#04 Elena Haskins - 0 to 100: From Jr. Designer to Founding a UX Design Studio and Mentorship Program

44 min read • Dianne Eberhardt

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Dianne: Welcome to the Pixelated Perfect Podcast. Hey Elena, thank you for joining me on my podcast, pixelated perfect

Elena: Yeah, thanks so much for having me. I'm looking forward to this.

Dianne: Yay. Awesome. So Elena, I was trying to remember when I met you time is weird. I don't know if it was two years ago or three years ago, I don't know exactly when but when I met you, you were kind of a graphic designer looking to transition and I've kind of seen you through transitioning from that stage to being a product designer, being a UI, UX designer to kind of being there to mentor Junior designers and help them get on track and to today, you are running your own company and I want to hear about all that good stuff. I know you're building a house. So you've done a lot and like such a short period of time and what I really want to focus on and what I think a lot of listeners want to hear about is kind of how you made that transition and every all of those steps, like, what were those hard things? What were those easy things? And so maybe to start off with, if you want to just kind of tell your story of where you started to today, and then we can kind of dive back in and have more conversations about some of those specific moments.

Elena: Yeah, absolutely. I know there's a lot going on. Yeah. So I used to be a graphic designer and so I did the whole graduate from college. Okay. My big move to New York City, moved to New York without a job or an apartment. Don't really have anything to my name kind of thing and it just it felt like the right move where everything that I wanted to do. I didn't know what I wanted. But I knew something was going to fall into place and I think that that mentality is the thing that has kept me with this momentum through every stage. So it's not just that spring chicken, feeling of, okay, I'm so fresh, but even when I'm in the depth of it, still being excited and knowing that there's still more to come is like pushing me forward. So I was working at an events company like a conference events company for private equity which I knew nothing about. And so I was just cranking out out a bunch of ads. Magazine posters I was not into it at all, it just didn't really feel right, but I don't really know what was going on and so someone, because I mentioned I did design people who don't know, design is they think everything is designed and they're like, oh, you must do this one thing and like, no, there's actually, you know, 50 kinds of design. And so that's when I first heard about UX, because someone mentions like, oh, do you know what UX? And I said, absolutely not. So I went to a workshop through General Assembly. It was just a free workshop and so that's where I learned about the world of UX user experience. Product design, all that good stuff, and as they were talking about it, everything just lit up. Was it? Oh wait, me me, me, and I felt like everything they were saying I want to raise my hand and just scream. I've been looking for this the thing that really solidified it for me was there was a case study that a team. I was working in an oncology Wing in a hospital like a kid's oncology wing and they transform the MRI machine into a pirate ship. And I was like, what, how is that a job? I don't even understand how this could be a thing and one of the biggest pieces of feedback that stuck with me even to this day and I tell so many people is one of the kids asked their mom with, can go back to the hospital. And it blew my mind that you could utilize design and make those kind of big decisions to make such a scary experience for a kid. So fun. They'll yeah, I really want to go get more cancer treatment so I can go to this ship and that's like that's when I knew this is the kind of work that I want to be doing and so I am pretty intense when I do think so. When I commit to something like let's go. So that was that light bulb moment where I knew this is the kind of career. I want to build any think about that pirate ship, pushing me forward every single day. So, I've just jumped in, I didn't just jump, I feel like I dove in with like, some rocks tied around my neck, trying to drown myself. We're all you're not leaving UX for a really long time and I've just kept up the momentum. So, yeah, dying. I know you gave me a really great opportunity to you gave me my start. I wouldn't even be here without you. So, for those of you that are listening, I knew you'd do all these coffee dates, but I wanted to do something a little bit different. So I went on to one of the slack groups. I think the one you and I met on was ladies get paid or hexagon is one of those and instead of just saying, oh hey want to pick someone's brain or hey, I want to learn more about you. I said I want to learn what you're doing. I will do all your crappy work, like your Logistics, as I'll basically be your assistant for free. If you let me shadow you, who's up for it, and Dianne came in hot and said, actually, hire you and I was like, oh my God. And just like knowing that someone was willing to take a chance on me, is also the reason why I have his mentorship program now and I've tried to hire more Junior UX designers so it's a very full circle thing and so I mean long story short of the what happened in the last two years. So yeah, I was Dianne's apprentice and then I just continued on doing more freelance stuff, and then finally I would brave enough to quit my full-time graph design. I was absolutely no more. or no more in design, no more and just fully commit me to different kinds of UX roles. And so, ever since then I have done, I've tried to get my hands in all kinds of Industries. All kinds of contract and freelance. I did full-time for a little bit and I realized no I want to do it. I want to hop around more and more. And so now I launched my own UX studio in December and so I am fully like a contractor where I can do exactly. what I want, I can work on a bunch of different projects, and in the last two years, I've worked with 22 clients and so an amplifying. So becoming an apprentice to a senior, I got hired as a senior interaction designer within two years. Not to you know, make unrealistic things but you do have to give it your all and then your all's all and I'm you know not to glorify overworking because they're definitely some boundaries I think I crossed for myself but just learning in hindsight. Write what you want. It's going to take a lot more than you first think, but I no regrets. But that's my story in a nutshell.

Dianne: Yeah, that's amazing. I have things I want to pick apart further. I definitely one of the things I want to focus on how we talk about the early stages but I want to know more about how you made that transition from being a mid-level, a junior level, and jumping, but to start off with, I wanted to, I wanted to address like one of the reasons that I kind of reached out and I was so inspired and wanted you to join the design project and I think that like if anyone's listening, they hear like the enthusiasm for me like the get-go. Like, you're like, I'm going to do. I few tell me to do it, I'm gonna do it. And I think how you position yourself and how you're like, you know what you have, you want me to do something, you want me to do something for free? You want me to do something paid? I don't care. Just, I want experience and I love that about you. And I've always loved like your passion and you're just like, you're like, you want to be the best you want to do the best and I think that's something where a lot of Freelancers or people getting into it they're like oh I want to track my hours. I don't want to overwork and I think that is an interesting balance and I think life is about balances, but I think especially at that beginning, you have to like be willing to jump in and give it your all and know that it's going to take you longer because you're learning and just be open to that. So I don't know if you have anything to add but I think like what you brought to me I was like, just this energy in this willingness and this love of just like doing it all that. Like I was like, oh my gosh, this girl is awesome.

Elena: It's really kind. I think I think another thing and this is advice to people who are also trying to make that jump is you have to just do it, your portfolio's, never going to be done, period, and so I also recognize that just having, you know, going through like a boot camp or learning something. Oops, that's not going to cut it, especially now in 2022. UX is so saturated with like, especially during covid. Everyone is like, oh my God, I want to do a UX designer and I'm sure a lot of people have good intentions, but a lot of times it is very flashy. You've to work in Tech, you get to work from home, you could potentially make a lot of money and so people kind of lose sight of it and so that's what's going to make you actually get the job. So I run a mentorship program and that is a huge thing. I'm saying, you, it's the bar is different now than when I joined, it's been even though it's only been two years, just having a few class projects when also the other 99% of people have probably the same exact case studies as you did. You redesign Spotify redesigned and screw like that is not going to cut it anymore and you know people can really go "No I'm sure you have some good stuff " I'm just going to be very honest like I approach everything with no it's going to be super hard for you people. All are going to be bored. They've seen it a million times. You need to go and find something else. Whether it's going down to your local pizzeria, I did that in college. Actually, I didn't have any I want to be a graphic designer about time and I didn't have any internships related to graphic design because I didn't know that, that's what I wanted. So I literally called up my local pizzeria and my local library and said, hey can I just like make you a logo and they're like yeah, sure, I mean, they didn't end up. still it, but I still did a thing for a real company. I have the on my resume and I had it in my portfolio and it was legit. The library did actually use it, and I made their social media posts, and it's like, I mean, they're super cringy. Now, it's like a silhouette sitting against some books, but they still use it!

Dianne: It is hard to look back on the work you did in the past.

Elena: So, rough. But like, now, I have two internships, because I structured and I literally made it. And I said, hey, can we just like

Elena: You know, you don't, you don't want to do anything, I will make the structure for you. We'll just have weekly check-ins. I'll treat you like a client. You can you know, give me your deliverables. So now if I need to talk about an interview, I have a real stake holder, a real company, real problems to solve and these are things that I just kind of found to be problems or just someone needed something and it just it happened. So those are the things you have to do if you want to stand out and That's just kind of how it is now.

Dianne: Yeah, for sure and I definitely think that's how it is now but I also think that like like I think of you and you do stand out because you've always done those things and before UX blew up in the past two years when I did meet you, as you already stood out and you were already doing those things, you did, those things in college and so I think like even more so now, but like anything you can do to make you see not anything like that differentiates you and yes, no more redesigning Spotify. It's fine. Alright now it's a great up already. Please stop. Exactly. Do you have any idea? How many, how much money do they spend to build what they have? You Junior designer are never... hahaha it's too much too much. Amen. Amen. So I want to talk about this transition from you getting into design, you being a junior designer to quickly moving up from Junior designer to see designer and then I want to talk about founding, but let's, let's start there. What did that look like for you? And what are some of the challenges are? Some of the, like the really awesome things that happened.

Elena: I think a lot of it is just going with it. I've always been a very type, schedule-oriented person and I still live off of my calendar. But I in college the okay, I gotta have a plan or as I'd be, I was like, why don't I have a job lined up? Or I got to do all these things and sometimes It's helpful, and I think I did Lay the groundwork to have those skills and confidence now, but you can't plan these kinds of things. No, I didn't know what UX was four years ago. I never heard of it. It didn't occur to me. And so, how can you even plan for something like that? So, just being really chill someone says, hey, can you do this thing? I'm like, yeah, sure, maybe it's not an industry that I'm super jazzed about but now I know about it. Like, I've been able to touch industries that I normally wouldn't even want to and, you know, for the better because it's also important to work in Industries and find out which ones you don't want to do. It's like so for example like e-commerce. I really have no interest in doing it. It doesn't really align with any of the things that they don't really care about shopping. And so it just now I know that that's not something that I want to be doing but saying yes to that immediately and just saying, absolutely, let's learn about this. Let's let's see what's working. And also, what does one industry have to do with another one? So so just trying a lot of those things out and I think that's why I was able to go because I wasn't picky like I kind of threw a, any kind of expectation out the window of being like, listen, I just want to do Will will reflect later Reflections. Very important, but right now there's nothing to reflect on. You just gotta do it. Do that Stefan always. So I that's that's just like the Baseline of everything.

Dianne: And so when you just go and you jumped into these industries that you knew nothing about were you just leaning on those UX/UI skills that you had already learned to. What did that look like for you?

Elena: I think it was a mix of just trust, like, knowing that, I'm a competent person. And so, like, for anyone, listening, the fact that you're listening to this podcast means you're already trying to better yourself. You trying to be a better designer, so you're already probably more ahead than you think you are. So, I'm just comparing and contrasting, my very first job when I got hired at this private Equity place, I was like, oh my God, I don't know anything about it and I liked it so much. research. I was like trying to listen to all these investor podcasts and now like honestly, I'll show up to this thing where I don't know anything about it and I'm like, I will figure it out. That's what user research is all about. Where once you're in it, you're in it because you're doing the audits of different tools for competitor analysis. You are talking to the real people and you're asking questions, that's how you're going to learn. So you get out of your head, the idea of, oh my God, I need to be an expert before I start anything because that's just like that's going to hold you back. So much and it's just a huge waste of time when you could just be fine-tuning your skills to do research or just to be a critical thinker because you're trying to prepare too much.

Dianne: I love that. Yeah, you don't need to be an expert and I think a lot of times even as an entrepreneur and business owners like you don't have, you can't overthink because there are so many unknowns and it's like, let's and that's something we do a lot at TDP and I would love to hear what you guys do is like, let's just throw out an idea. Let's just throw it out there. Let's not spend much time on it. Let's just put a landing page together, see if anyone's interested and I think that's such a great tool. Like don't overthink just do and see what happens and then go from there.

Elena: Yeah because you can't you can't refine anything if there's nothing to refine because it doesn't exist yet. I was telling my cowort. I'm very like anti-pixel-perfect. I know that is I think it's the name of the podcast...

Dianne: It`s not! It is pixelated perfect, not pixel perfect haha!

Elena: I remember someone one of my mentees was like well I get so hung up on making things look perfect. And I was like, then you're not like, honestly you're not going to last. You will not last in this industry and I'm going to tell you like I'm not saying you specifically aren't going to last. You got to get that out of your head. But if you have them can't ality, you're not going to last because nothing is ever gonna be this perfect. And if you spend too much time you're already behind, you're not going to have enough Literal time or mental time to like actually do those iterations if you're like and then you also get tied to it. If you spend all this energy, making something look perfect. Of course you're not going to want to destroy it, you just spent much time, right? So then it's like just quickly, you know, boom, We scratch it out. We just, you know, vomit and then we're like, hey, let's what do you think? And then someone says actually, that's really sucks. So, I'm glad you told me that because I always spent ten minutes on it instead of right like a whole week and then you can your better ideas will come out after you like get rid of your bad ideas first, so you have to do that step.

Dianne: Yes, no I love that. I also think that as you progress in your career and you go from Junior to Mid to senior, it's like you're doing more of those really complex thoughts and like putting together a wireframes and user flows. And then usually the pixel perfection, depending on the team, you're on, it's like it comes from the junior, designers are other people. And it's like, I think those big ideas and those big challenges are what's really going. If you're looking to, like, Advance your career as a designer, that's like where you spend your time?

Elena: Yeah. The holistic part and that's also my favorite Prime. Or of, i-i'm not the most detailed oriented person and, you know, I'm working on that but I'm recognizing what my strengths are and I'm leaning into that especially and I wasn't earlier in my career, I wasn't able to see that because I hadn't really done it. But now that I've done all these projects, I can see where I fit best so I can also see where should be doing something and where I need to bring in other people. So, when it comes to proofreading, I actually just have someone else proofread my stuff because like it's going to take too much time, and not can do a good job. So I might as well have someone else come in and do that. So Outsourcing is also a huge part of things that I've learned since like launching a business and doing mentorship. And that's how I feel. Like I've actually progressed into this next phase of everything of realizing you need to ask for help and you can actually do better by asking for help with things, especially with things that you're good at. So I had this huge Epiphany a few weeks ago of I, you spend so much time. Are you being like okay? Yeah, no I want feedback on these things. I'm bad at, but I don't really need help on these things. I'm going to XYZ, I don't need help on those. I need help on ABC, but actually, you should probably extra get help on those ones because you're, you're already stuck but you don't know. You are because you think so good at it. And so now I've actually been able to back up.

Dianne: Yeah, that's that's a super interesting, you know, I feel like I've said this on the podcast before, but I feel like the more I grow, the more I in my career, I realize, I know nothing. Oh my God. Yeah, and it's like, it's like learning from other people. And I think that is like, distinguishing someone that's an entrepreneur or advanced in their career for someone's that's of beginners. You can probably speak to this because you have a cohort. It's like when you're the beginner, it's like you're unsure of yourself. So you just like pretend like you know everything and you just like kind of fake it and then as you progress and you know things then you're like oh let's question all these things. I know because I can be better.

Elena: Yes. And like getting over that. Hump its first it's tough because you're like why would I spend time on something that I'm already gonna? And then like, that is so ignorant. I'm like so young, there's no way like I. So I was a freelance for a few different places. This is as well. And so and each one kind of serves a different. It feels mic up in a different kind of way but there's one place that they pay me. The least out of always is over. It's like why are you keeping them? Like because I'm learning the most because I'm too early in my career or even if I was even further in my career to not I can't be the most senior person everywhere I go. I'm way too young for that. Like that is like I've really only been in UX for like under three years. Absolutely not even if I have a senior role there needs to be someone more senior than me, it's somewhere in the picture because I can't Plateau. So just like reeling, myself back in because we all have those times where it's like, yeah, I like to be confident and I don't really struggle with feeling like, I don't belong, but I also recognize there's a huge gap that I physically will not be able to fix Phil Phil, because I've just not been in the space long enough, even have some knowledge that exists for people who have been doing it for like 10 years, right?

Dianne: And I mean, that goes back to like you planned, but at the end of the day, you don't know what's gonna happen. Like you didn't know UX was possible until four years ago and look at you now and so yeah, as learning do you, how do you feel about mentorship? So you are a mentor, you mentor. Do you have a mentor? Or what does that like relationship look like?

Elena: Yeah. So I had I'd actually I don't I have a mentor. Her name is Alina, which is funny because I'm Elena and she's great, we don't really talk as much now because I'm like she was really there to help me like it started and I looked up to you as a mentor as well. Like, I definitely leaned on other people more when I was getting started. But I am trying to call back to people now but I'd the thing I'm focusing on right now is getting other people into the space. So mentorship is really important to me because I had a lot of support and there's that I would not be here without any of those people. And I also recognize a lot of the privilege that I had to be able to make a lot of the jumps that I did and even know how to access those kinds of people. And so, the way this all started was I'll do the medium store because I'm short, medium, long explanation. haha. so I when I made the jump, I Up to go full, no full freelance as a contractor. I had my LLC and all the good stuff I was like, okay. I'm going to do my own studio and which really it operates. Basically the exact same way. It's just, that it's cool. And I just have an LLC and now I have more of a capability to hire people if I want to. And I purposely wanted to hire, more, Junior designers, who I kind of felt followed in the same path that I did, where they just need, they need their own Dianne. They need someone to Like I see you can do a good thing like I want to bring you on in the kind of nurture that and so when I created it's called on Ali when I created on alive, I specifically made it clear in the job postings. I hired one person. This is not your dream job. I do not want this to be anyone's dream job. I'd want this to be your foot in the door. Like this is your step one. And I made that really clear to every one of, I'm here to Mentor, you to, like compensate. You And to give you like standards and also to find out what it's like to be respected. Because I think there's a lot of like weird power dynamics with, with Juniors, where it's like, okay, you just have to do everything for free and I'm like, no, I'm going to compensate all of you because you are actually helping me make money and you're doing a service and so just setting standards for how people should be treated. So that's what happened. But anyways, I had way too many applications. about 280 applications for a part-time job in like a week. And I was like, what? Yeah, it blew up and I was just like, this is really cool but also what and I really want to shake up the way that I was hiring. I was like I don't send me your resume, I don't care. I care about your portfolio and I want to know what's important to you. You don't need to like, kiss my kiss. You don't have to suck up to me and be like, oh, why this is why I want to work at your agency. I know you just want opportunity but I want to know what's important to you as a designer. So I just asked like two very simple questions. Something along the lines of, you know, like what do you most proud of as a designer and then what something you want to work on and then send your portfolio? That's all I want from you. And it really showed people had a lot of heart like they wanted a lot of things and they just needed that. I interviewed ten people and it was extremely hard. All of them were so solid. I could have hired any of them and felt really good but you can't really do that. So I ended I picked one and they ended up creating a whole other. I found a project because there are two people who stood out to me that I was like I just want you so badly in my life and in my job as I know you can do great things and so I actually hired them to work on converge my other passion project and so, like I created a job for them and then I still have these other people just linger out and sounds like what if I do a cohort and make a mentorship program where these people all really solid? But why didn't they get the job? And so I want to work with people who are great but make them amazing. And so that's kind of how the mentorship program came to be where I created it. You know, I like organization. So it wasn't just like, hey, let's just do a coffee date. I want to create a kind of structure where we're covering the most important things because there's like, you know, hundreds of things that you could talk about to be a good designer or to get a job. But what is the most pressing thing? We need to make sure your portfolio is airtight. When you tell your story, can you do it concisely? Are you engaging? How are you different from other people and your poor? Your portfolio doesn't just say hi. I want to like I'm empathetic and I'm a Storyteller. Those are black listed I'm in my cohort. I, they're not allowed to use the word, empathetic, Storyteller or boot camp there. I have a whole list of words that no one is allowed to use, but then it just became a thing because that one finished, and then I was like, I want to make this better. And so, I did it one more time. So, we're now at the third cohort, and I feel so confident. We have a really robust system, it's an eight-week program, we have a curriculum, there's homework, there are check-ins, there's accountability, we have different people guests. Come in, it and it's very self-sufficient. So I don't want people to feel. Like if they have questions, they need to come to me. I want them to ask the group and see how they can help each other, and actually empowered them to do it, because I don't want people to need me. I want my job is done when they are like self-sufficient, so hopefully, they can take those skills. And so, then, when they start mentoring people, because I know that I know these people and they totally will, they will, there's the type of people who want to engage with people and help others. So I want to craft that kind of environment. So I know right now, I'm not my color, the biggest it's ever been with 18 people and so we I'm not helping 18 people. I'm actually helping in theory like hundreds of people because all those people that those people are going to now help, you know, I'm not saying they're all gonna start a mentorship program but now I guarantee you at least some of them are going to lead a team and they're going to keep some of the things that we've talked about like boundaries. That's a huge thing. I say we're done at this time. I'm not going to go into your personal time or do not message me after this time or just all these things that people are commonly walked over. I'm like no this is the standard and we're creating it right now because I want them to carry it with them through the rest of their career. So that's my take a mentorship and I love it. It's also just really fun because it's cool to talk about these things and see it in action.

Dianne: And I think that's amazing. And I mean something that you said, well, couple things you said that really stood out to me was like, you want to empower people and you want them to be respected. And I want to dive a little deeper on that because any level of designer like you go into a company and there's like companies that you enjoy working with and some that you don't and I've had experiences with companies. I like and that I have not enjoyed and like the culture in the workplace is so important. And you know, a lot of these designers were anyone in the space, they go into interviews and they don't really know the culture. They learn a little bit about it and they take this job and it's like, I don't know, it's like the Wild West. It's like you can get a really good job or a really bad job and it is about respect and like even as a freelancer or even as an agency it's like we want to find customers that respect us and surprisingly it's way harder than you. Would expect. Yes. Like I'm like oh I feel like everyone should just be friendly and happy and easy to talk to and respectful with everyone else and sometimes that doesn't happen and it's so interesting and I think that's really awesome that you're kind of taking the lead and saying, hey like this is how a good company is run. Don't don't settle for anything else like this is by starting their and teaching people like what a respectful environment is they're going to be able to spread that and continue to grow that.

Elena: And also just like and this is like a really subtle thing, but it trickles down of teaching people, the way they are presenting themselves. So if you you're going to be some people are just, you know, rude, disrespectful people. But to an extent, I think people actually have more control than they think they do. So, if you, and I struggle with this all the time, you know if someone's like, hey can you just do this really quick thing? It's like 9:00 p.m. we'll make it. Okay? But it's like if you shut that down from the beginning, you're going to create a habit know you don't ask me to do that and so even if I struggle I want to make sure no one else the or at least I'm not the problem for someone. So for example, like last week, one of my colleagues that I'm freelancing with she was on vacation and she was like, replying in slack and she's like, I just use for my back. And I, I message ID, enter separately and all caps and I said, here's the information, but do not reply to this message until you're back next week. I don't know. No, I don't want to hear like please delete it. I've even said to my bosses before, like delete it. I deleted email off my phone so as a whole, the whole life but like I certain slack groups LinkedIn and email off my phone and I was it was really bad. I would be checking it at like 3:00 in the morning. I'd get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night and I will check it because I just was so used to what if they need something and it's like the logic side is a no Wait, wait, but we were so conditioned to give people something ASAP and now I started noticing things on people's like, out of office things. Some people like all like, hey, I'm out. But like, if you need something, here's my phone. I'm like, do not give your phone number like, yep. No. And the last thing I'll say about this, that I think really did it for me and why I want to be a role model for this Behavior. One of my clients that I had last year she was like a VP for For Fortune, 500 company, and at the bottom of her email signature it said I don't expect I might send things at weird hours but I do not expect a reply until unless you're not working hours and just her saying that I was like oh my gosh like that's Al out. She really respects people in that capacity and that was a huge turning point for me where I was like you're right. People are taking advantage and then I started about. Oh my God. Am I doing that too? Because I actually also send a lot of messages at weird times, because I that's just like when I get around to it, I think of it, but I never actually expect anyone to reply to me ASAP but what if they do, think I expected, because I'm not clear. So now when I'm talking to people or especially if my assistant like, you know, I'll just message him at like midnight, but I'm going to go to bed and he's like, we just message me like go to bed. I was just messaging you. So just I want to get that through people's heads and I know sometimes we don't have full control, but what you do have control is how you show up for yourself, not just for your boss, because no one's really advocating for you, like, you.: Elena

Dianne: I love that. Yes, yes. I also I mean, I think this is a good transition to talk about like you being an entrepreneur and owning your own business is being the owner the founder. It's like, you have these things that you want your team to do. Like, hey don't answer emails after six but as a Founder sometimes we work more. I know that you've worked more and weird hours throughout your career. And so it's also like making it clear and setting those expectations to your team is like, hey, I know that you guys think that you should respond because I'm like the founder or whatever. But like you don't and I think that's really important to create a good culture and like, yeah, so talk a little bit about so you have converged is a passion project and then say, would finally how you got to Anele.

Elena: Anele is my UX studio and also the mentorship kind of rebranding and putting all UX stuff together, converge for context is a thing that I run. It's a website to help recent grads navigate Life After College. So everything from the personal and professional side. So you know it's not just about getting a job. You also you know, making friends in a new city, finding an apartment. How do you deal with roommates? All those kinds of things and so I took my whole experience about when I moved to New York and basically put it into this website with very actionable things. Like I don't want to be another person who's just like, oh, just like be yourself and put yourself out there, but it's like know. What can I do? This podcast is probably one of the times where I'm a little bit more. Open-ended like, oh just, you know, trust the system. But the core of what I'm doing is like when I give people advice more than one on one, it's going to be like here. You don't have to do all these things. This is what worked for me. But your is what you do, how you do the thing instead of just like thinking about doing it here, like some actual steps you can do.

Dianne: And converge blew up? Like, I remember when I ever lie on and you're like, oh my gosh, I'm getting all this traction and all of these people are interested. So talk about that.

Elena: Yeah, I because I think because I came out from a such a genuine place like I wasn't trying to make it into a huge thing. I just want to be helpful that that came crossed in the way I talked about it, like, I didn't like pay for marketing or any of that. I literally would just share it on LinkedIn every once in a while, and be like, hey, like what do you think about this? I can't remember how many I think there was like eighty thousand users in the past few years just from like word of mouth and I was like, wow that's kind of cool. And so we're actually getting ready for a huge relaunch like Ivory did all this stuff and that's been a huge overhaul but I do want it to be like a free accessible resource like there's a lot of things all over the place, right? You can look up a million different websites but it feels like there's nothing in one place, that covers both sides of it and trust me. I've done a lot of competitive analysis. I've UX. A lot of this, like, right before one of the launches. Yeah, I just, sent it out to a lot of people to do to give feedback, so really taking in that kind of take on it. And so, it's like, even with passion projects, I want to make sure that the users of the forefront.

Dianne: Yeah, that's awesome. So on Ali you are you have two sides to it? Maybe talk about. We talked a little bit about the mentorship already. Why don't you talk about your UX side of it UX/UI your customers, what does that look like? And what do you, what do you want it to be?

Elena: Yeah. So it's it's still a it's a little in the gray area right now. So like you said in the beginning, I'm building a house. So my focus isn't as heavy on it as one because when I first was doing it in December, I was like, okay, I mean like go and Source a lot of my own clients kind of like what TDP does but you know, things kind of get in the way. And so, you know, with the house I was like, okay I just need to make a lot of money and pay for this downpayment thing because that was really unexpected it. I still have plans to keep like scaling it but instead of sourcing, a lot of my clients, I go through a lot of agencies using my studio and so that's kind of how it is. I just want to be transparent about that structure in the beginning. We did have a client where I actually could hire people and we did more of a traditional agency style and that is what I would like to get to, but I just can't do that for the rest of this year. But a key thing for me is just setting up the foundation of making it scalable. So even with like the mentorship program or with this IO, at that time, I only had one employee and I hired an assistant but that's more of my system across all the boards but making sure that I was so clear with my Foundation of these are the goals. This is like the kind of language we're using. These are the boundaries that we have. These are tools and systems like I flow charts for everything even flow charts for how I pay them. Just so it's like it has been through my head is filtered out and now it is on somewhere documented and I think that is what is going to set me up for Success. So when I do pull the trigger and I'm like, okay, let's actually start bringing things in. I already have that consistency in place. So it's like, what kind of language are we using to, with our clients? How often are we talking to them? What tools are we using? Are we using Zoom. What is too much? What kind of boundaries? No we're not going to answer calls after like 7 p.m. like and those are the kind of standards and I think that's what's going to attract people that I want to. They want to work with us because that's what's worked for me as an entity. Like I kind of saw myself right now. On Ali has like an individual but it's the same thing so whether I'm a person or a collective I think it's the same values work and so I'm just going to take that like run with it.

Dianne: I love that and you know like as a founder of starting something else like building that foundation. I know we talked a lot about like just try it and see where it goes. And this doesn't contradict that I think it's like, in addition, is like, you have to be really clear about what your company is and I think you have to have specific values that are not going to change.

Elena: When it comes to found out, you do need to know your values inside and out. And even as a job Seeker, let's say you're going for your first job or your scone, for your 15th job. You still need to be so solid in how you operate, where this is where Jaws the line, or maybe there are certain companies that you're just like, I feel unethical working for you. You need to know that beforehand. And so that's the same thing with launching a business where I'm not saying you specifically need to say, I only do you access certain way but for my business I set the standards because I want to have consistency for when I bring in other people because it's a difference of I can wing it by myself, but if you bring in other people you can't they can't wing it to like it's kind of a fine line of organized chaos. I think that's what I'm advocating for. We're organized to fontenay. That's probably better because I've been working with the life coach.

Dianne: Is that another word that your cohort can't use?

Elena: I just blacklisted any generic term, so that's any. Yeah, any kind of thing that has to do with like everyone who says, if they want to help people like, yeah. So help people like I'm a Storyteller make. Okay, so tell me a story. Like the people who say that they're storytellers are usually the ones who like are the have the most boring bios and it's like, bro. So that's the blacklisted list.

Dianne: I, I totally, I agree. I want to know what else is on your blacklist because I feel like it should be public knowledge. Like every designer should Blacklist. All of these terms

Elena: looking like they're not helping you dude. Like not at all and I can and I can say that with so much confidence because the minute I took those things off of mine. Like it's worked. I'm not saying you everything works for everyone, and I'm not saying that people who say those things aren't what they say but it's like if you want to stand out, that is not the way to do it.

Dianne: So going back to like, your principles and your values. I also think it's really aligned with like, what you said about the people you're bringing on in your core cohort. And how you address specific like times when people work, I think having those values is going to help you align and find those people that are the perfect fit and also help them understand who you are. Yeah. And so I guess like, as you're bringing on cohorts, like Are there specific? Do you have interviews? Do you say, do you decide like this person isn't a good fit. What does that look like?

Elena : Yeah so this is our strictest one. So I my assistant Peter, he was in the first cohort and now he's just kind of like my right-hand man. And he's like, help. Make converge like everything that it is. He's the one I first hired to help with converging and now he's just like an ongoing volunteer and he's been pivotal and the same with the cohort. He is at every meeting, he even host his own office hours to like because he did the thing he like went he is exactly what my intention was. Like he was doing all of the things and he just needed that extra push and like he got a full-time job at a great agency In New York City and now he is giving back, he's learning, he's continuing to ask questions and like I talk to him every day and so those are the kinds of people that I want to create. Not that great. But how grow incubate? I don't know. But so the process is pretty strict because I do know that in order to have a certain kind of community, you need to make sure people want to be there. So it is free for People. Because a lot of the people that I Target are like, first gent immigrants low-income by the folks and so I don't want to have a barrier. There's other ways that I can make money, but this is the one thing that I'm like, I really want to stick with this. So the application was actually pretty simple, but the two questions that were weighted, super heavily was what have you already been doing to better yourself? And then why do you want to be in a cohort?

And that question that we asked was I wasn't looking for Leo, I just want to be a better designer. You can be a better designer without being in a group of people. What do you specifically want to get by being surrounded by 15 other people who are going through this? That's what I wanted to find out. And then the question related to, what are you currently doing? Was super important because if you are, if you're just reading medium articles, you're not ready, you're not, it's not time. It's not time for you, unfortunately.You need to do more. And I I just really don't have time right now because there's so many things going on and I'm not trying to be like, oh, like you're not worthy. It's just I've spent so much time repeating myself over and over that you can you can find the information. You need to get over that hump on YouTube like going to events not working with other people but this cohort is a really special time where we do Hands-On interactive feedback for people who are ready to their already all in they've already done a teepee list, they've already volunteered. They've already done all these things, and they need that push. And so that's a very specific person that I've found. So we had 150 applicants in two days we had and it was like insane. And so Peter was really good about laying down. The hammer smells like like, no, we created a rubric for a reason. We gotta stick to it and the formula work we've been made amazing. Group of people who are very like self-sufficient everyday someone's like hey can I have some feedback? Everyone just jumps on it and people are just they're showing up for each other. They're showing up from cells and those are the people that I want to work with because those are the people who are going to make make things period and also make things that are good because they are actually gonna they're not just going to take the first thing or they're just going to do with the stakeholder says they're going to like really push and question things and connect. Connect X to g 2. N instead of ABC. And so those are the people that I want round me."

Dianne: I love that and I think also it goes back to like you want to teach people how to better communicate and so I think communication is like on the Forefront of being able to help people push those decisions or to communicate those decisions to stakeholders and by giving them that knowledge and that way of communicating, it's like makes everything more enjoyable.

Elena: I agree.

Dianne: No that is I am excited to watch like what these core cohorts do. And these opportunities are giving to these designers who are going to take all of these opportunities. Like you said, teach other people and they're going to join these companies and they're going to change like in opportunities are giving to these designers who are going to take all of these opportunities. Like you said, teach other people and they're going to join these companies and they're going to change like in better this design culture which is like so amazing.

Elena: That's what I'm most excited about. So for people in the cohort of actually already gotten a job and we which is mind-boggling. I'm super excited. And like a lot of them are like actively like interviewing and they're getting very far. And the thing that I told the people who already got it is like I really want you to stick around because it's not about getting your first job, the things that we're going over, our super long term in holistic. And so I'm a when I do things, I do them very intentionally, so everything down to the ice breaker is there for a reason. So, for example, on the first day, you know, You have to do more get-to-know-you things and it's like, people don't love them. But the thing is I have them introduce introduce each other in breakouts of like two people and then when we came back to the group, they actually introduced the other person but I didn't tell them they were going to do that, because I wanted to emphasize how important it is to listen to someone when you're interviewing. Because when you do interviews, you're so caught up in knowing and like mentally preparing for the perfect answer that if you're actually not listening, it kind of defeats the whole conversation part and it will show to be like they're not paying attention to me at all. They're just waiting for the next thing to say. And so if you can really, you know, feel more comfortable about having an actual conversation, one will take away stress. It's an interview and the to you'll probably stand out because you can maybe reference something. So maybe in the beginning some you know people do that quick little banter. They're like yeah like I just got back from vacation and then maybe at the end you make a reference to it because it shows you're listening. And so those are kind of skills I want to give to them without directly saying this is a skill. I'm going to try to teach you but like kind of sliding it in and then also, by doing that, all of them had to public speak in front of a large group on Zoom, which is how most interviews are conducted. Now so every everyone had to talk in that session and in the other ones, I don't make everyone do it. But in this specific, one in the kickoff, everyone needed to say something because we can kind need to rip the Band-Aid off. And like know, you will be uncomfortable, but you say it. And then the last thing was out, as I said, if you don't know how to pronounce your partner's name, you need to make sure you do everyone. This cohort needs to be able to pronounce every single person's name and if you feel uncomfortable, you need to ask because I don't want to be fostering this thing where someone has a slightly like not American name and everyone's like, I don't know what it is. And so I want to squash that as quickly as possible. So hopefully, when someone's in a situation again, Not going to hesitate their music. Hey, can you say that again and they'll Echo it back? So all those small things.

Dianne: No, I mean, like, you're talking about these people that are going into these interviews and how they can, like, listen and all of this interviews, but that takes it so much further. Because like something that's really important to TDP. And we've been focusing a lot on the past few months is like, customer success. And it's so interesting because we've done Deep. Dive read all these books. I'm trying to get gather all this knowledge. You my only UX research on customer success. And the bottom line is, it's all about just like we at like now I asked all the designers like did you have a casual conversation before you started your call? And that is like such a game changer to be able to like talk about your vision, talk about the weather talk about something random just personal brings it to a completely different level that just like create such a better environment for everyone and it makes like customers actually like, that's what they remember. They like, oh, I had a great conversation versus like, oh, they produce great designs, which of course, is our goal.

Elena: Especially from a business whatever you're selling your personalities too. Because I mean, in theory, like there are so many great talented designers, you could probably pick. There are a lot of people you can hire, who could equally do a good job. And that's not just like, oh, because TDP specifically. So many agencies you most of them probably could do a good job, but people probably go to you because I like, oh wait, they get me as a person. Like they're Pleasant severe wound. Like it's really cool. And I've, that's what I've seen on. Other client calls that have had it since agencies. And why I like them is because we actually know some things about them. And I can feel comfortably like, hey, I'm actually like coming to your steel activity recommendations and they're like, yeah, go to this place. And it's like yeah. And then they also trust you more. Or as an expert in your field because they're like well why would they of course I know what they're doing. They're great.

Dianne: They're all like yeah it's like the stars align. It's like just that little bit of effort to get to know someone. It can takes it to the next level. It's crazy. I mean, it makes sense. But when you think about how simple it really is.

Elena: I actually use that tactic and I give that advice to people when it comes to networking, is ask something about like, what something that you're really passionate about like Diva passion project? I think that's a really good question to ask in one because a lot of times people are just OK. What is the day-to-day look like? Or tell me what the culture? But it's like they are just people so they are more likely to help you if you can, you know, find that thing. And we do, you know, I saw that you play volleyball I also play volleyball, but it really is, a helpful tool to just know people and be a person. And remember, like you can use it for yourself to. Like you don't only have to talk about work, actually, people don't want that. Like, I always tell my mentees, that you're not really selling your skills because I mean, not the end of the day, all of you are going for entry-level ux jobs, you know, your grave. But like are you really that much great? Then, the other ones, know and I take I'll tell them that I'm like, listen, that's just kind of how it is, but the difference is they will hire someone that they want to spend 40 hours a week with that is who they're hiring. So you better like be really great. Like you're working only go so far. So just got and confidence, all searches, huge thing.

Dianne: Oh my gosh, I agree. I thought it was with everything so kind of finishing up is like, what's next for you Elena? Like what are you going to be doing in the near future? Do you? You have any goals or passion projects or things you're working on?

Elena: So a few moving Parts like this really go, along with the wow, didn't expect that. I can't give you too many details about it, but I'm finding a start-up completely separate. But as an opportunity fell into our lap that was like, really too good to be true where it was already backed by like a former like Walmart exact. And so he's going to, he wants to like co-found it with us and we already have funding and like all I did was show up to a meeting and they said, hey, we have this. And so I was like, I really can't turn this down, so I'm really excited to just and I'm also just excited to be in this space. It's to help cancer patients. And so that is just a really cool opportunity and we already have like a client in the pipeline. And so, and so I'm gonna like lead the product sign with that. And I have a team of some good friends and we all just it just happened. And so that's a really, serendipitous thing of like, you know, these really cool things happen. When you're you put in the effort to, I think that's a huge thing, you're not working, super hard toward one specific thing you're working. Really hard, to allow things to happen. So I did all that UX work. So when something like this came, I'm ready, I'm ready to lead the product team. So it's not, like, I've been practicing my whole life, so I can found a Startup and do this. No, but I want to make sure that something is here. And now I'm like oh I can say yes to anything cuz I feel confident and I have the skill set so stay tuned for that. That's really all I can say about that opportunity but I'm really excited about that so I don't really know that means for a delay but there's always room for it and so it might just Evan flow depending on like what's going on and not trying to like jump projects. It's just this just kind of happened. The mentorship I want to continue. I want to implement more volunteers and see what that looks like to converge after the relaunch. I just really want that to just Embrace what it is. I'm not I'm kind of taking a break from doing a lot of big events related to X. I want to focus on the mentorship program but I wanted to be just there for people that are like my bread and butter of I'm not trying to make everything super fancy. I'm not trying to make a bunch of money off of this. I don't need to do all these social media posts. It's going to exist in the way that it needs to be for people right now. So those are my core. The core things in the next few years. I don't really have the longest-term goals anymore because I realized they never happen because things change so much. I definitely want to be in this space where I can be creative and I can lead people because I just I love doing that. I like being able to set stage and create this kind of opportunities because Cuz I've known I know it works and what doesn't work and I'm still learning based on of like other people's leadership styles and like what they're doing, but I've seen it. I've got a lot of feedback so every time I do something I get so much feedback from people I'm like okay please please tell me what can we do so I'm very confident that no matter what happens next even if it's not planned it's gonna be fine. It'll be more than fine.

Dianne: Definitely be more than fine. It'll be wonderful. Yes, it will be like you're gonna. I feel like everything you touch. It's like you turn it into what you wanted to be like, It's yes, like I'm super excited for you like all of these things are so so amazing and like knowing you from a couple of years ago to where you are today. I think you're still Elena. But like we have just way more confident and you just push yourself and you've achieved so much in. Like, I'm so excited to watch all of these other things that are gonna happen for you.

Elena: And thank you. And I really couldn't be here without you. Like, and for everyone listening, like, one final Dianne, and also be a Dianne. Like You always have to have both. I think that's like a huge thing. You gotta, you always have to have someone to look up to and someone that can look up to you and that will never stop. So, those are the final words.

Dianne: Thank you so much for joining. It was so great to hear all of your stories. I feel like there are so many amazing things we chatted about can't even like the name all of them. But thank you so much for being here and yeah, well, well chat soon, we have to do this when you have all of your new amazing things coming up in the future and who knows.

Elena: I'm keeping an eye on all the things that you're working on. I love all these different posts you have. And so I'm excited to hear the rest of your podcast Series. So I'm staying tuned for that.

Dianne: Thank you Elena!

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