Life & Business

Life & Business: Mikel Welch

by Annie Werbler

Life & Business: Mikel Welch, on Design*Sponge
Interior designer and television personality Mikel Welch has been working toward his dream career for a long time. Before he became talk show host Steve Harvey’s go-to decorating expert, a standout talent in the seventh season of HGTV Design Star, or a CB2 educational spokesperson, Mikel wandered the inspirational aisles of furniture stores while he waited to discover his true calling in life. With inspiration literally surrounding him, Mikel quickly recognized his passion for helping people create affordably luxurious spaces, as he’d even “be willing to do it for free.”

He moved to New York to build a business — throwing himself headfirst into work while envisioning the practice he’d create utilizing the beautiful things he couldn’t even afford to purchase at the time. Mikel absorbed as much as possible from failures and successes during these early years, then applied the lessons to establishing himself and his brand. He gave every ounce of his energy, all of his time, and all of his resources to his dream of becoming an expert designer, fully knowing it required everything of himself in order to thrive. Mikel catapulted himself forward, not seeing setbacks as anything more than bumps in the road. “They always set you up for something greater in the long run,” Mikel says, and his work serves as proof. —Annie

Photography courtesy of Mikel Welch

Why did you decide to start your own business?

I have several reasons, but at the core of it all, I like to dictate my schedule and success. I once read a quote that stated, “If you don’t build your dream, someone will hire you to help build theirs.” This quote has stayed with me and is a constant reminder to be my own boss. I’ve never done well with working for someone else for a long period of time. My goal as an employee was to learn as much as possible and apply lessons to my own business. There’s nothing like the feeling of calling your own shots and being completely responsible for your success.

Life & Business: Mikel Welch, on Design*Sponge

When you first decided to start your own business, how did you define what it would be?

Starting a business was initially pretty rough for me. After college, I found myself working in an entry-level job at a background screening company and knew I wanted more. My mother told me that I needed to find my passion and that I would know what it is because it would be something that I’d be willing to do for free. While on my lunch break at my job, I constantly found myself walking through Crate and Barrel, even though I had no money. I was intrigued by the furniture but couldn’t understand why and what I was shopping for without any cash. Then, it was like a lightbulb went off – and I realized that I really enjoyed being around furniture. From that point, I knew I had found my purpose in life and needed to eventually open a design firm.

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

The greatest piece of advice I received was, “You have to want your business to succeed just as much as you need air to breathe.” This was a reminder that I needed to give my all in order to make my business survive. There are many people who claim they want to be entrepreneurs, but aren’t really willing to put in the 80+hours work weeks to make it happen. This is why your business must be your passion. If you’re only doing it for the money, then your business will never flourish. You’ll only be happy when business is good, and that won’t be enough to drive you to push through the rough patches of starting a business.

What was the most difficult part of starting your business?

The most difficult part of starting a business are the sacrifices that many don’t consider. When you’re in the beginning phase of your business, you rarely have free time. There will be several missed dinners with friends or family outings, and a lot of sleepless nights.

Life & Business: Mikel Welch, on Design*Sponge

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

The biggest lesson I’ve learned in business is: your word is your brand. If you make a promise to a client/customer, you need to follow through. When you don’t follow through, word will get out and ultimately ruin the integrity of your brand.

Can you name a moment of failure in your business experience?

One of the greatest failures I had was a model home contract that I lost one year after starting my business. I had secured a client that referred me to three other large accounts. While designing a unit, a few of the investors were offended by the color palette that I had chosen due to religious reasons. The next week, I was excommunicated and lost all of the accounts. I ended [up] having to get a part-time job at CB2 to sustain myself, where I stayed for two years. This played in my favor, though, because I became a spokesperson for CB2 in 2012 and traveled to various stores conducting design seminars. This is why I believe that failures are necessary. They always set you up for something greater in the long run. It’s all about how you turn the failure into a lesson.

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

The greatest sacrifice I’ve made to start my business was moving to NYC with $500. When I first moved to NYC, I thought I was going to strike it big and live like Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City! Well, NYC quickly showed me a thing or two and I ended up living in a tiny 300-square-foot apartment with a roommate, plus mice and roaches. If that wasn’t enough, I was so low on cash that I would wait in Wendy’s for customers to drop their receipts so I could call the 1-800 number on the back of the receipt paper and complete a survey for a free hamburger. I lived off of Wendy’s hamburgers for a year! It was tough, but it was what I needed to do at the time in order to afford to live out my dreams and build my business in NYC.

Life & Business: Mikel Welch, on Design*Sponge

Can you name your greatest success in your business experience?

My greatest success was being chosen as a finalist on HGTV Design Star. I had worked so hard to make a name as a designer in NYC, and being selected to compete on the show was life-changing. HGTV Design Star was the platform to my celebrity design clients and television hosting.

What business books and resources would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?

I would recommend that anyone starting a business should read Who Moved My Cheese? An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life by Spencer Johnson.

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

1. Is this really my passion, or am I just doing it for the money?

2. Am I willing to work 12+ hours a day, 7 days a week?

3. Am I willing to sacrifice time with family and friends?

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  • Great interview. There is something about the Wendy’s hamburgers story that makes me really, really happy for your success, Mikel. And you have great taste in credenzas :)

  • “If you don’t build your dream, someone will hire you to help build theirs.” Love that quote, thanks for sharing!! And that Wendy’s story, whoa. Inspiring interview!

    • Wow! Your testimony helps us who are up and coming see through the glitz and glamour and know others in this industry have intimidating seasons (to put it nicely). Thank you!