Hackysack

hackysack
It was a bright spring day in 1993 that carried on the breeze the practical concept of Myriad Media. Of course, there were earlier influences, such as natural inclination, simple coincidence, good friends, an aunt with a swanky Art Deco photo studio, a college professor who insisted that students “always put the camera away empty!”, a grandfather who shot reels of Technicolor 8mm film, and parents who built everything through pursuing dreams.

However, the winds of change crept quietly; Myriad Media was sparked, most simply, by frustrated inertia. That spring, three communication graduates who recently turned their tassels—Alan Ashe, Tony Cope and Will Feichter—found themselves tiring of meager work opportunities and yearning for something new. Alan and Tony were making a gaunt hourly wage providing audio-visual support for Glaxo, IBM, and other RTP notables, while Will labored as an administrative assistant at Rhone-Poulenc, a French agri-chemical giant. In a sputtering economy, these posts taught valuable entry-level lessons and kept the crew in living quarters, but didn’t do much else. The trio was tiring of treading water, continuously defaulting to superiors who glazed over their potential and promise. Alan, Tony, and Will believed they had more to offer.

Enjoying brews, barbecues, and casual games of hacky sack were ways for the graduates to cut loose and briefly ignore the looming pressure of career expectation. Whether at an impromptu cookout at Alan’s apartment off of Jones Franklin Road, over a drink too many in Chapel Hill or on Tony’s wooded porch in North Raleigh, interesting ideas about video production began to float. A new computer technology called non-linear editing simplified the craft through a series of cut, copy, and paste commands. Also, the first of the affordable small-video formats, Hi8, was making begrudged inroads into professional video production. Naturally, the conversations of the three tech junkies ventured into possibilities, and quickly turned to frenzied whirlwinds of excitement and anticipation.

Around the same time, Will’s employer was engaging in the typical corporate shell game, spiking fleeting profits that nipped at the heels of temporary cost cuts. A company-wide memo announced all the news Will needed: Any employee was eligible to receive a six-month salary if they simply quit. At first, this seemed nonsensical to the young employee, who tossed the memo, basketball-hoop-style, into the trash. However, with the challenge of a kind and enthusiastic co-worker, David, and conversations with Tony and Alan, Will reconsidered.

He rolled the dice, signed the memo, and hoped that a little uncertainty would eventually result in a more desirable path.

The necessary signature was scrawled, and Will walked away with a little money and a lot of motivation to get serious. The friends’ casual conversations suddenly became a lot more pointed: How would we get clients? Where would the money come from? Who knew how to write a business plan? What would we call it? Of particular importance was Myriad Media’s founding question: What could we offer that was unique? This question was formidable, but as the triad began exploring contacts and connections, a pattern emerged. Folks needed good videos, but they didn’t want to break the bank to get them. A call to the grandfather of area production companies, Videofonics, would ensure top-notch production, but would be paid for in eyeteeth. A wedding video company could be recruited for a cheap sum, but the quality would be likewise.

The niche became clear: Use new digital technology to cut costs and, at the same time, deliver outstanding work.

As the breeze of spring gave way to the heat of summer, Tony and Alan continued to grind out AV work, while Will took the lead in writing the business plan. He leaned on his six-month’s pay and his tolerant new wife, Molly, for support. Meetings were held, drafts were exchanged, equipment was researched, enduring relationships with vendors were formed, a list of target bankers was drawn up, and family members were approached with hat in hand. The wind was kicking up, and Myriad Media was taking flight.

It didn’t come easy.

A fierce eye was placed on the business plan that all three entrepreneurs painstakingly wrote, rewrote, edited, and improved. Stretching over eighty pages long, it contained executive summaries, a marketing plan, financial projections, customer service policies, education plans, market analysis, graphs, charts, and even fail-safe contingencies. Because the trio dared to plan for the worst, the contingencies inadvertently scared off a banker or two. The businessmen were gathering small pebbles of advice from family and friends, making new acquaintances, and moving forward little by little. They were lucky.

Alan and Will each got small loans from family, while Tony agreed to put in all his freelance work, including a contact at IBM with whom Myriad Media continues to work on an exceptionally frequent basis. Not long after, the clan met Nate James, a confident, funny, and quick-talking advisor with the Small Business and Technology Design Center in Raleigh. Nate continually challenged the crew to revise, to rework, to revisit, to get better. However, a frustrating pattern began to unfold. While the excited entrepreneurs waited for the bankers to give their blessings before putting the shingle out, they were met with silence. In July, sensing the trio’s fitfulness, Nate offered a direct and compelling admonition: “Just start. Don’t wait for anyone to tell you it’s okay, because no one will.”

So, on August 2, 1993, Myriad Media flicked on the lights for the first time.

Home was two shabby sublet rooms in a small office condo, addressed 827 North Bloodworth Street, near downtown Raleigh. The furniture was used and tired, consisting of a few pleather desk chairs (torn) and two old laminate desks (though they needed three). A single Apple Macintosh SE30 with an 80-megabyte hard drive and black ‘n’ white screen provided all the company’s computing power.

As the crew took its first trip to Office Max, they unknowingly stumbled into an important corporate milestone. When Tony and Will confidently tossed a $10 calculator into the group’s basket, Alan, wringing hands and shaking his head, became stress personified. This might have been Myriad Media’s first “official” high stakes meeting: Should we roll the dice and get this calculator? The optimists ruled, and the investment was made. It was a good one too, as that calculator still sits on Will’s desk, pumping numbers to this day.

It took approximately six months, or the duration of Will’s fronted salary, for Myriad Media to grow from an idea fueled by idle dissatisfaction to a full-fledged, incorporated business.

Happily, the company was granted two lucky gems that pushed them along. In September 1998, over two years after Alan’s amicable departure for a job at CNN, Myriad Media was staring at its first uphill climb. A recent major hire inexplicably withdrew after only a six-month tenure. Plus, business was alarmingly sluggish.

But out of nowhere, a young, charismatic, hip-hopping Latino walked through the door, hoping for a chance. Ricardo was the company’s first successful hire and quickly went from working two days a week at $7 per hour to full-time digital media artist. Now, he creates business opportunities, is a key leader for the company, and has well surpassed the legal drinking age. In many ways, Ricardo was like that late round draft pick who ends up as one of the best all stars in the league.

Myriad’s second gem arrived in July of 2000, when the company hired a walking comedy club named Chris. Following gut-busting humor, his second strongest trait was editing. Chris, like Ricardo, was another talented youngster hoping to catch a break. Through the years, Chris has driven Myriad Media forward by taking the company’s postproduction game to new heights. With Chris, clients and teammates come first, even if that routinely means dark office nights spent editing and encoding. The sweat, vision, and faith of the Myriad team is just as important to the building of the company as those early days of hacky sack, cook-outs and business planning were.

The Myriad crew—relatively young and naïve at the start—was smiled upon and honored with luck. But, the original elements of optimism, trust, sacrifice, and goodwill continue to serve as common values and lead the firm to nothing but good places.