Growing Up in a Start Up… & A Bit of Nostalgia

My parents started a small online royalty photography company with a business partner back in the late 1990s. It was overall a fairly successful business before the saturated market of free images and premium paid images available online. But this story is about the environment that myself and my brother grew up in.

This story is about the environment the start-up cultivated and the lessons learned.

As kids, we didn’t super care about all that. It was cool to see a whole room of just harddrives; the amount of digital data we can store in smaller and smaller physical areas astounds me.

Blockbuster video card [1]

We used to rollerskate in the alleyway behind the office, and one of the employees who was also a professional hairdresser gave us haircuts in the office kitchen. We would start many nights at Blockbuster picking out a few movies to rent and sour straws to chew on while watching the movies in a spare office space.

We did our homework at the office, we were even ocassionally models in the professional photography. I remember once being really sick, sleeping on couch cushions and ravishly reading Harry Potter 4, the first book I was really excited about that was over 500 pages. I also remember the first instance of really seeing CGI on film — in a preview of Dinosaurs (2000) before the movie started.

Palm Pilot (left) [2], Pantone Color Bridge Guide (center) [3], What basically every start-up office looks like (right) [4]

I remember a decent amount from that part of my childhood. And here’s what I learned:

  1. Start up environments are challenging. You’re in it to win it, and optimism is everything.
  2. People come and go, and in that sense it’s like any other workplace, but there’s a sense of commitment to one another that can be cultivated. Some of my parents’ coworkers truly felt like extensions of our own family.
  3. Business analytics has always been a hot topic — how are we making money, what is our ROI, and how do we defend that to investors.
  4. UX and Photoshop existed in understanding print before the advent of websites being fully popular. In the 90s it was crucial to also having print, today not so much. Pantone color schemes existed in cardstock that you could physically pair up to figure out which hey color codes should be implemented.
  5. On the note above, I learned about the difference between RGB and CMYK and when to use each (lighting for the former, print for the latter). Also, something that always sparked my interest: you can’t make black by combining light, and you can’t make white by combining pigment.
  6. UI existed in the Palm Pilot long before the iPad, and you could ping contacts by standing near someone else with a Palm Pilot.
  7. Business can feel very personal. Even when businesses fail, people survive. Failing at a start-up means taking lessons learned and applying them elsewhere, and trying again and again until success looks different.

Lastly, I learned many things about art from my mom, but two distinct things I remembered included:

First, graphic designers will always have better art supplies than schools or daycares.

You can always change what you consider mistakes, into new art.


  1. Blockbuster LLC, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
  2. Rama & Musée Bolo, CC BY-SA 2.0 FR <>, via Wikimedia Commons
  4. STARTUp HUB, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons



Psychology | Vizualization | Data Science | Social Justice

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