Local entrepreneurs talk about their journey to becoming their own bosses.
When is the right time to leave your W2 behind and strike out on your own? We sat down with a couple of local entrepreneurs and found some interesting similarities in their reasoning for jumping out on their own.
Judah Gutierrez, 29, and Ben Cantrell, 31, went into business together earlier this year when they created Cineloco, officially going from a W2 to a LLC. Cineloco is a film production company the two operate out of Shared Space on Greene Street in downtown Augusta.
Judah Gutierrez grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, “like Augusta, it was a melting pot, a lot of art communities and music and stuff like that.” It was there in Jackson that Gutierrez discovered his passion early. “I grew up with a camera since I was four. I was making home videos all the time. I was a skateboarder, I was a drummer in a band.”
“I think skateboarding and art go hand in hand.”
His partner in crime is from South Carolina. Ben Cantrell was into a lot of the same things as a boy.
“I was a skateboarder as well. Got my first camcorder at 13, editing on stacked VHS players. To put music on the video I had a CD player somehow piped in,” You’d have your buddies over and watch skateboard videos.”
The Air Force brought Guiterrez to our fair city seven years ago. After leaving the military, Gutierrez began pursuing photography. “I was teaching myself, pursuing it heavily. I started designing websites with Squarespace while it was kind of like a new and upcoming thing.”
Needing content for the sites, Gutierrez invested in a camera. “I never consciously made the decision to become a filmmaker.”
Meanwhile, Cantrell’s path was a little more straight forward. After graduating high school, he attended film school at USC, graduating in 2010.
The four years each spent right after high school was not very fulfilling for either of the men. “I didn’t enjoy that experience,” Gutierrez says flatly. “The military just wasn’t for me.”
Cantrell feels equally ambivalent about his path after high school. Although grateful for the education, he doesn’t necessarily recommend film school.
“Instead of having your parents invest in your education or getting yourself in debt paying for your education, put a quarter of that into owning your own gear, and get to work.”Ben Cantrell
At 25, Gutierrez had an open field when he left the military. “I had six months of contract work when I got out, but then I got laid off.”
After college, Cantrell accepted a job at True North Church in North Augusta as a video producer.
“You’d be surprised how many filmmakers got their start at church.” Cantrell said.
Gutierrez was teaching himself photography and found the Augusta area was fertile ground for creative types. “There weren’t any people doing what we’re doing. It was like a great little, great little era, you know, where you could stand out. I just had a good network of people knew of entrepreneurs and restaurateurs.”
He began developing websites.
Gutierrez continues, “I also did one for a local candle maker called 40 Wax. Finch and Fifth is still using my site as a matter of fact. Those are great guys.”.
Local advertising agency Weir/Stewart brought Gutierrez in as a freelancer to create a video for a project they were working on and hired him full time two months later. He continued at the agency for two years. “I did web design, a lot of photography, a lot of video,” said Gutierrez.
It was at Weir/Stewart Gutierrez realized video was really what he wanted to focus on. “I wanted to push it and see it develop and transition from videographer to filmmaker,” he said.
“There’s a big difference there.”
“Filmmaking, I think, is a way bigger process. As a cinematographer, we’re thinking about what lighting is going to make this, what lens is best, how do you evoke feelings through the lens you use or the lighting you create. It’s just a way more intentional process,” Gutierrez said.
“When I was at Wier/Stewart it just wasn’t feasible for that model. It was frustrating, not because of them, it was that I was limited in what I could do. It had nothing to do with the owners of that business. It was that it felt like the agency model just didn’t work for what I wanted to do,” Gutierrez said.
After five years at True North Church, Cantrell was ready to move on. “They gave me a lot of creative freedom, especially towards the end. But like Judah said where he was at, the staff knew I was reaching my ceiling.”
“It was cool working with them. They allowed me to come in there and kind of play in their sandbox. I was working with Red Cameras (high end cinema cameras), which was cool.
After a year, Cantrell made another move to a much smaller agency which was doing work for national clients. “It was a great opportunity to move to a national level. I was there for about eight months before Judah onboarded and we started talking about our careers and goals.”
The now co-workers began working together on the side on small projects. “We were kind of talking about how we wanted to do stuff, leave agencies.
“A creative courtship in a way,” laughed Cantrell.
The two budding filmmakers, with the permission of the agency owner, set up a side production company that could cater to other agencies as well.
The pair felt they were missing opportunities because of the restrictive nature of working for traditional advertising agencies. “It was like agencies can’t serve agencies, and if we created a company that could work with all of them, we felt we could grow the business substantially,” Cantrell said.
Gutierrez explained the motivation behind working with other companies, instead of picking just one.
“We work with other filmmakers. That’s how we produce better stuff. We’re teaching people that, those other filmmakers, that they can produce better things too when we all work together and not compete.”
“So, when another filmmaker gets business they may bring us in on it and so we work via them, and we may do the same thing for them too,” Gutierrez continued. “There is so much to share now. The value of film production is going up around here and these industries and these companies are understanding that and are willing to pay more for that now.”
In January of this year, the owner gave the pair a month’s notice that he was going to let them go. “The owner decided to go in a different direction, paid us for a month and offered to sell us his equipment.”
The two friends had their moment.
“We knew each other pretty well by that point. We worked six or seven months together. We had like honest talks, like hey, how committed are you to this idea?” Said Gutierrez.
“Six months of just really working closely together. Our chemistry worked. We definitely balanced each other out in all sorts of facets. That was working,” said Cantrell.
Ultimately, it came down to the support of their spouses. Gutierrez and his wife have young twins, so the leap to becoming self employed was a big one. “My wife supported me 100%.
Cantrell added, “Me and my wife, we’re DINKS, dual income, no kids. So it was fine. My wife is a hair stylist, and we lived off her income,” while getting their new company up and running.
The new company the two formed in January is Cineloco. According to Ben, “We don’t shoot on SLRs. We shoot on cinema cameras. The lenses we use are extremely expensive. We rent those. The lighting we use, we really don’t show up on set unless we have a grip truck now. That’s kind of like how we roll.”
Now that they have created their own company, the dynamics of the partnership are on full display.
“Our risk taking, for instance, I’m more conservative. We encourage each other in that way, you know. Sometimes you have to pull the reins a little or get out of the box. We compliment each other very well in that regard,”Gutierrez said. “How we focus on some parts of the business: I love going after the work, and Ben focuses more on completing projects. He’s more technically minded and I’m more dreamy maybe.”
“If we were the same, if we were two dreamers, we’d be in trouble. I’ve seen it happen. That’s really tough to find the balance with somebody, to feel like they are complimenting you. If they are not complimenting you, it’s not good.”
A big part of their partnership is the fact they have a lot of shared morals and values.
“We believe everyone deserves respect and love and to be treated well, and the way we want to take care of our clients reflects that, Gutierrez said. “Translating that to business, we always sort of tell our clients ‘we can shoot cool stuff for you all day, but if we’re not giving you a business result we’re not doing our job.’”
“Other people are about the money, but I would feel bad if I’m not helping someone.” Gutierrez said.
Cineloco recently teamed up with the Augusta branding and marketing studio, KRUHU, Inc. on a few projects that run the gamut from vegan beauty culture to medical institutions.
“Ben and Judah are the point of view that create the environment for a brand to evoke and disperse pure emotional inspiration,” shared Chris Rucker, owner of KRUHU.
“Crafting intentional impact from a genuine belief in a brand’s story creates steadfast brand-loyalty,” continued Rucker. “Teams like Cineloco capture the unique and mysterious, impactful imprint that brands deliver in our lives-set to motion.”
“We cannot wait to journey further with this duo.”