atlanta's independent entrepreneur network
Jay Morel owns Morel Studio Support, a rental resource for photographers, based in SW Atlanta.
LRBN: We’re in this (metaphorical) elevator together for 30 floors – Hi there, what do you do?
JM: I own a grip and lighting equipment rental business. We rent the lights and stands and all the gear that people need to do a photo or video production.
LRBN: That seems pretty specialized. How did you come up with such a specific company, especially in the Atlanta market?
JM: I was a photographer and I went to school and worked as a photographer for a while in Atlanta. Morel Studio Support is a very specific company, but as a commercial photographer, the equipment can be terribly expensive to buy and almost impossible to work without. Atlanta was lacking a good rental house while I was there for school. I knew there was a need there. The house caters directly to commercial photographers, and we end up working side by side.
LRBN: So you really have to develop good relationships with those photographers then, huh? Aside from school, how else have you been able to get your name out there and meet them?
JM: I was a photographers’ assistant all through school and 3 years after. I worked with over a hundred different photographers; some of the best in the world. I had great relationships from that role, and when I started providing equipment to them there was already a trust there.
LRBN: How long from ideation to implementation?
JM: From ideation to implementation was really only about 6 months. I don't like to mess around. Originally the company was going to have a large set-building department, but that ended up not being as popular. Most of what was devised originally ended up in my business plan and actually came to life.
LRBN: Sounds like you'd need a lot of start-up $$$ to launch a business like that. How did you fund it?
JM: Anyone starting a new business is probably most worried about that. I was thinking a bank might be a good place to start. I applied for loans at about 10 different banks before I realized that they will not tell you that they won't give you a loan for a new business. They have to do due diligence or something. To them a new business is one that is in business for about 3 years. Regardless of your credit or how much you’re asking for, or even how brilliant your idea is, you'll probably be wasting your time with a bank (not to mention an enormous amount of paper). I was lucky enough to lease a lot of equipment, and I had a few angel investors, wonderful people who couldn't understand the business, but they believed in me and trusted I would succeed. That's a lot a pressure not to let them down, but it made my dreams come true.
LRBN: "Angel investors" - such a magnificent and dreamy term for enterprising entrepreneurs. Did you use a service to get connected with them or did you find them through other sources?
JM: I pitched the idea to everyone I knew. I could tell right away that the only way I could get the money I needed without giving everything away was through friends and family. Your best bet is to find people who care about your wellbeing and find a deal that works for both of you. Just make sure you pay them back everything you owe them. Also, don't be afraid to start up without all of your funding. It’s great to have the security of having a full bank account, but it’s better to be under-funded than over-funded. It makes you work harder, which is exactly what you need to do in the beginning. Well, and for a long time after too.
LRBN: Heh. Good advice! Any surprises to owning your own business (positive or otherwise)?
JM: Oh man, everything is a surprise, but that's the best part. I love the challenges. I always thought I was a good problem solver, but as I worked for other people I wasn't always able to work at my potential. I think I can really do that now. It’s liberating. There are always negatives to anything you do, but I think of them as the challenges, and I love overcoming them. I find that hard work rarely kills anyone, and the sense of accomplishment you get from beating your problems is better than anything out there. You just can’t give up.
Any advice for enterprising indiepreneurs?
JM: Always listen to your customers, prospective customers, vendors, employees and anyone that might have a good idea as to how to improve your business. The whole thing is a big risk, so don't be afraid to do something you've never done before or something that no one has ever done before. Do your research, and then do what you think is going to make your business the best it can be. Most of the time that should be making clients happy.