A positive outlook on life. I believe that a good leader of a company will find the positive in any situation. The pandemic came to mind when we realized we could not go back to our New York City office. The entire company — 75+ people — transitioned to work from home; we took the opportunity to double down on our virtual technology, thus reinventing the virtual meeting.
Being a founder, entrepreneur, or business owner can have many exciting and thrilling moments. But it is also punctuated with periods of doubt, slump, and anxiety. So how does one successfully and healthily ride the highs and lows of Entrepreneurship? In this series, called “How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur” we are talking to successful entrepreneurs who can share stories from their experience. I had the pleasure of interviewing Christian Giordano.
With 25+ years of experience, Christian — “The Anti-Architect” — has reimagined the building industry with a progressive approach as president and owner of Mancini Duffy. With a drive for innovation to modernize Mancini, he utilizes technology to propel the design world forward. In 2020, he invented the patent-pending The Toolbelt, allowing users to explore and manipulate their 3D models. In 2021, he launched The Anti-Architect Podcast.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Driven by a quest for learning with 25+ years of experience, I am reimagining the building industry with a progressive approach as president and majority owner of Mancini Duffy, century-old NYC-based architecture and design firm. I launched the research and development incubator — dubbed the Design Lab — bringing together designers, technologists, and clients into virtual reality to break barriers on design capabilities.
In 2021, I launched The Anti-Architect Podcast to share my futuristic approach with others and dive into how architects work with their clients and how clients see them.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
I was having a conversation with the former owner of Mancini about what his intentions about retiring were, and he said, “well, no one’s made me an offer yet!” So I went home that night and called two of my co-workers at the firm that I highly respected, and we came up with a plan to buy Mancini.
In your opinion, were you a natural-born entrepreneur, or did you develop that aptitude later on? Can you explain what you mean?
I developed it later on as I built more confidence in interacting with clients and people. I had a side hustle early on in my career. I had my day job at the commercial architecture firm, and then I would go home at night and design large residences, condos, and apartments in New York City. I started out doing it for friends, and then it really took off — I designed over 200 residences!
Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?
My father inspired my journey in business. He was an entrepreneur in a similar sense — later on in his life. When he left his job at ABC Radio, he bought and ran his own radio stations for years. His career path always inspired me.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Mancini stands out because of our use of technology and our design process. A huge differentiator is that we can do what a typical architect does in three weeks, in three hours. We invented a patent-pending software called The Toolbelt that enables users to make real-time changes to their designs using Virtual Reality.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- I have an even-tempered demeanor; I tend to stay calm on the exterior — even if I don’t feel that way inside, and I think this trait has contributed to my success. Several years ago, we had a huge project that didn’t have the right team assigned to execute it due to some internal issues. The client called us on it, and it was a make-or-break moment. I was in panic mode on the inside; however, we kept the project moving by making swift and drastic changes to the team. On the outside, I kept the client assured that we would stay on track and complete the job, and we did.
- I see mistakes as opportunities to learn and evolve — and then I move on! For example, in the early days of our Design Lab, we thought we would want to pursue designing and making 3D-printed furniture. We thought there would be a good market for it; however, there wasn’t. The silver lining is that it led us down the road to 3D printing wall panels, light fixtures, etc., which we’ve utilized for client projects.
- I think my vulnerability has also contributed to my success. I don’t pretend to have all of the answers; being able to admit that and seek the help of others around you to figure out the solution together is a crucial aspect of success. For example, I have a mentor named Ted Maziejka, who has decades of experience in our industry. He helps guide our firm with strategy and offers guidance for our financial health.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
When we needed to hire, I was often told to find “the greatest designer,” and it was always a mistake because, and in the end, the personality isn’t the right fit for our culture. We were trying to find superstars rather than growing them from within the people that work for us at Mancini. I’ve learned we’re better off nurturing talent from within based on our core values and culture.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them create a work culture in which employees thrive and do not “burn out” or get overwhelmed?
Foster intrapreneurial ideas and put money and resources towards supporting your employee’s ideas.
We also work hard to pay real attention to our employees’ feedback and suggestions to foster a warm, open company culture.
What would you advise other business leaders to do in order to build trust, credibility, and Authority in their industry?
Trust is built by being honest about your company and what it offers and being honest with your employees. I believe in running the firm with transparency; we conduct monthly meetings with the entire company to share news across all front — projects we win and lose and the business’s financial health — so that we’re all on the same page working towards a collective goal.
Our firm is over 100-years-old, so we continue to build up its legacy. We’ve built credibility and authority by being an innovative company, thinking outside the box to invent software to turn the design process upside down, and infusing technology into all facets of our design process.
Can you help articulate why doing that is essential today?
Today’s workforce is looking for those types of qualities as much as they are money and title. They’re looking to be better global citizens, and being aligned with a company that is building trust, credibility, and authority is an essential component.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
The most common mistake people make when they start a business is not choosing the right leadership or management group to complement their abilities. I would advise new entrepreneurs to carefully select their business partners because it’s a long-term relationship full of ups and downs in the business’s lifeline. For example, when I bought the company, I immediately asked my co-workers Bill Mandara and Scott Harrell to partner with me. I’m good with people, and Bill is the best technical architect, and Scott’s client relations are second to none. We all complement one another, and as the firm has grown, we’ve added two other shareholders who round out what was missing from our leadership team.
Ok fantastic. Thank you for those excellent insights, Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about How to Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur. The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills, and celebrations. This might be intuitive, but I think it will be very useful to specifically articulate it. Can you describe to our readers why no matter how successful you are as an entrepreneur, you will always have fairly dramatic highs and lows? Particularly, can you help explain why this is different from someone with a “regular job”?
The high is that you can control your destiny and see your thoughts and vision become a reality. The excitement comes from realizing that these things are possible and others work towards that same goal.
However, sometimes the sense of responsibility is low. The reality sometimes weighs down that desire to always want to continue to innovate or be a visionary because each of your employees needs a paycheck, insurance needs to be paid, etc.
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually high and excited as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
I still get excited every single time we win a new project and gain a new client. That excitement will only last for a short period — until we get the next new client!
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually low, and vulnerable as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
At the beginning of the pandemic, I felt low and vulnerable business-wise as 50% of our annual revenue is from designing office space in New York City. Early on during COVID, there was a period when it looked like the office culture would never come back, which was a hurdle my partners and I navigated together.
Based on your experience can you tell us what you did to bounce back?
We are always looking to push boundaries at Mancini. We approached COVID the same way we approach our business, we were pioneers, and we were the first architecture firm in New York City to reopen on June 8, 2020. We did it slowly and carefully, with our employees’ health at the forefront of all decisions. Slowly but surely, we’re starting to see the city come back to life, and we’re working on several new exciting projects. It has been a fun challenge for us to reimagine what functions of offices should evolve after our learnings from COVID.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Things You Need To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur”? Please share a story or an example for each.
- A positive outlook on life. I believe that a good leader of a company will find the positive in any situation. The pandemic came to mind when we realized we could not go back to our New York City office. The entire company — 75+ people — transitioned to work from home; we took the opportunity to double down on our virtual technology, thus reinventing the virtual meeting.
- Celebrate the smallest of victories, which will, in turn, lead to more significant wins. When I first started, and we would win the smallest of new projects, I would celebrate them with a party. Each victory created a buzz, and the entire office was motivated.
- Align with good people and partners. Every day is an example of this. Without the trust, I have with our staff — and especially among my partners — we would not continue to grow our business at Mancini. This trust allows me to explore new opportunities and new ways to do business.
- Foster outside interests and passions. During a very stressful period in our business years ago, I decided to take up running; while it has many benefits, it’s something my wife and I now enjoy doing together. I also enjoy spending time with my family.
- Join executive groups outside of your industry to expand your network. I joined the YPO a few years ago, and it has been such a helpful executive-sounding board for me. YPO has given me access to people, places, and education that I would have never been able to experience. One example of a unique opportunity I’ve had, thanks to YPO, is at a tech conference we had a private dinner with Peter Diamandis and Elon Musk at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
We are living during challenging times, and resilience is critical during times like these. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
Defining resilience is forging ahead with your belief system and vision despite the chaos and unfortunate circumstances around you. Resilient people can filter out the noise and stay focused.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Would you mind sharing a story?
Yes, I was not a very good student in grammar and middle school, which helped me build resiliency. It wasn’t until high school that I figured out how I learned. And it wasn’t until I found what I wanted to do in life that I could truly excel.
In your opinion, do you tend to keep a positive attitude during difficult situations? What helps you to do so?
I always keep a positive attitude during difficult situations, even if it’s just a façade. My upbringing helped because my parents are both very positive people, so I learned that from them.
Can you help articulate why a leader’s positive attitude can have a positive impact both on their clients and their team? Please share a story or example if you can.
Positivity is contagious, and if we lead with positivity, it will inevitably be infused into your company culture, teams, clients, etc.
Ok. Super. We are nearly done. What is your favorite inspirational quote that motivates you to pursue greatness? Can you share a story about how it was relevant to you in your own life?
“Whoever saves one life, saves the entire world,” Itzhak Stern, Schindler’s List. I think this quote is a beautiful way to look at the world and our relationship with others. I think of our business this way, we change lives through meaningful design, and we have a responsibility to everyone that works here and their families.
How can our readers further follow you online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!