When you ask someone how they started their business, you’ll likely get an answer along the lines of, “I just sort of fell into it”. It’s usually a pretty crazy story of what sounds like pure coincidence or just dumb luck. Maybe something like, “I was painting my house and a random person drove by and asked me to paint their house, so I started my painting business”. Often, these people will even say that they didn’t intend to create their own business.
Now, I’m not saying that there’s not a lot of hard work involved, but to people wanting that answer to be able to use in their own situation, it seems like they were just, lucky.
Since I was in high school, I knew that I wanted to run my own company. I also knew that I wanted it to revolve around creativity and making of some sort. So, like everyone else, I was constantly seeking the answer to how others started to see if I could figure out how to do it myself. After running into the “I fell into it” answers a bunch, I remember constantly asking myself if it’s even possible to successfully start a business intentionally.
After I graduated college, I generally knew the path that I wanted to take to running my business. I wanted to start by getting a full-time job to learn more about animation and whatever I could about the business side of things until I was ready to jump off on my own. In my head, that was about 2 - 4 years.
In the 6 months that I went without a full-time job, I made about $1000 in my freelance business.
After not being able to find a job immediately after graduating college though, I decided that I was going to have to start my business way before I was ready. Looking back, this was one of the best decisions I could have made. Not because it was a huge success, but because it wasn’t. In the 6 months that I went without a full-time job, I made about $1000 in my freelance business. For anyone that pays school loans, you know this just isn’t possible to live like this. But I got a pretty solid understanding of how you can’t run a business. This sort of gave me a benchmark of what I needed to work on and learn more about. And that was basically, everything.
Once I finally got my first job, I remember working 2-4 hours every night and a bunch on the weekends. Sometimes it was freelance projects, sometimes it was personal projects and sometimes it was just research and learning new things about business or animation. It was tough to figure out exactly what I should be learning, to be honest I still have this struggle. And while I believe there is a right answer to that question, there’s really no wrong answer as long as you’re learning something.
If they’re working 8 hours a day, I knew I needed to work at least 10.
I’ve always had this thought that the people that are better than me had years of experience over me. So, I’ve always felt I needed to find a way to catch up and pass them someday if I wanted to be the best. I know people hate the idea of competition in creativity and art, but trying to be the best with healthy competition is what always drives me to keep pushing every single day. So that’s why I sort of made it a rule for myself to keep working those nights and weekends because it was my only way to catch the competition. If they’re working 8 hours a day, I knew I needed to work at least 10.
Now, I also want to make it known that I’ve always gotten between 6 - 8 hours of sleep every night, that’s one thing I’ve proudly never sacrificed. Others will tell you that you have to work all night to get projects done, but I think that kind of “hero” talk is not only terrible for creativity, but extremely unhealthy for you personal well-being.
So, after 2 years of doing that, I felt like I hit a wall in my path to running a successful animation company. The biggest problem I realized is that my work just wasn’t getting to the level that it needed to be, to be the best. I decided that I needed to focus on that side of things for a bit and surround myself with people that pushed me to getting to that level. So, I moved to Los Angeles to work in a young, small studio that not only pushed way more out of me, but also taught me a bunch about starting a company since they were still going through a lot of that themselves.
It wasn’t until about 3 years of that, that I felt like I was ready to give running a business another try. But now I was married and had a kid, so the risk factor had gone up significantly from the last time I tried. Yes, starting a company is a risky endeavor on it’s own, but having a family and being the only income made it way more risky.
I made the decision to move to Columbus, Ohio because not only was it closer to my home, but it was simply easier to afford the risk. And after talking to a few people from here, I also saw the growing creative community and knew that they could ALSO push me to be better.
I’ve been running my business in Columbus for almost 3 years full-time now. While I can’t say Zwelly is a hugely successful animation company just yet, I can say that I’m proud of the work that goes out everyday and the people it’s made for. There’s been a some bad days but they’ve been significantly outweighed by the good days.
Starting a business is tough for a lot of reasons. Yes, It’s a lot of work, but what’s even harder is knowing WHAT you should be working on or learning about both before you start and while you’re running it. If you are working to start your own company, here’s 3 pieces of advice.
- Find a way to catch up to others that have what you want. I can tell you confidently, that after going through a lot of this, you won’t be able run a business on luck. You have to simply put in the time if you want to be good at something, and you have to put in more than the minimum amount of time if you want to be great.
- Sleep good. A rested mind can do double the amount of work that a tired mind can do in the same amount of time.
- Surround yourself with people that get the best work out of you, wherever that might be in the world. But, start by looking in your own backyard before feeling like you need to be in a big city.
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