Birth of a Sign Company

When one steps out into the wonderful world of starting their own business, whether by choice, or necessity, success isn’t usually marked by a sudden jump to the big leagues.  Instead, it’s like a slow burn, or turning a giant wheel.  If you can just get it one big roll over, when a project goes from contact, to contract, to deposit – over and over – then it begins to feel like a real business.  It’s an exciting time, and one I am able to write about from current experience.  My first small business venture, except from always having my freelance ventures on the side, while working for “the man,” is just starting to take off.  I have a sizable job, have just contracted an even larger second project, and have three or four about to be signed off on.  I’m just getting started, but the growth channels are huge, with so many avenues to pursue.  And it’s going at a pace that’s enough to challenge me, but not overwhelm me, since I’m so green in many areas of my industry, it’s especially challenging to learn on the job while you’re executing projects.  Which leads me to the point of this blog entry, which is how, at 49 years old, a life time of experience has finally converged into a relevant business venture.  ElectreMedia – Signs and Design.  My own little baby, who’s just taking her very first steps.  She’s been standing on her own for a summer, but is just now putting one foot in front of the other.  For the first time, one contract is completing fabrication, while my first restaurant just went under contract, another design was just approved by the client, and I’m designing a fourth for the same property management company.  The wheel is just beginning to turn.

While growing up my interests were always toward art and music, excelling at each during different portions of my life.  I won a scholarship for art in high school, but decided to travel in an 80’s rock band instead, and didn’t end up in college until I was 24.  I decided a degree in professional writing was safe, as I could use it in business, or music, whichever I ended up doing.  I took my degree, and loads of enthusiasm to Nashville in November, 1993.  After about a year of starving, I finally landed a job as Publicity Assistant for Capricorn Records.  I was 30, and hungry.  I had the experience of being the “artist,” but also had some pretty decent writing chops.  So, working publicity for the college roster, and hanging out with 311, Cake, Sonia Dada, the Freddy Jones Band, Ian Moore and Wide Spread Panic was a very cool gig.  I learned a tremendous amount before they sold out to Mercury NY that Christmas, and I received my first ever “pink slip” and was laid off (permanently) along with most of the label.  I had been let go plenty of times during my life, but this one hurt.  I loved the job.  I later worked for Media FORCE, then AristoMedia as a national media publicist before moving back to Oklahoma City as an account manager for Jordan Associates Advertising.  I had never been in advertising before, but Jordan was trying to land a new national account, which happened to be a national music retailer based in Oklahoma City at the time, CD Warehouse.  The experience I had gained in the business-side of the music industry, made Jordan look very attractive.  They ended up getting the account, and moved me from Nashville to Oklahoma City in 1999.  Four months later the Chief Financial Officer for CD Warehouse offered me a National Marketing Manager position, which I took immediately.  I had learned quite a bit about the advertising industry in a very short time, but doing the writing, media, advertising and developing cooperative ad ventures for 320 stores in 5 countries was more up my alley.  It was a move up, and a move closer to an industry I was more familiar with.  This entire time I was learning 3D software and some video animation.  I had worked with PCs since the Mac Classic in the 80’s, and own my own PC my first year of college.  I was working with cool program called Ray Dream Studio, which only hardcore old 3D graphics guys will remember.  I used Photoshop 4 to layout the graphics for the CD Warehouse ads I created, and Pagemaker for the printed newsletter.  I mastered early FrontPage to create a weekly e-newsletter to the corporate and franchisee stores.  In 2000, this was not yet a very common practice.  I remember reading this little 3″ blurb about a new company that had created a unique search method that might prove promising, so I decided to check them out.  Google had “beta” in red letters on their homepage, and I’ve used them ever since.  I couldn’t buy any stock, but the experience of digging through the early and emerging web was proving more and more valuable.  After leaving that position a year later, I decided to try and pursue my interest in computers and software as a vocation, and I landed a Technical Writer position for a new software company called Apigent Solutions, which was part of the larger Chickasaw Telecom.  I was laid off two weeks later, along with about 80 others throughout the company.  During my exit interview, the HR Director for a sister company, SureTel, mentioned a technical writing position they had in their training department.  I landed that job, and began using my writing skills again developing training materials for their call centers and upper-level management.  I also continued my interest in technology, and learning cool computer software.  I ran across some training software called Authorware, and another animation program from the same company called Flash, and I was in geek heaven.  I was crazy about the stiff office environment, but the Training Director flew me to training seminars and classes all over the country.  Because of Flash, a single important software program, I was able to buy my first house.  At the time, that skill alone was in high demand.  Everyone was wanting animated intros for their websites and promotional CDs.  I came up with ElectreMedia, which I felt could represent whatever my freelance work might turn into.  I ended up going back to the sister company as a Multimedia Instructional Designer, before being laid off 10 months later.  I jumped ship to Al La Mode, Inc, a real estate appraisal software company in the newly created position of Creative Director.  Ten months later I was laid off with about 50 others in a major downsizing.

I wasn’t in a very good situation, having skills that were practically unheard of in Oklahoma City at the time.  The only advanced Authorware developers worked for Boeing or Hertz, and I was making too much money to take the first lowest bid that came in.  Everyone knows that taking a pay cut can often reset your entire pay scale.  I had a good job lead that came out of San Antonio, and having lived their during my adolescence, I decided it’d probably be a good move.  I applied for a teaching position at a technology school called the Design and Technology Academy, which was a magnet school in the San Antonio Independent school system.  My skills with writing, creating training manuals, learning theories, and my software skills – all combined into a new career in design instruction.  DATA was invaluable in the sheer exposure to design technology I was able to immerse myself in.  I learned 3D Studio Max, Lightwave 3D, Maya – you name it, along with literally hundreds of other simple and advanced software applications.

Fast-forward to the present.  My experience and skills have merged into a business that makes such perfect sense, I’m surprised it never occurred to me before now.  I worked for a small t-shirt printing company before college, and as an account manager for a graphics company while trying to break into the music business in Nashville, who made signs, vinyl graphics and displays.  From experience in marketing, advertising, media, professional writing, graphics, design, illustration, 3D modeling, lighting, film, promotion, printing – now, designing logo signs and display graphics makes perfect sense.  The future of this new small business appears to be very bright and illuminated!

Kalen Lake

Owner/Creative Director