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Figuring it Out: Self-Directed Learning in a Lean Startup Setting

The true story of three engineers bucking the trend of traditional learning to grow a $2.1 million business in less than two years


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In today’s business environment, maintaining and developing new skills is vitally important – both for individuals competing for jobs and companies looking to competitively secure client work and grow their footprint. As leaders and managers, we have to motivate our people to come up with workable solutions every day. There’s no owner's manual for most jobs, but just how do we pick up new skills in the modern working world?

FlowState Marketing was born from Belong Designs, an apparel and lifestyle brand that incited customers to "Follow your passion, do what you love, find where you belong." The motto originated from all three founders agreeing to pursue a life built on passion, and after considering their options they settled on athleisure wear.

Applying their backgrounds in mechanical engineering, they created a soft, durable fabric with the ability to sublimate prints onto cotton. Sweat resistant and wrinkle free, the fabric began garnering attention – and other companies wanted their logo placed prominently on the designs.

To avoid the conflict of branding for Belong these opportunities represented, FlowState Marketing launched in early 2016, as a digital and apparel marketing agency. The team is comprised of non-traditional learners who co-exist in a culture of transparency, which encourages personal development and growth.

FlowState’s accelerated growth is largely attributed to an ‘If we don’t know how – we’ll find out,” mentality. For Breckenridge Brewery, the brand proved they could deliver cotton twill puffy vests in less than 20 days.

Delivering quality work beyond the scope of what what’s expected is essential to group of creatives, marketers and project managers at FlowState. It’s easy to understand the dynamic at the rapidly scaling company by looking at the individual team members.

Take Katie Kermashek: Her schooling was in entrepreneurship and small business management, and she was adamant that find herself in a creative environment. Her role as production manager requires a considerable level of design work, as such she considers the design team her greatest learning resource. She also avidly follows design blogs that offer tips and inspiration.

Similarly, lead web developer Harry Borrelli went to school for graphic design where he was introduced to foundational design, HTML and CSS. From there, he pursued coding, taking a few online courses, but heavily relying on videos and tutorials to progress his learning, before applying those skills and taking on paid client work.

There are many rewards to reap from a workplace led by self-directed learners. Time out of the office is not required for formal training and learning can happen. It turns out, it can be a cost-effective approach to employee development.

Further, “self-directed learning is rooted in the application of skills: thinking skills, research skills, self-management skills, social skills and communication skills”.

Independent growth opportunities in the workplace foster an interested, disciplined, confident and satisfied team.

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