Some people seem to come equipped with an intravenous tap to creativity, and Ashkahn Shahparnia, the “BOSS” at ASHKAHN Studio + Co., is one of these lucky few. He spends every day making “the coolest” things he can dream of, because the generative art director, illustrator, and graphic designer would not know what to do with himself otherwise. “There was no other option than to create my own world within the world I live in.” But harnessing his boundless energy into a successful business, however, at first appeared less certain.
Wanting to help clients execute projects about which he felt passionately, Ashkahn began his career by establishing a reputation for having good ideas, and then rode the waves of variable work cycles. “Not knowing how you are going to put food on the table turns you into a beautiful monster that enables you to achieve your wildest dreams with hard work and determination.” Eleven years later (and now with a lofty Downtown LA studio space for a staff and fluorescent letterpress stationery collection), Ashkahn has mastered both commerce and creativity. “Learning how to balance business and art is the most important thing ever,” he says. “Period.” —Annie
Photography courtesy of Ashkahn Shahparnia
Why did you decide to start your own business?
I decided to start my own business because I just can’t work for anyone else. I wasn’t designed to have a boss. It’s like oil and water. They don’t mix. I didn’t mix with a 9-5, so there was no other option than to create my own world within the world I live in. Something that revolves around the art I do.
When you first decided to start your own business, how did you define what it would be?
When I first started the business, I didn’t really know what I was doing, so there wasn’t a clear definition of my “services.” I knew that I wanted to do work for clients that needed my art direction and illustration for projects I cared about. That got me excited. The stationery side of my business came way later, organically, as all good things should.
What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?
To trust yourself. To trust your gut and the vision of the type of person you want to be in the world. To embrace the things that come effortlessly to you with reckless abandon and love.
What was the most difficult part of starting your business?
Letting the world know I existed. That I was alive and available for work. I think the hardest part is riding the roller coaster of the independent life with no promises of a paycheck or security in sight. I wake up every morning with pure ambition on my mind. I come from nothing. I don’t have someone funding me. Not knowing how you are going to put food on the table turns you into a beautiful monster that enables you to achieve your wildest dreams with hard work and determination. It’s all the things that truly build armor, character, and drive in the end.
Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?
You just have to figure it out as you go along. There ain’t no other way to it. It doesn’t matter how many self-help books you read or seminars you attend. Nothing teaches you more than experience. Just start and go, go, go.
Can you name a moment of failure in your business experience?
Andy Warhol once said, “Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.” It took me a while to balance both sides of the operation. You can’t just be creative 24/7 and expect to pay your bills on time or be responsible with money. Learning how to balance business and art is the most important thing ever. Period.
What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in starting your business?
None at all. Well, actually maybe the biggest sacrifice would be in the realm of love and relationships. Being “turned on” all the time and working nonstop and attending business meetings constantly can take a toll. Moderation is key.
Can you name your greatest success in your business experience?
Being able to do what I love 24/7/365, while surrounded by a beautiful network of people who believe in what I do and support the cause.
What business books and resources would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?
Anything by Alan Fletcher is amazing. Also, Whatever You Think, Think the Opposite by Paul Arden will change your life.
In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?
1. It’s important that you have the character and determination to be able to mentally handle starting your own business. There will be TONS and TONS of failures, but those only lead you closer to the top of the mountain. You must be ready to cope with this.
2. You must truly, 100% believe in what you are doing or you should not do it. You must stand by it, defend it to the death, and know the ins and outs of what you are offering to the world.
3. Have FUN FUN FUN and LOVE LOVE LOVE. It’s a wild and awesome ride.