So, vulnerability tends to be a characteristic I admire in people, businesses, and brands. It exposes real and honest caverns in those hidden spaces we would otherwise like to be left unseen. It can be a very uncomfortable and humbling experience to pull back the curtain and show the world that we may not be as closely linked with the "spit and polish" version we work to project outward.
It's easy to see how a person can be in a position to feel vulnerable but what about a company or even a brand? Well, I certainly didn't come right out of the gates knowing a great deal about my craft, but I still put myself, and my brand on the chopping block time and time again for review, approval, and/or ridicule. I am reminded of a quote from the Tim Ferriss book "The 4 Hour Work Week" where Mr. Ferriss is quoted as saying "Life begins at the end of your comfort zone". So, when you're overwhelmed with nervousness and the butterflies in your stomach seem to have maximized their quantity of Red Bull for the day, you just might be working on the awkward and humbling beginnings of something great. Give it a shot!
In the interest of vulnerability and transparency, here is a look at some of the history of my brand throughout my career in design:
The Chicken or the Egg
Question: Which came first, my inability to execute proper design work, or, the misguided idea that I did, in fact, have the ability to execute proper design work?
I have have been heavily involved in the arts since age 5 but mainly as a musician. It wasn't until I was working as a Business Consultant (read sales agent) for the Yellow Pages Group at their head office is Scarborough, Ontario that I started gaining an interest in the visual arts. Actually, this all started as a New Year's resolution to become a more well-rounded artist and not just focus on the aural arts anymore. Nevertheless, working as a "Business Consultant" at the YPG I worked directly with clients to develop their advertising portfolio in the big yellow book. From time to time there were quarter-page, half-page, full-page ads and the like that required design work. For these, we would send a detailed outline of what the graphic need was, wait two weeks for the art department to turn around a first draft of the design, then two weeks in between each revision, and so-on. Endless to say, when you're making your living on commissions from sales (Ahem...I mean, Business Consulting), this sort of long and drawn out process wasn't pumping up the ol' paycheque so well. So, I did what I assume anyone would do in that situation...I downloaded a trial version of the CorelDraw suite and muscled my way through my first designs. Looking back on it now I cringe at the "work" I was putting out but at the time it was really helping my sales to be able to turn around a "design" inside of a few hours versus a few months. And the craziest thing started happening, I was gaining clients. And by clients I mean other co-workers in the office that wanted the same kind of rush turnaround for their clients. Well that was easy! So, I started a business, called myself Static Media (which in hindsight is an absolutely terrible name for a company in which you intend to facilitate forward motion...yeah brilliant), and dove in to an empty pool head-first. Time to quit my job and steady paycheque and go into business for myself. I mean, I have no prior experience, no ability, no computer, no software, and no idea what I was getting into. But, I did have clients so how hard could this be? I'm sure you can imagine the rude awakening I fell into shortly after that.
To the right is my first company logo. Really shows off my exemplary design ability at the time, don't you think? Note the skillfully plotted colour choice in the text. Surely the subliminal "sign up" message would have clients lined up around the block. Smooth.
The deeply hidden hustler inside of me had to kick in and take over for a while so I wouldn't starve. At this time I was lucky enough to be given a great opportunity by a gentleman named Stephen Abel. The opportunity was at a company called Chas Abel in downtown Toronto as a graphic designer and print technician. Chas Abel was at one time the largest photofinishing wholesaler in all of Canada. At the time I was lucky enough to get a job with them they had their hands into more boutique printing, silk screening, sublimating mugs, and other promo print items like that. This was an absolutely great time in my life and a broad swooping learning curve in my design life. As an aside, I would highly recommend working in print for a while if you are thinking about starting a design career. There's no better way to get the type of hands-on knowledge that will stay with you throughout your career. Any print vendors you work with down the line will appreciate that you have a decent handle and understanding of their restrictions and challenges. I spent a few years with Chas Abel, moved away for a couple of years then moved back to Toronto and was welcomed back to the print shop to work during the last year they remained open before they closed their doors for good. Below is a photo showing the wreckage in the wake of what was once Chas Abel Photo Service.
Now armed with a few years of design in a real live print shop, I went back to the whole freelance gig. But, I had to shake things up a bit. Static Media? C'mon, I was better than that now. Yeah, that's right, I didn't spend 4 years in a rap rock band and not learn anything...
C is for beginners, K?
The rebirth of my first design business venture saw the "c" in Static get dropped for the much cooler misspelling of the word using a "k" in it's place. And Statik Media took the baton and kept on with the race.
To the left is the hip-hop version of my original brand. Way cooler right?
Well, it's still not the champion of a brand that I really would have liked for it to be but it was, at least, a metered step forward from the original Static Media "branding". And so it was, Statik Media took me through the next 10 or so years in my career. Along the way I had a great number of significantly supportive clients, family, and friends who held my hand through some of the most humbling years of my life. My career even saw an expansion of the Statik brand into my infancy as a photographer. I did, at least, have the presence of mind to create a common visual thread in the brand I used for design work and the new brand I had created for my photography work.
Time to Propel Forward
Battered, bruised, and better for it, I kept with it. Along the way I had the great fortune to learn from a lot of distinguished design and marketing professionals and I am now more inspired than ever by my peers and especially the injection of young talent that are hitting the ground running with their own humble beginnings.
It's hard to believe how much has happened over the last 17, 18 years or so, but one thing I'm sure of is that I'm not done falling down and making a fool of myself. I guess what I'm saying is that I'm not ready to be static just yet.
Where are all of my vulnerable peers?
I'd love to hear your "humble beginnings" story. Big or small, what was it like for you when you started your first business? Who were the people in your cheering section that kept you going? What were the tricks and techniques you used to pick yourself up after encountering the turbulent waters of entrepreneurship? Feel free to join the conversation. Otherwise, send me an email and we can start an off-blog discussion.
Thanks for connecting!