key insights from Mihae Mukaida, co-founder of RockPaperRobot (featured in AMEX Open, The New York Times, and WIRED)– an engineering boutique specializing in the innovation and fabrication of high-end kinetic furniture and lighting – balancing life and your business might just get a little bit easier.

While speaking with Mihae on her and co-founder Jessica Banks’ journey from working for others to working for themselves, I uncovered multiple parallels between their journey and the journey of any creative professional trying to pave their own way. The connective tissue that ties all creative professionals together seems to be their desire for freedom: Freedom to create, freedom to collaborate, freedom to be – all on your own terms.

Insights on how to gain your creative freedom while building your empire:

Insight #1: Decide. Commit. Repeat.

Mihae and Jessica met while they both were working at an experiential advertising agency and struggled to get an incubator project off the ground due to client demands. They both believed in the vision of what they wanted to accomplish and decided to, “Let’s just do it,” and thus, RPR was born.

Believe in the vision that you have for your career and life. Decide to embark on the journey to realize your vision, and then take meaningful action toward that goal.

Insight # 2: Embrace the inevitable learning curve

While starting your business and managing your brand, you are bound to experience a learning curve. Since you are establishing your business from the ground up you have to learn everything from logistics, payroll, your own skill set, collaborating with others, etc. Understand that these are the inevitable growing pains of starting any business and be prepared to go through them to create a solid foundation for your business.

Insight #3: Don’t forget to “sharpen your axe.” Take the time to refuel your creative juices.

When I asked Mihae what was the best piece of advice she ever received, she told me the following quote from Abe Lincoln, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

She explained that being a designer and a businesswoman required her to spend a lot of time in the machine shop and in front of the computer, but she always strives to strike a balance between work and taking moments to enjoy life and reboot.

Trying to juggle it all can lead to the impulse to work late into the night, through the weekend, and canceling on friends. But as Mihae says, striking a work/life balance is key to the longevity of your business and maintaining a sense of self and creativity.

Mihae’s unwind tip: Take the time to just step away – even if it’s just a few hours in the sun – to regroup and renew… to sharpen your axe.

Insight #4: “You can make more money, but you can’t make more time.”

Sometimes it’s best to spend a bit more upfront to get things done right and in a timely fashion.  Even when you are struggling in the beginning it can be tough to part with those extra funds. Mihae adds that making the decision to spend a bit more in the beginning can save a lot of time and costs in the future. It’s essential to think about the long-term and make decisions based on what will be best in the overall grand scheme of things.

Insight #5: Find inspiration in unexpected places

It’s easy to get so laser-focused on what you are doing that you forget to look up and reach out. But Mihae and Jessica make the time to pop over to neighboring spaces within New Lab, the open space facility in Brooklyn Navy Yard. They bounce ideas, collaborate, and just “sharpen their axes.”

According to Mihae in the game of Rock – Scissors – Robot, Robot always wins.  But in the game of building your empire; perseverance, creativity, gratitude, and taking moments to take care of your self always wins.

For more insights learned from my interview with Mihae follow and tweet @CandyWashington and leave comments below:


About Candy Washington

Actor, producer, entertainment, and fashion expert and This is Candy Washington founder, Candy Washington is a highly sought-after resource for her witty, trendy, and always entertaining style, pop culture, and acting expertise. Candy has interviewed top industry influencers including NBC’s Today Show’s style expert Bobbie Thomas, NBC’s Fashion Star winner Kara Laricks, Teen Vogue’s Eva Chen, NBC's Dancing with the Star’s Dean Banowetz, ABC’s fashion expert Lilliana Vazquez, and Bravo's The Real Housewives of New York’s Jill Zarin, and has appeared on ABC 7 as a film and entertainment expert. She was profiled Cision, the industry’s go-to standard for media professionals and is also a brand ambassador for Style in View. Additionally, she has acted in numerous films and television shows, such as Ice Cube produced, Are We There Yet? and Eggs Over Easy that premiered at The New Orleans Films Festival. Candy is a graduate of Georgetown University.