From Passionate 3D Artist To Making $1.2M/Year Designing Optical Illusions
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi I’m Saleh Sokhandan. I’m a designer and the founder of Salso studio.
Salso is a design studio that provides design services. Our primary work expert concentrates on optical illusion. We use optical illusion techniques in decoration, advertising, entertainment, product design, etc.
We are experienced and skilled in performing optical illusion projects. We are doing a variety of works like:
- designing billboards for advertising projects.
- arranging different and creative layouts for commercial events.
- building structures for shop showcases.
- making fantastic videos for TV commercials.
Based on the capability we have, our target customers are so diverse. We have same time private individual client and a big commercial company as a client. in short, I can sort some of our clients into these categories:
- Advertising agencies for advertising campaigns and events
- Big company for their events and decoration
- The private person for artworks and decoration
- investors to build big projects like theme-parks and museum
My main team has just seven members. But for projects, we work with up to 50 contractors and artists.
In the past year, we worked on different projects. A couple of big projects and about five small projects in a year became a routine. Our revenue for this amount of work is in the range of 400k dollars per year.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I started my design journey in 2010. I learned sketching, designing, and 3D drawings and started my work with 3D drawings. I first started freelance work and after three years I created Salso studio.
People often know studios by designer’s name and profession. So, the more personally I developed my abilities and got better known, the more studios became known too.
When we speak about designing a studio, we should mention a core value that is based on specific knowledge. So, when you want to start a studio, you should have the specific value and skill to offer. Our specific value is 3D designing and optical illusions techniques.
It is important that, even if you work slowly, work continuously and don’t interrupt in any case. All your hard work will go down the pan.
One of the most important aspects that distinguish our studio from other studios is that we can produce creative theme parks and museums; we provide a series of services that represent projects. From interior design to viewing scenarios, content, and optical illusion techniques.
Although optical illusion is our primary expert but to have a better result, we also gain knowledge and experience in other fields like interior design.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
I started my work as a freelancer. I made logos to make money, I designed websites and I did other graphic works. At that time, I still could not make money from my new skills like 3D design.
In the first years I sometimes even did a series of free projects to be my work samples. I remember one day I bought some colored plaster and went and painted 3D art in a park.
I worked for more than seven hours even though the painting disappeared the next day but people were so excited when they saw it. Although I didn’t receive any income from this work, I was very motivated because I saw people’s happiness and realized that the audience loves my work. And then I showed positive feedback to the employers I wanted to work with.
I like some of my first 3D drawing projects and am still proud of them. For example, painting an aquarium on both sides of a corridor, or painting in a park.
I was one of the first artists to bring optical illusion techniques into the digital world and print 3D drawings and sell them as stickers.
One of the advantages of these stickers was that they could be seen before printing and they could also be installed on any surface. Another advantage was I hadn’t any major competitors at that time. Due to the lack of major competitors, I grew rapidly.
Another reason for my rapid success was I covered a wide variety of jobs in this field. I had skills in different areas so it made my work more special.
Gradually, I used these techniques in a lot of advertising projects and did a lot of work based on creativity and these techniques. Very interesting things happened after that.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Optical illusion ideas first appeared in my mind based on my skills in 3D paintings. I was asked to draw signs on the walls of parking and I suggested using optical illusion techniques to make signs more interesting. Because I didn’t have much experience, I offered a low price to get the project.
I finally got that project and after that, I started experiencing different techniques. I spent two years learning and didn’t have much income. At that time, I reduced the number of my graphic projects and little by little I no longer had any income from graphic projects.
When we started our professional projects related to optical illusion techniques, we had an upward growth. Projects didn’t have an initial cost since the material’s money was taken from the customers. After that, the income got better but after five years, we achieved a good income.
Before our first experience in building a theme park, we did a series of small projects, around seven projects in a year. But after that, we have done big projects with more sub-sections.
Little by little, I entered this field and gained new experiences. I got my first big project in 2013 (its image is below) and I got a successful result. This was the prelude to finding optical illusion mystery. This work had a package of my interests. Why? Because it:
- requires an engineering mindset.
- needs handwork and also technical work at the same time
- needs problem-solving skills.
At that time, doing optical illusion techniques was new and creative, so we became famous.
It was my first project. In this project, the client's goal was to design seven traffic signs for a complex car parking. these artworks have their specific viewing angle to see by drivers.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
One thing that I care about it a lot is keeping customer’s satisfaction in different aspects, like:
- Quality: I always concentrate on the quality I offer to be even better than my contracts. And that’s how I gained customers’ trust.
- Step by step accompaniment: customers needed to know that I’m next to them. Always thinking to work cost-effectively. That’s why I have customers who trust me very much and give me responsibilities to make big decisions. And I also have a close friendship with many of my previous customers.
We have no specific marketing team. I bound up a small team to document and create good content for our social media and website.
My strategy for SALSO Design is working on organic growth. This method works great at my early stage of working. I was trying hard to create artwork and content. It was just for presenting on social media of myself.
Besides this strategy, I am working on personal branding continuously.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Today I'm obsessed with doing international projects. This idea came to my mind after the project I had done in London.
These days I'm negotiating for projects in different countries like Germany, Croatia, America, Georgia, etc. Requests are varied - some customers want to buy 3D products, and others request to build amusement theme parks. I'm also working on my website to be international.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Say no to work suspension!
One of the biggest lessons I learned was that even one week of work suspension will equal a loss of six months or one year of hard work. This point matters because a large number of connections, actions, and results of your jobs will be wasted. It is important that, even if you work slowly, work continuously and don’t interrupt in any case. All your hard work will go down the pan.
Say no to some projects!
When you work as an artist, you want to design and manufacture in a way that people will like and admire. Which path you choose and luck are also important factors. Not all matters are quality and money. Movement sequences also matter. Choosing between different projects is hard and also important because it will affect your future projects.
Choosing which projects you shouldn’t do is more important than choosing which ones you should do.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Facebook: Before the popularity of Instagram, I used this network. It made the audience know me. But it didn't help my growth as much as Instagram.
Instagram: Instagram played a significant role in my success. On Instagram, people introduced me to each other. I was also constantly trying to generate content for Instagram, which showed me more on the Explore page.
In B2B business it is very important to provide documentation of past works.
In my early years, I was responsible for everything so I couldn’t manage social networks, websites, and work at the same time. I didn’t act well in advertising.
One of the reasons that made my audience familiar with me was the power of Instagram. In 2014 Instagram became more famous and I used it to show my art. Before Instagram, I was using Facebook, but Instagram helped my work to be seen by a lot of people and employers.
Website: Having a website plays a significant role in building trust between you and your audience because you can refer your work to it.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I liked the Ted Talk podcasts because they increased my motivation to work hard and get what I desire to achieve, and I always followed them early in my career.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Entrepreneurship is not a goal, it is a path.
I don’t think much about entrepreneurship. I suggest to others don’t think about it too much too.
Because it will shape like a goal, and when something looks like a goal after achieving it will get monotonous to continue.
In the way of being an entrepreneur, you are not going to achieve something special and then put a checkmark.
I worked in the field that I loved to do, and for doing things that I love I should do some things that I don’t. I should always try to create conditions in which I can do what I love.
For example, I like designing and manufacturing, but I don’t like managing and accounting.
Another point that is important and I suggest to everyone is to have persistence.
I got my first project by persistence and presenting myself to people I didn’t know. There was a section in the municipality that was responsible for urban beautification. I went there without any past experiences on my resume. I didn't have an education in art. I didn’t participate in art galleries, the only thing that caused them to trust me was my knowledge and persistence.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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