Conversation with Love Wildlife founder Nancy Lynne Gibson Part I

Nancy Lynne Gibson is is a good friend of mine who started an amazing non-profit organization in Thailand — Love Wildlife Foundation. The mission of the non-profit foundation is to educate the younger generation about the importance of wildlife conservation and work towards keeping wild-born animals free in their natural habitat. 

She was kind enough to spare me some time to have a conversation with her. 

Mickey: How did Love Wildlife Foundation came about? Was it something you always wanted to do? Was it out of a dare? [laughter]

Nancy: Yeah, I dare you to do this [laughter].

Mickey: You studied Medicine so how did that evolve to become Love Wildlife Foundation?

Nancy: I was studying Medicine at first. Then, ding! I didn’t want to do it anymore. At that time, I was taking herpetology and behavioral ecology and I found that’s what I really liked. Afterwards, I did an internship at the Rosamond lion breeding compound. I was supposed to intern for about three months but I ended up staying there for about a year. I just couldn’t tear myself away. Then, The Animal Guys, who were also graduates of CSU Northridge, came to talk to us and we got to learn about them and I thought what they were doing was really cool.  I applied to work with them and then started teaching wildlife biology with The Animal Guys. I just submerged myself in learning about animals and I wanted to do something similar to The Animal Guys, but maybe not in the same area code. Then, I came to Thailand thinking that I’ll get more experience here and then I’ll go back and do this in the US. I picked the Love Wildlife name already before I even moved here. I didn’t know what I was going to do with it but I knew that I wanted the name. Then, I ended up staying in Thailand. 

Mickey: [laughter] This seems to be your story so far. You were supposed to stay for three months, you stayed for a year. You were supposed to stay for a short while and now it’s been eleven years. 

Nancy: [laughter] Yeah, part of it was that I was interning with the zoos here, the Dusit Zoo (สวนสัตว์ดุสิต) and the Chiang Mai Zoo (สวนสัตว์เชียงใหม่). When I was at Dusit Zoo, someone came in on a motorbike with a slow loris and said that he found the creature on the tree, near his house, and so he brought the animal over to the zoo. The vets were like, “There’s no way he found her in the tree. Her teeth has already been cut. She was definitely a pet.” At that time, I was helping the Dusit Zoo with the education program and the vets told me to take her home and see if we can work with her. If it didn’t work, I can bring her back to the zoo. So, I took the slow loris home and look for information about how to care for her but I could barely find anything. The only thing I could find was one little manual and it wasn’t even on that specific species! It was a different species — a slender loris which didn’t even live here. The slow loris had so many problems with her teeth and I just discovered a whole lot about the animal itself and then decided that Thailand was where I needed to do this the most because there are so many wild animals here that people don’t know about. That’s why I decided to start Love Wildlife and that’s why our logo is a slow loris. 

Mickey: How long did it take from your arrival in Thailand to start this foundation?

Nancy: It took some time. I’ve been here 11 years. Love Wildlife is five and a half years old. 

Mickey: About half the time.

Nancy: Yeah, but I started it as a project before. In 2008, we were at first a project under another organization. We were able to legally work, do things, and have credibility. About a year later, in 2009, I decided to put it together and set it up as a foundation. 

Mickey: Did you have mentors or you just read up and then plunged into this?

Nancy: Sort of plunged into it. Non-profit world in Thailand is a little bit different from the US. Most of the stuff I researched pertained to the US because I wanted to set it up there, get funding from the US, and use the fundings here in Thailand but that proved to be a lot harder than I thought. Nobody wanted to take on that burden. I spoke to non-profit lawyers and they said that without a physical presence, you can’t get things done. That’s why we ended up doing it here in Thailand and I ended up asking friends with legal backgrounds in non-profits to help us through the process. 

Mickey: The mentors then are mostly lawyers? 

Nancy: Lawyers and other conservationists at the zoos. Actually, I just experimented with a bunch of methods. When I first set up Love Wildlife, I didn’t really know what we were doing either. People asked me, “What do you do at Love Wildlife?” and I’m like, “I don’t know.” [laughter] 

Mickey: You were just finding your way or mission.

Nancy: Yeah, the mission and the niche. We always had the mission but people still needed more explanation of what’s going on. 

Mickey: You read up on setting up in the US. How different is it between setting up in the US and in Thailand? Is it easier? More difficult?

Nancy:  They’re both difficult. I think in the US, it’s easy to set up as a non-profit. You can do it on your own. You don’t need lawyers. That might be because I’m American and I’m fluent in English. But here, in Thailand, especially in the beginning, I couldn’t read or write Thai at all. I can speak Thai but when I had to go through documents and writethings down, there was just no way I could do it. We had to use attorneys. Even if I could read Thai, I don't think it’s an easy process for someone to do on their own. All the organizations I know of have used lawyers to do it. It’s just way too much to try to do it yourself. The tax-exempt status is also difficult here. They changed the laws recently. Before, you had to be established for 3-5 years and then you had to send them all these documents before you can actually get it. Now, you don’t have to wait that long but it’s still a big hassle to get all the documents prepare for them to evaluate and you have to justify everything. If you fail it, you'll never ever be able to apply for it again. 

Mickey: Oh wow. That’s serious. 

Nancy: Yeah. So, if they think that you don’t have all of your documents in order yet, they'll tell you to not do it that year. You’ll have to come back next year. Otherwise, you won’t get to do this anymore. 

Mickey: At least they give you a warning. Better than they take the documents and tell you too bad.

Nancy: I’ve been doing the accounting myself in English but for the evaluations, it needs to all be in Thai. They don’t understand a lot of English words that is being used and a lot of it has to be translated. I’m hiring an accountant from now on. I can’t do this anymore!

Mickey: Speaking of accounting, how difficult was it to find funding in the beginning? I imagined it was difficult because it was difficult to set up as a non-profit but was it easy because there were a lot of people passionate about your mission?

Nancy: It was a struggle. Thai people like to give money, but they like to give money during an emergency or to big organizations that they're familiar with. These big organizations have people out there actively showing what they’re doing, trying to get your credit card information, and signing you up for monthly installments. For us, we don’t have those resources and people don’t know us. In the beginning, all the funding was coming from me. I was teaching and I used my salary to run Love Wildlife. That’s what I did for the first 2-3 years. After that, we started to receive little fundings here and there. We were able to get an office and one extra staff member. My little funding source came from a lot of the international schools here in Thailand. 

Mickey: That’s a good source. 

Nancy: Yeah, it’s a good source for donors but it’s also not stable. You don’t know how much you’re going to get each year because they always change the organizations that they support. You’ll have one year where they’re really interested in Love Wildlife and the whole school does the fundraiser and you get quite a bit. Some years, you only have a couple of clubs that are interested and it’s on a smaller scale. It’s not fixed.

Mickey: How does non-profit organization work in terms of fundraising? Do you keep any excess and use it for next year? Or do you have to use all the funds that you’ve raised for that particular calendar year for tax reasons?

Nancy: We have two different types of funding — restricted funding and non-restricted funding. The ones that come from the schools, unless they were fundraising for something very specific, are usually non-restricted funding so you can use it for anything in the organization. You don’t have to use the whole thing. Restricted funds, however, you have to use based on the budget that you asked for and you have to use it for that purpose only. You can’t use it for something else. If you have excess from those funds, you’ll have to ask the donors whether you can use it for some other project instead. Sometimes they say yes, sometimes they say no and you’ll have to return the funds. For large grants, if you don’t use all the amount, they’ll generally take it back. Luckily, we haven’t had to give donations back but it is an option for them. 

Mickey: Love Wildlife has been around for about five and a half years. In which year did you feel that this was going to work?

Nancy: It’s weird because you have up-and-down moments. One moment, you have a team together and you know you can do this. Another moment, you’re like, “Oh my god! Are we going to be okay?” It’s really a rollercoaster. 

Mickey:  When did you realize that Love Wildlife was sustainable?

Nancy: You don’t [laughter]. When you’re a smaller organization, nothing is certain. You’re depending so much on outside funding. Right now, I’m trying to change that by looking into the sustainability of our programs. I’m trying to make sure that we have programs that can sustain itself and the administrative cost that goes along with it. For example, we have a whale-watching program. We contribute to the conservation, whale ID, GPS location, behavior studies, but we take guests on the tripwith us and the guests pay for the trip themselves. Part of their payment pays for the research that happens. The guests also get educated and learn about the environment, the fishermen in the villages, the culture in the area, anything to give them more knowledge about the environment. We’re trying to do a social enterprise type model. Anything extra goes back into the organization and we’re trying to use that type of model so that we don’t have to go outside and beg for money. If we’re self-sufficient, then we can become a full-on foundation and give money to other people. That’s what I want. I want to give scholarships to students to go into environmental science or veterinarian school. I want to do that and it’s still in the process for me. 

Part II of this conversation will be posted later this week

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This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You can check out more of Love Wildlife and consider donating to them

Conversation with Thai designer Kavin Twikoon Part II

Kavin Twikoon is a good college friend of mine who started Time Machine Studio, a Bangkok–based creative and design consultancy. His client rosters include Nestlé, John Robert Powers, Bacardi, and Procter & Gamble. 

Kavin was kind enough to spare me some time to have a conversation with him. This is part II of my conversation with him. 

Design studio is like a person. It needs personality and character to become a more interesting person. No one wants to talk to a boring person.
— Kavin Twikoon

Mickey: What’s is the single most important trait in running your own design studio?

Kavin: Be interesting, but professional! Design studio is like a person. It needs personality and character to become a more interesting person. No one wants to talk to a boring person [laughter]. For this, you need to be well-rounded and you’ll have to socialize more. Remember, you won’t be working in one industry forever. You might need some intellectual talk when dealing with people from different industries and backgrounds. So you can’t just keep insisting on your personal taste or ideas, but you need to ensure that whatever it is you’re engaging in is up to professional standard. At the same time, you need to be sincere and true to yourself,  otherwise you won’t be able to do this for the long run. 

Mickey: In your opinion, can creativity be taught? Or is it something that you’re born with?

Kavin: I think it’s a little bit of both. You can learn from books, schools, and other people, but the knowledge doesn’t really count until you’re able to find your own way to use it. I was born in a country [Thailand] where you have to stand in line to go up the stairs. Our elementary schools require uniforms and acceptable hairstyles. We were disciplined so much when we were growing up but I don’t see any Thai adult with those same discipline. What I’m trying to say is that education doesn’t always work. Everybody learn the same thing but why do we still talk and think differently? If you analyze yourself well enough to know how you’re different from others, then you can bring out that good, creative quality to your work, and maybe add a little self-esteem to boot. I believe everybody has their own creativity, they need to develop it. 

Mickey: Please describe your creative process after you’ve secured a client. Do you outline right away? Do you just wait to be inspired? Assign it to your employee?

Kavin: Here's my six-step process:

  1. I first find the concept that can relate to the client. 
  2. Twist it around make the story interesting enough to tell.
  3. Come up with many designs that we think fits that concept. Might need lot of talking or other form of communication like drinking. This is just the initial state of work so don’t judge it yet. 
  4. Pick a few that you like and included them in your presentation.
  5. Make presentation interesting. 
  6. party after presentation! 

Mickey: I like your six-step process, especially number six [laughter]. How about your ideal client? What would your ideal client be like? 

Kavin: It’s simple. They just need to trust me!

Mickey: In your opinion, what is the most important trait to make it as a designer?

Kavin: Live your life! Spend more time to listen to music, read a good book, ask interesting questions, and do some research rather than just sit in front of the computer all day. 

Mickey: What kind of skill set would your ideal designer have then? Photoshop? Music?

Kavin: Everything combined! The ideal designer is a person that can add character to everything. 

Mickey: What do you do when you’re out of ideas or hit a creative block? Do you work through it? Take a break and come back? Give up?

Kavin: Take a break mostly. I either go watch a movie or play my guitar, anything to stop thinking about it. My teacher once told me that yoursubconscious works better when you’re moving and not thinking about a particular thing. That’s a part of the brain you need to unlock to access your creativity. 

Mickey: After a long day of doing creative work for others, do you still have time to pursue your own passion projects? If so, please tell me some of them. 

Kavin: I still write new songs and paint once in a while.

Mickey: I remembered your paintings! You’re really good! So, how do you go about maintaining your creative edge? I mean, do you paint, play games, etc?  

Kavin: I do normal things actually. I read. I listen to music. I play with my son. But, I’m not doing these things to maintain my creative edge at all. I’m just living my life and I think that helps. Traveling does help from time to time though, at least that’s the excuse I’ve been using. [laughter] 

Mickey: What is your ideal design studio that you would like Time Machine Studio to be like? 

Kavin: I wanna split the studio into two parts, the making money part and the ideal project part. Someday, when I have enough profit to run the company smoothly, I plan to start working on my own projects. It could be a short film or a documentary,  I don’ t know yet.

Mickey: What would be your advice for someone who wants to start a design studio in Thailand?

Kavin: If sleeping three hours every two days is not a problem for you, then go for it!

Mickey: How long do you see yourself doing this? I mean, do you see yourself running a design studio until you’ve retired?

Kavin: No. It’s not because I don’t like what I’m doing, but rather because it is just my interest now. It doesn’t mean I won’t switch to something else later. 

Mickey: What’s next for Time Machine Studio? 

Kavin: Recruit more “avenger” kind of artists to work with and have fun together. 

Mickey: What do think the industry will look like in 10-20 years? Easier to enter? Harder? Easier to make money? More difficult? 

Kavin: Definitely easier to enter because it’s easier to get the resources. Computers keep getting faster everyday. There will be more freelancers everywhere, but they’ll find it extremely difficult to earn decent money. I’m not going to talk about the quality of work, that’s very subjective. Technology always surprise us and there’s always a Picasso in every era. 

Mickey: For people unfamiliar with Bangkok’s creative scene, who in your opinion is the person to follow, website to read, or magazine to subscribe to? 

Kavin: So many! I’ll send you a list later. The list is here:

Here are some Thai bands I would recommend people check out:

Mickey: Thanks again Kavin!  

Kavin: No problem. Tell me the next time you’re in Bangkok. 

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This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You can check out more of Kavin's work at Time Machine Studio.

Conversation with Thai designer Kavin Twikoon Part I

Kavin Twikoon is a good college friend of mine who started Time Machine Studio, a Bangkok–based creative and design consultancy. His client rosters include Nestlé, John Robert Powers, Bacardi, and Procter & Gamble. 

Kavin previously co-founded Farmgroup, another successful design studio. He was kind enough to spare me some time to have a conversation with him.  

Yes, it’s easy now [the design process], but overall I think it’s bad for design. The design and inspiration process is so much like instant noodles these days.
— Kavin Twikoon

Mickey: I’ve been meaning to ask you this for the longest time. You’re also extremely passionate and talented in music, but you didn’t pursue a career in that. Why did you choose design over music? 

Kavin: I have always been passionate about art and music since I was a kid. I started to play guitar when I was 14 and wrote my first song eight months after that. Both art and music have one thing in common, they tell stories. After spending years using my art and creative skills to do commercial works, I felt my concept of art got distorted. I guess that’s normal when you’re trying to make a living, but music is too personal for me to sell out like that. That’s why, now I have over 25 private songs that I’ve kept for myself. Playing music is kind of like my personal space.

Mickey: You’ve started a creative and design consultancy before. What’s different about Time Machine Studio?

Kavin: I was 26 when my friend and I started Farmgroup. My passion was more toward art and design. Time Machine is quite different. We help clients tell their story and amplify it though many types of media. Nowadays, I want to create something more successful in terms of communicating people’s stories…with a high level of artistic quality, of course. [laughter]

Mickey: This isn’t your first design studio so just exactly how profitable is a design studio? I mean you keep starting one [laughter].

Kavin: Good enough just to keep you alive and entertained but not enough to get rich. At least, not for the near future. I came to a turning point where I was just about to give up a career in design. But then, a whole bunch of things that I haven’t done came to mind. I figured that I’ll just give a little push and move on so that I’m not going to regret it later in life. With the high demand in digital media and entertainment today, Time Machine has a very good chance to be a successful creative media company.

Mickey: No doubt about it. What’s the funniest story that you can share as part of owning a design studio? For example, did anyone accidentally send the wrong file to a client?

Kavin: You know what? Sending the wrong file to the wrong client is bad, but sending a wrong file to the right client is much worse. It was a nightmare because that actually happened! The funniest moment that I won’t forget has to be our company’s New Year’s trip to Laos. Most of our designers got very drunk, and we were in the middle of nowhere, but somehow we managed to find our way back to the hotel. To this day, we still don’t know how! [laughter] The last thing I remembered was that I slept on the floor next to the “outdoor barber” in Laos. There are a lot of funny stories, too many to share. 

Mickey: How big is the design community in Bangkok? Have you ever had to compete with friends for a contract? Was it weird or were you guys strictly professional?

Kavin: Design community in Bangkok is quite small, this is if you only consider registered companies. We run into each other from time to time. We don’t really want to compete against bigger companies, especially the ones we respect and know personally. However, the pitching candidates stay anonymous sometimes.  We also have so many freelance artist & designer scatter everywhere. They still prefer being freelance for many different reasons.

Mickey: You’ve been doing creative work since you graduated college but at what point in your career did know that this was it? That this is what you wanted to do for the rest of your life? 

Kavin: To be honest, I don’t know if I’m going to do this for a rest of my life. One thing I’m sure of is that I’ll always do things my own way, in whatever field I find myself in. Let’s say if I happened to own a restaurant, you are guaranteed to get a new experience from my restaurant. I’m more focused on what I am than what I do. 

Mickey: Woah. That’s deep [laughter]. Okay, so what’s the coolest project that you’re proud of?

Kavin: All of my experimental project. Pretty much the projects without client or judge. [laughter]

Mickey: With the advancement in technology like Photoshop, Adobe Premiere, etc, do you think design work has gotten easier or harder for design studios? 

Kavin: It’s easier in terms of how you get things done, but many projects ended up being bland and flavorless. You know people have started to get back into collecting vinyls even when there’s a shitload of free music out there. You want to know why? Because it has more story in it. People miss those day when they hang out at a music store all day and having a conversation about the new rock band in town. You actually know who designed the cover and who produced that particular album. You get the idea? You should see how most designers work now. They don’t even share their experiences anymore. Perhaps they don’t have enough interesting stories to tell. People get so lazy these days. I admit that I’m getting lazy too. It’s so easy to find “reference” for your design these days. Thanks to sites like Pinterest, we don’t have to travel all over the world to find inspiration any more. Yes, it’s easy now, but overall I think it’s bad for design. The design and inspiration process is so much like instant noodles these days. However, one of the positive sides of advance technology is that it allows you to translate your imagination into your works seamlessly. That’s a good thing. People just need to be better at actually creating something new and original. 

Mickey: Speaking of which, what’s your competitive advantage over other creative and design consultancies in Bangkok?  

Kavin: I always offer more solutions than necessary. I know that clients come to me because they need help. I create contents that fits their context. I’m also a very honest person. Too honest most of the time! [laughter] But seriously, I won’t suggest anything if I know for sure that it’s not going to work, even if that means they would’ve had to pay me extra. See my problem? [laughter]

Mickey: [laughter] That is a problem! What’s more important in running a design studio then? Being business savvy or being creative?

Kavin: I would say both. Most designers don’t take business seriously, that is until they have their own company. We always begin our career with “let my work speaks for itself” attitude. But in reality, clients will judge you based on the famous customers you had in the past, unless your work won a prestigious award. Anything that help boost their sales dramatically, that’s all clients usually care about. Having a good reputation is like having a platinum credit card in this industry. You need to balance these two skills. The great project that will take your portfolio to the next level always start from a very modest budget. It might be good during your start-up phase, where you’re trying to establish a portfolio, but if you dedicate too much time to it, you might end up losing your business. You need to be both business savvy and creative. That’s part of the job.  

Part II of this conversation will be posted tomorrow.

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This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You can check out more of Kavin and his work at Time Machine Studio.