Too Lejit to Quit (Designing with Passion, that is)

“Confessions of CEOs” is a series on how business owners are changing the service landscape. Today, we’re chatting with Joshua Thomas, CEO of Lejit Designs, a graphic design and illustration company in Liberty Lake, WA. He shares his secrets on growing his business and the art community at large.

Joshua Thomas, CEO of Lejit Designs (Graphic Design) | Beaze, a vendor procurement marketplace.
Joshua Thomas, CEO of Lejit Designs | Photo Credit: Mercedes Kissinger Smith

So, why Lejit Designs?

Since I was a kid, I’ve always loved fantasy and comic books, which always had me sketching in a notebook. In college, I studied design and began using programs on my computer and laptop to create animations and graphics. I originally started Lejit Designs as my creative outlet, and fortunately, it has become a great business. I pride myself on reliable communication and passionate design. I think a few things that separate me from other companies are my passion for my craft, my willingness to have honest communication, and my drive to improve my craft consistently.

What’s your design style?

All of my work is full of color. I love their vibrancy in making ideas truly come to life. In Spokane, there is not a lot of vitality. I am the leader of the Spokane Design Meetup Group, and it’s my goal to foster an art community in Spokane, similar to that in Portland. I want to bring the Spokane creatives together to do one community collaboration project together per month to get everyone involved and working together.

Another element I try to include in my work is whimsicality. In my comics, I like to portray serious adult moments with a whimsical element involved, to appeal to the inner child in all of us. There’s no fun in being too serious. Sometimes everyone is so caught up in what they are doing, and I want to bring the human element back to design and the work that I do.

Doggo Branding by Lejit | Photo Credit: Lejit

How do you stay on top of your work?

The key to managing this company is balancing my creative side with my analytical side. Being able to draw on both helps me stay organized and remember to do the little things like register my trade name and do my taxes, the ‘boring stuff’. I am also big on consistency and maximizing my time. Even when I’m battling a creative block, I go exercise.

What’s fuels your design?

The sheer number of amazing artists and creators around me. I learn so much from all of the different projects that I see others working on, and I consistently attempt to take what I learn from others into my own work. The artists/creators that inspire me the most are probably Cory Schmitz, Freddy Carrasco, Bryce Kho, and Anastasiia Vinchencko. Regardless of which muse, at the end of the day, whenever I see their work, it makes me want to create. Each of them is a master of their craft and understanding them helps instill this drive to one day excel in my art as much as they do in theirs. I want to be the best at what I do, and to me, seeing artists like them pushes me to want to improve with every new project.

What is your mantra?

“Design, made human.” I got into graphic design because I enjoy making things with people and helping them achieve their visions through design. The human aspect of every interaction I have is what gets me up every morning. I don’t want my work to be a transaction; I want it to be a collaborative relationship that works well beyond when the project ends.

Who have been your biggest advocates/partners in business?

The biggest influences and advocates were the owners of Maker & Made, Brittany Stodgell and Millicent Schnebly. They pushed me a lot to start my own graphic design business and were a massive influence on me early on. They sat down with me on multiple occasions and gave me wisdom and advice that I still use today. I’ve always been very thankful for their guidance.

What’s been the biggest lesson you’ve learned so far?

Wow, that’s the big one *haha*. There are so many things that I would tell the younger me designer if I could. 

1. Always work with a contract. This one will keep you sane and exponentially increase the number of successful transactions you have. In a perfect world, we’d never have to use contracts, and every client would pay. However, every designer has a couple of stories about the times they got stiffed by a client. Contracts mitigate a lot of financial worries because most clients are less likely to jump ship without paying you if they feel contractually obligated to the project. They keep things professional in an industry where a lot of clients have difficulties seeing design as anything more than a hobby. There are a ton of online sources and other physical books on the subject. One of my personal favorites is Business and Legal Forms for Graphic Designers

2. Don’t be afraid to fail. Design in and of itself is a consistent process of failing and course correcting. The road to being a successful designer is not a road paved by genius; it’s a gory one filled with the dead bodies of all your past failures. There isn’t a single designer that looks at their work from a year ago and says that it’s “perfect”. Failing and trying again is the name of the game.

3. Share EVERYTHING. It’s challenging for people to appreciate your designs if you don’t ever show them your work. Don’t be afraid of not having name recognition or not living up to some of your design heroes. Keep designing with passion and showing others; you’ll eventually find your place. 

4. Never be afraid to price yourself what you’re worth. Saying “no” is a pseudo taboo for young designers looking to get their name out in the world, but in my experience, knowing when to say no might allow you to take on that dream client you’ve always wanted. Plus, it saves you from over-stretching yourself.

How do you give back to the community?

My way of giving back to the community is taking over Spokane Design and trying to create a broader design community in the area. We’re starting up a community outreach design project every month. Giving back to the community is critical. The reality is, few of us encounter the same opportunities. I’d love to give back more. I see Spokane Design as an outlet for other up-and-coming designers to grow, improve, and create because I know first hand what it means to have people in your corner rooting for you.

When all is said and done, what do you hope for Lejit Designs to achieve?

To become a premier design firm that helps other designers get their start. I can’t wait to start paying it forward.

Lejit Designs is a preferred partner on Beaze.

Beauty is in the eye of the person who can buy it

“Confessions of CEOs” is a series on how business owners are changing the service landscape. Today, we’re chatting with Niccolò Filippo Veneri Savoia, CEO of Look Lateral, a financial blockchain ecosystem that authenticates, values, and acquires art in real-time. He shares his secrets on building wealth through art as an asset class, possibly even through COVID-19.

Niccolò Filippo Veneri Savoia, CEO of Look Lateral. Beaze, a vendor procurement marketplace.
Niccolò Filippo Veneri Savoia, CEO of Look Lateral. Photo Credit: Look Lateral

Why Look Lateral?

In 2012, I had wanted to replace the artwork in my kitchen, so I went online to see what I could find, and I found almost nothing. When I did, I couldn’t be sure I would be getting the real thing or a counterfeit. I spoke with 300 gallery owners, and only 50% of them had a website, never mind e-commerce. There was no easy way to purchase top-quality authenticated international art online. At the time, the renowned art critic, journalist and my mother, Mariagrazia Savoia, spearheaded Look Lateral as a magazine for art, design, and fashion. When I became CEO in 2013, I decided to push the company towards e-commerce in a way that guarantees art provenance, and this meant creating a hyper-curated marketplace for art leveraging blockchain. 

Art is not only one of the most critical aspects of each nation’s history; rather, it also represents an essential asset class. There are $1.75 trillion art assets; this market is likely to grow to $2.2 trillion within three years. However, the market size is only 60 billion, and the transactions always involve the same few people. There is a considerable gap between the art market and the rest of the world.

What are the barriers to the art market and how does Look Lateral overcome them? 

Currently, there are three: lack of transparency, illiquidity, and lack of accessibility. Look Lateral addresses these problems by creating an ecosystem that identifies, documents ownership, and creates a market share for every art piece in question.  Our system tackles these issues in four ways:

1) Item identification: Our proprietary adhesive label, which is easily and safely applied to the back of a work of art or directly onto its certificate of authenticity. It is reliable and thin; it can’t be transferred to a different work of art, and it can’t be replicated or cloned. Every tag is unique. It’s crazy that this doesn’t exist right now. 

2) Provenance (i.e. a well-documented record of ownership). We record important information and opinions of the artwork to our blockchain, and we have a reward mechanism to incentivize players to record these things. We record if the artworks are in museums, record exhibitions, experts, the conditions of artwork, and so on.

3) Price indexing: This minimizes pricing error. Our methodology creates the index to price the artwork based on transactional data.

4) Fractional Marketplace of Art (FIMART): Our marketplace supports the trading of art assets, whether it is a fraction of the artwork or financial derivatives or the whole piece. Only artworks that are tagged, have information on ownership in our databases, and are priced by us may be listed in our marketplace. A centralized trading platform like this increases the number of potential buyers and increases the liquidity of the art market.

How can people maintain their wealth through art as an asset class?

According to experts such as those from Le Commerce, art represents a stable investment asset that offers an average annual return of 4.6% even during times of instability such as during political unrest or viral crises. This is especially true if there were art derivatives, art indexes and art lending. 

If you look at Deloitte and other reports, 10% of art owners would need a loan using art as collateral. These art owners include the top 1000 museums in the world, the top 1000 galleries, foundations, institutions, corporations, governments, etc. These entities are stable and solvent. There is a potential market of at least $175 billion.

The time is now, and it’s even more compelling because of COVID-19 and the possible next crisis.  Many of those entities will need loans or monetization as soon as possible. And art is even more attractive during a financial and global crisis, as one of the best refuge and safe asset class.

How does art as an investment vehicle help further culture? 

It’s a more scalable way to support museums and galleries. Museums, as an example, are not allowed to sell more than 20% of a given art piece (else they lose their non-profit status and are then categorized as for-profit galleries. During times like coronavirus, many of these establishments could shut down permanently due to enforced government closures if they don’t find alternative ways to monetize their assets within a reasonable timeframe. It would be a real loss if people were no longer able to appreciate the masterpieces of artistic leadership and history.

What drove your passion for art culture?

My father and my mother have always tried to bring me to museums, exhibitions, and openings. Some fond memories as a child include “The Celeste Galleria”  in Palazzo Te, “Phillippe Parreno”  at Palais de Tokyo in Paris, and “Tino Siegel”  at the Guggenheim. As my mother was a journalist in fashion and design, I could always “breathe” culture in my everyday life since I was a kid. At that time, I didn’t understand how influential culture was. It was only in retrospect that I realized its significance. Something that has stuck with me throughout the years was “Know the history so you can understand the present and think about the future.”  

How have you built your team?

I started with people I knew, who were in turn, connected to the key industries I was seeking. Then, when I identified the skills that I needed, I tried to add some of the best people in the world for that skill. For example, we have Piers Armstrong, the VP of Marketing at Amazon as our business advisor. As our analytics and finance advisor, we have Antonio Mele, a Professor of Finance at the Swiss Finance Institute based in Lugano (USI), who also spent a decade as Professor of Finance at the London School of Economics and Political Science. 

Who’s been an integral part of growing the business?

We’re big fans of Certilogo (a leader in product authentication), or Artnet (a leader in art sales). We’re elated that they’re working on such an innovative project with us. We also have partners like Orrick, financial institutions and banks who back us with their reputation and stability.

What words of wisdom can you share?

The most important thing is to be resilient. Always find people that don’t believe in you or there will be problems on your journey. Make sure all the people around you will play their role but also advocate value. You will need to test and then stress test every single part of the business. You will need to have people verify the solution you have made. We overcame obstacles and prevailed, and to build something like the ecosystem we have, you need to develop a multilayer product. If you don’t have that, you won’t be able to execute a viable product.  

When all is said and done, what do you hope for Look Lateral to achieve?

We want LookLateral to be the financial on-ramp to art culture as a prominent asset class, whether it’s paintings, wristwatches or film.

Look Lateral is a preferred partner on Beaze.