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April 13, 2024 at 6:48:59 AM

Inside the Design Tank


A Conversation with Design Tank's Joseph Haecker

Published on:

April 13, 2024 at 6:48:59 AM

Ignite Business Insider shares the stories of businesses that are making an impact in their local markets. We highlight their stories in order to inspire entrepreneurial growth and to let readers learn more about businesses across the world that are growing and scaling.


Joseph Haecker


Design Tank

Thank you for taking the time to sit with us and share your story. Can you share a little bit about you and your company?

Thank you for having me. As a design professional, navigating the complexities of entrepreneurship can often feel like a solitary journey. When faced with crucial decisions like pricing strategies, launching new services, or exploring licensing opportunities, it's essential to seek insights and feedback from a diverse range of perspectives. That's where Design Tank comes in.

Design Tank is more than just a bi-weekly event; it's a dynamic platform designed to foster collaboration and community within the design industry. During these sessions, one to two design professionals have the opportunity to present their company overview and share their latest concepts or challenges with a supportive audience of industry peers.

What sets Design Tank apart is its ability to provide a space for open dialogue and constructive feedback. By harnessing the collective expertise of the design community, attendees can gain valuable insights, explore new ideas, and make more informed decisions. Additionally, these sessions contribute to the growth and enrichment of our industry, fostering a culture of innovation and collaboration.

Ultimately, Design Tank aims to empower design professionals by providing them with the resources, support, and connections needed to thrive in their entrepreneurial endeavors. I truly believe that by coming together as a community, we can achieve greater success and drive positive change within the design industry.

A question so many people are interested in, is how you got started. Can you share a little bit about what you were doing before this, and what that moment was like for you when you decided to start this new journey?

Before diving into the world of Design Tank, my journey began in the design space as a custom lighting designer for high-end residential, commercial, and hospitality projects globally. I honed my skills by working in-house for two companies, Triton Chandelier and Alger Lighting, before branching out to consult for 28 of the top custom lighting companies.

In 2014, I took a leap of faith and launched my second tech startup, Dezignwall. This venture marked a pivotal moment in my career, as it propelled me into the world of technology while still maintaining a strong connection to the design industry.

Since then, I've worn many hats - from hosting podcasts and producing shows to organizing virtual events and even hosting an HGTV Reunion. Along the way, I've authored over 25 books, founded several dozen more tech startups, and served as an advisor to countless others.

Throughout this journey, I've always had "one foot in tech, and the other firmly planted in the design industry." And it's this unique blend of experiences that inspired me to create Design Tank - a platform where design professionals can come together to innovate, collaborate, and thrive.

Let's take a little bit of a detour, and rewind the clock a little bit. What did you want to be as a kid? And how did that influence the person you are today?

As a kid, I had big dreams of becoming an animator for Disney. I was captivated by the magic of animation and the ability to bring characters to life on screen. However, despite my best efforts to get into Cal Arts, life took me on a different path.

Instead of pursuing animation, I found myself navigating the corporate world and eventually landed in the field of custom lighting. But even though I didn't end up at Disney, my passion for art and creativity never waned.

In fact, I've come to realize that I still use my artistic skills every day, albeit in different ways. Whether it's visualizing lighting designs for projects, conceptualizing tech platforms, or crafting business strategies, I approach everything from an artistic perspective.

Over the years, I've continued to leverage my design, visualization, and creative abilities to bring my ideas to fruition. Whether it's conceptualizing new tech platforms or launching businesses, I approach each endeavor from an artistic perspective, using my skills to innovate and create something unique. So, while my childhood dream may have taken a detour, it's still very much a part of who I am today.

Did you have a person, or brand, that was influencial in your early formation of business, or career?

Absolutely, two brands had a profound influence on me during my formative years: McDonald's and Disney. Growing up just a few blocks from the Disney Studios Back Lots, I was immersed in the magic of Disney from a young age. Walt Disney himself was a towering figure in my childhood, and the creativity and imagination behind Disney's storytelling left an indelible mark on me.

Similarly, McDonald's played a significant role in shaping my early experiences. From the shakes my dad would drink to cure his headaches to the birthday parties we celebrated there, complete with playtime in the kids' play area, McDonald's was more than just a fast-food restaurant—it was a place of joy, community, and culture.

Both Disney and McDonald's excelled not only in catering to adults and children alike but also in their innovative approaches to marketing, engagement, and community-building. These brands understood the power of storytelling and creating immersive experiences that resonated with people of all ages—a lesson that has stayed with me throughout my career.

Now, I have found that with successful people, there is always someone pivotal as either a mentor, parent, teacher, or someone that you look to for advise, that helped set you on this path. Could you share who that person was? And what impact that had on the person you are today?

Absolutely, there have been several remarkable individuals who have played a pivotal role in shaping my journey. However, one person stands out above the rest: John Pietro, former head of marketing for Wendy's.

John's impact on the business world cannot be overstated. He revolutionized the way we think about consumer behavior with the introduction of the combo meal. Before John, the process of ordering food was more cumbersome - customers would typically order a burger, and it was up to the cashier to suggest adding fries and a soda. But John simplified this process by bundling everything together into a combo meal. This small change had a monumental effect, driving sales of fries and sodas like never before.

What struck me most about John was his emphasis on pursuing "the lowest hanging fruit." This mindset is a game-changer in business, focusing on identifying the most accessible opportunities for building traction and momentum. John's strategic approach has profoundly influenced my own approach to entrepreneurship, and I continue to apply his principles in everything I do.

What was one take away that you learned from that person? And how did it translate into your business today?

One key takeaway that I learned from John Pietro, particularly his emphasis on focusing on the "Low Hanging Fruit," has had a profound impact on my approach to business today. John's strategy was simple yet incredibly effective: identify the most accessible opportunities for building traction and momentum.

This principle translates directly into my business philosophy at Design Tank. We recognize that the design industry is filled with challenges and complexities, and it's easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of possibilities. By focusing on the "Low Hanging Fruit," we can prioritize our efforts and make tangible progress towards our goals.

For Design Tank, this means providing designers with a platform where they can address their most pressing needs and challenges, seek feedback, and leverage valuable insights to drive growth and innovation. Instead of trying to tackle everything at once, we encourage our community to start with the most attainable opportunities—the ones that offer the greatest potential for success in the shortest amount of time.

By adopting this mindset, we're able to make meaningful strides towards our mission of supporting and empowering designers in their entrepreneurial journey. It's a strategy that's rooted in simplicity, yet incredibly powerful in its ability to drive results and create positive change within the industry.

When we work with businesses, we focus a lot on their "Why?". What is your "Why"? What is the driver behind your company, and why you and your team wake up each day and give it your all?

Our "Why" at Design Tank is driven by a simple yet powerful belief: "You don't know, what you don't know." In the design world, there's often an assumption that creativity and design sensibility are the primary skill sets. However, I challenge this notion. Designers are not just creatives—they are problem solvers, project managers, and business owners.

While creativity is certainly a vital aspect of their work, designers also need to navigate a myriad of other responsibilities, from managing projects and relationships to sourcing products and providing customer service. Yet, despite these diverse roles, there's often a lack of transparency and support within the design community when it comes to business development.

At Design Tank, our mission is to change that. We believe in creating opportunities for transparency and collaboration, where design professionals can come together to learn, grow, and thrive as business owners within a supportive community. We're committed to providing a platform where designers can access valuable insights, share experiences, and develop the skills they need to succeed in today's competitive market.

Every day, our team wakes up with a shared purpose: to empower designers to reach their full potential and build successful, sustainable businesses. It's this driving force that fuels our passion and motivates us to give our all, day in and day out. Together, we're creating a brighter future for the design industry—one where collaboration and support are at the forefront, and where every designer has the opportunity to thrive.

Let's dive deeper into your products and services. You already gave an overview, but how do your products or services help your customers? And what makes them different from your competitors?

Design Tank is a direct derivative of 1 Million Cups, a nationwide startup program designed to provide entrepreneurs with a platform to present their business ideas and receive feedback from the community. At 1 Million Cups events, entrepreneurs have the opportunity to showcase their ventures, discuss challenges, and seek advice from a diverse audience of peers and mentors.

Inspired by the success of 1 Million Cups, we recognized the need to adapt this model for the design industry. While designers may not necessarily be seeking investment in the same way as traditional startups, they still face a multitude of challenges and opportunities in their business ventures.

In the design space, designers often lack a platform to share their ideas and receive feedback on new services, product lines, or business strategies. Whether it's exploring new service offerings, approaching brands as brand ambassadors, or transitioning from residential to commercial or hospitality design, there are countless topics that designers simply don't have a space to address.

Design Tank fills this gap by providing a fluid and collaborative platform for designers to share their experiences, seek advice, and draw from a wide range of industry expertise. Unlike traditional coaching or online courses, Design Tank offers a dynamic and interactive environment where designers can engage directly with their peers, fostering meaningful connections and facilitating knowledge-sharing.

What sets Design Tank apart from other resources in the industry is its focus on community-building and collaboration. By bringing together designers from diverse backgrounds and experiences, Design Tank creates a supportive ecosystem where innovation thrives and solutions are born. It's this unique approach that sets us apart from our competitors and makes Design Tank a valuable resource for designers looking to grow and succeed in their businesses.

Let's unpack that even further. Let's pick one aspect of your business. What makes it so unique? And how does it change you or your customer's experience?

Great question! What makes Design Tank so unique is its ability to create a ripple effect throughout the design industry. Let me break it down for you.

For starters, Design Tank provides a platform where designers, architects, and industry professionals can come together to share their latest business concepts and ideas. Presenters get the opportunity to receive valuable feedback from their peers, helping them refine their strategies and approaches. But it doesn't stop there. Attendees also benefit from hearing these presentations, gaining insights into new technologies, business growth options, and opportunities they may not have considered before.

Think about it: by fostering this collaborative environment, we're not just helping individual businesses thrive - we're strengthening the entire design community. And in today's fast-paced world, where technology and trends are constantly evolving, having a network of like-minded professionals to lean on can make all the difference.

So, how does it work? Our events are held bi-weekly and follow a simple agenda. Presenters have the floor for 6 minutes each to share their business concepts, followed by a 20-minute feedback session from the audience. It's a dynamic and engaging format that keeps everyone involved and energized.

In the end, Design Tank isn't just about individual success - it's about building a more connected, empowered business class within the design industry. And that's something we can all get excited about!

Let's dive into your customer's journey a little bit. Can you share with us, how do your customers discover you and your brand? What are their next steps? And what is the experience you would like to see your customers go on, when working with you and your brand?

Our customers often discover us through word of mouth, personal outreach, and online channels. Once they find out about Design Tank, their next steps usually involve registering to attend our events or signing up to present their business concepts.

As for the experience we aim to provide, we want our customers to feel empowered, inspired, and connected. We want them to walk away from our events with valuable insights, new connections, and a renewed sense of enthusiasm for their businesses.

But we're not just limited to individual events. We're also looking to partner with trade associations, local showrooms, and design centers to establish chapters in cities throughout the US and Canada. For trade associations, we aim to drive industry partnerships, memberships, and value to members. For showrooms and design centers, we create a bi-weekly event that can easily be held in their space, creating a truly unique collaborative environment for the design community.

Additionally, we monetize the chapters by providing the opportunity for businesses to sponsor a chapter. Sponsorship is handled online, and Design Tank pays the chapters when sponsorship comes through. This gives the chapters the ability to afford a better experience for their members, enhancing the overall value and impact of Design Tank within the design community.

Let's rave about your customers for a minute. Can you share a story about one of your clients or customers, that either touched your heart, or made an impact with you and your team?

While Design Tank is still in its infancy and we don't have "clients" in the traditional sense just yet, I've encountered numerous stories from friends within the design industry that highlight the critical need for a program like Design Tank. These stories underscore how access to insights and feedback could have made a significant impact on their business decisions.

For instance, I've known designers who eagerly signed licensing deals only to realize later that they hadn't negotiated favorable terms. Similarly, I've heard stories of designers excitedly approached by major networks like HGTV, only to discover they were being used as ghost designers. Others have invested time and resources into opportunities like designing for show homes, only to see zero return on investment.

In each of these cases, having a sounding board for insights and feedback could have empowered these designers to negotiate better terms, make more informed decisions, and avoid costly pitfalls. By providing a platform for collaboration and support, Design Tank aims to address these challenges and create a more supportive environment for the design community at large. Through shared experiences and collective knowledge, we believe we can help designers navigate the complexities of entrepreneurship and thrive in their businesses.

Everyone likes an inside scoop. What detail or secret about either you, or your company, is something most people might not know?

Here's a little inside scoop that might surprise you: Despite my involvement in numerous events, programs, platforms, podcasts, books, and speaking engagements, many people might not know that I'm actually an introvert. I find my energy and inspiration in solitude, where I can create and think freely. In fact, most of the ideas and projects you see were born during moments of introspection.

As an introvert, I've learned to balance my need for solitude with the necessity of interacting with others to bring my ideas to life. It's a common trait in the design industry, where creatives often thrive in their own thoughts and ideas. In fact, I've delved into this topic in depth in my book titled "Designing in Silence: Unleashing the Creative Potential of Introverted Interior Designers." So, while I may seem outgoing in public settings, my true creative process often takes place behind the scenes, in the quiet moments of reflection.

Final thoughts. What feeling or benefits would you like your customers or clients to take away when working with you and your team?

Ultimately, my hope for designers and the industry participating in Design Tank is to walk away feeling empowered, inspired, and connected. Design Tank isn't just about sharing ideas; it's about fostering a sense of community and collaboration within the design industry.

I want designers to feel supported in their entrepreneurial journey, knowing that they have a platform where they can seek feedback, gain valuable insights, and make informed decisions about their businesses. By participating in Design Tank, designers have the opportunity to tap into a wealth of knowledge and experience from their peers, mentors, and industry experts, enabling them to grow and succeed in their endeavors.

Moreover, I want Design Tank to serve as a catalyst for positive change within the industry. By encouraging open dialogue, sharing best practices, and embracing innovation, we can collectively elevate the standards of design entrepreneurship and create a more vibrant and inclusive community for all.

In essence, Design Tank is more than just a networking event or presentation platform; it's a movement toward building a stronger, more collaborative, and more supportive design industry. And I invite designers from all backgrounds to join us on this journey of growth, discovery, and empowerment. Together, we can shape the future of design and create lasting impact in our communities and beyond.

Last question. How can people find out more about you and your company?

To learn more about Design Tank and stay updated on upcoming events, you can visit our website at There, you'll find information about our mission, upcoming events, and how to get involved as a presenter or attendee.

You can also connect with us on social media! Follow us on Facebook and LinkedIn at Design Tank to join our community, engage with fellow designers, and stay informed about the latest news and updates.

Whether you're looking to attend our events, present your ideas, or simply connect with like-minded individuals in the design industry, Design Tank is here to support you on your journey. We look forward to connecting with you and exploring the endless possibilities together!

Well, it has been great being able to sit with you and learn more about you, your brand and your customer's journey. Thank you so much for sitting with us and sharing your story.

Thank you so much for the opportunity to share. It's been a pleasure discussing Design Tank and the impact it aims to make in the design industry. I appreciate your interest and thoughtful questions. If you ever have any further inquiries or would like to continue the conversation, please don't hesitate to reach out. Thank you again for your time and conversation!

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