Designer Joel Templin will be the featured speaker at the College of Visual Arts annual Leaders of Design program, which kicks off this week with a lecture at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul, Minnesota on Wednesday, September 22. A native of Wisconsin, Templin began his career in Minneapolis, working for Gardner Design and Charles Spencer Anderson Design before moving to San Francisco and finding great success with Templin Brink Design. His current venture, Hatch, blends traditional client service work with entrepreneurial concepts. The first Hatch product launch is a wine brand called JAQK Cellars.

Joel and I discussed Hatch, JAQK Cellars, and the challenges designers face in launching their own business ventures in a recent email exchange.

Merge: You had a lot of success with Templin Brink Design, assembling a client base that many design firms would salivate over, and you appear to be really well positioned to move that success forward with Hatch. So why mess with the client service formula? Why add the new layer of entrepreneurship onto that successful base?

Joel: Yes, I had a great run with T.B.D. but Hatch (and JAQK Cellars) has ended up outperforming, and has catapulted us to a whole new level—totally unexpected but a very happy surprise. Starting out in this industry, my goal was to have my own firm but it was after working in Chuck Anderson’s office and working on the CSA Archive as well as hearing about some of the other product things Chuck tried like the Paramount Pictures product line or his watch line that really inspired me to want to create my own products in addition to client work. I really enjoy the entrepreneurial side of things, love coming up with ideas or other ways to venture out. The clients we’ve worked with over the years have been great and this is something we’ll always do. The only difference over time is that we may end up being even that much more selective in terms of who we decide to work with.

The bottom line is: we love creating things, and with the product development work we can create, AND also have total creative control. What’s happened, and this was not the original intention, is that JAQK Cellars has become one of the best self-promotions ever! The success it’s seeing, the accolades, awards, and exposure is helping Hatch Design. We are busier than we’ve ever been, and this is going back to 1998 when I started T.B.D. We’re also growing, we have doubled in size and at the moment have the most talented group of people I’ve ever had the privilege of working with, an incredible team.

Merge: You appear to have built an entrepreneurial energy into the DNA of Hatch—all the way down to how the creative team actually works on a daily/weekly basis. Can you describe how this works? This seems like it would be challenging, especially when the “real” client work heats up. Has it been difficult to stick to your vision on this?

Joel: Originally when (partner Katie Jain) and I started Hatch three years ago we started it with the idea of a sort of 80/20 split… 80% client work, 20% Hatch work or product work. Everyone we hired at Hatch liked the idea because it was a chance to play and experiment. We named our company Hatch with the idea of being an incubator of ideas, “hatching” our own brands, products, and ideas. You’re correct, it doesn’t exactly work out that way, but that was the goal. The smart thing about trying to do this is that there’s always something to work on whether it’s the client work or filling in the time exploring your own stuff.

Merge: Tell me how the concept for JAQK Cellars came to be. Do you have any background in the wine business?

We had an idea for a wine brand with a big story or concept based on our past experience in the wine industry. We thought we’d start by bottling a couple hundred cases of bulk wine and go from there, start small. What happened was that we had lunch with Craig MacLean, an incredible winemaker in Napa with 26 years experience and one of my first clients back in 1998, told him our idea to see if he thought we were crazy. Instead he said he’d like to be our 3rd partner, and be the winemaker. So all of a sudden it turned into a much bigger thing.

Merge: I talk a lot on Merge about business planning (which can take on many forms), since Hatch is dedicated to launching new ventures, is business planning part of your process (no wrong answer here)? If so, do you have a set process for how this happens, or does it depend on the circumstance?

Joel: It was after that lunch I just mentioned that we started putting together a business plan with the help of someone with an MBA from Wharton in order to go out and raise the capital to get this thing off the ground. It was also during this time that we spent about a month or two focusing on getting it off the ground visually, flushing out the concept, naming the company and wines, etc. In the end we had a business plan and a very tight visual presentation on what this was all about, what it could be.

Things were so tight and buttoned up that we actually raised all the money we needed within a month which is unheard of in the wine business. So, we were off to the races. Instead of launching with 200 cases we launched with 4,800 cases, in eight different varietals.

The wine industry is an extremely expensive venture to get into, the joke being that if you want to make a small fortune you have to start with a large fortune. So this is one that a business plan and model is required, and raising money is a must.

Merge: As you know now, building a consumer product business involves way more than just having a cool brand and amazing package design (although those certainly help), what types of experts from outside the design field have you relied on as you’ve built the early version of JAQK Cellars?

Joel: There’s no way we could have gotten JAQK Cellars off the ground without the help of a wide range of people with specialties in various areas. As I mentioned we had someone with their MBA help with the business plan and first round of fundraising, there were a range of different lawyers with different areas of focus, we had the winemaker of course with 26 years experience, we hired a president when we first started that had helped build some extremely successful wine brands, we had someone help with naming and strategy.

Merge: In its short history, Hatch has developed a reputation for great self-promo pieces. Tell me about your approach to this part of your business.

Our tagline for Hatch is “honest, hands on and human” and most of the fun promotional things we’ve created are very interactive and hands on which might be why people are finding them so interesting. For example when we first launched, we mailed out a Hatch Bird Mobile printed on egg carton material we had. Fast forward to today, 3+ years later, we still get requests to purchase them from people around the world that saw them on various blogs or in annuals. Another self promo that has product potential based on emails are our Easter Egg Color Kits that we design every year. Since we’re called Hatch why not own it and hold an egg color contest every year? The idea is that we design a different custom box every year with all the fixings to color and decorate your eggs. There’s a site for people to upload and judge everyone’s eggs, the winner getting a 24-karat gold plated egg cup trophy.

Merge: I’m guessing that launching JAQK Cellars has been pretty all-consuming, but are there other business concepts in development? How often do you want to be rolling out new ventures?

There are some other ventures we’re considering, once again things that would require a more structured approach, but at the moment the focus is JAQK Cellars and Hatch Design. This fall we’ll be launching a “shop” section on the Hatch site where we’ll be selling some of the promo pieces we’ve created which have been really popular.

JAQK Cellars ended up being a much bigger “hatchling” than expected. The good thing about is that instead of creating a bunch of other brands, there’s room to create and expand under the JAQK Cellars umbrella. Over time the goals for JAQK Cellars include a winery, JAQK Lounges in key cities like NY, Chicago, LA, Miami, JAQK Cellars housewares and other product extensions. Licensing the name out could come into play down the road, we’d want total creative control, so there’s probably a wide range of things that will happen over time.