Gabriel Munnich is a passionate designer, inventor, and programmer. He is constantly tinkering and coming up with new ideas, developing new technology to improve how he does things. He has been working in the architecture and engineering fields for over ten years.
Where did the idea for Design with FRANK come from?
As designers, we only get to work for a few of the wealthiest people or institutions, and there are often several layers between what we do and the end-users. It is because designing takes time and arguably because the current design tools are pretty hard to use. These tools require the designer to be conscious of several technical building aspects as they design. Therefore, we became interested in creating design tools that could incorporate design intelligence into them. More importantly, we want to transform the architectural practice to make good design accessible to most people by empowering end-users.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I usually begin around 8 am by answering clients’ emails and inquiries; then, I set the morning goals with our small team through slack and in person. We also have interviews with prospective hires. I then go on to solve some technical issues that we are facing, either coding or architecture-related. Then we cook and have lunch together around 1 pm. We often have clients and investors meetings in the afternoon punctuated by internal exchanges. Around 7 pm, I am alone again, and I can learn and set up new things for a couple of hours before ending the day around 9 pm to 11 pm.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Whether in software or architecture, we iterate a lot by first putting a lousy version down that clearly shows the challenges and the flaws. There are usually several issues, so we try to approach the problems in different sequences and end up with 5-10 better versions of the design or prototype. Then we merge the versions when possible and end up improving and iterating over one version. For example, in our software development, we are trying to find the right balance between design freedom and simplicity; therefore, we are currently developing several versions of our software concurrently. One of our prototypes is presently online and emphasizes simplicity, but we are also developing another prototype that focuses on design freedom. Eventually, these prototypes will merge, but first, we will have learned by pursuing them separately.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I am very excited by 3d printing and digital fabrication; in fact, I designed and built several novel machines at school and after it. The latest machine that I invented with my partners, Instant Lounge, is a room-size cable printing machine that stacks a large cotton tube filled with cherry pits to produce seating arrangements on demand. When the seating arrangements are no longer needed, the device rewinds the cotton rope and stack it into a different shape elsewhere. So I guess that falls in the category of smart city and responsive digital fabrication trends.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I don’t take anything for granted, and I always question and re-question things. That may sound counter-productive at first, but it is a time saver in my opinion because it is relatively easy to go down the wrong path with false assumptions which are sometimes hidden. It is also a way to identify what is known and unknown, which is not always obvious. I’m not sure that it is the traits people around me prefer, though.
What advice would you give your younger self?
If I had been aware of the world of coding and tinkering much earlier, I would have been a different person. I was a lousy student at school and performed pretty poorly with learning rules and memorizing information. In college, when my learning became about problem-solving and designing, I became excellent. I had no more problems learning about anything since it served a valuable and exciting purpose. So I would have taken more out of my early learning years by tinkering as part of my curriculum.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Although schooled education is a privilege, it is crucial to rebel against it to gain autonomy and define things to oppose. What I think was most successful about my college education was that I was fully autonomous in my learning and research by the time I graduated and was spending most of my time doing things out of school.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I am trying to become better and better at changing directions. Developing a product takes a ton of time and sometimes takes more time than one can afford. To get a sense of how much time is needed, we often have to develop part of the product. And it can be challenging to spend weeks on a prototype only to realize that it should be abandoned or downsized drastically. So I think that one of my struggles is to learn to detach myself from these prototypes and developments and have the flexibility to drop them early enough when needed.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
We started caring about having users and customers. There is always this temptation to spend a very long time creating this great product and only then go to market. And that is what we had in mind three years ago because having just one customer feels close to having zero. Intuitively, we were tempted to develop a product until it could hypothetically serve people at a massive scale. Having a lousy product online got us to meet users and learn about their struggles, and I think that this is the right way to develop our product.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I spent months training deep learning models for a previous startup idea, “bower bird.” It was exciting and satisfying to automate image processing, but we were far from having a market idea, so we eventually had to drop it. Now I always try to resist going for the complex research problem and focus on shorter business-related objectives.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
A multi-material 3D printer that prints reinforced concrete and gypsum on-site and doesn’t just make domes.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
The clay cooking pot is my most exciting $20 recent acquisition. Its thermal mass allows it to steam rice and anything by turning the stove on for only 5 minutes!
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I like AWS a lot; it has very powerful out-of-the-box tools and services for putting things on the internet. For instance, we don’t need to manage the servers that deliver the content of our website; we simply use AWS Cloudfront, which automatically caches our content worldwide in as many geographic locations as needed to deliver it super fast. That’s great because otherwise, we would need to invest more time in these technical aspects rather than our product.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I love the Fictions of Borges, especially the Library of Babel. It’s pretty famous, but if you haven’t read it, you may enjoy it. What is great about it is that it constructs an architecturally sound yet fictitious world around the concepts of randomness and infinity. It is a beautiful, highly logical, and optimized narrative construction that I envy.
What is your favorite quote?
“Put that aside for a minute” – Chloe Fan, my co-founder. It is usually how my best arguments get defeated, and it is a pretty effective way to detach oneself from their present.
A good design should be accessible to everyone
Doing clumsy prototypes helps to get things started
It’s important not to get too attached to ideas
Self-learning is key