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Carlos Segura

Carlos Segura is the founder of award-winning design firm, Segura Inc. In this episode Chris and Carlos discuss his business’ ethos and its unique creative contracts. Contracts that have stirred up controversy with some calling them arrogant, pompous, and even combative. But those words don’t matter to Carlos. Because if he’s not for you, that’s okay. At least he owns who he is.

Own who you are
Own who you are

Own who you are

Ep
171
Jan
12
With
Carlos Segura
Or Listen On:

Be smart, not just cool.

Carlos Segura is the founder of award-winning design firm, Segura Inc. He also founded digital type foundry T26, whose fonts you can find everywhere.

Over the last 30 plus years, Carlos has built (and lived) an extraordinary life and career. And he’s done it on his own terms, whether you like it or not.

In this candid conversation, Carlos shares what he’s learned along the way. From surviving the violence he faced growing up in Miami, to stumbling into what would change his life forever (spoiler alert: graphic design).

Beyond his origin story, Chris and Carlos also discuss his business’ ethos and its unique creative contracts. Contracts that have stirred up controversy with some calling them arrogant, pompous, and even combative.

But those words don’t matter to Carlos. Because if he’s not for you, that’s okay. At least he owns who he is.

Header photo by Dan LaRocca @danlaroccaphoto

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Episode Transcript

Carlos:

You have to work your ass off, you have to practice. You have to be willing to accept the consequences of things that you do. And I think that the problem is that most people are not willing to accept the consequences, so they just do what is asked of them.
(silence)

Chris:

I'm going to read a little bit of something from our next guest. This is how he describes his firm, or how he works. "We're small, but think big. And sure we win awards, but our true reward is doing lasting, intelligent, worthy, and beautiful work. Simply put, we believe that smart, conceptually driven, and strategically focused materials are the only true ways to take hold in today's market."
I'm really excited to have this conversation with you because I've known about you for many, many years, but I don't know anything about you as it turns out. So for people who don't know who you are, can you briefly introduce yourself?

Carlos:

Yes, I can. Obviously, every time I do one of these interviews and podcasts, I go through the whole thing. So probably the Internet's full of the same old story. And I have to keep in mind that whoever's hearing this for the first time is hearing it for the first time.

Chris:

That's right.

Carlos:

So my life can be best described this as just a complete and total accident. I mean nothing that I have, that I've done, or that I've experienced has been planned by me. So a very, very, very long story short, my family fled Cuba during the revolution. We went to Mexico first. I grew up in Miami. Miami was a very violent period in the late '60s, early '70s, and '80s.
And I was in a band and that's what got me out of the struggle, the danger, if you will. And I'd be came the drummer's roadie when I was 12, and then by 14 I had replaced the drummer and I was their drummer until I was 20. And we were pretty big in the south Florida music circuit, nightclub circuit, and what was at the time a period known the Open House Series. In fact, PBS just did a two hour documentary about the Open House, Latin Kings of Miami, and we were one of the bands featured on PBS.
In any case, we were playing the night clip circuit and the open house circuit. And when I was the drummer, I had three jobs. I was the drummer. I was the truck driver. And I was the guy who did the little flyers advertising where we were playing. And of course I had no clue that I was doing anything but that I didn't know what graphic design was. I certainly didn't know what advertising was.
And I became known for doing those flyers because even though I'm not religious, I used to sign the flyers instead of with my last name, I used to pick the oddest phrases from the Bible that I could find, I mean just like crazy witchcraft stuff. And I got known for that guy. Anyway, time goes on. We got really, really big. We're playing this club in Miami Beach called the Castaways, and we got an offer to go on tour to Europe to back up Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose, which was a big disco band at the time. And after going over the contracts and stuff, I decided that I didn't want to go because on the surface it looked like a lot of money, but then you read between the lines and you got to pay for this and that and the other. And we were making cash money way more than what they were offering.
So anyway, I quit, I left the band. And then, I had no compass. I didn't know what to do with my life because all I had done was be a drummer. And I was complaining to my godfather one day about how much my life sucked because I was working at a shoe store and a tire store and blah, blah, blah, everything everybody has to do. And he said, "Why don't you just put all those flyers in a portfolio and go interview somewhere?" And I just was like, "What are you talking about? I don't know what that is. What do you mean, like to do what?"
Anyway, so I did and eventually my godfather was an engineer and he had developed the transit systems in south Florida and also at the time was working for the Department of Energy's brine caverns in Louisiana where they store the crude oil, and they had a project in New Orleans so he asked me to send the work over there. I got the job, I was hired, and it literally changed my life. I mean it's not even just a phrase. It changed my life.
While I was there, I don't know where I got the courage to answer and add in the newspaper for an ad agency in Baton Rouge as an art director, something I didn't even know what it was, and I got the job. Anyway, I got the job. I went there, we did really great work for six months. We entered all the work in the New Orleans Art Directors Club, won a ton of awards. Ad Week magazine did a story about it. An agency in Chicago read it, called me, offered me a job. And that's how I moved to Chicago in 1980. This is a extremely short version of my story.
So, I worked at agencies as an art director, creative director, for 13 years. In 1990, we started Segura Inc. I, I quit the ad agency world. One of the things that taught me, even though I didn't know the difference between the two, one of the things that I learned was that there is a difference between advertising and design, and the need for strategic thinking and targeting the customer more properly, don't talk down to people, and follow the strategy. And be smart, not just cool. It's easier to be cool, but it's hard to be cool and smart.
Anyway, I was facing this struggle back in the '80s. I mean it was just cash money on the table. It was just living large. And for years, every year I would say, "I'm going to quit," and then I wouldn't quit. And I didn't because you got the great salary and the vacation and the bonuses and blah, blah, blah. Anyway, one day I just got fed up and I quit and I started Segura Inc in 1990. And then in late '93, we launched T26, the type foundry. In '94, we launched Thick Face Records, which was an independent record label. In 2000, we launched fiveinch.com, which was a physical products company where we designed and produced limited edition blank CDRs and DVDs following the swatch concept. We would do limited editions, when the designs ran out, we wouldn't do anymore.
And then in 2004, 2005, and 2006, I launched Car Type, Motor Type, and Truck Type, which are online automotive archives for that sector. But through all of it, it's been basically the design Segura Inc. that's supported all of it. And that's the short version.

Chris:

Wow. A lot of questions. I want to circle back to a couple different things. What is the highest level of education that you have?

Carlos:

I barely got out of high school.

Chris:

Okay.

Carlos:

In fact when I was in the band, we used to play the nightclub circuit, which ended at 4:00 in the morning and it was in Fort Lauderdale, so it was an hour back. On the way back, it took an hour, we went to Marriott's for breakfast, and then my guitar player would drop me off at high school. And it's because of him that I graduated because I didn't want to graduate. He goes, "You can't quit now. You have one year left. You got to go." And that's what I did for the last year.

Chris:

So you're running on just a few hours of sleep then?

Carlos:

I basically slept during class.

Chris:

Did you ever get in trouble for that where the teacher would walk by and-

Carlos:

I did. Absolutely. I would get in trouble a lot and they would put me in detention and that was great for me cause I got to sleep.

Chris:

Okay, I have to ask this question then because I was listening to your story about fleeing Cuba. So my parents fled communist Vietnam in 1975, and so I thought there's some commonality here as immigrants to the United States. Did your parents put an emphasis on education on you?

Carlos:

Absolutely. And here's the thing. This is a truly, and I think you'll agree, I suspect that your parents, or at least you have in your heart the thought that they're probably the hardest working humans on the planet.

Chris:

Yeah.

Carlos:

And I think immigrants in general are, and of course we hold our parents close to our heart. My parents worked their ass off. I mean there's no way that anyone in today's generation will do what they did, and I certainly wouldn't either. I don't have the capacity to do it. So even though there was a lot of love from my parents to me as there were from your parents to you, they had to let go because they had no choice. So I basically grew up by myself and on the street. And so I'm very street smart, but my learning came from there. It didn't come from going to high school.
And I'm certainly not suggesting by any means that a young person should not make an effort to be educated. And God knows you shouldn't do what I did because I mean I was just lucky. I mean that's just the bottom line. It could have gone wrong many, many times. And for most people that I know that grew up like me, it did go wrong many, many times. Some of them aren't even around. But the point of it is that somehow there's some kind of magical ingredient in me that gave me the ability to get out of jams that everyone around me was incapable of doing.
I'll give you an example. When we were growing up in the music business back then, getting paid in drugs, that was the norm. That was just the norm. You would have to negotiate to get paid in other forms like money. And we were surrounded by drugs and just ridiculous behavior. I never once touched it, and I don't know why. Now I drank a lot, I mean a lot, but I had the character somehow from something someway to be able to say no to things that I didn't feel comfortable doing.
And I think that learning that way of living, learning the way to stand up for yourself, learning how to run a business when you're 12, 13, 14 years old because we were really busy. We were booked two years in advance. I mean it was unbelievable. We had trucks, we had two managers. We had roadies, blah, blah, blah. That kind of stuff really gave me a foundation for how I run my business today and how I present myself as you pointed, in my contract for example, right? That kind of stuff does give you some base for determining your path in life because I could have easily took another path or been swayed towards another path. But somehow, it just worked out.

Chris:

I have more questions just based on the few things, and I'm getting buried in my own questions trying to keep up with you here. Okay, so the first observation I had was children of parents who are like working multiple jobs don't really have parents supervising the way that we have today, where there are I think the terms is helicopter parents, where they hover over you and they're trying to prevent every little bruise and scrape and they become overprotective.
So I'm in a similar situation myself. I think the term Latchkey Kid, it's like, "Here's a key, let yourself in and out of the house. Stay out of trouble." And you and I grew grew up in a way that our parents were around, we knew that they loved us, but we kind of had to figure stuff out on our own.

Carlos:

We definitely did.

Chris:

And I think that creates a kind of autonomy and resiliency and just like you're going to have to figure out your way. What are your thoughts on that? Because I think a lot of kids are trying to still remove the programming from their parents so they can figure out who they are, whereas perhaps you didn't get that programming so you're kind of a blank slate.

Carlos:

I totally agree. And of course, we have to put in context the timeframe where you and I grew up, and I certainly grew up way earlier than you did. You're probably half my age, I don't know how old you are. But the kids today are definitely going through things that it didn't even cross our minds. I mean I'm sure bad things happened back then, but not to a degree that happens today. That said, however, I do feel that they're being babied too much and you really do need to trip and you need to fall and you just need to experience life, and preferably early because later isn't going to help you. So we have some friends that I feel they're being overly protective, but I also don't say anything because I don't have any kids so I have no room to tell anybody what to do certainly. I hate when people tell me what to do.
And you know what, speaking about telling me what to do and how we grew up, you and I, the thing about being immigrants. When I came to the United States, that was the fourth generation that we had lost. My family has lost everything for four generations. I'm part Lebanese, part Spanish from Barcelona, part French, and part Cuban. Every single one of my family has lost property and their whole life by living in those areas and moved from one place to another to another. The only reason I was born in Cuba is because my family fled Barcelona when Franco was in charge and moved to Cuba for freedom.
In fact, the logo that I use for my company comes from my grandfather's department store that he had in Barcelona, which he lost during Franco. When they escaped and moved to Cuba, he opened a small department store in downtown Oriente, which is where I was born. And my parents died a couple years ago, and through the process of talking with my mom, I found a newspaper ad of the store and saw the logo. And at that point I realized I got to carry this on, and I changed our branding and started using that logo. And that was the only thing that we were able to sneak out, with the addition of there is a picture of my grandfather sitting in front of the store, it's on my website. So that's where all that came from. And so my point to this whole ramble is that I don't know if it's in my blood or it's an intangible piece of training that makes me shutter someone telling me what to do or what I can and cannot do or how to do it.
I just don't know where that came from, but I have to believe that it was some drop of blood that came from my great-great great grandfather to my great grandfather to my grandfather to my father and to me somehow. And I can't seem to shake it. I mean it's something I really do need to work on because I do have a sense of clarity as to what I want to be and what I want to do and how I want to be perceived. I don't even know where that confidence comes from really because I, as we discussed, have no training, no education, no anything.

Chris:

I have some theories, just because of the way I see myself, and maybe I run them by you and see if it resonates with you. And so when you flee a country, people who've lived in one place all their lives with multi-generations will not understand what we're talking about, but you're leaving everything you've known, all the people, the customs, sometimes in many cases the language, everything. You are leaving it all behind and you're starting over. And so there is most definitely this kind of reset that happens where you're starting at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder all over again, and you have to kind of find your way up. You're not so worried about falling down because there's no down to fall to.

Carlos:

Well, I was going to point out that to me, that situation is more than just leaving a place or even losing everything. I mean, those two things alone are bad enough, but the worst part is the simple rawness of not knowing what you have in front of you or how you're going to survive. I have become like my father and have been an avid watcher of World War II history. And often you see the documentaries about the war and the killing and the murder and the camps and all that kind of stuff. And I recently watched a documentary about Berlin, raw footage of two years after the war ended and six months before it ended. It didn't show a single dead body, but it was more dramatic than any other documentary that I've seen, which I have posted on my Documentary Den feed on Instagram, because it documented the horrific aftermath and lack of human possibility, or even just ... It's almost like the bodies walking around had no soul. That it sucks every single thing out of you, and you cannot explain that. You just have to live it.
And so to me, that's really the worst part of this whole experience that your family went through in my family. My wife's family too, her mother, man. It's so horrible. It's so horrible what she went through during the Korean War, just unbelievable. So you could simply tell her story by saying, "Yeah, she lost everything. She had to leave Korean and she has to start new." Okay that's bad, but I mean the other shit is worse in my opinion.

Chris:

The other stuff being worse, can you explain that? What's the other stuff?

Carlos:

Well first of all, the lifelong memories ingrained in your brain of the horrors that you have to witness, that you have to live through. The insecurity, the desperation, the loneliness, the pain, the crying, the desperate acquisition of why am I here? Why am I going through this? Why am I suffering like this? I mean that's an immeasurable human experience that can't even be filmed. It stays with you till you die.

Chris:

Yeah. The interesting thing is as you explain your story and how you grew up, everything else that I see from you now makes a lot of sense. It's like these two parts, right? This independent spirit, like I'm going to have to figure things out on my own, and when things aren't right I'm going to try something else. And then you read, like people trip out on this and I'm going to read a little bit of it, your contract. And they're just astonished because I think creative people are just happy to have a client, but you're putting conditions on which the person needs to be aware of if want to work with you.
So I'll read a little bit of this, and people freak out over it. So in one of your contracts that's been shared on social media quite a bit is, it says this, "You give me money, I'll give you creative. I'll start when the check clears. Time is money, more time is more money. I'll listen to you, you listen to me. You tell me what you want, I'll tell you what you need." So it goes on and on. And a lot of creatives, this is like a shock to their system to even hear this. And the words they'll use is arrogant, pompous, combative. How do you see this?

Carlos:

Well I mean look, it hurts me when people perceive my intention when it wasn't meant that way. The last thing I was thinking was those words, the truth of the matter is that I find it a shame that saying something so basic and true brings out those words, and worse, that I know they're feeling the same thing and I know as they read those lines, they want those same things. I know it. I'm not an idiot. I'm a human. I'm in the business. I'm in the craft. And I stumble and trip over the same things everyone else does. So I don't necessarily understand those words, but I will tell you this. I would say that those words only come up a half a percent of the time, 99.5% of the time people seem to be supportive, or at least understanding of it.
The other point that I want to make is that I don't think you'll find anywhere on the internet or anywhere me saying that I think you should do this. I'm saying I do this. You could do whatever you want. And so, I'm not forcing anyone to do anything or suggesting that they do anything. I'm just saying that this is how I do it. And everyone has their own way, and I am a supporter of that. Do what you think you should do, and if it works for you, fine.
As an example, I know that in one your ... I watch and listen to everything you say, it's quite impressive actually. And in one of the posts you said, I think you were talking about it's okay to do spec work or something. I don't remember what it was about.

Chris:

Yeah.

Carlos:

I, of course, have the complete different opinion on that. But one of the things that I like about how you present thoughts and suggestions is that you're so humble about it and you're so embracing about presenting the thought. And even though I disagree with you, I absolutely loved how you presented it. And I've actually been learning a lot from you. One of the lines that you just read, "Time is money, more time is more money," I personally think that's the best line in the contract. But I have come across maybe two or three people that don't understand that line, and I don't understand why they don't understand that line. I mean ... you know?

Chris:

This is like taking an unexpected turn, and I don't know what I was expecting, but this is fascinating for me and I'm so glad that we're talking about this Carlos because I look at your letter like, "Damn right. The man speaks his truth and he's not hiding. He's telling you exactly what you're going to get." And I think more people need to have this kind of courage to be clear.
And you're not saying I'm for everybody, I'm for a very specific type of person who wants a partner and in the creative process, right? And so I think a vast majority of the people who see your letter are cheering either out loud or inside because you're brave enough to do this. And for them, I'm going to speak for them, you're a design hero, like you have the nuts to do this.

Carlos:

Well, I'm not even saying I'm courage or brave because that would suggest that I think that people who don't are not. Again, I repeat, I'm only saying that ... And by the way, that was born out of experience. It wasn't a copywriting assignment that I gave myself to get followers on Instagram. That is not what happened there. In fact, I'll tell you the story of how it was born. I'm assuming you've seen my business cards too.

Chris:

I have.

Carlos:

I'm hard to work with, blah, blah, blah.

Chris:

Yep. It's even edgier than the contract. And you [inaudible 00:25:22] flip the card over, you see the backside.

Carlos:

Exactly. That's hilarious. So yeah, you're right. My business card is even edgier than my contract. And let me tell you how that was born.

Chris:

Okay.

Carlos:

So do you know a guy by the name of Jason Fried from Basecamp?

Chris:

Yes.

Carlos:

Okay. So he's one of my buddies. I was one of the co-founders of 37 Signals when it was called that. And we go out to lunch a lot. And one day we were going out to lunch he goes, "Hey, I just had a lunch with a friend of mine. His name is Chris from DEFY Bags in Chicago, and Chris said he used to work with you." And I go, "I know Chris, he used to be my partner at DDB I think it was," or [inaudible 00:26:09] & Belding or one of those agencies that worked at doesn't matter.
Anyway, so he goes, "Yeah, I brought up your name and he said, 'Yo, you know Carlos?' He goes, "Yeah, I know Carlos." He goes, "That Carlos, he's for real, he really delivers, but man, he's hard to work with.'" So Jason tells me this and I, I was like, "Fuck." I mean I don't know how I feel about that.
So I went home and I pouted for a couple hours, and then I thought, you know what, no, I'm not, I'm going to own it. I am hard to work with. And I wrote that in five minutes, that whole business card. And I sent it to Jason and I said, "Thanks for reminding me that I'm hard to work with. This is my new business card." He flipped out, loved it, and did a post on his then blog Signal Versus Noise, and it just exploded, exploded. It was unbelievable.
And then I did a second one, which is also on my website, and then the contract was born out of that. So that became a whole campaign, and that's how that was born for, from owning who you are.

Chris:

I love that. So there was a moment, I don't know how long that moment lasted, but first you're like, "I don't want to be known as that guy," but then you're like, "No, I am that guy. I'm just going to-"

Carlos:

No, I am that guy.

Chris:

Yeah, you are that guy.

Carlos:

It was a failure myself. And what I mean by that is I failed to understand who I am, and I quickly came out of it.

Chris:

Yeah. Do you have people who ask you how they can find out who they are and have that kind of clarity?

Carlos:

I do, all the time.

Chris:

Yeah. So what do you tell them?

Carlos:

Well, the thing about advice is, is that it's useless because everyone has its own life experience. And so when people ask me for advice, first, you go through the, "I'm going to give you a cliche answer, which is be true to yourself, blah, blah, blah." Right?

Chris:

Yeah.

Carlos:

But there are some basic simple things that you just absolutely must do. You have to work your ass off, you have to practice. You have to be willing to accept the consequences of things that you do. You have to have, whether you even have a backup plan or not, you have to be willing to say, "Okay, if I say no to this, that means I'm not going to make the money. If I'm not going to make the money, I'm not going to be able to get this, that, or the other. And then I'm going to have to do something else."
And I think that the problem is that most people are not willing to accept the consequences. So they just do what is asked of them. And here's where it gets tricky because when one such as me says that, it comes off as dangerous in the way that my contract is perceived. The intention of my contract isn't meant to suggest that I am cocky. Just like the impression of my advice isn't meant that I have the answer or that if you don't do what I say, then you're doing it wrong.
So that's why I think that advice is a little bit tricky because I can tell you what is coming out of my brain at this very moment, but who knows if that's going to work, it may not even have worked for me if I had done it at a different time. You know? So it's one of those sprinkles in the air that happened to blend with the wind and the birds and the cloud, and the music starts singing, and then the sun hits you in the face and you're bright and sunny all of a sudden. It's just that shit doesn't happen all the time. Things have to be in balance, and most of the time they're not in balance. So when you have to do something that you don't want to do, I don't really kick somebody's butt too hard on that I understand is sometimes you have to do things that you don't want to do. All I'm saying is that try, just try, to on occasion not do that.

Chris:

I love ... Here's the thing, I have it for the recording so this is wonderful that you're saying that I present myself humbly and most people would not call me that. So I appreciate you saying that.

Carlos:

Oh, I can't even imagine. In fact, I'll give you an example of another way that you're humble, which is you're doing it right now, I have seen almost every interview that you've ever done. And you have never, ever interrupted someone while they were talking. I suck at that mostly because if I don't interrupt, I'll forget. I don't mean to be rude, but you're very, very, very good at listening.

Chris:

Well, thank you. But here's the thing. The reason why I think this is a little unexpected is there's some cognitive dissonance here because the person that you're presenting yourself in this moment, I almost can't imagine you writing that letter or those terms because we imagine people who ... I guess this is the thing of projecting, I suppose. You read a letter like that, and you expect someone who is like, "I'm clear about this. It's 100% this, my way or the highway, go to hell." But you're sitting here telling me, "I have advice, but advice is not valuable. And I need to work on X, Y, and Z, and a person who's still kind of questioning things and still evolving and growing." And I just admire that about you. And it's a little unexpected I just have to say.

Carlos:

Well, I appreciate that. Look, first of all, I think I'm a pretty nice guy. I mean I-

Chris:

You are.

Carlos:

I am a nice guy. And the thing about advice too, is like ... I'm just saying there's two types of advice. There's advice you give yourself and advice you give to others. And so I know what I am capable of dealing with in life. I know that I cannot deal with a, I was going to use a harsher word than what I'm going to use, but I cannot deal with a difficult situation, whether it's a person I don't like either because they are treating me or my employees badly or they disrespect the process or they're not responsible towards the needs of the assignment but expect me to be, I know that I have a low tolerance for that. I know who I am.
So when I give myself advice and decide which doors to open and which doors not to open, I feel like I'm a pretty good judge of character. I feel like when you meet someone, whether it's a client or not, it's kind like a blind date. And you know within two minutes whether this thing is going to work out or not, you just know it. And some people have better intuition than others. My wife is like on the money all the time. I think I'm pretty good too. And I know that if I am not feeling right about something that I should not take the project or whatever, the assignment. So I have a low tolerance for having a willingness to bring that into my life, you know what I mean? So basically my business cards, my contract, my general aura, if you will, that's what you want to call it, is designed to filter ickiness, as my friend puts it. I love that word.

Chris:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). I think what we do is when we hear that voice tell us like, run, we suppress it because we need to make money or because we're still searching for the validation that we need. So when you're in discussion with a new client and they seem to be more in love with you than you are in love with them, and you've decided this is not the way forward, how do you get yourself out? What do you say to them?

Carlos:

Well, I say no, it's pretty simple. This is the thing about advice. I just say no. One of the biggest projects I did a year and a half ago, I said no to four times, five times actually. It was for a healthcare client. And the reason I said no was not because the guy was not nice, because he's actually one of the best clients I've had in years. He was absolutely brilliant. He let me do what he hired me to do. And that's the definition of a good client to me.
Anyway, the reason I said no is because I was afraid of the sector. And when I say afraid, I mean when I go into a project, I won't take a project that I won't get a greater emotional satisfaction out of than financial satisfaction. That has to be first. And trust me, I like money like everybody else, but I don't go into it for the money. I go into it for the pleasure, the satisfaction of it, the emotional trophy, if you will.
And so I said no, because A, I know how I work. B, I know the kind of work I want to do. And C, I know that that sector is very hesitant to break through explorations because of existing laws and processes and so on and so forth that control what healthcare sectors can do and can't do. You can only push the envelope so hard. The reason I took it is because he kept insisting, "I don't want to do what the sector does. I want you to do something else." And of course, every time a client tells me that I said, "There's two things you cannot tell a creative, do whatever you want, and money's no object," because it's bullshit most of the time, but this guy was for real.
And I took the job on the condition that I would show him one idea. He could either take it or leave it. And then we could part as friends either way. Well, he took it, and not not only took it, but produced it, then bought another series of medical locations in Michigan, had me brand them and do ... I mean I've done about six or seven projects for them. And I swear to God, it's some of the most beautiful, emotional work that I have done in a long, long, long time.
The last one I did for him was while my mother was dying of pancreatic cancer, he hired me to develop a Special Cares unit, and 100% of the creative and the writing was born out of my mother sitting right next to me, two feet from me, for six months. I was working on this writing while I was watching her. And all this came from this relationship that was ending because she was dying led by the line, "I don't want my mother taken care of by a system. I want my mother taken care of by a human." And he just fell in love with it and it just became a beautifully produced, beautifully written, beautifully executed healthcare project that is unlike anything that's out there. And I thank him for insisting.
And so sometimes even though I say know when to say no, sometimes you don't know when to say no. And for me, and this happened to me even when I was in the band for 15 years, every time I got on stage I would get the butterflies. And I still get that every time I get an assignment. I get so nervous every single time, like I've never done one before. It's ridiculous. It's ridiculous. Not because I don't think I can do it, I just don't want to do the same old thing. And I want to be not just successful, but I want to develop a new language, a new message, a new execution, and a new approach that pushes something. It doesn't have to be the whole envelope, maybe it's just a flap, but it has to push something, you know?

Chris:

Yeah. Time for a quick break, but we'll be right back.

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Chris:

Welcome back to our conversation.
I want to return to your childhood for a little bit here. I have so many different questions, but I want to go back there because from the outside and from my point of view, it seems like you had success at a very early age, and it seems like it's followed you almost everywhere you've gone. So you're 14-ish, right, and you're in a band. You start as a roadie, but then you become the drummer. And you're saying that you booked out for two years. That's got to do something for your self belief, your self confidence. It seems like the only period in which it was dark for you was when you actually quit the band.

Carlos:

Well before the band too. There was just a lot of violence. When I was growing up, this was the Civil Rights era in Miami, well in the U.S, and we were just getting it from all lens. First of all, immigrants were just starting to come from Cuba and America wasn't really receiving them with open arms as we see today in many cases. And of course they were treating the black community like shit for 100s of years. But the thing is that at the time, white Americans would rather hire a white Cuban than a black American, at the time. So we were getting shit on from the Americans, and I hate to say it like that because I mean America's amazing, so I don't want to like be labeled something here. And then of course the black community was upset because we were taking their few opportunities.
So it was just extremely violent, how we were growing up with the gangs, and it's just a bad situation. It's what saved me and my band members from having that life. And it was very, very good. And then the years when we were in the band, it was heaven man. It was like we had moved somewhere else, even though we were living in the same location. And then of course after I quit the band, that was pretty tough. That was pretty tough for many, many years.

Chris:

And that gap between the band and when you landed your gig with your portfolio and then everything else started to fall in place I think after that.

Carlos:

Yeah, it did.

Chris:

Are there other moments in your life when you were more filled with self-doubt and just like questioning things in terms of am I making the right decisions?

Carlos:

Never. And not because I knew what I was doing, it's because I didn't know what I was doing. And what I mean by that is that as I told you at the beginning, I feel like my whole life and career has been this fluid accident. There really hasn't been any stops. It's kind of like in a water slide, you feel certain pressures when you're going around the bend and then you feel another different pressure when you're going around the other bend but you're still moving and everything is smooth, right?
So the thing that I to this day cannot figure out is why, why did I make it? I had lunch with my godfather some years ago because I was in search of this answer. And I asked him, and the reason I asked him this question by the way is because my family's had a lot of suicides and my brothers, there was a lot of bad things that happened in my family. And so I wanted to ask him, "Why didn't I turn out bad?" And he said, "You're asking the wrong question. What you should be asking is why did you turn out so good?" And I don't have that answer because I don't have the training to bring that to the table. I just don't know what happened. And I can't just say I was lucky because I wasn't just lucky. I really did work hard.
But then the other question that comes up is, "Well, there's a lot of people that work hard that don't make it that are better than me, way better than me." So who knows, man? I feel like sometimes life is just a trick. Sometimes life makes good things happen, just like they make bad things happen that you can't explain. So I don't have the answer. And so when people ask me, to your point 15 minutes ago, of like what's your advice to people, this is why I don't know. I don't know, because I could tell you to do exactly what I did and you would fail miserably. I just don't know.

Chris:

Well, we'll have to let people figure that out then as you continue to explore it.

Carlos:

I think that's going to have to happen.

Chris:

Yeah.

Carlos:

Yeah.

Chris:

I want to talk to you a little bit about T26.

Carlos:

Okay.

Chris:

Now, I'm in college. I'm not half your age, I'm I'm 49 years old, so you can't be 100. So when I was in college, and I remember because this is all part of this desktop revolution and we were a couple years into it, and fonts were kind of a big deal and there weren't many type foundries. Interesting type faces were few and far between. I think there was you guys and there was Emigre, and that was it in terms of like what I knew. And then there was like Adobe and all the corporate things, but-

Carlos:

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Chris:

You're at this perfect place in time and space that like you're right. You can't go start a foundry today and have success the way that you did.

Carlos:

Impossible.

Chris:

I'm curious. Why did you want to create a foundry? What was the motivation? What was the inspiration behind that?

Carlos:

Out of all the things that I've done, I am extremely proud of that entire phase of my life. And I would have to say that if there was anything that I actually planned out, and not dramatically planned out but consciously thought about it, was T26.
And this is a bit of a long story, and it's all over the internet too, so I'll try and keep it concise. So T26 was born out of I did a project in 1991, one of my first projects when I quit the advertising agency. I designed a custom font called Neo, N-E-O. It was very experimental, and that, of course you got to go back in time with the Cranbrook years and grunge typography and all that kind of stuff. This particular was not grunge. It was very experimental, but not grunge.
And I used it on a project to design the NeoCon conference materials at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago. And I also designed it and used it on the How Design Conference in 1993. And it got so much per press because it was extremely unique at the time. Now it's you look at it's like why. But it was something very, very interesting. And as you point out back then, there was absolutely zero options for typography and the internet wasn't even a thing yet.

Chris:

Right.

Carlos:

So I approached my friend, Rick [inaudible 00:47:15], who had a foundry called Thirst Type, and asked him if he'd be interested in carrying it. And he said, "Man I would, but you should start your own thing." I go, "Wow, that's interesting. Okay." So I put a call for submissions to some of the most experimental friends that I had throughout the world, Thailand, Korea, the United States. And I got about 50 or 60 submissions. Guys like Eric Lynn, Jim Marcus, Steven Farrell.
And we launched T26 in late '93, and it was truly like an explosion of what in the hell is this. And the biggest arm for us for promotion back then is we bought an ad in Ray Gun Magazine. Do you remember Ray Gun by Dev Parson?

Chris:

Yeah, mm-hmm (affirmative).

Carlos:

We bought an ad in that thing, and had a phone number at the bottom. We created these limited edition font kits that people didn't, "What's a font kit?" It was basically ... Are you familiar with the Fluxus movement of the '60s and '50s?

Chris:

A little bit, yes.

Carlos:

So we kind of did that. We put together these beautiful pieces of art that we called our font kit, which is basically catalogs in containers, either a bag or a box or an inflatable this or the other. And we filled it with endless produced letter-pressed, linoleum cuts, carvings, lithographs, posters, postcards, stickers, pencils. The very first promo thing is we had a golf tee with a 26 on it, T26. And at the bottom of the ad we said, "Anyone that calls for this can have it for free." So back then there was no voicemail or nothing, we had an answering machine with a tape. And people would call in, leave their voicemail with their message on the tape. And when we got home at night, we'd gather all the things and go back to the office and put together these font kits that we did by hand and ship them out the next day.
We got so many calls that we did a series of what we called music videos, but instead of featuring a band, we featured a font. So we did a font movie for each message that we got featuring a font, and Communication Arts Magazine did this story on it, and that made it even bigger.
But one of the biggest things that we did is we were probably the first or second type foundries to sell fonts on the web. And again, to try and highlight the struggles that one went through to do anything on the web back then, much less sell fonts, was truly incredible because I mean we were just sending fonts out via floppy disk. We would mail people floppy disks. And a lot of the things that we created as a foundation for the foundry that I believe changed the business is because we were designers, we put ourselves in the position of being the end user. And being the end user meant that at the time it was illegal for you to send your font to the service bureau to output your work.
I don't even know if that's still done, but back then you'd have to send your files out to service bureau to print it out by messenger, I'm not talking like on the cloud, there was no cloud. You to call a messenger. They picked it up on their bike and they took your floppy disk to the blah, blah, blah. Well, we knew that because of licensing issues, that meant that the output company had to buy their version of the font, which meant that if their version of the font and your version of the font were the same, it would create a postscript error. And that meant that there would be an error that would have a problem with your output, and then you'd have to pay them again to output it properly.
And we knew that because we had gone through it ourselves that we didn't want to do it. So we were the first foundry to officially allow that to happen, even though we knew everyone was doing it, but everybody else was saying, "No, you can't do that. It's illegal, blah, blah, blah." And the output service would call, "We can't output your thing because you didn't send the font." Anyway, it was a pain in the ass.
So little acts of consciousness like that connected us to our audience. And they said, "These guys understand us. They're living our life." We also increased the license from one license per font to 10. We increased the font royalty to 50%, that was just simply unheard of. We were the first type foundry in the world to do that. We created a series of collections that were specifically designed, created, and produced for the benefit of AIDS organizations. Back then, AIDS was a big thing so we donated all of our profits for those fonts to the AIDS foundations. And we continued to create marketing materials that were more as a gift instead of a sales tool. And the list goes on and on and on and on, this could go on forever. We began to get entries from all over the world for fonts. So basically T26 turned into an art gallery, but our art is the fonts.

Chris:

Right. I've seen the printed things that you're talking about, and that is pretty much how I would describe it too. This promotional idea that you had about taking out an ad and having designers call, how many packages did you wind up shipping out? And this must have been expensive for you to produce then?

Carlos:

Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. We had to get a warehouse where we kept ... it was rooms and rooms and rooms of catalogs and boxes. And one of the biggest pieces we ever did was for A Type I in London where we consciously, this is the most conscious thing we did in T26, in 1994 we wanted to ensure that we weren't embedded into the grunge only sector. So we decided that we would no longer accept fonts that didn't have a full international character set, that wasn't completely built out as best as it could. That was at the beginning where we had to insist that the Euro symbol be included in the keys because that's when the Euro became active. And we produced this unbelievably expensive and over the top gigantic newspaper box set that we gave out to every single person that went to the A Type I London. And that changed T26 from that point forward, that was the big ticket.

Chris:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). So it sounds to me like you invested a lot of your own money into getting awareness for the company and it paid off. It sounds like each time you did it, it paid off and it kept going, right, otherwise we wouldn't be talking about it today?

Carlos:

Well, it paid off. I mean it paid off in the sense that yeah, I mean as you point out, we're around today. It paid off less than you think financially, but it paid off, going to my point earlier, "Well, I want to do something that's emotionally satisfying." Of course, if Segura wasn't around to support all this, which is really that was the guy paying the bill. Segura, the design firm, was paying for all of this. It also paid for all the creative done for fiveinch.com, which was our other company, as well as Thick Face Records because we produced seven bands and didn't make a dime out of that. But it was amazing.

Chris:

So this is a little surprising to me. So Segura, the design service company, is the thing that funds your art projects and-

Carlos:

Yes.

Chris:

-And it just looks like they're companies, but they're really art projects for you, right?

Carlos:

Well, they are actual companies. They're completely separate. They have their own inc, their own corporation, they're totally separate. But what is financed by Segura is the talent, the creative, all the man hours that are required to create materials like that.

Chris:

Yeah. So I'm curious about something, because for me, I ran a services design company called Blind for many years, then I started this education company that didn't make any money whatsoever for years, actually it was just sucking up all the money and a lot of my time, if not all of my time. But eventually, the education company gets to a certain point where it's like, "Ooh, this a real company now. And now the service company is nothing because I don't want to do client work. I'd rather just teach people and make money that way." So has T26 been the thing that supports Segura, or is it just the opposite or is it-

Carlos:

No, it's still Segura, definitely Segura. Yeah. T26 has grown into other things, like we do a lot of custom fonts. For example, one of the biggest ones we just finished few years back now was we got hired by Jack Daniels to design all of the fonts on their whiskey label that's been around for like 140 years, and they had never done the full fonts. It was just someone drew those fonts by hand and that was the label forever. So they hired us to create full families of every font on the label, took us two years to do it. And so the kind of stuff that we ... And licensing too, we do licensing, like for PlayStation games and stuff like that.

Chris:

The Jack Daniels project sounds like it's a really fun, great project to sink your teeth into.

Carlos:

Yeah. We sweat that one. I mean that ones hard. That was hard.

Chris:

When you say you sweat it, what does that mean?

Carlos:

Well I mean just we drew every single character. I mean it's just it was a hard, long ... I don't think people grasp what it takes to do a font. I mean sometimes I don't even grasp it. I mean it's unbelievable that it even works because you have to design every single character perfectly, and then that character has to work with the next character perfectly. And it just, it's amazing.

Chris:

Yeah. A lot of variables there, right?

Carlos:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chris:

Okay. I'm kind of mindful of time here, and I have a list of questions I want to ask you. So if we can move into like lightning round for you, okay?

Carlos:

Okay. I'll keep it short.

Chris:

Three words other people would use to describe you.

Carlos:

Difficult.

Chris:

Okay.

Carlos:

Creative. Hardworking.

Chris:

Love it. What does a good day look like to you?

Carlos:

A day without tension.

Chris:

Okay. What brings you tension?

Carlos:

People I don't want to be working with or projects I don't want to be doing or tasks that I'm not fond of. And that doesn't even have to be with a client. Like if I need to go cut the grass and I don't feel like it, that brings me tension.

Chris:

Okay. You've been on the forefront of a lot of different things, exploring so many different ideas. I'm just curious, what's next for you? What are your plans for the next five to 10 years?

Carlos:

Oh, my plan is to just keep doing it. I probably spend two or three days a day learning, exploring, opening my mind to some new thing. My biggest complaint with life is that there aren't enough hours in the day for me to do the stuff I want to do.

Chris:

I feel that.

Carlos:

I don't even use an alarm clock to wake up. My brain wakes me up because it's working before my body's working. And it's just such a joy to be able to walk the earth, to be able to have that feeling like you want to do something. What a beautiful, beautiful thing that is.

Chris:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). I know we talked about not giving advice to others. What kind of advice would you give to your younger self? Let's say the self that started putting the flyers together in a portfolio, that self, what would you say to that young Carlos?

Carlos:

Well, I don't know that that's a good example because there's nothing to change in this situation. But what I will change is the one thing I've always wanted to work on a little bit is my temper, my whole life.

Chris:

You have a bad temper?

Carlos:

I wouldn't call it a bad temper because bad is ... It's just short. Short isn't the same thing as bad. Short means you are quick to respond to something, bad is you're an asshole while you do it.

Chris:

This is going to wind up a T-shirt somewhere probably, so we need to re-listen to that.

Carlos:

That's good. That's a good one.

Chris:

Short temper, okay.

Carlos:

That would make a good T-shirt on reflection, upon reflection.

Chris:

You know, you seem like you ... Okay. I don't know how to say this. Let me try and phrase this so I don't offend every single person. I think certain cultures are more in touch with your emotional side. They're not so reserved. I see you as an emotional person, not in a bad way, but a person who understands that and taps into that.

Carlos:

Yeah.

Chris:

Right? For your art, for how you work with clients, following your intuition and just knowing when the winds change and just being able to say, "13 years is enough. I'm going to go start my own thing with no assurances that things are going to work out," but you just do it.

Carlos:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chris:

Is there anything you want to say or respond to that? Like did I get that right?

Carlos:

You absolutely got that right. And while you were talking I was thinking, I need to tell him this because every single day, every single day, I ... First of all, I have no reason to complain about anything, even though I do, because I'm human. And every time I do, something happens in my life, whether it's a story I heard on the news or some guy I see walking down the street or something, that makes me realize, "Get your shit together and man up." Things like, it just happened the other day, I was thinking about something that was bothering me. And I saw this mom pushing her son in a wheelchair. He he had some severe, I don't know what you call it, like ...

Chris:

Like cerebral palsy?

Carlos:

Yeah, something, cerebral palsy. And I couldn't handle it. I just couldn't handle it. And this is what I said to myself. "I can't believe that you were acting that way five minutes ago. Look at what that guy's going through." And I swear to God I said, "Holy shit," like I just did like this. It's unfortunate that I need someone like that to me like a breath of fresh air.

Chris:

Yeah. I think a lot of times we get caught up in our own stuff and we forget how grateful we are just to be alive, to have our health, and to have people in our life, to have a roof over our head. And those moments give you perspective, and it just grounds you in the moment, right?

Carlos:

Absolutely. Every day, every single day, that happens to me. Every single day. I kid you not Chris, I am not saying this to have a cute answer, I really, really do experience this every day. And I hate this to turn into like a super spiritual conversation because that wasn't the intent. I think in general, just if we can recap here, I am the brand that I am, and by brand, the contract, the reputation, or whatever, I am that person because of how I walk the planet.
And sometimes people have said to me, and I've said this in other interviews, they said, "Well yeah, sure. You can walk the planet like that all you want because you're Carlos Segura." And I said, "Well look man, I don't act this way because I'm Carlos Segura. I'm Carlos Segura because I've always acted this way." I mean there were nights before I had my business where I had no money because I didn't want to take projects I didn't want to do. I had no food. I was eating ramen soup. I would buy them in the cartons of like the 20 cartons, and that's what I would have for dinner because I had no money, and that's the price I paid.
So sure yeah, I like doing things and making money, but I just cannot be unhappy or unpleased. Unhappy is kind of like a severe phrase, you know what I mean, because I mean what, you're unhappy because you did a stupid logo? Is that what you did, you little baby? I mean that's how it sounds, right? That's not what I mean. That's not what I mean. I just mean I just want to be the like ... I have a friend in Chicago who's equally the same. He's from Barcelona. I love this guy. He's so cool. He just wants to go live in Jamaica in a hut. He just wants to be happy. He's just like, "Okay, so I don't make a ton of money. So what? I'm living in Jamaica by the ocean in a hut." So it's too much wisdom for one podcast.

Chris:

Okay. I know how to end this. I'm going to ask you just a couple more things and just keying in on this emotion thing, okay? What's one thing that you're afraid of?

Carlos:

Oh God. I'm afraid of dying.

Chris:

What's one thing that makes you smile?

Carlos:

My wife.

Chris:

What's one thing that makes you angry?

Carlos:

My wife.

Chris:

I set you up for that. I knew it was coming. I knew it was coming. And you delivered, thank you Carlos.

Carlos:

No, I couldn't let that go by.

Chris:

No you can't. It was almost like putting meat under a tiger.

Carlos:

It's too easy man. I blame you.

Chris:

Because you know what's going to happen? People would listen to and be like, what makes you smile? My wife. They're like, "Oh." Then it's like, what makes you angry? My wife. So he got real again.

Carlos:

Yeah, truth. Hey, I met her on a blind date. We've been married 34 years.

Chris:

Well you said you know, like in relationships you have intuition, you know what's going to work and you know what's not going to work.

Carlos:

I knew 10 minutes into it. I just knew it.

Chris:

Beautiful.

Carlos:

I did. We decided to get married two weeks after we met.

Chris:

Oh my God, you move fast.

Carlos:

I can't let it go.

Chris:

Yeah. You know what you want.

Carlos:

Yeah.

Chris:

Is there a question I should have asked you that didn't?

Carlos:

You know, I'm actually curious about you. I'd like to do a podcast asking you questions.

Chris:

Okay. I love that.

Carlos:

because I'm very, very, very curious about you.

Chris:

Okay, we'll make a point to do that. And I want to say something because I can't tell how old you are. You have a very young spirit, and age is just like a chronological thing, it reflects nothing about our life experience and how wise we are. But I have to just point out one thing, I'm having conversations on social media and Carlos is responding to it. I'm like what's Carlos doing? Like I can't believe that you're responding and commenting and just engaging.
And that shocks me a little bit because you and I were of the age where we're pre-internet, so all these new things are starting to feel like really foreign to us, but there you are. You're right in it with all the kids. And I love that about you.

Carlos:

I am in it with all the kids. In fact, one of the things that I'm really heavy into right now is augmented reality. I did a couple projects with that. Man, that is just amazing stuff.

Chris:

I saw some of that work. Really beautiful stuff.

Carlos:

Yeah.

Chris:

So Carlos, regardless of how old you are, I wish you to remain the same in terms of like your young spirit.

Carlos:

Are you digging for a number? Do you want me to tell you how old I am?

Chris:

No. If you want to tell me-

Carlos:

Well listen, only out of respect because you did it, so I figure I should do it. I'm 65.

Chris:

65, okay. A young 65 at that.

Carlos:

You know, it's funny. The other day I was on the phone with some support line, I think it was Comcast or some shit like that. It wasn't Comcast because I hate their guts. But the woman I was talking to asked me and she goes, "Oh my goodness, you don't sound like 65. You sound so young." That was the best. So I can pull it off voice wise. Like if this isn't going to be a video podcast, I'm all good.

Chris:

He's actually just 24. Carlos, thank you very much for doing this. I look forward to continuing this conversation in whatever and kind of however our paths may continue to overlap in the future. Thank you for doing this.

Carlos:

Well Chris, I do want to talk to you. I would like to do that podcast. I really did mean what I said. And I would like to do something with you someday in the future, and maybe even have you be a part of some kind of counsel or judging or whatever thing. But I definitely want to stay connected with you because I really do think you're bringing some wonderful wisdom to the table in this market. And just your form and talent, I just absolutely love it. I really do.

Chris:

Thank you so much Carlos.

Carlos:

Thank you so much. My name is Carlos Segura, and you're listening to The Futur.

Greg Gunn:

Thanks for joining us this time. If you haven't already, subscribe to our show on your favorite podcasting app and get a new insightful episode from us every week. The Futur Podcast is hosted by Chris Do and produced by me, Greg Gunn. Thank you to Anthony Borrow for editing and mixing this episode, and thank you to Adam Sandborn for our intro music.
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