I (Cem) studied industrial design as an undergrad but came to realize I actually wanted to be a visual communication designer when I graduated. Emre had started his undergrad in civil engineering, then switched to VCD in his second year. We met while doing our MA studies in the VCD department of Sabancı University and started working together for some inhouse jobs for the university. Then, very organically, our client network expanded by itself and we found ourselves in a stable rhythm with just the right amount of work flowing to us. We didn't have time to make plans, it just happened. After two years we started our own company, and we have never had to look for clients and hunt new jobs, for 10 years now. We believe it's a mixture of luck and doing good work.
It may sound a bit cliché, but our two keywords are communication and respect. The ability to communicate effectively and gracefully solves every problem, and the lack of it creates problems in every step of the design process. This includes getting an accurate brief; agreeing about the expectations of both sides in terms of payments, timing, and other conditions; being in direct contact with the people who make the final decisions about our work (instead of doing meetings with intermediary people who can mislead us about the selection criteria).
And we expect clients to have respect for what we do, for our experience and expertise, just as we respect their expertise on what they do. This means that we like our feedbacks at the meta levels ("We'd prefer a more x feeling.", "This looks a bit x.", "We should emphasize x.", etc.), and we don't let them directly manipulate the design parameters, like typography, layouts, etc. because at that level they mostly don't know what they're talking about. We prefer clients who are aware of this fact, and who see our relationship as a partnership and not a hierarchy.
Yes, Emre teaches typography at Sabancı where we did our MAs, and I give talks (and rarely, workshops) at various platforms. Teaching helps keep you fresh and up-to-date. It also lets you clarify conceptual/theoretical aspects of what you do. Preparing presentations and giving talks work in this direction too, and they are also great for networking, both in getting feedback from people you don't know and in finding new partners/clients.
Emre has been working on a display typeface design as a personal project; he's going to publish it very soon. I have a number of passion projects on my personal website, and the most interesting one is probably Gráphagos, a program where populations of graphic design products (each with a genome) evolve with selection applied by the user.
Oh we had some disasters in these 10 years. A nice example from the beginning of our career: We had a brochure printed with a rather large textual mistake on our part, and when we had them reprinted with our own money (we were still students) the client was very impressed. We also keep learning from disasters related to the organization and the administration of the relationship with the client: details about quotes, timing, meetings, etc. And we do learn from them in a very material way: Each time we have such a problem, we add a clause about it in our quote document in order not to go through it in the future. For example, after we had an enlightenment moment in the middle of the night when we were struggling with preparing the 9th presentation for a logo, we realized that we should set limits for the amount of alternatives and presentations for a project, and started adding that information in our quotes. (This was again early in our career.) Of course sometimes we still do more than that number, but at least we have the written document to fall back on if we need it. We learned that knowing when to stop is important, even though it's sometimes hard.