Words by Jess Mackay
When Adelaidian designer Lorenzo Princi first thought of establishing his own volume of concrete poetry and interviews with inspiring creatives, it was a conversation over a cup of coffee with Tania Debono – creator of typographical sensation The Writing – that first lit his own entrepreneurial spark.
His publication Caffeine & Concrete, now available in its first collection of volumes 1-5, aims to celebrate the passion and commitment it takes to 'build a lifestyle rather than [a] career and [people] that do what they do because it’s part of them, it’s not their job.’
StartUp Creative wanted to discover for ourselves, what motivates Lorenzo to share the stories of people who are succeeding in extraordinary ways.
How did you come up with the idea of combining typography and poetry with interviews of young creatives?
This came in stages, after a conversation with Tania Debono and hearing about The Writing which she created, it inspired me to dust off some old poems and start playing around with the concrete layouts. It just sort of fell into place with the idea of interviewing people. I could use quotes instead as a means to create the accompanying typographic imagery and put my own twist on it all.
What were your very first steps to making the magazine a reality?
I preach lean and agile product development at work (as a user experience designer) and I use the same approach with my personal projects.
Taking this approach, I did a heap of little tests with the printing side of things to figured out how it would all work and I produced test content for volume one; basically an interview with myself about the process of creating the concrete poems. Even though it’s a bit presumptuous, it was an important step.
Next, I turned to my good friend Luke Yates, who I knew had a fantastic entrepreneurial story to tell and asked him whether he’d like to be interviewed. Had he said no, the whole thing might’ve stopped then and there, but ever supportive, he said yes without knowing what was going to come of it. We spent a night in his studio surrounded by wargaming miniatures which he paints on commission and chatted, took photos and had a good time creating the content for what I consider the first real volume.
Biggest fear or obstacle that you’ve overcome in your business so far?
Putting my poetry out there was a bit frightening. Overcoming that was probably aided by the visual nature of the poems, if I was just posting written poems, they may resonate differently and probably would’ve been more difficult.
The biggest challenge was approaching people, especially at the start because I was asking for people’s time and I didn’t have much to show them in terms of what they’d get out of it. That’s been overcome now as there are completed volumes out there that I can use to showcase. It gives people clarity on what they are getting into.
What are some essential elements in your creative process?
Running! I started running about 4 years ago and now run 5 or 6 times a week and clock around the 200km per month. In that time, my creative output and creativity have increased, my career as a designer has improved and I’m all round happier and healthier.
In terms of process, I think the key is not to think about execution as much as concept, you need to have an idea and always set some parameters, the most creative things come out of having some constraints.
You have on board a team of passionate creatives – has this helped bring your magazine to an even bigger audience than you first imagined?
I can’t thank Luke, Cinzia (my mum) and Emily enough for putting all the words though a fine tooth comb for each Volume. It's critical because I want to put the best quality I can in front of readers and I couldn’t do it without these guys.
The biggest surprise for me on this front was when Blurb, who provide the printing and distribution service also approached me and asked whether they could use Caffeine & Concrete as an example of what their service can produce for sales pitches. That was mind-blowing! There are so many talented people producing great stuff through them, so to hear that their design and marketing team enjoy what I’m doing, it’s really, really cool.
How do you discover people who inspire you?
I think we often we see success as something out of reach, “to be admired from afar”, to paraphrase a comment a friend of mine made recently. It’s something I’ve noticed, even in myself, that if someone close to us is doing something great, we might be proud of them, but if it’s someone we didn’t know, we might consider it more valid.
It’s a little sad, so I have really made a conscience effort to acknowledge and ask people I know first to be a part of Caffeine & Concrete and share their stories. Things are branching out from there and it’s becoming a bit of a network that way and as I do more and more volumes though, I can extend the degrees of separation.
What was the most difficult part of shaping a brand or a product that reflects your own personality and interests?
It’s interesting because poetry and letting other people talk are probably not the first things people would point to if you asked them to describe me. So, it’s almost a bit of self development for me and trying to project what I’d rather people saw in me. It’s difficult but I’m trying and something that has come out of leadership coaching I’m doing through work with Ivan Gavran (who I interviewed for Volume 7).
As far as the Caffeine & Concrete brand, I’m refining things all the time, it’s got a few parts to it with the poetry, magazines and interviews so I’m starting to really take care in how I’m presenting it and what I use different social media channels for to keep a coherent narrative going. Visually it’s been pretty much how I wanted it from the start but evolves in that respect too.
Caffeine & Concrete is currently non-profit; do you have any plans to expand your publication in the future?
For now I’m enjoying it and really just focused on getting the stories out there and building a community. I’m not worrying about money as the only real expense is my time.
With self-publishing and on-demand services, there’s not a lot of outlay, however it also means individual printed copies aren’t cheap. So I don’t want to make it more expensive for people who are willing to buy by adding a profit margin.
As far as expansion goes, I am experimenting with collected editions at the moment. They are a more economical product which feature five interviews in one 100 page magazine. So every five volumes released would be followed by a collection. Similar to how comic books releases work.
After that, I’ll try something else, perhaps a cheaper digital format. We’ll see where things go, it’s an evolutionary process.
What has been your biggest learning curve from managing your own publication?
I’ve had some experience working on a magazine commercially so understood the technical work involved and self-publishing services like Blurb make it easier in a lot of ways.
The biggest learning curve has come around the writing side of things. Especially around learning the appropriate way of transcribing spoken words to keep the person’s voice intact but also being respectful. It’s a challenge but it’s kind of therapeutic too, so I enjoy it.
How do you go about making your content stand out or be unique when compared to similar projects?
Aside from the typography, my approach stems from something a teacher of mine said to me once, that so much wisdom is lost in everyday conversation. So I try to elicit responses through conversation where people can explain what led to big decisions like spending a year hiking all over the world and leaving a senior role at a large corporation.
By allowing people to elaborate on how they shaped their lifestyle and the challenges they faced I find a lot of gems came out that perhaps wouldn’t if they were overly considering written responses or it they were asked about the outcomes rather than the process.
Best piece of advice you have received, given or taken from someone you have interviewed that has inspired you to continue your own venture?
There are some great ones in each volume but I leave this one for young people thinking about starting up their own business from Luke Yates which always puts a smile on my face. Luke started his miniature commission painting company after leaving a very prominent position in insurance, taking a big financial risk, yet looking back at how many different experiences he’s had since making the change, he reflects, “No one asked me to be in a video clip when I was sitting behind a desk in insurance.”