Katerina Lyadova is the Creative Director at Oddbee Studios. Her creative talent, drive, passion projects, and curiosity have led her down some interesting paths. Most recently, that path has led her to collaborate with Melissa Hughes on an upcoming book release.
Dating Vandalized explores Lyadova’s experimental approach to dating in the digital age.
We got to sit down with Kat to learn about running her own company, delivering stellar creative work, and dating.
How did you end up as an entrepreneur?
I started out working for different companies and agencies for while – for like 14 years. Then I was highly disappointed with my last full-time job and quit after 6 months. I went traveling to South America for an indefinite amount of time; it ended up being 4 months. I was traveling and figuring out what to do with my life, and I got approached by a former client during that time.
He runs multiple businesses and isn’t just a client but also a good friend. He said, “If you want to start your own thing, I want to invest in you.” It was a great feeling because it was like, “Holy shit someone believes in me, that feels good.” He planted the idea and while I was hiking the highlands I thought about it intensely.
After that I started reaching out to people — I had a clear idea. I knew I wanted to make websites, very cool and interactive and specific websites. I started by finding a developer since I’m not one. I reached out to some industry contacts. I reached out to Kyle who I knew from meetups and tech community in Toronto, he’s very entrepreneurial himself, and I told him about my idea and he’s like, “Yeah let’s start an agency. We have an investor, my tech skills, your design skills.”
It was almost like dating – we were exchanging a lot of information long distance but it was good chemistry. We were talking a lot and sharing our vision, exchanging books, links, and websites we liked. From there we decided that yes, we have a similar vision and want to do the same thing, and also have a similar work ethic and it was very exciting. He brought in one more person he’d be working with before; a business analyst. He’s an expert in project scoping and proposal writing. We built this team of 4 people and everyone was happy and excited to get started.
Once I got back to Toronto we were brainstorming names. Our investor helped us a lot with expediting with getting the business set up — he helped us register, find an accountant, bookkeeper, and lawyer. We had no clients and a very vague idea of what we were doing but we were very excited and knew we had varied skills and strengths. He also agreed to help us with clients and find the right people – it never really happened, but we started in May and spent the whole summer working on our website. We wanted to make our website the portfolio since we didn’t have one. We worked hard to make it a showcase piece to attract certain types of clients who want certain types of websites.
We spent whole summer working on it and it was worth it – the site is still working and we get tons of comments about it and new business as a result.
What made you choose design as a career path?
When I started doing design I didn’t know what design was. I had been drawing since I was a kid and went to art school back in Russia, and then I got myself somehow into an interior design internship through a friend of a friend. I helped them with basic research, they liked me, and I was doing some sketching. They hired a tutor for me in visualization and drafting – this is when I was 17. It was super cool, but then I realized after 1.5 years that I found it boring and I didn’t have the patience for interior design.
My idea of what I wanted to do at 18 was, I described it as, “I want to put cool pictures with funny taglines.” There was a company next door to my work called FlyCards. They were making advertising cards and print material, basically flyers, and distributing them through nightclubs and cafes throughout the city. They used illustrations, photos, funny copy, and they were edgier. I got introduced to them and started working with them for four years.
During this process I learned how to do design. I was a horrible designer at first. I knew Photoshop and I thought I was so good. I described what I was doing to people and they’re like, “Oh, you’re a graphic designer.” I’m like “Yeah – that’s what I do,” I had no idea. They’d ask if I could do logos, flyers, and other materials and I would just say yes to everything and figure it out later.
Tell us more about your upcoming book release.
I have a book coming out on May 25th. It’s called Dating Vandalized and it’s based on the social experiment I did last year when I hired a stranger from Craigslist to manage my dating profile. I gave this person complete control to handle it how they wanted. It ran from February 1st to the beginning of May. That was one of the rules, that there was a time-frame and deadline and that I only had 3 months for this to happen.
It was an interesting process and there were a lot of interesting discoveries along the way. I was really interested in building the process. First, I was curious what would happen and second I was curious how it would work.
It worked — which was scary. It proved my point that online dating is basically online shopping. The idea that it’s about that online chemistry… I think that’s questionable, I don’t think it exists.
A lot of the conversations are very similar and very outsource-able. So I basically outsourced this chitchat and it worked surprisingly well.
What was the most challenging part of the process?
Well, I’d never made a book before! That was the most challenging part. I had no intention of making one at first, and never had thought about it. English is my second language, so I had no ambitions to even think about it. But when I started the experiment, a lot of cool interesting things were happening and I was documenting it all and keeping a diary, collecting parts. I thought I might do something with it all but I didn’t know what. When I described it to other people they got excited and were curious. Everyone kept saying, “It should be a book!”
When I finished and I had all this material, I came to my writer Melissa (she used to be a copywriter and account manager for my company) and I asked for help with this personal project. I showed her my diary and asked what format she thought was best to tell the story.
She took it and she said, “It looks like a book.”
I said, “Okay, if you think it looks like a book, it should be a book. I have no idea how to write books!” She offered to ghostwrite it and I said sure.
There was a lot of back and forth, but at some point, she started as ghost writer, she got really into it and instead of just the money she wanted credit so it became a collaboration project.
What advice would you give to a designer or writer who is interested in publishing a book?
Hmm.. I don’t know. I think I haven’t published it yet, I still have a lot of mistakes to make. I’d probably offer the same advice I give to people who want to work on any personal project: take it seriously and acknowledge that it takes time. It’s not going to happen overnight. You need to really plan for it and treat it like a work project.
Detach yourself. Many people treat personal projects like their baby. It makes it harder to stay clear headed and make the right decisions.
It happened to me working on the book – I wanted to do so many things and kept changing direction, but that led to very little progress and there ended up being so many inconsistencies. I would never do that with a client project. I would stick to the strategy and plan.
Stick to your decisions, get it done, and treat it professionally. Otherwise, when you’re your own client, it goes out of whack.
Has your approach to dating changed now?
A lot. Haha. I learned a lot going through this experiment.
Basically what I realized is that it’s a numbers game. Meet more people, you’ll meet someone you like.
My approach generally changed a lot. I realized there is no fairy tale. All this bullshit they told us as kids about the one true love and magic — it doesn’t really work the same way.
What techniques do you use to manage work-life balance as an entrepreneur?
Haha. I’m kind of working all the time but I like what I do. I do a lot of personal projects but they’re all interconnected and focused on design and art. There’s only a small amount of stuff I do that I don’t like that hurts me — project management and accounting stuff.
I’m known as someone who’s always working but I don’t separate it from my life.
So yeah. I’m always busy but it’s interesting stuff and the less interesting stuff I try to push off my plate (like the online chit chat). Stuff that gets repetitive… I don’t like routine. But I also realize that people need it. One approach is you go on a dating website and send a questionnaire and then you screen people – it would be rude, and no one would talk to you … I tried it, it didn’t work well.
People want to be current and casual but they need to realize that takes time.
Get your copy of Dating Vandalized, available on May 25!