Customer Portrait: Kevin Lee on living the LA dream
December 19, 2011
We met Kevin Lee at our customer event in Los Angeles (the first stop on the RoadBurn 2.0 tour) and loved his insightful perspective on working in the City of Angels. He breaks down some of the LA cliches about what it’s like to have Hollywood as a neighbor and the true value of doing lunch.
Tell us a little bit about you and how you started doing what you do now?
My name is Kevin Lee and I’m a web designer based in Los Angeles. My background is in fine arts but I found my way into computers because I needed a job skill that was a little more practical than sculpting. It was during the first internet boom and start-ups were hiring anyone with basic creative education. I had almost no computer skills. Looking back at those times now, it was a crazy period. Everyone was flying blind. It was so common for people to bounce around from company to company and work their way up the ranks. It was a great way to learn quickly.
What is it like to work in LA? What have you learned about this city?
Like many people in this town, I’m not from LA originally. We all come here for different reasons, some come to reinvent themselves. It’s a town of dreamers and I’ve come to appreciate that part of it. I personally know someone who gave up a high-paying law position to chase his dream while bar tending to pay the bills. It’s that extreme. The dream triumphs pragmatism.
In a city with so many people of different backgrounds, like-minded interests tend to be a gravitating force that brings people together. I’m sure you can say the same for other cosmopolitan cities but in LA, it almost feels ‘tribal’. There are ‘tribes’ for almost anything, from metaphysical beliefs to the food scene to surf culture. What is even more fascinating is when they start to overlap, like a new age surf tribe of vegan chefs. (I’m making that up… I think…)
In a professional sense, LA is a small town. Once you establish yourself, you tend to know all the players. The difficult part is finding the ‘in’, the gateway to make things happen and get access to new opportunities. It’s very much about your network and relationships with people. The LA cliche of “let’s do lunch” is still very much a thing to do. You have to keep the lines of communications open with people even if there is no immediate business to talk about. It’s probably just to keep tabs on everyone.
One advantage of working in LA versus another city is LA’s power to amplify it globally. The resources are here to give something tremendous audience exposure, the possibility that whatever you’re working on can go global. Love it or hate it, overexposure is hardly discussed.
What has been your biggest surprise running your own biz? Favorite part?
The amount of time writing proposals and chasing payments for invoices can be staggering. When I started I assumed clients paid you right away, like going to the grocery store and purchasing milk. It’s funny to think about that now.
My favorite part would be breaking up the 9-5 work schedule. Once I adopted a work day based on completing tasks rather than by the clock, my free time opened up. I can’t imagine not running my own business anymore. It’s too big of a reward to let go.
If you had to tell someone one piece of advice about working for yourself, what would you say?
Being self-employed means wearing a lot of hats. You have to do things you will naturally be resistant to doing. I don’t mean this in a dire way. If you’re more creative, you may have to do accounting. If you are more business-oriented, you may have to think creatively to spark new leads. It became a positive thing for me. Because you are your own boss, something has to push you out of your comfort zone. It showed me the ‘big picture’ of how to keep the ship sailing, metaphorically speaking. If I only worked as a designer, I couldn’t stay self-employed.
What are the projects you are working on now? What’s next for you?
With Hollywood as a neighbor, it’s hard not to be influenced by it’s style of storytelling. It gets in you almost by osmosis whether you notice or not. That is not necessarily a bad thing but this is not a town for abstract thought or stories. There is a clear preference to how stories unfold. I’ve been thinking about how storytelling applies to the new social media world we live in, a world where broadcasting the details of your life are volunteered by choice. If you add it all up over time, would it form your story? Can we still be sentimental in the digital age? I launched MiniMemoirs.com to see if people would want to physically preserve a part of their digital life. I think of it as an old-fashioned memento. A personalized book that captures conversations from a small period of time. For me, adding digital memories to the fragility of paper makes them more precious. But I’m hopeless like that.
Learn more about Kevin’s amazing new project at minimemoirs.com or contact him via hq @ minimemoirs.com