Back in 2006 when I was fresh out of architecture school and looking for work, I knocked on the door of a design company based in London with my polished resume in hand. I was sleeping on a friend’s couch at the time and the company seemed like a perfect fit for me – so I went for it.
There’s no happy ending to this story though – because I didn’t get past the front door that day – but there’s never any harm in trying. As my friend told me the morning I went: fortune favors the bold.
The firm I visited that day is called YOO.
They call themselves “a residential and hotel design company”, but their model is actually more unique than that. Founded in 1999 by John Hitchcox (a property developer) and Philippe Starck (a rockstar designer), the firm partners with local real estate developers around the world and creates value through design, branding, and marketing expertise – as well as through celebrity names like Philippe Starck and Jade Jagger.
They did one project in Toronto with local developer Peter Freed called 75 Portland.
What makes their model interesting is that, unlike the real estate developers they partner with, they’re not assuming the same level of risk (unless, of course, they co-invest). They get paid (well) for the design services and marketing expertise they provide, as well as the brand equity that they bring.
This is similar to what Donald Trump does with some (most?) of his developments now. Want the Trump name on your building? Pay $X. Want Philippe Starck at your condo sales launch? Pay $Y.
When I was in architecture school, I used to wonder why we didn’t talk about the importance of branding and marketing. I thought we should. Which is probably why I ended up in business school afterwards.
I think there’s a lot of potential in overlaps and hybrid business models, which is why I was excited to learn today that YOO has just launched a new architectural practice called YOO Architecture.
You can read more about it here.
Image: Icon Brickell, Miami via YOO