Women in Business: Michelle Jaime of The Vanguard Theory
Michelle Jaime is the Founder, President, and Creative Director of the Oahu based design firm, The Vanguard Theory (you'll also be seeing her on HGTV later this year co-hosting the Hawai'i design show, Aloha Builds). Michelle would describe The Vanguard Theory as a creative studio that collaborates with like-minded artists and designers. It is also a multi-disciplinary design consultancy that focuses on interior design, collaborative art projects, and product development.
We are inspired by Michelle. She has taken her love for design, her multiple talents, and her fun personality and pioneered a truly unique design experience, without a background in business if I may add. I had the opportunity to interview her and find out a little more on what that journey looked like.
First off tell us a little bit about yourself! What was your first job (like ever), what is your official title today, and what does it entail?
My first job was at 12 years old. I had a baby sitters club with my friend April and we watched kids in our neighborhood. I did the marketing and put up ads on the neighborhood bulletin boards. Today, I’m president and creative director at The Vanguard Theory. I run the fun and not so fun parts of an interior design firm. The fun parts are collaborating with my team to design beautiful homes and hotels. The not so glamorous parts are negotiating contracts, reconciling accounts, coordinating with consultants, etc.
When was The Vanguard Theory founded and what did the process look like? Was it an organic growth or did you start by going all in?
I co-founded The Vanguard Theory with a friend in 2010 during the recession. It was probably not the best time to start a business because there were really no opportunities, so we had to hustle. We started our business by supporting other designers, but as the economy got better we started taking on our own design projects. I didn’t know what it took to start a business. It’s really hard and sometimes you question yourself, but we kept re-strategizing and pivoting our business plan the more we learned.
What has been the best decision for your business that you've then seen the most growth from, such as choosing to hire team members, getting your first office space, learning a program, or simply taking more time to relax. These moments of growth are different for every business, what was it for Vanguard?
Growing the team. Scalability isn’t easy and can be risky if you hire too fast. But, investing in great employees has allowed our company to be more profitable.
How many people are a part of your team today, and how would you describe your teams culture?
There are 6 of us. Everyone is encouraged to participate, to support each other, and to not take ourselves too seriously.
What is one decision or moment in your business where you had to take a step back and learn from? Any advice for others that may be experiencing this now?
We had an upset client and she was very vocal about it. She literally yelled at me for 15 min and threatened cutting the knees off my employees. Someone that fired up will not be reasoned with. I just had to take it on the chin. I apologized that we upset her and insisted that my employees are not at fault and that ultimately they were under my direction. A month later she paid her invoice. Not all of it, but at least I got something. Sometimes you shouldn’t fight back. I had to think long game because if I engaged in the diatribe I would of received $0 payment (and maybe my employees knees).
Where or when do you experience the most inspiration?
Probably when I disconnect. When I’m working out, on vacation, or not thinking about work I get the best ideas.
You seem to find a good amount of time to travel throughout the year. What has been your favorite trip or destination to date?
Probably New Zealand. We surfed, mountain biked, toured a vineyard, and snowboarded all in the same week. I also loved Cambodia. I felt like I traveled back in time there.
I know you personally, so I know that you take every opportunity you get to highlight other business owners. You do everything in your power to bring others up with your own success. I also know that you don't cut corners. What are your views on collaboration over competition?
Well you know I love collaboration. I’m a social person and love working with others to get different perspectives and new ideas. Competition is good too though. It’s healthy and it’s what motivates us to grow and get better. Competition can get weird when there is no collaboration though.
Any design advice for beginners wanting to make a space theirs?
Make it about you. Don’t copy and paste from Pinterest or Instagram. That’s boring.
Lastly, what is one thing you stand for and believe in and why?
Oh dang, that’s heavy. Well, I always say “ Be responsible for the energy you bring into the room”. If I complained about work and life to my friends everyday, eventually they would avoid hanging out with me. I believe that the energy you put out there will come back to you, so make it positive.
You may know Michelle already if you've taken a dip in the pool at the popular hotel and swim club, The Surfjack. Michelle's team designed the Surfjack and collaborated with multiple local artist in the process. You'll also see her on the upcoming show Aloha Builds on HGTV
To see more of Michelle and her teams work visit: www.thevanguardtheory.com/