Of all the founder stories out there, this one has a pretty unexpected beginning.
In 7th grade, my history teacher (we call him Coach Rice) assigned everyone in the class a project. We were studying the American Revolution and how the United States government was formed, so our teacher wanted us to create our own nations. To tell the story of our nations, Coach Rice wanted us to pair up and make a video about the project.
There were roughly twenty kids in my class. Through a combination of luck and process of elimination, I was paired up with a kid that I had met in 4th grade. We were always competing against each other, whether it was on tests or simply getting to lunch first when class ended. This little rivalry of ours had continued on from elementary school to middle school. This would be the first time we ever work together.
That kid’s name was Wesley Samples.
I bought a camcorder from Best Buy, and together Wesley and I set out to make our nation. As you might expect from a farm boy with airsoft guns and a weird kid who really liked action movies, we spent most of our time just filming Wesley shooting at me to represent the treatment of natives in our great nation (only later did we realize the implications of this choice of topic and our roles). We finished the project at the end of the semester.
But, as it turned out, Wesley and I really liked making videos.
For me, it was like telling a story with a camera. I always loved stories; I spent most of my days as a kid writing fiction and reading books about adventurous kids and tales of epic travels. I liked making videos and watching people laugh and smile at my work.
It was around that time that YouTube was beginning to really take off. I watched people like Nigahiga, Kev Jumba, Freddie Wong, and much more. As I watched these videos, I felt this desire to make my own videos and start my own YouTube channel. I asked Wesley if he wanted to start a YouTube channel, and he was down. All we had to do was come up with a name. Being the creative individuals we were in middle school, Wesley and I spent hours trying to come up with a name that would represent our values and the brand that our content would be housed under.
Thus, Aimless Experts was born.
Wesley and I established a routine in high school. We would make videos on the weekends, bringing friends and pizza together in an endeavor to create content that we would all enjoy. There was never any sort of expectation that we would become big on YouTube, or any of us would actually get paid for all of our efforts. We simply did it for the fun and challenge.
As expected, the first videos were absolutely horrible. They were straight, blatant copies of the videos made by popular YouTubers, further exacerbated by our terrible filmmaking skills and our pedestrian equipment. But we kept making films, and we eventually grew better. Our stories became smoother and more vivid. Our equipment was upgraded. Our skills evolved, forged by years of practice and mistakes.
Time passed, and Wesley and I went to college at Georgia Tech. There, something special happened.
We received a phone call.
It was our high school friend, Rostam. At the time, he was attending Emory University. As we caught up with each other, not having talked in several months, Rostam told us in hushed tones, “Guys, I need your help with a video.”
Our response: “What video?”
Turns out, Rostam and his friend Brian had been working on something since they had met in biology class. They had devised an idea for a medical device called R.E.D.S, which stood for Rapid Ebola Detection Strips. The idea was that R.E.D.S would function as an easy, quick, and convenient method of detecting the presence of the Ebola virus in the bloodstream. But to do lab testing and actually develop the product, Rostam needed funding. So, he turned to Indiegogo, a crowdfunding platform. But to make an Indiegogo campaign, he needed a video.
Enter Wesley and me.
It was an easy video to make. We filmed it in a couple of hours and produced it in a single day. We gave Rostam the video and told him to let us know how the campaign went. His target was $14,500, an ambitious goal for a couple of college freshmen with nothing but an idea and a dream.
They raised $14,605 in 30 days.
Wesley and I, sitting in his dorm room in Perry Residence Hall, were astonished. That video we had made for Rostam had helped him raise over $14,000? It was nothing short of a revelation for the two of us. We had never thought of our videos as anything but something fun to do on the weekends. But the R.E.D.S project had shown us that our content had power, and people were moved by it. Certainly, enough that they would give their hard-earned money to some college students.
Rostam introduced us to a friend at Emory, Kaeya Majmundar. She was an entrepreneur that had recently been featured on Shark Tank. Kaeya had an idea for a new product that she wanted to fund with a Kickstarter campaign, so she needed help to make the video. At the time, Wesley and I couldn’t believe it. We were excited to be able to work with such an accomplished entrepreneur. She even paid us, something we had never expected. Wesley and I made the video for her, and she ran the campaign. Her goal was $8,000, and she ended up raising $8,140 in 30 days.
At that point, Wesley and I knew we had something. But then, the question that popped into our minds was this: what next?
Soon, the summer had arrived. Wesley and I were working at AT&T (yes, somehow we managed to end up interning at the same company too) in Atlanta. For our first internships, it was pretty exciting in the beginning.
That energy lasted all of two weeks.
As I sat in my cubicle, my left hand clicking through spreadsheet after spreadsheet on my work computer, my right hand was on my laptop, moving images and typing words that would form the copy of our official website for our business, Elevated Solutions.
It was there in that office that Wesley and I had decided that we would not, could not work for someone else. No more 7AM train rides. No more random checkups in my cubicle by a manager. No more boring, unfulfilling work. No more spreadsheets (for someone else’s company, anyways).
Pacing around in our apartment at North Ave in the evenings, Wesley and I had realized that we were anxious to do something. We had skills that other people wanted, and now we were ready to offer those skills to the world. Within the first couple of weeks in the summer, with absolutely no experience, we made a website, designed a logo, filed for an LLC, and started our business.
Over the next year, our journey with Elevated Solutions would take us to places that we had never even thought of. We made a marketing video for Rostam (yet again) and his new edtech startup, Mystro. We worked with Coca-Cola and produced a landing page video for one of their newest IT initiatives, Coke One North America. We made several videos for Pointivo, an ATDC startup, to be used at the Consumer Electronic Show.
As we grew the business, we kept in touch with our creative side. We made videos for a local basketball academy teaching kids how to play ball and dream big. We worked with a friend-turned-artist and produced one of our first music videos. We made marketing hype videos (1 and 2) for an event called 1000 Pitches that our student organization, Startup Exchange, was putting on.
We’ve made a lot of progress so far. But we’re just getting started.
Every spring, my Facebook feed is filled with posts of my friends announcing their places of work for the summer (and sometimes for full-time). One friend is working for Google. One friend is working for Goldman Sachs. One friend is working for Deloitte. One friend is working for Proctor & Gamble.
In the summer of 2017, I, Indra Sofian, am announcing that I will be working for myself.
Wesley and I will be running our newly re-branded company, Elevate Media.
Our new brand represents our fresh take on the company that we started as college freshmen years ago. We realized that companies today need content and a brand that speaks to the connected digital age. Content needs to be vivid, shareable, and memorable, something to be talked about at the dinner table, not lost in a series of training videos mandated by HR. In an era of information overload, organizations need to tell their stories in a way that people can understand and remember. That is a need that Elevate Media is uniquely qualified to fulfill. Our company brings a fresh and vivid direction for our clients who want to stay relevant.
Sure, we’re young. We may not have the experience of other “videography companies” and “branding agencies”. We might even be a little overconfident. We’ll face competition, and that will leave our futures uncertain, especially as we approach our last year in college. Wesley and I are taking a leap of faith with our company.
But we don’t care.
When I was a little boy, I had always wanted to start my own business. Part of that was shaped by the occupation of my parents, who own restaurants in North Georgia. My mom and dad always told me that, at some point in my life, I had to go start my own business, be my own boss. In his usual gruff but passionate voice, my dad would say, “Sure, you can go work at a company. But don’t stay there too long. One day, you’ll get old and fat, and they’ll replace you. They always do.” If my younger self were to see me now, I hope that he would look up to me with admiration. I hope that my parents are proud of me as well.
Today, I take my destiny into my own hands. No more wasting time.