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4 Years of rezonate

Updated: May 18, 2021

Staying creative amidst a fatal virus scare was probably not on anyone’s agenda in 2019, but 2020 happened—and it was bleak.

While thousands of companies have closed both permanently and temporarily because of the pandemic, a few other thousands are thriving and making do with the cards they’re dealt.

Committed to creating worlds of awe and wonder, entrepreneurs Katwo and Nico Puertollano have learned not only to pull their socks up but to be present and intentional at a time like this. And now that their creative baby of a studio is 4 years old, it’s fair to say that the worlds they keep building are only expanding.

All things considered, let’s take a deep dive and pick the brains of the very duo whose job is to imagine realities and actualize ideas.

How was 2020 for you both as business owners?

Katwo: It was frightening and a bit traumatic! That feeling is still in the air these days, but I think we’ve gotten more used to the current demands of the pandemic that the fear and trauma are now an expected cost of doing business.

Despite all of that, last year was such a powerful and dynamic year for my personal growth as a business owner.

It allowed me to reach out to other communities, reimagine strategies, and tweak existing systems so that we can focus on short-term goals while fostering a foundation of long-term growth that’s exciting and viable.

Business growth has been a touchy subject to talk about for business people. What were the key aspects of your business that were affected by the pandemic?

Nico: A big part of it is generating and managing demand and growth for our services and taking care of the employees. Reaching out to communities and sharing our expertise with other entrepreneurs and young creatives felt like something we needed to prioritize.

Considering all that’s happened, how do you guys feel that rezonate is now 4 years old?

Katwo: “rezonate” is for 4 years old today, but the idea of rezonate is much older. Our names for the studio changed throughout the years, starting with “27/20” then becoming “Flux Design Labs” before finally going with the name we have now.

Nico: Rezonate was built on a desire to change the world. When we moved to the Philippines, our vision became more clear-cut, and we said, “Okay, let’s change the Philippines.” We’re very happy that the vision has grown, and our dream of helping people has helped shape the journey. Right now, we’re starting to see the fruits of our labor, so the challenge for us now is to plant more trees.

Katwo: So many things amaze me about this entire journey—The fact that we’re able to hold ourselves together in this climate amazes me. The fact that we’re able to build strong connections in our creative circle amazes me. The fact that a lot of people continue to believe in rezonate amazes me.

What were some of the other things you had to change in your business to survive?

Katwo: We had to revisit our positioning and strategy to ensure our growth is anchored on principles aligned with our personal and economic aspirations.

Nico: Of course, we also had to review our systems and re-order how we operate as a group so we better understand the key operational metrics to mitigate risks earlier.

That must’ve been challenging to navigate all at once. Given how very uniquely specific last year’s circumstances were for all of us, how did you guys brave 2020 and what did you hold on to?

Nico: As an entrepreneur, the fog of uncertainty never truly goes away--it’s just that now, that fog has exponentially grown to affect all aspects of not just our business but also our personal lives. One of the principles I’ve grasped more over the last year is understanding value creation.

Katwo: I agree 100%. At the end of the day, everything is a commodity, so what really produces margins and recurring revenues is when a compelling positioning intersects with a meaningful, empathic relationship between the client and the vendor.

In the past 4 years, what are the most remarkable lessons you’ve picked up as an entrepreneur and a creative?

Katwo: A lot! For starters, it’s both an advantage and a disadvantage to wear the artist and business owner hats altogether. At the end of the day, the goal of a business is to make a profit.

Still, it’s important to remind ourselves that our creativity is what makes us “us”. Yes, we need to earn, yes we need to grow as a business, but we should remember that our capacity to tell stories is exactly what puts food on the table—so, we have to remind ourselves to keep the zest alive.

Nico: As an artist, I realized that I need to learn how to pick my creative battles. It’s critical that we understand the difference between “art for art’s sake” and “design.” Creativity isn’t just about being artistic and aesthetic, it’s about solving problems.

It’s never solely about knowing how to hold a brush or a pen—an artist’s effectiveness can also be measured by their ability to apply their skills to real-world problems and ideas.

Katwo: From a teacher’s perspective, I’ve also realized how a lot of young artists now tend to be stuck in the internet bubble. Many form their opinions based only on memes and tidbits of information from tweets.

It’s important that real life inspires you too because that’s how you’re able to imagine and build worlds—when your grasp of reality is strong and thorough.

One very interesting thing about rezonate as an entity is that you’re alive and operational on two different shores. In the past 4 years, what are the challenges in running a business with a remote setup?

Nico: What’s great is that our U.S. and Philippine teams are both independent and synergized as a company. In the context of a process, the first 2 years were all about creating systems that worked for us and having things streamlined. Project management tools saved us, and they still do.

Initially, one of the bigger challenges was to have artists understand how we communicate as a duo and how we reference creative ideas.

Thankfully, we were able to flourish this kind of back-and-forth through time and trust, addressing nuances between U.S. and Filipino culture in business and art.

What are the advantages of running a business with your partner for life?

Nico: Our business consultant told us that we complement each other well. We learned that whether it’s business or relationships, it matters that both of us share common goals. In life, we start off dependent, and then independent, and then we find someone to be independent with, and then we become someone we’re dependent on.

When Katwo and I started, we didn’t have anything, but sharing goals has made it easier for us to move forward as a couple.

Katwo: Our marriage counselor actually had a business degree, and he helped us build the rules of our marriage based on the rules of business. Learning how to build something from the ground up and having shared goals is essentially why we are the way we are both as life partners and business owners.

Nico: We have a little joke where I’m the boss in the business, and she’s the boss in real life. But in reality, we shift back and forth. We always have the same goal. Where we bicker is how we get there, kind of like how Professor X and Magneto approach their goals—they eye the same prize but they don’t always agree on how to nab them.

Considering all that you’ve learned in the business, how drastically different are the measures you’re taking as entrepreneurs today?

Katwo: Last year set us up for stability and growth for 2021, which is always surprising and unbelievably encouraging to hear. The biggest impact is anticipating where the weak points are in the business and planning for those vulnerabilities earlier on.

With all that said, what’s next for rezonate?

Katwo: Before 2020, we didn’t have a sales and marketing department. What’s crazy is that we were creating jobs at a time when everything was crashing. All that’s given us a lot of perspective.

Now, we’re in the process of pitching original content to production studios; we’re preparing for more business to come.

We also learned that scaling up doesn’t always mean the business is doing well, so our focus now is to strengthen our current systems.

Nico: The goal is to expand farther than just New York and the Philippines. At the end of the day, we want to help our partners, team members, and clients imagine and live in a world of awe and wonder—this is the core of how we approach the future and our current dealings.

What do you have to say about the evolving business landscape, and do you guys have any advice to entrepreneurs looking to pivot their businesses in different directions?

Nico: We’re lucky that we can operate from home. If our business were in the restaurant, events, or travel industry – we would be having a very different conversation now.

But even if our business is doing relatively fine, it wasn’t without its struggles, and struggles are a normal part of running a business and in life, generally.

Katwo: We all have to remember that there is no such thing as a business without challenges. More than anything, we need to consistently circle back to the heart of why we do what we do.

There are many secrets to a successful business, but the primary ingredient will always be empathy.

Nico: My suggestion is to first understand what human needs you are servicing, and then plot the scenarios of risk and rewards in your industry. Hopefully this understanding allows business owners to find that excitement to empower their pivot.

If you’re in the art space looking to join a community of creative business leaders, join us at The Creative Brief! And if you're a freelancer looking to level up your freelancing career, join us at The Art Of Working.

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