Ann Arbor Area Business Monthly
Small Business and the Internet
By Mike Gould
It's not just who you know, but how you find them.
Networking is what makes business, large and small, work. The usual way is to go to business events (Chamber of Commerce, Kiwanis, or whatever), shake hands, hand out cards, get to talking, and the next thing you know you are in the middle of a mega-buck deal to sell widgets in a totally new territory.
Here in the technical vastness of the future we extend the above behaviors to the Internet. Here we search for new partners, find the right forums to join, and sign up for services like FaceBook and LinkedIn, where we hopefully attract other businesses seeking us.
I covered this back in the April, 2011 BizMo, "Global Communities" - URL below. I talked about how I am a member of Photonlexicon (PL) online forum, an international community of laser lightshow enthusiasts. So here is how this turned into a very big deal for one of my little companies, Illuminatus.
Lasers in the Mist
As I have mentioned earlier (I think, too lazy to go back and look), I did a big kinetic laser artwork installation for ArtPrize 2012 in Grand Rapids. This involved one of the largest indoor laser pieces ever done, some 4,000 sq. ft. of eyegasmic color flow. I wrote this up and posted photos on PL, for the edification and amusement of my fellow laseristas. For photos of this, see URL below.
The posting was a moderate success; I got 14 comments, all positive, including one from dsli_jon, (AKA Jon Robertson) a long-time, very well respected laserist from Los Angeles. We sent some PMs (private messages) back and forth, and finally met up when he came to Michigan to do a show in Novi. My buddy CDBeam (Bob Snyder), a laserist from Monroe, and I had a nice brunch meeting with him at a Polish restaurant near Detroit, where we regaled each other with tales of past laser shows and such. He dragged a small laser projector from his van into the eatery and set it up on a table, showing us what a small European-made $21K projector can do. As our projectors are basement-made and contain around $3K worth of parts, we were very, very impressed.
Jon is the owner of Laserium, the very first commercial business that set up shop in various planetaria and a few dedicated domed theaters to do laser shows full time back in the seventies and eighties. He is in the process of getting some of these going again at various places around the US. His company, DayStar Lasers, does big-time shows in stadiums, on the fronts of big buildings, and at various events all around the country. A very heavy cat in the industry, indeed.
OK, so we met online, met up in meatspace (which is what us ever-so-trendy digital dudes call ordinary, off-line reality), shook hands, exchanged cards, and shared laser war stories.
Three months or so later, one of the Illuminatus, Zita Gillis, alerted me that the University of Michigan was looking for some lasers for a possible big show. How big? How about the freakin' NOTRE DAME vs. UM NIGHT GAME IN THE BIG HOUSE!
Er, sure, no problem. Up to then our biggest shows were in the Renaissance Ballroom of the RenCen, lighting up walls for 3,000 ravers until four in the morning at an anime convention, Youmacon (long story). A stadium show was a tad beyond our capabilities. Time to call in reinforcements. Hmmm, who do we know with gobs of lasers and extensive big show experience?
I know: let's call Jon!
And so we did, and things got underway, albeit at a glacial pace.
First there were Request for Information forms to fill out (February 1st). Then there was the Request for Quote to deal with (April 11th) Then there was the first of several Stadium walk-throughs (April 24th) We later learned that there were initially around eight companies bidding for the gig, winnowed down to two plus ourselves who showed up for the walk-through. Then there was a request for more details, an RFQ addendum (May 1st) Addendum submitted by May 13th. This had detailed drawings of planned laser effects, artist conception Photoshopped photos, and links to previous shows DayStar and Illuminatus had done.
At this point we were heavily invested in this, having spent hours and hours of mostly Jon's time and quite a bit of mine on this little effort. As Sept. 7th was swiftly approaching, we were starting to get antsy, as a project of this magnitude takes months to put together. Jon needed to lease additional lasers, hire his crew, rent 16 enormous spotlights, buy custom parts, reserve hotel rooms for everybody, buy airplane tickets for the above, etc..
Personae Plus Gratia
Very long story short, Ryan Duey at the UM Athletic Department made it all happen. He greased wheels, moved mountains, and generally acted as General to the small army of people who made this happen. If Ryan was the General, Jon was um, a Colonel (I'm not certain about chains of command, but determined to see this military metaphor out...) and I was sort of a corporal or something. I ended up overseeing the construction of a giant mirror ball, was a scaff Sergeant getting the scaffolding up on the East tower for the spotlights (another logistical nightmare), and created some of the graphics projected onto the outsides of the scoreboards and around Crisler. That tracing of Bo on the scoreboard? That was my little contribution.
We hope you enjoyed the show. It all happened because of a meeting online - social networking works!
ArtPrize photos (click on the small pix to see them larger)
Mike Gould is prepping for a laser show at the Alden B. Dow Museum of Art in Midland, was a mouse wrangler for the U of M for 20 years, runs the MondoDyne Web Works/Macintosh Training/Digital Photography mega-mall, builds laser display devices, performs with the Illuminatus 2.3 Lightshow, and welcomes comments addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org.