About 15 years ago, I took my first and only “real job” in the internet industry (at MD Technology in Jacksonville, Florida — they are no longer around). I was hired as an hourly intern to help with some basic website design and coding. I was 15 years old at the time and couldn’t have been happier to go sit in a cubical and hack away in Photoshop and craft up what was likely horrible HTML in a text editor. I’ve always been an entrepreneur (started my first concession business at 8) and I quickly realized I could do a lot better than sitting in a cubical for the rest of my life.
At the age of 17, while a junior at Nease High School, I starting doing web design and development work outside of my “real job” with my friend, Justin Filoseta. Thirteen years ago, Design Extensions was born. Justin went off to college and I decided to keep growing the business… slowly. I think our total revenue for the first year was about $5,000. But when all you’ve got to pay for is movies on the weekend and gas in your car, it was a start.
I took any work I could get and would do it for just about nothing. Honestly, some of my early work was bad — really bad. But it was a starting place and it was a planted seed.
Just after getting married (9 years ago this month), I worried I wouldn’t be able to grow the company large enough to support a family, have children, allow my wife to stay home with them, etc. I was running the business, waiting tables, and going to school. Something had to give.
My uncle, Tim Owen, runs a very successful insurance agency with his wife Wendy. He has given me a lot of advice over the years that has been a huge component to the company’s growth. I remember early one morning at his house, I was about 12, and he helped me craft an acronym for my latest business at the time: Jay’s Action Yard Service. I later turned that name that into my first flyer design on our faithful, family Performa 575 at home with my dad.
My uncle’s business is very successful and I thought it might be a new path for me. I talked to him about working for him. I figured I could learn his business and one day, he could fade out and I could fade in. Money problems solved — or so I thought.
He gave me the job and my plan was to just run Design Extensions as a hobby because I enjoyed it. I worked with him for about six months. During that time, I learned more about running a business, managing clients, and helping people than school could have ever taught me. What I also learned was that the insurance business was not my cup of tea. I remember telling my wife how I felt and she told me to follow my dream. That dream was Design Extensions. The next morning I broke the news to my uncle that I had decided to focus on my business and “take it to the next level” (whatever that means). I was so thankful for the time I spent with him and the knowledge I gained.
Since that time, the business as grown year over year (in revenue & profit). I’ve gone from being a one man show to having an incredible team of guys that are great to work with and take our quality to a level higher than I could achieve alone.
There are a few key things that I believe have allowed the business to continue to grow and prosper over the years…
- Faith that God is in control and I am not (often easier said that believed)
- Caring about people more than money (a slowly learned behavior)
- Keeping expenses low (lean startup before that was a “thing”)
- Having a purpose behind growth (for me, it’s my family)
- Doing great work and asking for referrals (referrals, referrals, referrals… I can’t stress it enough!)
A huge thank you to the many of you who have helped Design Extensions grow along the way. There are too many to name, but you know who you are. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
We’re not perfect, not by a long shot. Some folks probably wouldn’t even say we’re that great. We screw up a lot, but when we do, we work hard to correct it, learn from those mistakes and try not do the same thing again.
We may not be the biggest, baddest, coolest design agency around, but to me, it’s family and that’s good enough.
To my team, thank you for making us look good, for working hard, and for putting up with me. Here’s to the past 13 and many more to come (Lord wiling).
– Jay Owen