HOLD FAST TO DREAMS, FOR WHEN DREAMS DIE, LIFE IS A BROKEN WINGED BIRD THAT CANNOT FLY.
WHERE COULD YOU GO TO BUY FLIP FLOPS BIG ENOUGH TO CRUSH 2 CARS?
Our Second SPARK'S Guest interviewee could tell you-because he made them!
Being fascinated with where people get the SPARKS of inspiration that sends them off to chase their dream, I'm dedicating the first post of the month to this topic. To see where it all started visit:
This Month, I caught up with Mike Dunbar to get an inside look at his thoughts, processes and experience. I hope his answers will give you the confidence you need to pull your own dreams off the shelf, dust them off, and set off on a fulfilling adventure of your own.
Mike Dunbar is the owner and CEO of Illumivation Studios, LLC out of Chicago, IL. His company designs and builds custom sculptures, props, sets, museum exhibits, and retail displays. His team's work has been used by major retail brands and on world-renowned touring theater performances. Beginning as an actor and Second City conservatory graduate, Mike found a passion in design and began the company almost four years ago.
WHERE DID THE IDEA TO START ILLUMIVATION STUDIOS COME FROM? WALK US THROUGH THAT PROCESS.
I started my business in my apartment with my then girlfriend, now wife, as a way to pursue live theater/performance technical design gigs (lighting, sound, set, & props design) around Chicago. We were getting a fair quantity of quick, short-run gigs but the money was inconsistent (and frankly not that good). One night we began brainstorming what other small things the company could do to supplement income in the down times and came upon the idea of starting a retail theater prop website with the hopes of making a couple of hundred dollars extra each month. With my limited/non-existent knowledge of how to begin an online retail business, we started with an ambitious plan to list over 100 common theater props at Low! Low! Stupidly, Non-Profit Making-ly Low Prices! Luckily for us, nobody ever bought a single one of them; not one. What did catch on though was the little button we added to let customers request custom props and within a couple months we had both quit our day jobs.
WHAT AN INTERESTING TWIST!
I think we are in an exciting time for business. In the past century, convenience has clearly been a priority for consumers leading to the rise of department stores and eventually mega-stores where you can get everything done quickly in one place. This unfortunately, also led to a decline in uniqueness, individuality, personalization, and customer service, because when you only have one option, screw you (i.e. Comcast). However with the Internet, that trend is reversing in a broad range of markets and individual consumers are now able to find online locations designed specifically for people just like them, no matter how small that pool of people may be. This is niche marketing 2.0. I currently own just under 20 domain names for businesses either launched or in the process of being launched for specific niche clientele that deserve to have the buying experience they want. I try not to get so specific that only two people are ever going to visit the site, sticking to a 'community' level where your customers can feel at home with others like themselves is the sweet-spot where they feel comfortable enough to make a purchase.
HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE DOING SOMETHING YOU'RE PASSIONATE ABOUT?
Our core business is making large-scale custom props, displays, and exhibits. To date, we have not made the same project twice and that leads to a pretty interesting work-life where everyone is constantly learning, experimenting, and taking risks. I'm fairly certain that there is no other job on earth where artists in one room are painting an 8' tall panda sculpture, carpenters are building a film set, and sculptors are finishing a two-story tall foam tree. It's fun and it feels great, but what really brings out my passions for business is having the honor to lead a team of extremely talented individuals. It's like flying a fighter jet; you are in charge but the power comes from the machine. You sit in front of a control panel with all the data you need to keep all the parts of the machine working smoothly. However, like a fighter jet, if you make a mistake you and the machine… boom. Scary, exhilarating, and extremely satisfying.
WHAT CHALLENGES HAVE YOU FACED?
Challenges are a part of daily life in business and increasing my ability to deal with these challenges is an ongoing process. Although I now laugh at how hard I struggled and how panicked I made myself with small projects when I was first beginning, suddenly a project will expand way beyond my experience and those feelings return. I have faced financial challenges, leadership challenges, and creative challenges through work and sometimes at extreme levels. Without the support of my family and co-workers I, likely, would not have been able to overcome much of what I've gone through and am thankful to have such a strong base. One of the hardest challenges no amount of education or research could prepare me for is letting a member of my team go, for whatever reason they are being dismissed. When you lead a team, those people do not work for you, they work with you and your function in the team is to keep the team alive and growing. When that means making a life-altering decision for someone else on that team, it hurts them, it hurts you, and it's your job then to not let it hurt the team.
WHERE WOULD YOU LIKE THINGS TO GO IN THE FUTURE?
The final "s" in Illumivation Studio"s" is currently explained to people as meaning the multiple studio departments we have (sculpture, wood-shop, paint, design), but truly it tells a lot more about our future plans than we lead on. I think diversification is important and I hope to do a lot of it.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE WITH A DREAM FOR MAKING IT A REALITY?
Dreams aren't free, they take a toll on your mind and your body and are only achieved with commitment, support, and luck. If all three do not line up perfectly, things may not happen the way you had pictured. I try to go with the flow, and if my dream does fail I'll get back up. As Virgin founder Richard Branson has said, "Business opportunities are like buses, there's always another one coming."
GREAT ADVICE! THANKS FOR SHARING YOUR JOURNEY WITH US MIKE!
You can visit the Illumivation Studios website and see their work at www.illumivationshop.com
Contact Mike about a project you have in mind at: