From Artist to Entrepreneur: TEDC Highlights Ways to Grow a Business – Creative Capital Series
In the latest episode of our Creative Capital Series, we speak with May Yang, owner of Flash Flood Printing Studios of Tulsa. She discusses her experience carrying on her family’s legacy of entrepreneurship and outgrowing her garage to overseeing a full-time artist-led staff and having the time to pursue her personal artwork. All having been made possible by working with TEDC Creative Capital, Yang was able to expand her business to a larger space and purchase equipment that increased her team’s capacity for production.
We also speak with Angela Byers, Founder and CEO of Byers Creative, and Ray Fitzgerald, Assistant Director of Loan Programs for TEDC Creative Capital, about blending creativity and financial strategy for business growth and success.
[Beginning of Transcript]
May Yang: Hi, I’m May Yang, and I own Flash Flood Print Studios. Flash Flood is a screen printing studio located in the Kendall Whittier district of Tulsa, and we are an artist-led and community-driven studio.
We produce printed garments, posters, and other merchandise for our wonderful clients.
My favorite type of printing is always gonna be printing on paper. It’s that artistic background that I came from, and I think it’s just really fun to work on a cool event poster or show poster for bands big and small.
I went to college at the Maryland Institute College of Art. I studied graphic design and fell in love with printmaking while I was there.
And then, after I graduated college proper, I went to the Tamarind Institute, which is in Albuquerque; it’s a very specific printmaking program for lithography. And one of the courses there that we had to learn was about business and how to start your own studio relative to printmaking. So, it was hugely influential for me to have to go through the motions of putting together a budget, writing a business plan, and trying to take into account those first steps.
I grew up with the idea that I could own my own business because my parents were living that.
They had a restaurant throughout my entire childhood. I think that really helped shape whether or not this was a possibility for me pretty early on.
So, the moment that I decided to go for it was actually a kind of funny moment for me. I was working somewhere else and had been pulled aside by my supervisor at that point, and they were telling me that I didn’t seem dedicated to the job, and they wanted me to take a week to think about, you know, what I was gonna bring to the job.
I actually came back that next week and turned in my two weeks because they were right. I was not dedicated to the job, and I was really wanting to start this business.
So, that was kind of the right moment. It gave me this epiphany that if I want to do what I’m passionate about, I should just go ahead and start this business.
Angela Byers: I’m Angela Byers, and my company is Byers Creative.
My journey from being a traditional graphic designer to owning my company actually came out of a little bit of adversity. I had worked in corporate America for ten years as a graphic designer in a corporate communications department, and I was laid off along with a lot of others in the company and I call myself the instant entrepreneur.
There was a lot of uncertainty in those early days, but I was up for the challenge, and I was also six months pregnant. And so I was, you know, excited about the opportunity of being able to stay home.
You know, sometimes adversity gets us to where we need to be, and that’s been my path.
Having been in business 20 years, we didn’t just get from A to B, you know, there was a, there was a process by which we, you know, we started and where we are today and it’s through, you know, hiring great people, hiring contractors, growing through brick and mortar. So, you know, we have had five offices, the first was a bedroom of the house.
Then, I remember moving into my first, true traditional office. It was 500 square feet, and I was so excited. I felt like it was huge, and it was like this dream office, but it truly was 500 square feet. At one point, we had five people in that office, and there were no more outlets left.
It was almost inhumane, but we all had a lot of fun. We were all creatives. And it was time for another office at that point, obviously. We were all busting at the seams.
And through the years, too, we’ve needed equipment to do the work we do. We use software, so there’s a lot of software involved in, in the work that we do, really great computer equipment.
It’s worked well for us, I think.
We’ve grown year over year in these 20 years, slowly, methodically.
May Yang: When we first started, we were working out of my garage.
We were kind of slowly working up to getting enough jobs to even take that first step into needing a space, so it’s just been like slow growth throughout. We moved into Kendall Whittier in 2015, and we worked there for about three years before we knew we were bottlenecking in production.
We were only able to do a certain amount of jobs, because we were printing everything by hand, and we knew if we had this new equipment we would be able to increase production by a ton.
When I was trying to figure out what I could do to expand the business, and potentially get funding for the business when that time of expansion came, I actually had somebody refer me to TEDC. That kind of became the point where I knew that this is who I needed to contact whenever I needed funding.
We were looking to expand both space and to get more equipment for our studio, and that was like the big purchase that we knew we needed help with.
I submitted the paperwork, and then maybe two, three weeks after that, we were signing the final contract and then the money was just there. It felt like kind of magical, almost.
Ray Fitzgerald: Hi, I’m Ray Fitzgerald. I’m the Assistant Director of Loan Programs here at TEDC, and I help clients get through the loan process.
One of the great things about working at TEDC is that we have a wide variety of loan programs available to help entrepreneurs and founders start or grow their businesses.
Some of the loans that really get me excited when they come through are either managers that are realizing that they can acquire the business and take over as the, the founder, the entrepreneur is looking to exit, or startup opportunities that this person’s worked really hard and created this idea, and they’re just wanting to see it come to light, and TEDC can be a great place for those individuals.
We have our lending opportunities, but we also have our learning opportunities. So no matter what stage you’re at in your journey, TEDC can help you find and navigate a way to grow your company or to start your company. We have an application checklist, which has documents that we’ll need in order to underwrite, and if we identify gaps in your expertise, then we’re here to support you throughout that journey.
We partner with several different organizations in order to support entrepreneurs. We might partner with Oklahoma Small Business Development (Centers). We might also partner with SCORE, numerous nonprofits, and for-profits throughout the city and state.
Some of the ways that TEDC has supported entrepreneurial growth is through the acquisition of
things like equipment or real estate. So during your journey as you startup, you’re in a small space, you’re typically leasing, maybe you don’t have quite the state-of-the-art equipment.
As you grow your business and you start to have an increase in clients, you’re looking for more efficiency or ways to save capital. And by switching out that rent for a commercial real estate opportunity, or switching out some of that introductory equipment that may be a little bit more technical, can really increase the efficiency and allow you to grow your business.
Another way TEDC has helped businesses scale up is by providing the needed working capital in order to increase hiring. Job creation is a big goal here at TEDC. Entrepreneurs are able to get that hiring they need, to have a little bit of working capital, in order to make sure that as they grow they can continue to pay their operating expenses.
Some of the great ways TEDC helps support businesses as they grow is through some of those ancillary goods that come with big asset purchases, financing out insurances, or warranties, or installation costs.
So utilizing TEDC and our low-cost, fixed rates enables some of that growth or some of those things that you might’ve forgotten.
So TEDC’s mission is to support economic growth throughout the city of Tulsa and the state of Oklahoma. I think it’s an incredible mission. I get to look at all these individuals who are really looking to grow their businesses, start their businesses, be involved in the economy, and put their best foot forward.
And I get to be the one that says, “Let’s help you out here at TEDC!”
May Yang: Sometimes the solutions I come up with are so out of the box. It would never be something that somebody who is a business person or has a business degree, would think of
just because it’s like maybe wrong, you know, wrong in that sort of way that maybe you shouldn’t do it this way, but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t.
I feel like at this point our clients come to us because we are artists, and we’re able to kind of offer some creative feedback to whatever ideas they bring us, or if they have a certain problem that needs to be solved, we’re great creative problem solvers. We always come up with some weird out-of-the-box solution, that I don’t necessarily feel like we would’ve arrived at
if we weren’t all artists, and all passionate about the medium.
I think it’s pretty helpful to be an artist.
Angela Byers: I think that the pros of being a creative professional and going into leadership is that you are uninhibited, you’re able to make decisions quickly, I think, and creatively.
You can think out of the box.
On the negative of being a creative professional is sometimes there’s an unwieldy side, or a side that, um, may not follow a traditional formula, but that’s where my husband and CFO comes in, because he kind of reigns in the free spirit in me. And I remember when I first started the company and he joined, you know, he said, “Gosh, it’s great that, you know, you’re producing great work for clients, Angela, but let’s get paid!”
So Michael came into the company and made sure that we were paid, and we’re paying our taxes on time, just following all the regulations and laws and we have worked really well together as a team over the years. I’ve been the creative free spirit and he kind of brings in that, that business acumen that is always needed in a company.
So have I struggled with being a creative professional, and being a leader? Absolutely.
I didn’t go to business school, so when I started Byers Creative I was truly just a free-spirited creative. You know, I had a four-year college degree, but I really never learned traditional business principles, and so I did have some struggles getting the business off the ground.
I have failed so many times in the course of the 20 years that I’ve been in business. And I think the failure hasn’t held me back, it’s actually made me stronger. I’ve seen it as an opportunity to grow. I always say feedback is gold.
And it feels good when you have some wins, and you have people tell you your work is really good, you’re great at that thing that you’re producing for me. Thank you. When you get those thank you’s that feels great – when you know, your impact in the world is being recognized and received.
May Yang: I love the team of people that I work with. I love the projects that we work on. So there’s always gonna be a level of joy to where going to work doesn’t feel necessarily like work.
I have enough employees that run the day-to-day of the studio that I am actually able to work on my own personal artwork now, which took a pretty major backseat, a big hiatus when I started the company in the first place.
So it’s been like, what, maybe six to eight years where I’ve like seriously had time to think about my own art. Now I have this time to do that, and I’m able to kind of bring all of these ideas that have been on the back burner further forward.
I just never thought that I would be in this position where I own my own business. It’s a lot of work to own a business, and it’s a lot of work that doesn’t stop necessarily at 5:00 p.m. But, at the end of the day, I’m ultimately in control of where this ship goes, and that’s a pretty cool feeling.
[End of Transcript]
ABOUT TEDC CREATIVE CAPITAL
TEDC Creative Capital works to remove barriers in order to level the playing field for all who desire to build successful businesses, despite their zip code, race or personal financial strength.
Our goal is economic vitality, growth, and strength in Oklahoma.
Explore the strategies TEDC Creative Capital uses to support the economic success of Oklahoman entrepreneurs and review our programs to learn how we can help!
THANK YOU TO OUR SPONSOR, STIR, LLC.
STIR, LLC specializes in creating profitable connections that pave the way for opportunities to flourish and thrive. By providing holistic search optimization services to agencies, enterprises, and local businesses, STIR works to build digital relevance and authority through meaningful connections to stir up opportunity for our clients.