Life & Business

Life & Business: Amanda & Axel of The Taable

by Sabrina Smelko

Vision: It’s one of those brilliant things that’s obvious and recognizable to others, but to the visionary, it may be hard to see it that way. How you see the world and interpret your surroundings may be innate and seem lackluster to you, but can be wondrous when shown to others. A unique and insightful perspective is the difference between being good and being great, but realizing this is often the greatest hurdle to overcome when trying to craft a business as the visionary.

Founded by Axel Oswith and Amanda Kusai, the taable is a multidisciplinary creative studio offering art direction and photography, all rooted in their personal, collective vision. Working at the intersection of art and design, Amanda and Axel’s passion for visual and youth culture drives them to transform the everyday and mundane into something extraordinary. Topped with a dose of wit and bold color, their cleverly photographed interpretations of daily life have landed them an impressive client roster, and press in dozens of publications, from Elle Magazine and Martha Stewart Living, to VSCO, Buzzfeed and beyond.

All the way from Jakarta, Indonesia (that’s right, from the same spot that we featured in this week’s City Guide!), Amanda and Axel are joining us today to share some insight into their business, vision, and the many lessons and realizations they’ve come to along the way. –Sabrina

Why did you decide to start your own business, versus work for someone else?

For both of us, it initially started in college: We were doing a little bit of freelancing here and there during our spare time, and by the time we graduated, we saw that what we were doing had potential to grow. As partners, we found that we worked well together in synchronization, so we took the risk and put all our time and effort into developing something that was our own. Starting your own business comes with a little more self-satisfaction and drive to be better for ourselves and those around us. What we do then becomes something we enjoy and doesn’t feel like a chore.

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Can you remember when you first learned about your field of work? How did you discover what it was and how you knew it was what you wanted to do?

Besides majoring in visual communication design in university, we were both raised with keen interests within the creative field. For us both, we had some interest in art for as long as we could remember, but it only dawned on us in school that it was something we were good at and could make a living from. Then the ball started rolling from there.

Our line of work and our style practically developed over time through personal projects that we initially experimented with in our free time, and put it out there for people to see. We never really expected anything more, so we were surprised when we found out that some people responded well to it and some just didn’t understand it. But we thought it was okay, and allowed what people thought was strange to define us — from there we were confident to offer it to the niche market that showed interest towards our art direction style.

What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?

Keeping a balance between the right brain and the left brain, or in other words the creative and business aspects of running a company. Being in this industry, we can’t fall into either column too extremely. Another piece of advice was that to be fully idealistic, design needs to function and have benefits beyond our own. Understanding this helped us to be a lot more open and have concern for the needs of others, especially when challenges are thrown at us. Hence, this drives us to learn something new every day!

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What was the most difficult part of starting your business?

The most difficult part was probably getting out there and selling ourselves. Offering our talents and having people trust our art direction and see us as professionals despite our age or how we may look being new in the industry. Because we started off with art direction for food and lifestyle photography, there was a time when we ventured to every town and city, surveying and offering our services to the front door of restaurants, to desperately emailing potential businesses and whatnot. It took a lot of guts to sell ourselves like that. Looking back now, this procedure may not have worked for us every time, but it did teach us how to approach people and build a lot more confidence in ourselves.

Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?

Contracts! We can’t stress how important it is to put agreements on paper and not just through idle talk and vague promises. The thought of developing a written contract can sometime seem like a lengthy and dreadful task, but putting it on paper not only makes an agreement legal, it just makes life a whole lot easier and clarifies matters for both parties involved.

Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences that you learned from or that helped you improve your business or the way you work?

Starting off, we were constantly underestimating ourselves and what we were capable of. We were afraid of a number of things that held us back. We had thoughts like “Are we over-charging or under-charging?” or “Can we pull this off?” or “Are we offering something that can be broadly accepted by others?” Through all our doubts, we proved to ourselves that nothing is impossible.

Life & Business: Amanda & Axel of The Taable

If you were magically given 3 more hours per day, what would you do with them?

We would definitely use the extra hours to make time to go outdoors, whether for a short exercise, to meet new people, or catch up with old friends and family. Just immersing in mother nature, making time to cook a wholesome breakfast, and cleaning up clutter in our studio would be satisfying.

What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in starting your business?

One of the biggest sacrifices we had to make was time. Starting off, we practically had no time for our family and friends, let alone ourselves! Every single second went into developing our business, but nevertheless, we enjoyed the process along the way. Apart from that, we sacrificed the thought of security and a stable income that can come with a full-time job for someone else. We had days when our bank account would hit rock bottom, but even so, we didn’t let that limit us rather made us a whole lot more creative in finding a solution.

Can you name your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) in your business experiences?

We’re very proud of our perseverance and patience. This is what has brought us the exposure that we never really expected from those outside our geographic reach — from Carnegie Hall to The Telegraph UK! Through our perseverance, we continued to explore, learn and create and developed a style that stands out in Indonesia.


What business books/resources (if any) would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?

We believe that resources can come from just about anywhere possible, so don’t hesitate to get involved in a community that interests you! Actively attend workshops, classes, and seminars in your free time; talk to a stranger; seek advice from mentors; read more. These things will not only broaden your network, but your views. A list of books we would recommend would be The Art of Creative Thinking by Rod Judkins, Thick Face, Black Heart by Chin-Ning Chu, and The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell.

Has failing at something or quitting ever led to success for you? Walk us through that.

Years ago, Axel and his friends tried to imitate a successful business, but never worked out. From that and witnessing similar cases, we’ve learnt that the success of a business flows different from one person to another. We should look for what differentiates us and our strengths, and then build upon that, rather than imitate.

In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?

1. Gain Resources: Apart from monetary resources, it is equally as important to have a broad knowledge of the world around you and not limited to your field of work.

2. Network: Like the saying goes, “you’re only going to be as good as the people you surround yourself with,” networking is a great way to develop yourself and broaden your point of view. Developing a good relationship with others is one of the most effective ways to market yourself as well.

3. Have a Vision: Having some sort of vision will help guide the direction of your business and the consecutive decisions you will make.

What’s the first app, website or thing you open/do in the morning?

We check our emails then shower – yes, we sometimes have our lazy days, but showering in the morning helps build our mood. Most mornings, we like to get our juice fix and basically strive to always start our day right.

What’s the hardest thing about being your own boss that isn’t obvious?

One of the hardest things about being our own boss has to be negotiating with clients directly. Dealing with a client face-to-face has its perks, but apart from developing great relationships with them it can sometimes be daunting when it comes to a client fiercely negotiating a quote without having made to feel intimidated or overpowering, because you grew a friendly relationship with the other its hard to say no. But its a process  we’re learning along the way, to always offer the best for our clients but to also be firm with ourselves learning when to say no and sticking to the boundaries we set.

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