On building a business with Make Models

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Make Models is an Architectural fabrication and design prototyping studio, which collaborates with architects, designers and engineers. Celeste Raanoja and Nikola Kovac started the business in the summer of 2013 after realising that their passions with the architectural profession lay in experimenting with the various ways to understand materials and work through ideas as Architects and designers.

“The company was formed as a response to the dwindling use of physical means of representation in contemporary design processes. Make Models is spurred by the belief that, in a digital age, a physical model still has the natural ability to capture a special character, idea and quality in a universal language.”  

We spoke to them about how they have quite literally built their business and what’s next for the designer duo.

Setting up shop

Starting out three years ago in their family’s small industry garage, the pair juggled their 9-5 jobs during the week and spent the weekends and evenings making architectural models for some of their well known friends within the Architectural industry. Over time they gained new clients and began to invest in a few machines to grow their portfolio of work to expand into a broader range of jobs.

“We were very invested in being across all roles of the business from the get go. Everything from production, to machine fabrication, to media, marketing, finance, it web design was all done by us. It was a lot to take on at the start, but it built a solid framework for operation, and independence as the business grew. This way we could focus on keeping a lot of our overheads internal.”

Since, the pair moved to a small building space which housed an eclectic bunch of small businesses including a man that works in animatronics and steel fabrication, two retired men who do up old motorcycles and a director who collects vintage cameras. This past week, they’ve made the move to a bigger space in Marrickville which will give them the moving room they need as they continue to grow.

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Forging a new direction in an established market

There were a few well established studios that were already set up that focused on a similar line of work that had been in operation for a long time. But they really wanted to get involved in the market in a new way to stand out from the pack.

“We felt there was room for a more experimental, abstract type of model making and prototyping market. So we focussed a lot on forging a new direction with a more abstract material palette so that our work could say something more about the creative process of designing.”

At first there wasn’t a major demand, but the  more  that  they  promoted  themselves,  the  more  people really started to respond positively to the way their services varied from their competitors.

The competitor’s edge

The pair have invested heavily in architectural  design  and  the  creative  process to give them a competitive edge.  

“We  prefer  to  work  through  designs  with Architects. Starting at conceptual models, and then prototyping various models along the phase of construction and  design  development.  I  think  our  desire  and  investment  to  secure  relationships  with  teams  is  a  unique quality  of  how  we  work.”  

Both  studied  architecture, worked  as  architects and teach architecture,  so  it’s  safe  to  say  that they really  appreciate  the  process  of  creating  buildings.  

“We  find  we  get actively involved in the designer’s workflow so that means attending meetings with large groups of consultants in person, to discuss projects.”

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The road to success is paved with deadlines

The pair’s success has been a journey reflected in their customer’s experiences.

“In  our  first  year  of  business  some  of  our  friends  were  shortlisted  to  participate  in  an  international  design competition. The  team was  passionate  about  creating  a  model  that  explained  the  narrative  of  the  buildings, however there was no set brief in this project. It was a journey where we committed to creating something wild and unconventional, with the input of a team that had members all around the world.”

“We  would  be  in  our  workshop,  prototyping  effects  of  the  model,  lighting,  colour  etc,  texting  photos  via WhatsApp. We would exchange photos of sketches, detailed sections of model components much like it was a real  miniature  building.  The  journey  was  intense,  we  worked  day  and  night  for  2­3  weeks  to  produce  what ended  up  being,  one  of  our  favourite  models  and  experiences  to  date.  It was  an  experience  that  placed  us within a team and not just at the end of a service to an industry.”

“The interesting part of this, was the deadline. One of the team members had to fly out of Sydney Airport with the model at 5am. So by 1am we were still  frantically working and we had to enlist the help of friends and family to help glue on the final components in the middle of the night. We literally jumped in the car with the model and drove to Sydney International Airport where the guy was waiting at the airport check in lounge to jump a flight to Europe! Our most intense deadline to date!”

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The biggest challenge

Like many small businesses owners and creatives, establishing pricing for their work has been the hardest part of each job especially as each project they work on is custom made.

“The information we receive from clients always differs in its resolution or standard. So it’s our job to take a 3D model or a set of drawings and to estimate how long the file prep, correspondence, manual labor, projected machine costs and materials costs of a project will be upfront. It’s a tough job trying to get it right all the time!”

Get in touch with Celeste and Nikola at Make Models on their website, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and VSCO

Chloe Potvin
Chloe Potvin is the Online Editor of Kochie's Business Builders.