616402D0 AD4A 400E 90AD FE9DE1151215 1 jpeg

A Berliner architect’s guide to building a successful MSP

Hinrich Baller was a successful architect in Berlin. I say “was,” not because he’s dead (he’s very much alive) but because he isn’t architecting anything anymore. Architecting or not, if you run your MSP the way he did his architecting, you’ll also have a long retirement in the lap of luxury while teaching when you feel like it at the Technical University.

Or, you know, whatever drifts your dinghy.

I discovered his strategy in a section of Berlin called The Hackescher Courtyards. It is a series of courtyards built according to a traditional building style; think of renovated old European, and you’re close.

Then through one archway, there is an entrance to the Rose Courtyards, which is funny because there are no roses and only one courtyard. But the name incongruence is a nice segue into the space incongruence, a courtyard designed by Hinrich Ballard.

You pass through the arch and go from old European to pastel colors and balconies with spindly flowy ironwork balconies, light fixtures, and designs. Stick-figure humans populate the designs while wrought vines weave throughout the space. The windows are big, the area is open, the colors are pastel, and only one person could have possibly designed it: Hinrich Baller.


Suzanne, my tour guide ( from Secret Tours Berlin, which I recommend if you make your way to Berlin and happen to speak German), said the magic words that revealed the entire strategy: “If you order a Baller (building), you get a Baller (building).”

He didn’t ask how you’d like your building designed, how you thought it should look, what style you’d think would be nice – he built it his way. He built a very successful firm around his obsession; it even got him that teaching position.

Applying Baller’s thinking to your MSP.

Now, if you run a MSP, this is probably not how you run your MSP. I have personally advised dozens to hundreds of small MSPes and entrepreneurs.

None of them has approached their MSP that way (well, not when we started).

Everyone wants to understand individual customer needs and then build a quote or a project around that. This includes architects, by the way; they all want to understand each customer’s specific needs before crafting a tailored quote.

This reveals lesson 1 from Baller: tailoring your offer is a stupid idea that keeps your MSP small and will ensure you never have free time.

Baller didn’t tailor his quote. You gave him a size, and he told you what you would get.

You order a Baller; you get a Baller. As a result, he was anything but obscure; his brand is well-known, and 100 or so of his buildings are scattered throughout Berlin (and that doesn’t count his private interior renovation work). They are all distinctive and recognizable.

If you want to scale your MSP or have it operate such that you don’t have to spend every waking moment tending to it, you must define your Balleresque style:

  • Identify the problem you solve.
  • Create your unique perspective.
  • Do it over and over.

I am NOT saying that you don’t understand your customer’s needs. Way at the beginning of his career, I’m sure Baller showed a sketch to someone and said, “What do you think.” It was probably a woman. She probably liked it. They probably got married. I digress.

The point is that you understand the concerns and needs once. You find your group (spousal prospects), ask them what they want, show them what you’ve got, improve and enhance it, and then sell it over and over.

Instead of finding people and understanding their problems, you find the people who have the problem you solve.

Now, this does present a problem. There are a lot of people who hate his work.

We all want people to love us and our work. We cringe at any negative mention.

The truth is that one of the best ways to know you are successful is that somebody hates your work. Baller had (has) his fans; they were (are) dedicated and loyal and hired him to build an incongruent courtyard in the middle of a group of traditional courtyards.

And then some think his work is ugly. They hate it.

He built 100 or so buildings in Berlin. That is a lot for an architect. But it is a small fraction of the thousands, probably hundreds of thousands, of buildings that have been built in the city. I can almost guarantee that his fans are far outnumbered by those who are indifferent or dislike his style.

The point is: you don’t have to please everyone. You only have to satisfy a few people. If you run a MSP, 100 customers make up about a $2.5 million a year MSP; for most MSPes, that is a significant bump up. In fact, if you do try to please everybody, you will please nobody, so in the famous words of Bob Newhart: Stop It.

The effect of specialization on price.

There is another advantage to honing your focus.

As Baller became known, he got better at delivering his style. He knew how to make spindly balconies really well. As a result, his cost of making spindly balconies decreased even as the quality increased.

At the same time, his style became more distinctive and less copyable, which meant that supply was limited to what he could produce. Demand was strong (even if it was only amongst his fans), so his price increased.

The same thing happens in any MSP: if you focus on one thing, you get better at it your cost goes down. At the same time, your price can increase because your distinctiveness will attract true fans even as your capacity limits supply.

And not specializing means that you will always be in a price war, work really hard, and live your life for your MSP.

So specialize, gosh darn it…

Everybody initially fights us on specialization. Some specialize and grow their MSP. Others don’t specialize and don’t grow their MSP.

And Hinrich Baller is an excellent example of why: the more specialized you are, the more in control you are. You determine the projects you want to do, how you want to do them, and the price you want to charge.

So, please stop being generic. Stop it.

Similar Posts