Sophia Richter ::: strategist ::: brooklyn
The day after a snowstorm, I find myself booking it up Manhattan Avenue. Past Nassau, Meserole, and Noble. Past Kent. Past India & Huron & Dupont until finally, I arrive at 1100 Manhattan Avenue, the edge-of-nowhere address of Milk & Roses, the site of my 50 Coffees chat. My efforts are instantly rewarded: I am both on time (personal win) & now inside a warm, dimly lit cafe with a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf. Ahh, utopia. Moments later, Sophia, purveyor of Hello New York & new strategist at NYCEDC enters.
Sophia’s Richter's name swirled around for a year in my friends’ conversations. We finally met properly at a dinner party and discovered heaps of similarities, mostly related to our balancing act of consulting & design. At the time, we were both working for consulting firms and were anxious to move into the creative sphere. Shortly after our meeting I left for my 4 month romp around South America and we lost touch. Fast forward a year later: Sophia has an exciting new job and (thankfully!) the same amount of side projects.
On Career Transition
Since Sophia had already made the consulting > design jump I am contemplating, I was curious about her thought process during that decision period. First topic? Salary. Consulting is one of the highest paying industries for entry-level employees, so it is to be expected that leaving that industry is synonymous with a pay cut. She confirmed that, but countered that it is not so bad if you prepare yourself by saving as much as possible before the jump & setting expectations about how you will alter your spending habits & lifestyle on a leaner salary. Second topic? People. She admitted that one of her biggest fears was not being challenged by the people around her. Consulting is fast paced & is typically chock full of Type A people -- something not always found in client-side work. But Sophia found that when you remove the high stress environment, people’s performance does not decrease & they are happier! Win win. Third topic? Work. Her new employer is NYCEDC (New York City Economic Development Corporation) and her current focus is redesigning the full public service experience -- from digital to physical. The goal is to leverage visual & experience design to transform places like probation offices into dignified environments that send a message of positivity. Right now, Sophia & her team are determining what public service entities need the most attention by digging up case studies to learn why some projects succeeded while others failed. Ultimately, she says, good design happens when the combination of visuals and content make the message stronger.
The Importance of Side Projects
Like myself, Sophia has many side projects. We both chose fairly analytical day jobs & use extracurricular jobs to feed the creative parts of our brain. Sophia had an epiphany while pursuing a degree in Art History: she couldn’t be happy in the art world. She thought that if she made art her business, it would corrupt her love for it. My epiphany came from a different angle. I realized that while you can teach yourself visual art & design, it’s not quite so easy to teach yourself the fundamentals of business. So, I got a degree in Economics. We both agree that side ventures are wonderful. Sophia’s main project is her blog, Hello New York. The blog consists of tour guides of neighborhoods throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn, with a focus on areas less traveled. When asked why she started the blog, Sophia tells me it’s all about citizenship. If you live in a city & vote there, she says, you should have more than a vague grasp of the political situation and also know its geography. She references an instance where she was visiting friends who attended an Ivy League school but couldn’t even point to Queens on a map. Hello New York is her way of advocating for neighborhoods that are frequently stereotyped.
In order to fairly represent the neighborhoods, she created a set of tenants applied to each guide in order to show a mix of what the neighborhood used to be and what it is trying to be. From a practical standpoint, she starts her research with a cursory review of what Timeout, Yelp, or friends have said about certain neighborhood spots. These are plotted on a Google map to provide a general idea of what streets she needs to hit & where she just wants to wander. The afternoon is spent interacting with shop & restaurant owners, asking questions to learn how long they have been in the neighborhood, how it has changed, what they are trying to achieve through their business, etc. Her experience & conversations are what make up the neighborhood guide she later posts on her blog. I’ve read through many of them. No doubt, Sophia has a knack for giving a full and succinct portrait of an area. Since moving to Greenpoint in January, I’ve referred to her guide multiple times, including to find a spot for this 50 Coffees date !
Like most people with lots of interests, Sophia can’t stick to just one. Another project-in-progress is a partnership with an economist friend. Together they are trying to recreate the Big Mac Index made famous by an article in The Economist. Their twist? Using coffee, not hamburgers as the measure and Brooklyn as the scope instead of the world. The Big Mac index was conceptualized in the 80s and was a cheeky measure of whether currencies were over or undervalued - if a Big Mac is $5. in the US and $2. in China, you can deduce that the Chinese currency is undervalued. Likewise, Sophia says the number of coffee shops directly correlates with the socio economic status of a neighborhood. Simply put, coffee, even in Brooklyn, is a luxury item.
But regardless of Purchasing Power Parity, we definitely enjoyed our cappuccino. And now, some gratuitous photos of the beautiful Milk & Roses.