Jose Rodriguez is the director of PLOT Architecture and Urbanism, a Geelong-based firm he founded at the start of 2020. Rodriguez started his firm after working at Powell & Glenn Architects and Chamberlain Architects for five and two years, respectively. As he builds his practice, Rodriguez said he’s particularly interested in “new forms of housing that might meet our changing culture.” Archibiz sat down with Rodriguez, who completed the Designing Architectural Practice Success Course this year, to talk about what led him to start PLOT.
Archibiz: What prompted you to start your own firm?
Rodriguez: There were three things that were important to me. The first was my career trajectory and where I saw myself in 10 years. The second was my family commitments and how they intertwined with my work life. The third one was lifestyle. Is the work that I am doing the work that I want to be doing, and am I happy with it? Those were the three main things I laid out and pondered for a while before I took the decision to leave the office that I was working for.
Archibiz: What was the best piece of advice you received in the process?
Rodriguez: A high-profile architect once told me, “You have to guard your own career because if you don’t, someone else is going to have control of that career.” That really hit home for me. You can work for someone else and be very happy with that role, but if you’ve always believed that you are going to run your own business, like I did, then you have to go out and get it for yourself. No one is going to give it to you.
Archibiz: Pandemic aside, has starting your own firm been what you expected?
Rodriguez: It is different to how I expected. I thought more people would want or need my services. I didn’t receive as much work as I initially thought I would, though I think that is normal. Looking back, I needed to understand a bit more about business relationships and the time that it takes for someone to recognize your skills and show interest. The time between working a job and getting a contract for the next one was longer than I expected, and that surprised me.
Archibiz: How did you know how to price your work?
Rodriguez: I price my work on a percentage of project budget. That was suitable for my practice based on my size and my overheads. Starting off, that’s something you need to take into consideration. How much do I need to earn as a director of this firm? If I get a budget for a project, what is fair and reasonable for that job? I found that percentage rate worked quite well, though it might change as the firm becomes more established.
Archibiz: What’s something you’d like other startup architects to know?
Rodriguez: Don’t make any assumptions. I think I had a very naive view of how important business concepts, such as finance and marketing, are and how they can have an impact on the success of your practice. Being open to getting help is really important. As architects, we assume much and we are very good at working in silos. We assume that a company does a certain thing or earns a certain income, but in reality, we don’t know. It’s crucial to get advice, and get it early.
Start-Up Series is a newly launched series at Archibiz, where we bring you a first-hand look into conversations with start-up architects. The architects we will interview will range in years of experience and life stories. We hope that this series will give you some insight about what it is like to start your own firm.
Looking for some guidance on starting or leading your own architecture firm? Our comprehensive online program, the Designing Architectural Practice Success Course, is perfect for ambitious architects who are looking to expand their skills and learn the business fundamentals they need to lead a successful architecture practice. Learn more about our eight-week course here.