What started as a passion project sourcing and designing products for his own property development projects has turned into a successful business venture for Swinburne design alum John Terziovski.
“It began with just me, sitting on my own at the dining room table, up late every night. Now I’ve hired three people in the past year,” says John.
John says he has always been a creative person, so choosing to study a Bachelor of Design at Swinburne was an easy decision.
“The Swinburne School of Design had a prestige about it, I enjoyed the range of design disciplines that I was exposed to in the degree. Lots of the industrial, interior and product design classes I took relate heavily to what I do now,” he says.
A highlight of his Swinburne experience was learning from his lecturers who had industry experiences.
“I got a lot of value out of what they taught me and got some really helpful ‘nuggets’ that I’ve grown from.”
After graduating in 2006 and taking a year off to travel (a “must” for design students, according to John), he started applying for jobs in design studios and eventually landed one – which he credits to his Swinburne experience.
“I stood out to the business owner amongst other applications because of the final folio I’d created for my subjects at Swinburne,” says John.
A business idea sparked
While working in the design industry, John kept his foot in property development – something he had been interested in since his early years.
“Even in high school art class, I was always drawing houses,” he says.
As he searched for unique household products for the properties he was developing, a business idea was sparked.
“I thought, ‘with my creative background, if I can’t find what I want locally, I can always design something and send it overseas to get it manufactured.’”
That kicked off two years of late nights researching the market and setting up his business.
“I realised there was a big gap in the market for the type of products I wanted to create by seeing what else was on the market, scanning the competition and seeing what sort of traffic was around for certain key words on Google.”
Passion into profit
Today, John is the founder and director of Zen, which creates bespoke statement architectural products and decor including steel doors, fireplaces and baths. Zen is also expanding into high-end furniture such as natural stone dining and coffee tables and custom designed rugs.
John says the process of going completely out on his own was purposefully slow.
“I didn’t make any sudden jumps with a mortgage, family and other commitments. It’s very difficult to do that unless you’ve already got something going and it looks promising.”
Starting a business also involves a lot of hard work and sacrifice, says John, which is why his biggest piece of advice for budding entrepreneurs is to be passionate about your business.
“Anyone I’ve spoken to about it was like ‘how did you do this?’ The reality is it was a lot of 2am evenings.
“I was doing all this while building two properties and working at the time. I have a family too, so it was a real juggling act…there’s definitely no bingeing Netflix!
“If you’re just in it for the money and then things go wrong, you’re likely to give up on it.
“I’ve always been passionate about the products and I have a lot invested in the products because I design them. You really want them to succeed after everything you’ve put into them.”
John's company Zen creates bespoke statement architectural products and decor including steel doors, fireplaces and baths.
John draws a lot of inspiration for Zen’s products from the automotive industry – particularly the Lamborghini brand.
“I’ve always just loved the shape of them. They emit a certain emotion and they’ve always been super radical.
“Some of my stuff is like that, like if you were to have one of our doors on your house, you’re making a real statement.”
Advice for up-and-coming designers
One of John’s biggest learnings from his time at Swinburne, was not to get hung up on marks or people’s opinions.
“Design is subjective so one person might hate it, another person might love it. Don’t be disheartened by people’s negativity or opinion.
“During uni, if I got feedback I wasn’t happy with, I’d take it to heart. As you get older you realise everyone has an opinion…but it doesn’t necessarily mean that a buyer or person won’t like what you’ve done.”
If your goal is to start a business, John advises starting out in a smaller company.
“Working in a big organisation won’t give you the small business tools down the track. Working in a small studio helped me realise you’ve got customers, and the realities of things like invoicing,” he says.
John also says taking time to travel is a rite of passage, especially for design students.
“Take the time to see some of the world and other cultures, architecture and museums. I think it’s really valuable to open your mind to what’s out there and you might pick up new ideas and bring them back.”