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Taylor Record
December 20, 2017

Where Art & Entrepreneurship Meet: An Interview with Elizaveta Barsegova

While at first you might not think that becoming an entrepreneur and a ceramic atelier have much in common, Elizaveta Barsegova will prove you wrong. Once on our team at betahaus, Elizaveta now works as a creative designer and as the founder of brsg Keramik. We asked her to share her experiences with perfectionism, failure, and accepting criticism, both from the perspective of an artist and a young entrepreneur.

A few years after being a part of the betahaus team and directing the annual People in Beta festival and Open Design City, Elizaveta Barsegova is now getting the best of both worlds: working as an artist and leading her own company. She is founder and creative director at brsg Keramik — a new ceramic design laboratory based in Berlin where plates, jewelry, sculptures and art of all kinds are made. Here are her thoughts on what startups can learn from artists.

Hi, Elizaveta! Can you tell us a little bit more about your artistic background and how that led you to create brsg Keramik?

"I mean, I did a few jobs (artist assistant, curator, etc.) if we are talking about professional background, but I actually do my best to dismiss this term and not separate my professional and personal life anymore. I prefer living just one single life, and I have been painting, sculpting and writing poetry for as long as I can remember! Ceramics were a lucky catch — I stumbled upon them by absolute accident. A friend asked if I would like to take her place in a ceramic course while she was in Paris for a month, and that was that. From that day on, I knew in one way or another, it was going to be a life-long relationship. A ceramic brand was just a way to coin it. In full honesty, the reason why it's called 'brsg Keramik' and not 'Elizaveta Barsegova, ceramic artist' is because I didn't trust myself. I was afraid I'd fuck it up and the misery of failure would be forever attached to my name. By now, I know you can't really fail, but back then I didn't. That was what I was most scared of!"

‍Nailya Bikmurzina

What do you find to be the connection between the worlds of art and entrepreuership?

"Being an artist is actually quite similar to being an entrepreneur. In both cases, it's all about you deciding to choose and create your own path. At some point, I realized that it’s unimportant if I call myself an artist, a designer, or a founder. It’s most probably a combination of all 3, plus more and none of the above. The only thing that actually matters is that I’m content with who I am and what I do. In Russian we have a saying "Call me a pot, just don’t put me into a stove." I believe the artistic and startup worlds have a lot to learn from each other."

 At some point, I realized that it’s unimportant if I call myself an artist, a designer, or a founder.

What did you learn from being an artist, that you’ve been able to implement into OWNING YOUR OWN BUSINESS?

"[As an artist] I learned to let 'me do me' instead of 'being professional.' Creative process is bound to go wrong unless you are allowing yourself to do it fully and ultimately 'your way' regardless of how things are supposed to be done. And this mindset is a great thing to bring into any other field of work. It actually has the potential to turn any process — be it writing an email or delegating work to your team or crafting a jewelry piece — into a creative process. 

Of course, there are some exceptions to this 'the type of work' vs 'the type of you' rule. That's why I hired an accountant."

Photo by: Nailya Bikmurzina
Of course, there are some exceptions to this 'the type of work' vs 'the type of you' rule. That's why I hired an accountant."

What about the other way around? What did you learn DURING YOUR STARTUP DAYS that helped you in the design world?

"Feedback rounds were always so important in my startup days, but they're so much harder to go through as an artist. Creative work is so crucially personal that it takes a true effort to say 'let me know if you like me, and let me know if you don't.' But here's where my startup roots kick in. I don’t see feedback as a misery of artistic compromise. I truly embrace it as a collaboration with my audience. It is actually so beautiful to truly hear your customers, see what they want, then create with an open ear for feedback.

I hear my customers, but they don't give me solutions. They give me challenges. And I love challenges!  Henry Ford thought along these lines. If he had asked people, what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.

It is actually so beautiful to truly hear your customers, see what they want, then create with an open ear for feedback. 

Perhaps I should add that even though everyone’s opinion matters, I get to choose my audience just like they choose me. There are a lot of people who's opinion I respectfully disregard."

Let’s talk about perfectionism, one of the biggest obstacles to PURSUING your own project. How do you Work with this?

"Perhaps, one day I'll shake hands with the big brother who defined the term "flawless" for us all, just to put a bit of pressure into our mornings. Until then, here's my truth: flawlessness is in the eye of the beholder. Everything you make —be it a pot or a marketing campaign —reflects who you are. Just do your best and trust yourself. The rest is useless pressure. My work doesn’t need to be flawless. I don't need to be flawless. I’d much rather have both, being flawlessly imperfect."

You mentioned that being an artist is intensely personal and that you’re marketing yourself as much as your work. How do you think startups can better bring this level of personalization into their branding?

"Startup founders have a tendency to present themselves in comparison to industry colleagues — something like 'we are the new Facebook.' What I appreciate about the design world is that the introduction is on the side of 'Hi, this is me, here's how I would describe myself.' This is perfectly applicable to any project or startup. I know it's not always easy to find the right words to describe how an apple tastes, but it's better to go through the challenge than to say that it's 'the new pear.'"

Photo by: Nailya Bikmurzina

You also have a very positive attitude towards failure. Can you tell us more about how you confront Failure yourself?

"Oh, it's so beautifully startup-y to say 'I didn't fail, I made a successful test run.' I love it! It is just so ultimately true with regard to anything in life. This is certainly a piece of startup mentality I took with me to a ceramic atelier. But to know if you failed or succeeded in your test run, you have to both allow yourself to see the work you made as a potential test and take a step back to look the results in the eye. 

But to know if you failed or succeeded in your test run, you have to both allow yourself to see the work you make as a potential test and take a step back to look the results in the eye. 

This might be very hard to do for an artist. Creative work is such a beautiful ocean, that it takes endless efforts to come up for some air and look back. Every now and again, my startup friends remind me (and each other) how important it is to do just that. The deeper you dare to dive, the more important it actually becomes to breathe. Breathe. It's useful!"

Perhaps more scary than failure is what to do when your wild idea actually starts to work. What’s one lesson you’d like to share with startups to help them stay close to their original mission when they start to become successful?

"Don't let your dreams and visions rush you. You can take your time. It's yours to take. I basically started scaling up projects with respect to dimension of my team and my own human capacity and current desire. That is why brsg Keramik courses are currently fitting into a shared atelier. And instead of opening a Ceramic Design School right now, I'm going for a 4-month ceramic research trip. I think it will be easier for all of us to be happy if our original mission remain important with regard to our lives and our businesses. You are still the one making your business successful. If you honestly love what you´re working on, the better off your are, and the better off your business will be."

Left taken by brsg Student, Right taken by Nailya Bikmurzina

Thanks to Elizaveta for taking the time to chat with us! Check out the brsg website if you're interested in pottery workshops, ceramic jewelry, or want to learn more about her artist mentality. Did you find this post interesting? Learn more about our community.

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