For June 2020 spotlight, we are extremely happy and proud to be featuring Paul Rowan. Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, Paul developed his understanding of technology and design while mixing paint and fixing windows in his father’s hardware store. It was here that the seeds were sown for his future calling.
He graduated from George Brown College in 1974 in Graphic Design and upon graduating moved to Ottawa to work in one of the world’s first digital typography companies. While settling into his new digs he was frustrated while trying to find a window treatment suited his practical and aesthetic needs. Motivated by this design challenge, Rowan solved the problem by designing his own window treatment, a printed-paper window shade. He presented childhood friend and entrepreneur Les Mandelbaum with the shade idea and Umbra (‘shade’ in Latin) was born.
As VP of Design at Umbra, Paul oversaw the efforts to create purposeful, intelligently designed products that people want. He has created innumerable successful designs while managing diverse internal and external design teams. Umbra produced a prolific flow of award-winning product under Paul’s visionary leadership, always staying true to the Umbra mantra: Design products that provide style, function and affordability for every room in the home. He is considered one of the founders of the “democratization of design” with his creations accepted to permanent collections of renowned museums.
What made you want to become an entrepreneur?
When I first started my business, entrepreneur wasn’t a popular term. The goal was ” just get it done”. That entailed wearing as many hats as I had to. Even at a very young age, early successes gave me a taste for the feeling I got with early accomplishments. Reward drove me to be less afraid of taking risks and overcoming failure. There is a deep sense of fulfillment when a project is conceived and successfully executed. So it’s not just the reward but the act of fully committing oneself to an idea and seeing it realized that creates the rush I call entrepreneurship.
Why did you create your business?
I gained experience working as an employee for a start-up business but always had the urge to have ownership. The first important product for Umbra was designed and created out of necessity for my own apartment. Having a personal need to solve is always a good method for developing new ideas. Who understands your problems better than yourself?
What successes have you enjoyed so far with building your company?
Umbra grew to be a global brand with distribution to over 70 countries and over 500 employees. We showed that good design didn’t have to be expensive and became a model for designers and entrepreneurs to create more purposeful products. I have coached and mentored hundreds of creative people in their careers. I consider that to be one of my biggest successes.
What is one piece of advice you would give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Entrepreneurs today are faced with more challenges than I faced when starting out. There is a ubiquity of good product design and services available today that didn’t exist in 1980. Therefore the competition today is fierce and the chance of failure high. Entrepreneurs must have PURPOSE embedded in their projects. PURPOSE will differentiate you from your competitors, attract dedicated employees and like-minded customers. PURPOSE will keep you focused on your goals and will give you a better chance for success.
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