113: ‘Surprises Are Not Good’, with Robert Yuen

A conversation with Robert Yuen.

113: ‘Surprises Are Not Good’, with Robert Yuen

Robert Yuen of Monograph joins the podcast to talk about economic uncertainty including inflation and interest rates, how they affect architecture and engineering practices, Monograph’s A/E strategic risk report for 2023, how to get ahead of the (likely) upcoming challenges in regards to business foundations, culture, and talent retention, the notino of recalibrating business, the true value of relationships with staff and clients in practice, technology adoption strategies, what’s next for Monograph, and more.

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113: ‘Surprises Are Not Good’, with Robert Yuen
Robert Yuen of Monograph joins the podcast to talk about economic uncertainty including inflation and interest rates, how they affect architecture and engine…

Episode transcript

113: ‘Surprises Are Not Good’, with Robert Yuen


Evan Troxel: [00:00:00] Welcome to the TRXL podcast. I'm Evan Troxel. This is the podcast where I have a conversation with guests from the architectural community and beyond to talk about the co-evolution of architecture and technology. 

A quick reminder that you can get the show notes from each episode sent directly to your inbox. Sign up at TRXL.Co. Just click on one of the subscribe buttons in the corner of the site. You can't miss 'em 

In this episode. I welcome back Robert Yuen to the podcast. Robert is the CEO and co-founder of Monograph, a software company, revolutionizing the future of architecture and engineering firm performance. Trained in architecture, he recognized the need for better business tools and develop monograph to address the challenges facing AE professionals. As a result, he has become a leading voice in the industry promoting the importance of AE business performance and helping firms improve their workflows and profitability. His [00:01:00] mission is to always be in service to the design professionals responsible for our built environment, letting them focus on what they love and do best .

Near the end of the conversation that you're about to hear. I tell Robert that listening to him talk is like attending a sermon, and I was thinking at the time was that, I mean, his wisdom is something we need to hear, but not necessarily something we always want to hear. But alas it escaped me in the moment.

Anyway, I hope that that point comes across and makes sense when you hear it. Luckily for me, this is the beauty of recording these introductions after the conversation.

In this episode, we discuss inflation, interest rates, economic uncertainty, oh my, how these affect your architecture and engineering practices. Monographs AE strategic risk report for 2023. How to get ahead of the likely upcoming challenges in regards to business foundations, culture and talent retention, recalibrating business, the true value of relationships with staff and clients, and practice, technology adoption strategies, what's [00:02:00] next for monograph, and more. So without further ado, I hope you enjoy my conversation with Robert Yuen.

welcome to the podcast. It's great to have you.

Robert Yuen: Thanks for having me back. Can't 

Evan Troxel: almost a year exactly since you were on the I mean, we talked in Austin, 

Robert Yuen: I remember that conversation, Austin. That should have been recorded. 

Evan Troxel: That's the point of this podcast is to record stuff like that. 

Robert Yuen: that was incredible. it was amazing seeing you in person.

Evan Troxel: are you gonna be in San Francisco in June? I assume the answer is yes. Since you are in San Francisco all the time. 

Robert Yuen: it is my backyard. I will be here. Are you?

Evan Troxel: I am. Yep. I'll be there once again. So looking forward to that for sure.

Robert Yuen: Uh, I hope you're carrying a I believe there's gonna be a lot of amazing conversations in person. I can't wait.

Evan Troxel: Yeah. Will have a booth there, so I'll be recording conversations in the booth for the Peopleverse podcast, which listeners of the show may or may not know about, but that's another [00:03:00] one that's really specific to architecture. Design professionals and product manufacturing side of things, which is what we're doing at Tech.

So, there's gonna be a lot of recording happening in San Francisco for sure.

Robert Yuen: It's gonna come really quick. Can't wait.

Evan Troxel: it is. a lot's happened in a year, Robert. right. I think the last time we were talking on this show, it was really, and I'll put a link to that conversation in the show notes, but the conversation we, we were really talking about leadership and knowledge transfer and things like that.

and now the, topics have shifted, right? I think, um, The writing has been on the wall for a little bit, but you guys just recently released a report and by you guys, I mean monograph, the team at Monograph has released this report so we won't get into your backstory. We won't get in because that's been done.

which is the great thing about having guest return on this show is now we can jump into kind of the nitty gritty topics. But you have been doing a lot of monograph is focused on business and practice operations Building killer businesses. and I mean that in a good way. And, so maybe you can give of the low down, jumping off point of where this, [00:04:00] report, what this started to illuminate and what you're sharing with the industry.

Robert Yuen: Oh so a lot has happened. monograph in a position where we're really privileged, where we see all of these trends already. Ahead. and it gave us a really unique opportunity when we started this year to create that report and really share some of the insights that we're seeing across the industry, where all the major risk, so the broader industry and the broader practice understand.

we felt extraordinarily responsible to make sure that that information gets out to the larger

Evan Troxel: Hmm.

Robert Yuen: audience. 

Evan Troxel: and you said one of your core values is to do the hard work, and I'm not sure that's gonna make it into the edit or not, but I wanna repeat it because like you just said, you have the privilege of, and I think a lot of the guests on this show are operating at a level that is more industry wide than practice specific. and that is something that I try to tap into and bring to the surface of a lot of these conversations, which is like, what are you seeing? these firms that you can share, what are the things that we [00:05:00] can stop struggling with individually and independently of one another and start using this information in a much more, know, smart way we don't have to be in our own silos all the time with everything, right? There are definitely specific maybe, practice related things, but the stuff that you're talking about here, like, just to reinforce this idea that you felt like you had to share I love that and I think it's hopefully well received in the industry as well with that same attitude that's just a beautiful thing that you guys.

Robert Yuen: Well, it's inherently baked into monographs dna.

have, we have an accountability, we have a responsibility. and every week I repeat back to the entire company, our, our mission is always to be in service to architects, be in service. and we can take that form in many different.

one of the ways that we're pushing really hard to make sure that the industry knows is understanding the current, economic environment that everyone's in right now.

like, one of the first things that we've identified is like, there's just a lot of economic uncertainty.

we, we don't know where the price of [00:06:00] eggs are gonna stop increasing

Uh, don't know how high gas prices are going. the, and these are all essentially inflationary type of trends.

If you don't understand what that means, like the easiest thing to to think about the prices for everything is going Everything, everything.

Evan Troxel: I just read this morning on LinkedIn that Amazon is going to stop allowing free returns at the UPS stores.

depending on proximity to other things. Like if you live near a Whole Foods, then they might charge you to return something at the UPS store. How much would they charge you?

Uh, maybe a dollar. in just a small example of what we're. Across the board, we're seeing that exact same thing everywhere. It's a dollar here, it's a $2 there, it's $10 here. This new feature is gonna cost you an extra 10 bucks a month in the software. And you see all of this happening and it's we kind of don't even want to know Right. I think that's what catches people by surprise when all of a sudden you are paying double across the board for everything. And it's like, how did that happen? Well, it [00:07:00] snuck up on it, it happens slowly and then suddenly.

those are the kinds of things that you're talking about.

And so, compound that across workforce or a, a practice, with all of the people that you have to feed with, all of Number of projects that you have to have in the pipeline to keep those people. I saw in your report and recognized as kind of crap moment there's been a lot of growth in the last couple years, right? Everybody's saying, we have so many projects, we can't get enough people. then when things slow down quickly, and you've built the machine to sustain that level of growth, or at least that amount of throughput. What do you do when things slow down quickly? tra our profession has been well known as one to lay off people in droves very quickly and very suddenly.

and I think now the culture emerging professionals, young professionals expect is for these companies To really like, dig in and say, how are we going to help sustain our workforce? And how are we going to keep them here? How are we going to [00:08:00] retain the talent? And so all of these things kind of playing in it's gotta be really tough for a lot of people.

Robert Yuen: and I it will be like we see the trend going that way.

good thing is, I think there's still a lot of time, The whole point of getting the report out now is there's still time to put in really good practices.

still time to acknowledge this is coming.

so we don't repeat an oh eight, oh.

I think there's a lot of things that entire industry can do, to hedge that from happening. it starts with acknowledgement. so it's not a surprise. and you put in practices and best practices now, so you don't run into a scenario where it feels like a surprise cuz it's coming.

Evan Troxel: Yeah. Interesting. So you guys share some hints and. Strategies in the report on how firms out there are doing that, right? What they're doing to get ahead of this, what they're doing to be proactive about all that.

Robert Yuen: in the report, we've genuinely categorized, strategies and tactics into like four themes. and we've labeled them strategies to counter four different [00:09:00] types of risk. is like a client risk. a money risk, a staff risk, and a time risk. and these are the four major, let's say sectors.

Every practice, every firm owner, every architect should be considering what is their level of risk within those four categories.

and what is the right tactic and strategies that they need to implement, to hedge what's coming in the.

Evan Troxel: Mm-hmm. can you give us some ideas about what those common themes that you've. Collected from these different firms out there are, because one of the things that's always, I'm trying to figure out the right way to say this. I've seen other reports where it's like, here's the problems and there's no offer of solutions and this is coming from, again, industry wide perspective. it's like, well, okay. So everybody's left to themselves to figure out how to address this or some of the recomme if there are recommendations. I've also seen it this way. There are very heavy lift for

Robert Yuen: Hmm. Yeah. 

Evan Troxel: then it just becomes like, I already don't have time to do the things that I need to do my business.

How am I going to [00:10:00] retool everything under the now when I have to do all of these? priorities, you give us some of those? just tease us with what some of those things are, because I, I want people to read the report, but I want them to read the report or at least get into it, knowing that there's going to be some solid advice in there.

Robert Yuen: Yeah, I do want to share, please read the report. And we worked extraordinarily hard to make sure we didn't stay too broad, which means it's kind of not very useful other than saying, oh my God.

and we tried to also propose strategies and tactics that are like, can't, if we don't believe we can pull it off in a reasonable amount of time, it's not useful either.

so the tactics and strategies have to align within a time box. it has to be executable. an example of this, and one of our themes, which is client risk. as inflation goes up, think like a a Angelo Brooks at, Brooks Scarborough Architects gave him amazing advice in terms think like a client.

And I think just thinking that way puts into a lot of different perspectives. one, paying for the project. You're, [00:11:00] we ser professional service They're paying for a service when inflation is. , how much exposure do they have to the public markets? That's a really good question.

It'll give you a lot of insights into like how the financial stability of your clients and where are they exposed. Heaven. Oh gosh. Like did you hear the news a couple weeks ago with SVB and First Republic?

Evan Troxel: right.

Robert Yuen: I think reestablishing your relationships with your current. Can give you a lot of information in terms of what the future might look like and future meaning like the next three to six months, you're just trying to get an idea of what their exposure is like to kind of like hedge against possible projects going on.


And the simple thing to do is pick up the phone,

call your client this is not to ask for an invoice, right? This is also not to ask for the next design. you pick up the phone and call and just, you just want to know how they are. Treat it like a relationship.

Hannah Brown gave another amazing advice in terms of, just getting back to basics, business development in person.

I think a lot of us got really comfortable during Covid, but there's no replacing an in person. [00:12:00] And during tough times, this is where everyone needs to lean on your closest relationships the most. And that's a broad statement like that's at home. That's, at work with your partners, at work, with your staff and employees, and also with your clients.

They are part of your business.

Evan Troxel: the whole idea of, and this has been a thread that's been running amongst episodes, and, and maybe that's because what I've been thinking about a lot recently, which the, the value of relationships and the wisdom that's in the people behind the tech, behind the projects, behind the practices, and. Leveraging that by establishing relationships, That, that information, that wisdom, that experience is there. And if you want to be a trusted advisor, if you wanna be perceived as that, like you actually ha, like you said, you have to do the hard work. you can't just wait for people to come to you to ask you those questions. have to get in front of and go have those proactive conversations and share that information. And this is like, this is the evolutionary story of the human race, right? It's [00:13:00] survival of the fittest is, maybe the, the simplest way to say that, right? 

Robert Yuen: Yeah.

Evan Troxel: going out and spreading this is so, so important to survival so many aspects and so, I'm glad to hear you say that because I guess that reinforces, I'm happy to hear this confirmation bias. but at the same time, a, there's a technology story here, and so when you talk about, Coming outta Covid. think what we have experienced is, separation is one way to say we go looking for things online rather than calling a person, picking up the phone and asking people. and so I think that that has started to boil the frog in, in a very different way, which is, it's gotten us much more used to. Just Doing these things on our own, looking things up. We don't know even if the source of the truth is trustworthy or not. because there's so many different places we get our information from now, and so this idea of kind of doubling down and going back to relationships, it just seems like. we need to achieve a balance there, right? The

going anywhere. It's not going [00:14:00] away. and that we have to figure out the best uses of the pieces of the recipe that we already have and the new things that are coming out. these ideas that you're talking about In the report and examples that you just shared, thinking like a client, what are our client's biggest fears? how can we just pick up the phone and have a conversation with them to them, maybe not be so fearful about something or to say, we're here to help, here to help you navigate through mean, those kinds of offerings. Really do establish a trust over time that then becomes the backbone of your business, in my early days there's the rainmakers in the office and what do they have? They have a deep rolodex of relationships with

and that thinner and thinner and thinner over time.

Just like the architectural magazines, those things have gotten thinner and thinner and thinner over time. I think what you're addressing right now is it's time to get ahead of that and get out there and address those.

Robert Yuen: Yeah, I don't know if it got thinner. I think there's just been less of a spotlight.[00:15:00] , Evan, at the end of the day, the industry as a whole, we, we provide a service. We're professionals. There's always a relationship layer. It's never gonna go so I think it's always been there, but there hasn't been a really strong spotlight on it.

And there's been a really big spotlight on just the technology. 

I'm also not saying like drop the technology, I don't see this as like going forward and going backwards. the relationship has always been. It's a foundation for every business.

don't lose sight of it. I think it's just put the spotlight back in times when we need to, they never went away.

We've just might have not put in the due diligence enough the last two years. and it's time to refocus. , but the tech's not going away. You don't have to get on a phone call. You could use Zoom, you could use, Microsoft Teams, you could use Slack. Uh, there's a number of ways now to stay in touch, today more than ever.

So there, there's a number of ways to do it. only biggest advice is do get back in.

Evan Troxel: Yeah. One of the tips that I've received over the years, and I think this was from Derek Severs, who of talked about. he's prolific, author and musician. And [00:16:00] he this advice of having your own database, what, it's your contacts, right? Your contact database of people and actually write down in there way in which they like to communi. So is it phone? Is it text? Is it teams? Is it Slack? Like what is and what can you do to make it easy to have that conversation with them because you could send an email and guess what? I get 150 emails a day. It's like, it's not gonna get addressed, right? I know somebody who is just on the show who's like, can you please just text me anytime you wanna talk because. That's where I see it. Right.

and that I think a, just a little tip. Throw it out there. just, just note down how people like to communicate and then use 

Robert Yuen: it's an amazing tip. similar to the tip that Mark LaPage gave us, which is just, track, track your client's interactions. cause everyone's communication style is slightly different.

Evan Troxel: Mm-hmm.

Robert Yuen: communication channel is different. so set those expectations and know.

the same man. Like, if you email me, it's gonna take, it's gonna take a week before I can respond to you.

Like I get somewhere close to like 150 to 300 emails a day.

if it's urgent, send me a text message.

Evan Troxel: And what's your phone number, Robert? 

Robert Yuen: You have it. I'm not, [00:17:00] I'm not gonna share it on the podcast. Uh, that, that will make my phone number useless then, uh,

Evan Troxel: No, no worries. so what other kinds of things are in this report? I think one of the stories that was, uh, Really interesting was what was shared out of Marlon Blackwell Associate's office. regarding how I guess just the kind of, the struggle of, and maybe we move into more of like, what are the threats that are, against practice right now or that, that are coming in the near future.

One of the ones that was cited was regionality is becoming less and an of a thing, right. Being able to rely on. and projects showing up in your region and you getting them because architects are extending their practices out and trying to go beyond their typical footprint because they have to.

what do you do in response to that? You kind of have to do the same thing, you've also gotta get out. Farther and farther from your home base if you really are a regional practice. that, I thought that was interesting because it's worth bringing up what these various kind of threats are.

and then it's [00:18:00] interesting to see how people are starting to deal with those.

Robert Yuen: So I think in this particular, it's a great way to reevaluate the role of technology in how we can extend, businesses like business development, reach or marketing reach. they're absolutely correct. I think in times like this, every firm needs to start thinking beyond their hyper localized work, and see where there are opportunities.

in new way, leverage technology a little bit more to extend that reach. But there's also manual things you can can get on a plane. You can get on a plane and meet people in person in a different state.

Evan Troxel: talk about inflation. Man, plane

are crazy. but, but another thing to deal 

Robert Yuen: it is another thing to do with another thing for every firm to assess. . Um, I don't think every firm is in a position where they're able to get on a plane all the time.

Evan Troxel: Right,

Robert Yuen: I don't think every firm is ready to take on work that's beyond their, 10, 2000 mile radius. but I think every firm should start thinking strategically and like, well, what, where are they headed and what do they need to do?

Evan Troxel: and are there technology? Tools that help people where [00:19:00] that is? it, or do you think it's something else? I know there are companies out there who have built tools to identify of ideal places to do the thing that they're doing. One of a previous example of a guest on the show, Sam, from Homestead, they had developed an algorithm to identify particular lots in particular where it looked like. and this is kind of an extreme example, but it looked the yard wasn't being taken care of. And then they were able to look at those and say, okay, for California's bill SB nine, we can do a lot split here. Clearly they're not utilizing the land. And I thought that was just a really interesting approach.

are ways in which you can of use data to identify where those things are, and then there's like getting your feet on the ground and going out and Word of mouth and relationships and things like that, and it's probably a little bit of everything, right, you have to be proactive about it.

Again, you can't just be waiting for people to call you. You have to be looking for ways to get out there and, getting ahead of it.

Robert Yuen: that's a really, really good point because I think the more. The more you [00:20:00] wait and the less proactive you are, the more likely a surprise will hit The whole point of this is I don't want a surprise. Surprises are not good. Uh, they're not good.

like if something's bad's coming, I want to know, like, want to see it coming.

I wanna do everything I can. to avoid the bad thing. surprises are bad and the only way essentially solve for no surprises is to be proactive.

I think there's a lot of ways, architects can continue to look for, let's say, interesting opportunities to find indicators of where there are opportunities.

But I think going back to being really like, obvious and really easy to, I. . first is just technology. Where does most of your project come from? Historically, just look within, I have a feeling that most of the industry still to this day their work is repeat work.

Evan Troxel: Mm-hmm.

Robert Yuen: can, we can do a, a happy hour tour, Evan and I think we would get nine out 10 architects say most of the work is repeat work.

All that tells me is your client relationships are really.

Evan Troxel: Yeah. Right?

Robert Yuen: focus there [00:21:00] because that's the future work, which is repeat work. Ensure that it's 

Evan Troxel: Mm-hmm. goes back

Robert Yuen: Right. Like if that's not healthy, then you kind of know what to do, which is to build new relationships, to offset where there might be instability in the current forecast of future work with your current clients.

Cause it's repeat work business.

don't immediately jump to something new yet when you haven't first reassess, you know, your current situ.

Evan Troxel: Yeah. Makes me think of a couple things. one of which is the value of that relationship is so much higher than what it costs, the actual cost of finding new clients. therefore, it comes back what the experience of that service was for them previously. Because the threat is, is that other firms. If you're regional, They're coming in to your market and threatening the chance that you will get the next project, even from a client that you've had before, and that's where then the relationship, the quality of that relationship starts to really matter, [00:22:00] right? Because did they have a good experience? Throughout that project. We know these projects take a long time. We know that it's stressful. There's a lot of strain on the relationship during those projects, I'm sure for a lot of clients and for a lot of professionals. And so how are you able to manage those expectations and that experience throughout? lifetime of that project so that when the next one comes along, you're the easy choice. and what can you do to make it easy for them to choose you? Because one of the things, again, getting back to the MBA example, the Marlon Blackwell Associates, they're saying because of this threat, we have to lower our fees.

And it's like, what is the value of an architect? How do we come together as an industry? To talk the, the value of an architect, and they pointed out some contrast to construction with change orders. Change orders are expected when things don't work out right in construction, but yet when an architect has to redesign something, the example was cited was like, often we have to it over for free.

Right? part of it. So I mean, maybe you can speak to some of that, just kind of riffing off what we're talking about.

Robert Yuen: [00:23:00] Yeah, we, we we're moving on from client risk to money risk. I think in, in a scenario where everything costs more, this is the worst time to reduce your fees

Evan Troxel: Yeah.

Robert Yuen: generally speaking, everyone's fees are already behind what they need to be This is the absolute worst time to drop. . cause the, you know, the value of that dollar is continuing to drop.

Like you, if anything, everyone needs to reevaluate and increase 


You have to we go back to when we started this, like the cost to buy eggs and the cost of Phillip gas just went up for you. the worst time to lower your fees. Doesn't, doesn't make any,

Evan Troxel: a, it's a dilution of so many things. obviously monograph is a tool to track this kind of thing in an office and in a practice. What can you share about the value of having a system that you can rely on when it come? I mean, a lot of times technology is seen as an answer to a problem, especially a tool like yours and so many that we are seeing coming in and kind of disrupting the industry, garbage in, [00:24:00] garbage out.

And I that's something that so many firms are struggling with is, is either the lack of ability. Get unique insights from their data because the data is crap. and this to me is probably the worst place to have crap data, is tracking the business side, the time, the effort, the dollars spent

these projects.

Because if you can't rely on impossible to forecast go, how long that next project's gonna take, what the effort's gonna be, et cetera, et cetera.

Robert Yuen: you've nailed and I think that broader industry has, has at least two problems. One, you don't track at all.

Evan Troxel: right?

Robert Yuen: So like, you don't even have a garbage and garbage out problem. You have nothing

Evan Troxel: It's called intuitive tracking. Yeah.

Robert Yuen: Like you have nothing, nothing but gut. that, and that's really bad don't, you don't really know.

And all you have are touchy-feely feelings.

and you're running on intuition ex extraordinarily hard to make unbiased decisions and extraordinarily hard to do any type of forecasting. Um, cause you don't, you don't have a starting. [00:25:00] Forecasting. You can only do forecasting if you have a starting point.

Evan Troxel: Yeah.

Robert Yuen: The second problem is exactly what you've already mentioned is if your data, and you do have data, but it's just like not good data. and the industry like plagued with bad data. Personal experience. When I was working at, at a much bigger organization, I used to lie on my hours all the time,

Evan Troxel: Yes. Oh yeah. That's

Robert Yuen: right? Like cuz they don't want me writing down 80 hour.

Evan Troxel: They don't,

Robert Yuen: want, they want me to write 40,

Evan Troxel: right,

Robert Yuen: but in reality, it took me 80 hours of time to accomplish the work.

Then what happens, and this was the younger version of me, is like I'm feeding into a system where it doesn't actually help me One month later. The principals, the studio directors, like, Robert, you can pull this off.

We've laid out

Evan Troxel: you just did. Yep.

Robert Yuen: was, I was like, oh my God. that's where it hit just shot myself in the I shot myself in the foot cuz they're using that data to make future plans on how they look at staffing and resourcing. and everyone thinks that the firm is actually profitable on a utilization.

but they're not, because like probably like doing two [00:26:00] times the amount of hours, like their effective billable arrays actually have,

Evan Troxel: And why is our staff leaving? Right? Like, why are people going to other places where it's probably the same? Right? Just whisper 

Robert Yuen: because there's massive burnout and it's a two-way street, the staff doesn't know exactly let's say the value of tracking time

Evan Troxel: because they're taught otherwise, 

Robert Yuen: Or not taught at all?

Evan Troxel: Yeah. Or not taught. and there's just an expectation of, I mean, and this happens, it starts in school, It's like, do

and how long does the project take? It takes as long as it takes. these are things that programmed into architects

Robert Yuen: Yeah.

Evan Troxel: graduate.

from before graduation.

Robert Yuen: it's so frustrating for me to see that sometimes. Because I know architects work with constraints really That's the whole point of design is that there's always constraints. It's why we talk about contacts. There's a site, there's a constraint. there's a f a R, there's an area of constraints, there are setback constraints.

Architects are really, really good at working with constraints. But we remove all those constraints when we think about the business, and that doesn't 

Evan Troxel: and is that because we're not [00:27:00] trained in business, quote unquote? I we're, we see that a we, we graduates, uh, who come outta school there's one pro practice course, there's no training on business. we're not saying anything new here, because there is a lack of emphasis or even a lack of anything. Many architectural education programs out there regarding business, how to run a profitable business. And there is so much on the other end of that, which is like suffer for your art, and do whatever it takes to get architecture capital, a architecture built, that like, that is like the perfect storm for what you're talking 

Robert Yuen: So I see massive changes coming, because we do have to address this head monograph is extraordinarily honored and privileged to continue to work on this mission, to be that business backbone to the industry. we also need every architect to also acknowledge we need to do things.

business minded. cuz it is a business we're trying to put food on the table. If you're a firm owner, you're, you're also responsible for the wellbeing of your team. You're responsible for payroll. there is [00:28:00] absolutely a business aspect to architecture. Is it a hundred percent?

Absolutely not. there's a creative process as well. but when you over-index on one and not acknowledge the other, it leads to an unhealthy relationship.

All we want is we don't want surprises. We want healthy relationships, client and money, means we gotta work on it

the money side there, there's easy things. We can, we can. Like, I think one of the things is just knowing where the money is, tracking your data. If you don't, number one rule, you gotta track it first.

We can deal with garbage in and garbage out later. As long as you have have some set of data. If you already have the data, then it is really like honest with yourself might not be in the data. You have to talk to your.

does this really take you 40 hours? You'll get the answer.

took, it took me 60, 65. Yeah,

Evan Troxel: think you have to put an asterisk on that because do want to please, especially young architects, they want to please their supervisors and they kind of want to tell them what they want to hear. I think that happens all the time.

Robert Yuen: all the time.

Evan Troxel: all the time.

this idea again kind of going back to this idea of [00:29:00] the relationship so that you can have real conversations about that is so important. The other side of that coin is like there are people out there who will tell you exactly what it is and they won't sugarcoat it at all. I think those are probably the few rather than the many.

there are people like that. I can think of people in my past are just like, no, this is the way it is right here. Like just straight up. They're not trying to sugarcoat. And then there are the others who are You know, I can do an all nighter and I can not write down the number of hours that it took, and that's fine because this is what I'm trained to do and this how I do 

Robert Yuen: yes and no. statistically proven, most of the industry is small, like 80, 90% of the entire industry is small. And when you're in a small business,

everything. . It's a very different problem if you're a larger business, right? If we're talking about like a, an SOM or against or an hk, then it becomes a lot harder.

But 80, 90% of the entire industry is like firm sizes that are like 5, 10, 15 people.

Evan Troxel: that's a good point. Yep.

Robert Yuen: all I'm asking here is if you're the firm owner do some introspective and be honest with yourself. You saw that all [00:30:00] nighter.

It's 10 people, five people. Like you saw it happen

and then you look at the time sheet and it says 40. I was like, ah, it's not 

Evan Troxel: Time for a conversation, right?

Robert Yuen: Yeah.

Evan Troxel: Yeah. Not avoidance. So with a tool like monograph and this idea of good information so that you can make better decisions in the future. Do you guys, and this doesn't pertain just to monograph, I think this pertains to anything What is a good strategy to begin, think there's so much historical data that cannot be relied on, that it takes way too much effort to go back and shift it and to modify it and to make it real. the strategy when I was leading digital practice was you start on the next project. I mean, these projects take a long.

Robert Yuen: Mm-hmm.

Evan Troxel: and you have to start somewhere. And so where do you start implementing the new standards or the new libraries? Because you're not gonna be able to go back and swap all this stuff out. that's a daunting task. you outsource it to somebody else, it's not gonna have the insights that you had being on the project.

[00:31:00] Right? You need the person who did it to do that kind of thing. So to me, the. Obvious strategy is to start with a new project and start with that clean slate start to build the resource that you can rely on. Does that match up what you recommend?

Robert Yuen: it does not, and I'll tell you why it does not.

Evan Troxel: Tell me the right way to do 

Robert Yuen: and the only reason why I say it does not is well projects. Most firms have more than one project.

Most firms, those projects are not starting and ending at the same 

Evan Troxel: true. Yeah, absolutely. And and in larger firms, people are swapping teams.

Robert Yuen: Yes,

Evan Troxel: same team doesn't move on

It's complicated. 

Robert Yuen: yes. 

Evan Troxel: what do you do?

Robert Yuen: and remember, so we're trying to solve a business problem, not a project. . when you're starting fresh on a single project and that might not align with another project, and you're a firm owner trying to look at the entire business, oh my God, how are you gonna understand the trend?

they, they're all gonna roll up

Evan Troxel: Yeah.

down the road, right?

Robert Yuen: Yeah. Yeah. So the, that's the only reason why don't, I don't align with that [00:32:00] strategy. And I think, so this first principle. , what are you trying to solve? Well, we're trying to have better visibility for the business, not just a single project, one at a And keep that top of mind as you work through how to troubleshoot. problems are existing in this case. When do you start, collecting more accurate data for the business? The right approach is actually to start it all at the same time. You peg it to a calendar date, not to a project start, and.

Evan Troxel: I'm nodding my head in agreement along with you because I feel like that is totally ideal.

Robert Yuen: Yeah.

Evan Troxel: gears midstream. How do you actually do that? Do you have success? I mean, I would hope you would have success stories of that kind of, because what we're talking about is adoption, right? And adoption of a new behavior hard let alone a new tool.

And the learning curve that may or may not come along with that. So you're saying this is a top down for the business

made. I think we do have to acknowledge the gap between the ideal [00:33:00] and the reality of, how hard it is to do that on projects. what do you, what do you tell people?

Robert Yuen: I say Pega to a calendar date. and I say peg it to, as I'm making some assumptions here for everyone. If you are billing and invoicing every project monthly, well there's your opportunity. You close out the books and you're starting the books on a new month. That's also where you start. can then recalibrate all your projects, cuz now you know your total budget remaining across all projects and then you reestablish new systems moving.

Now, if your billing cycles are like, not monthly, this complicates things a little There's a suggestion also, in the report by baloney of like really understanding the collection periods that your business operates and question, are those, those collection periods sustainable here at monograph?

Like the tighter you are. you're, if you are historically phase based, . The goal is to see if we can get into monthly building. What that does for a business is it gives you predictable cash flow.

Evan Troxel: this is

software has done, right? It's gone from buy wants upfront to [00:34:00] subscription. So the idea of sustainability of a business is kind of based on this idea recurring revenue. 

Robert Yuen: if people don't understand the value of that, what might be a more relatable analogy is like a landlord collecting.

That landlord has predictable revenue. We're all gonna pay and everyone's gonna pay the same amount every single month. All of a sudden, all the stress and anxiety of how much cash you're gonna get in starts to alleviate less stress and less anxiety means you can work on another problem.

Evan Troxel: is more of Modern. I don't know what the, the right, you know, current, way of thinking about this is as well. I mean, I remember being a young architect and hearing the horror stories of clients being 90 days past due, 180 days past due, that landscape shifted, do you feel like as well because all of this other stuff been influencing architecture over the decade?

Robert Yuen: The trend we see here at Monograph is more and more firms moving into some version of a monthly billing cycle, it makes a lot of business sense. if you're not collecting any revenue that month, but you still have to run payroll.

[00:35:00] it's the math. The math doesn't work.

Evan Troxel: That's monthly. Yeah.

Robert Yuen: Right. Like it

you're never gonna say employees, please wait, I'm, I'm not gonna run your payroll. Cause we haven't collected

yet. Like, you're never gonna say 

Evan Troxel: I'm sure that has happened, but

Robert Yuen: like, I, I, I really hope not.

that'll be a really bad experience. But I think when thinking about business, it doesn't have to be scary, just, it just has to be logical

practical. Payroll happens every two weeks or once a month. Depend. Like those are the two most common. Pay cycles, and architects is the business. So like we just wanna make sure that there's enough cash coming in, cuz you're gonna have to spend that cash, to deliver payroll, And the goal is after you process payroll, there's still money left.

Evan Troxel: right.

Robert Yuen: you just keep business really, really simple. if you have a hundred K coming in and you need to spend a hundred k, well you're not keeping. If you have a hundred K coming in and you have to spend 150 K, it's like, oh my God, you just lost 50.

Evan Troxel: Well talk. what we haven't talked about in the report and I think also this starting to segue into the idea of the resource that you are creating beyond just the, platform that you've [00:36:00] created, right? I know least I've seen in the past, you guys have done section cut conference, have resource on where you're cataloging these conversations, around practice operations.

I know that was like the main theme. I guess kind of pulling pieces out the conversation here to start connect these dots and tie it all together. architecture, students, go into business without the business acumen and you're trying to help them run profitable businesses, successful architecture businesses.

And so let's start to get into that side of things where You shoulder this burden, but you don't look at it as a burden. You look at it as an opportunity to get this stuff out into our industry, to raise the whole industry talk the work that you've done in the report, but also beyond that to help make that happen for people so that architects aren't trying to figure this out alone all of these different. 

Robert Yuen: Evan Architects are not alone. You're not alone. I think every firm order is struggling in some capacity. here at Monograph, we're extraordinarily motivated to continue to be [00:37:00] in. And that means we will be in service with information that we gather in trends like this report. It means we're gonna continue to be in service in, hosting debates and conferences and being in person.

but it absolutely means that we're gonna continue to build an incredible software company, pave that path and to make that much more streamlined and easier. The goal is to help, as you said, to make firms. And we'll continue to build, for a very long time. Everything we need to help firm achieve the easiest and most streamlined way So things that are coming, we're in private beta. We just launched a payroll product, monograph will start to process payroll for architects. A big reason for this to help you be profit. we need more insights into like where your biggest costs are occurring and your biggest cost is payroll.

So if we can map biggest expense against your time and project execution over time, while also helping you collect invoices and payments more streamlined, we can absolutely point at opportunities where every firm can get to profitability. We can identify where [00:38:00] there are inefficiencies and we can propose opportunities on where, where's the highest leverage and the easiest things to do.

Evan Troxel: Disruptive technology, it's like, sounds like the most, not the most, but this is an unsexy topic in the business of architecture, and that's why I love talking about this because of

important it is to not avoid it or to not. Be like, we need to put our attention here mean, talk about incumbents in the space that you're playing in and the lack of innovation, the lack of. we've talked about this in the past, I think in our last conversation, like building a tool that people like to use and want to use and put good data in versus one that they hate using, right? You guys are up against a big one in that category. and that is not even the main tool architects are using on a day-to-day basis, which kind of has the sim similar traits, right? So, you're doing amazing work in that 

that you have to say 


Robert Yuen: the work is not easy. The work's incredibly hard, but that's what makes it really exciting. I thrilled to [00:39:00] be working not sexy things. Cause not sexy things are the things that hold up the sexy things,

Evan Troxel: Yes. 

Robert Yuen: is, this is no different. If you think of it as an architectural project, like pouring a foundation isn't really sexy.

It holds everything up.

it, allows all the work to be built on top.

your structural systems, HVAC systems, they're not sexy. Uh, there was an amazing course at Michigan called Anatomy, and I loved I absolutely loved it because it's the guts, right, the foundation, it enables the sexy world.

Two occur. If that is not stable, there is no opportunity for sexy work. So I'm incredibly. , yes, we, we face a legacy competitor and yes, there's incumbents. and yes, I care. Cause like I know our product is gonna be extraordinarily better

cuz our on first principles, we prioritize the architects

Evan Troxel: Well, yeah, 



Robert Yuen: That's true. I'm not interested in building software that doesn't prioritize architects, in a very selfish 


Evan Troxel: of us, uh, the royal us solving [00:40:00] this for 


much having 

somebody else

do it 

Robert Yuen: I'm not interested in building a tool just for accountants.

What's fascinating to me is the representational project of how do I take financial information that accountants know how to read, but really design a product where architects can understand quickly.

one of my all time favorites as like a design project, and it's really simple.

it's the gas gauge in a car. It's so simple, it just tells you how much gas you have left.

But, guess what? Everyone knows this. I know if should speed up or not speed up. I know if I need to go to the gas station or not. know if I can make this last errand before coming home.

there's so much information baked into such a simple measure. that as human beings, we inherently know building more of those tools are similar ways of representing financial informations. So architects and firm owners know exactly what to do next. a lifelong goal submission, a purpose.

Evan Troxel: How much 

fuel is in the 


Robert Yuen: it's so simple. then you can imagine when you get to [00:41:00] business and everyone overcomplicates there's all these different KPIs to watch. let's answer a really simple question. How much fuel is left for the business? How much fuel is left for the project? How much fuel is left for phase?

keep it really simple. Everyone else is smart enough to know what happens next.

Evan Troxel: I feel like our conversations, Robert, it's, it's kind of like a conversation, but it's also kind of a sermon. there are certain people who I talk to who sages, and you are one of those people, and I really enjoy our conversations because you deliver so much wisdom. really happy that we're able to have this conversation today because, and record because this is the kind of thing even if it's not for the casual listener of this show, I hope that it is something that is shareable someone. Beyond that. And that to me is what we can bring to this profession together.

And I'm so happy in the work that you're doing that, and that you're doing it. so 

Thank you so much 

for doing that with 

Robert Yuen: Thank you for having I'm honored. I don't think I have that [00:42:00] much wisdom yet. I still feel very 


Evan Troxel: a, that's a sign of, of wisdom right there, I, I think it is. I mean, yeah, the, the older. The less I feel like I know and, the more questions that I ask, and I'm glad to have people 

like you around 

that I can ask those 


Robert Yuen: that's the most important quality. You and I, let's just keep asking the questions. cause the more we ask it, the more someone, will work on it.

Evan Troxel: Yeah. Well, where can people get this report? I will put a link to I need to in the show notes for people to do that. But 

go ahead and 

and let people know. 

Robert Yuen: Uh, put the link in there cause I'm, I'm not gonna be able to recall the entire link. so I'm excited. If you are looking for a way to contact me, it's really easy. It's just Robert Monograph and if you email me, I'll also send you the report. a problem.

Evan Troxel: Cool. so definitely monograph.com. I'll put a link to the report in the show notes everywhere you can follow Robert and Monograph online. And, if this is the first time you're hearing about Robert and Monograph, this won't be the last time. so put a link to our previous [00:43:00] conversation in the show notes and, uh, I look forward 

to the next conversation.

Robert, thanks so much. 

Robert Yuen: I can't wait. I'll see you in person soon.

Evan Troxel: Yep.​

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