Adrienne Stolwyk owns Monarch Architecture in Columbia. Her story, part of our Lesson Learned series, has been edited for length and clarity.
I had been working at commercial architecture firms, pretty happily, for about the last 12 years. Throughout that time, I always had some personal architectural interests – small houses, unique sustainable materials – that would call to me, but they were too small and niche for my employer to be interested in.
I was fairly resigned to making slow progress on these pet projects until a chance conversation with Brian Morgan, the owner of a local residential architecture firm. He encouraged me to consider opening a small firm, and thought it could provide more freedom to explore my interests.
Brian’s support was also motivated by his desire to move back to the Seattle area. So he and I decided to work together for a few weeks, transitioning his employees and active projects to my new firm so I could get started and he could more easily head west.
Because I did not think this opportunity to be mentored into business ownership would last long, or come my way ever again, I had to make a quick transition. I purchased computers, insurance, set up my home office and remote working arrangements with the employees. I created a logo and simple website. Brian introduced me to an accountant, contractors, suppliers and other collaborators he had found helpful, which was invaluable.
One of the clients that Brian had been working with did not transition successfully to Monarch Architecture. The client had, I believe, some unrealistic expectations, and communication was difficult, partly related to remote meetings during the pandemic.
Losing that client may have been a blessing in disguise, as it is allowing me the time to volunteer on a design project with my church, the Columbia Friends Meeting, and design a modest, energy-efficient meetinghouse. It has been very satisfying to see this project develop, since it aligns with my values and would have been difficult to do while working for someone else.
I see even more clearly the value of mentorship. I am grateful for the mentorship I’ve received from previous employers, giving me experience in a variety of aspects of project and firm management. I am also very thankful for Brian’s willingness to share his approach to running a business.
I used to think starting a business was dependent totally on one’s hard work, risk tolerance and ability. While these are crucial, I now see that an encouraging role model can play a huge part.