podcast | Apr 10, 2024 |
Why Michael Hilal is rethinking his approach to publicizing his work

The first year of Michael Hilal’s firm was the stuff of design industry dreams. To be fair, he spent plenty of time preparing for the launch: In the years before, he completed his MFA in UCLA’s design program and embarked on his first projects for friends and family—all while juggling a career in Silicon Valley, working for tech startups and industry giants like Google.

It wasn’t until early 2020 that he decided to leave the tech world behind and go all in on design with the establishment of Studio Michael Hilal. Despite the pandemic providing plenty of sourcing and supply chain snarls, it wasn’t long before the firm started receiving recognition for its work, with write-ups in Architectural Digest and Dwell, followed by a spot in 2022’s Kips Bay Decorator Show House in Dallas and a new furniture collection.

Behind the scenes, the designer had his work cut out for him. For the business to really hit its stride, he knew he would need to build out a team, get serious about implementing systems to track work progress and finances, and transform the firm’s branding and communications to deliver a luxury experience. In the end, tapping back into the tech startup mentality was what carried Hilal’s enterprise past the excitement of a new beginning and into a place where longevity seemed possible.

“If I was truly going to do this—and [it’s essential] even now—I [had to be] prepared to invest my full attention to this and all the time that it needs,” he says. “Especially as someone with a small interior design business, that’s the only way that you can foster that growth.”

Elsewhere in the episode, Hilal shares why he’s not afraid to hire a team with more experience than him, why he’s rethinking his approach to media after a whirlwind of early press attention, and the fine line between inspiration and imitation.

Crucial insight: In the early stages of the design process, Hilal gives clients a hands-on education on a variety of design styles and the materials to make them happen. After he allows clients to touch and feel metals, woods, fabrics and finishes, the decision-making process becomes much smoother when it’s time to bring their vision to life. “When we present our renderings, materials, furniture pieces, elevations and everything we want to do in a space, they're not shocked when they see a $400 mohair because they already understand what the difference is,” he says. “At that point, they feel a little bit more comfortable and open to speak their mind.”

Key quote: “Never be afraid to ask a question. Never be afraid to ask for money if you need it for a project. The worst they’re going to say is no, or ‘We can’t do that right now.’ They’re not going to fire you for asking a question.”

Listen to the show below. If you like what you hear, subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. This episode was sponsored by Hudson Valley Lighting Group.

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