Focus: Staying focused on what you do best is everything. Find your one thing and dive as deep as you can possibly go. That will make you stand out in the industry and will result in a better client experience (which inevitably increases perceived value). Before starting Lighting Professors, I was advised to sell the “turnkey” or to do everything. But, it wasn’t until I focused on one key aspect — lighting — and dedicating myself to that one area that I found traction.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Jake Anderson of FeteTech. After exploring the music industry, and even earning a few gigs as a DJ, it only took one small request to change the trajectory of Jake’s career. A small boutique hotel in Virginia requested he provide lighting for an event, and although he had zero experience in the field, he agreed and immediately got to work learning the ins and outs of event lighting. Fast forward two years. Jake had developed a natural passion for lighting design and decided it was time to pursue his other dream: entrepreneurship. His Richmond-based company, Lighting Professors, was founded in 2012 in the ever-humble surroundings of his garage. Over the years, Jake saw his company grow in leaps and bounds — and it continues to do so. By 2016, the company grew to over ten employees, and had moved to a 2,000+ square foot warehouse to accommodate the increased demands of expanding into neighboring markets. Along the way, Jake has observed and experienced firsthand the struggles that event professionals face when it comes to streamlining everyday processes. In fact, it was these challenges that pushed him to pursue his newest endeavor, FêteTech — a company that creates technology for event professionals by event professionals. His flagship product, Party Pypes, simplifies the event production experience by bringing together CRM, asset management, and workflow development into a unified platform. With years of experience in the trenches, his innovation is rooted in a desire to provide technology solutions that eliminate friction for event professionals everywhere. Today, Jake continues to serve as strategic manager of Lighting Professionals, as well as filling the many responsibilities as President of FêteTech. In his spare time, you can find him palling around with his wife and two sons or whipping up a new recipe in the kitchen, often with a sampling of craft beers to quench his thirst.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I started out in banking, but I had a large desire and passion for entrepreneurship starting at an early age. After a few failed gigs in the music industry, I decided to rethink my approach. I knew I wanted to do something with events, so I decided to pursue the wedding industry with a roster of bands that I tried to book for wedding events.
One day, I reached out to a venue manager to promote my entertainment services and she quickly turned around with a flat ‘no.’ However, she asked if I could serve as her lighting partner instead. Despite knowing nothing about lighting, I said yes because I was willing to learn and make something out of nothing. The first wedding I produced was easy (14 up lights in a ballroom) but it took me 4 hours to do what my lighting company can do in 30–45 minutes today. Regardless, I instantly fell in love with the impact lighting has on a space.
I launched my lighting company in September 2012 with just myself and a few lights in my garage. Over six years later, it’s grown to over 10 employees and nearly doubled in size year after year the first four years. Today, the company is self-sufficient with dedicated management and staff. My interaction with the company is strictly at the strategic level, and I haven’t been involved in day-to-day operations since 2016.
Today, my focus has evolved to taking the path of being a contributor in the industry. That sparked the birth of FeteTech, and I’ll be pursuing this new mission that serves the hard-working entrepreneurs who cater to weddings and special events.
Can you share your story of Grit and Success? First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
When I started my journey as an entrepreneur, I decided to purchase a 1979 Winnebago, park it on my family’s farm, and live in it as a way to keep expenses low. It was short-lived and, after a month, I couldn’t deal with it anymore. However, it taught me that, in life and in business, one must live in the extremes sometimes to build something great. My extreme was working a banking job during the day and moonlighting as a lighting specialist on the weekends, traveling all over Virginia. There were countless days where I hustled from 5am to 9pm and worked through every lunch break. I was barely hanging on.
At the time, I was dating my now-wife and she put up with a lot as I struggled to prioritize our relationship when work took up so much of my time. I was fortunate to find a strong and supportive woman who stood by my side in good times and bad.
Finances were tight as well. My company was capital-intensive and required a lot to finance equipment. I had two mortgages against my home, maxed-out credit cards, no savings, and several thousand dollars that floated in my business operating account. I was genuinely risking it all.
However, I was confident I could make this work and knew the probability for success was high as long as I executed well. I saw the opportunity in the market and knew that I had full control over the success (or failure), so I approached it aggressively and threw everything I had at it. All of my money, my time, and oftentimes, I had to put friends and family to the side.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I try to always keep the end goal in mind with anything I’m doing — hard times are temporary. I like to call those moments “boot camp for entrepreneurs.” You might be broke, overworked, stressed out, and your personal relationships will likely take a backseat. It was tough, but I always told myself that it’s just part of the process. Mindset is everything when it comes to getting through those hard times. If you don’t show up with the right mindset, you’re setting yourself up for failure and will give up before “boot camp” is even over.
So how did Grit lead to your eventual success? How did Grit turn things around?
Grit is always a key piece to building any business. You truly get out what you put into something. You have to put your nose to the grind and live in chaos in the beginning, knowing that your company will eventually become established enough to where you can being to make efforts in counterbalancing your life and taking back your sanity. One unintended benefit of having grit is when you bring people onto your team and they follow your example of hard work and grit.
So, how are things going today? 🙂
Things are going great! I’m now in my third year of running my lighting business from a strictly strategic level. I have great people working for me who are invested in the success of the company. I’ve learned that the right team is everything. An idea is worthless without the people behind it that can execute effectively. I’m not able to expand my horizons into becoming more of a contributor in the industry through technology, while my lighting company continues to grow at a strong pace.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
My second wedding client was hosting their event in a large pole tent and requested to have a monogram projected onto the ceiling using a gobo. Their monogram was an airplane pulling a banner with the couple’s names on it. This was my very first time projecting a gobo, and I projected it as if it were taking off on the tent ceiling behind the band. It looked very cool!
However, as I was walking to the other side of the tent, I noticed that the contours of the ceiling was causing the image to change depending on where you stood. Where it originally looked like it was taking off, the other side appeared to show the plane pointing down like it was going to crash and burn. I freaked out — there was nothing I could do to fix the situation. I kept it as-is and, fortunately, nobody seemed to notice.
Nowadays, it’s a funny story, but it was very stressful at the time. The lesson I learned is that, whenever possible, perform a test on anything you’re unsure about. It’s not worth the day-of stress to realize you did not consider an important factor in execution.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I believe our approach to servicing each client sets us apart. I try to get creative and find intuitive ways to educate clients as well. Most people do not think about lighting in a design sense, so it takes a degree of education to show how it can impact their wedding and what kind of value it adds. It’s the little things that make all the difference.
For instance, we use conceptual-based proposals that are much easier to understand — I’ve received numerous compliments on that alone.
As for my SaaS company, FêteTech is a product of my pain points throughout running my lighting company. The existing software solutions could never fully meet my company’s needs, and the ones that came close seemed to lack intuitiveness and were overly technical. That’s why I am taking the steps to create a software that is specifically designed for event professionals through an intuitive platform that allows companies to manage all competencies of the pipeline: from workflow to client interactions to asset management.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
It’s all about your mindset. I would recommend reading a book called “Think and Grow Rich” for mindset. That book changed my life and gave me advice that was actually the catalyst that led to the birth of FêteTech.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
There are several people I can credit who have been a positive influence on my journey. First off, my employees at Lighting Professors — the company wouldn’t be where it is today without their contributions. Secondly, my wife who has stuck close by my side through all of the really hard times and now through the good.
I also have to credit my business coach, Rene Haines. She has been with me since the beginning and has helped me through a lot of challenges. It’s essential to have a mentor who holds you accountable and can offer sound advice.
Believe it or not, I’m also very grateful for the people who have caused more harm than good. With both of my companies, I started with zero knowledge and, when that’s the case, you’re more susceptible to forging the wrong relationships. Good judgment comes from experience, but experience comes from bad judgment. I have had to fire designers and developers — sometimes because their skills didn’t measure up to par and other times because they simply weren’t responsible. It took working with more experienced people to understand how to identify the right people. Sure, there was money lost in the process — but that’s the cost of education with entrepreneurship. Those experiences will stick with you and shape your outlook, and sometimes it’s the people who caused the most damage that teach you the most.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I believe that creating a successful business enhances life experiences. My company has created jobs that put food on the table for my team and provides for their families. It also serves one of the biggest days in someone’s life, and brings light to those memories — quite literally.
Now, I’m focusing on contributing back to the industry that I’ve served for so many years by providing technology that helps to reduce friction so that event businesses can find success in the industry.
What are your “ Top 5 Things Needed to Succeed in the Wedding Industry” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
1. Focus: Staying focused on what you do best is everything. Find your one thing and dive as deep as you can possibly go. That will make you stand out in the industry and will result in a better client experience (which inevitably increases perceived value). Before starting Lighting Professors, I was advised to sell the “turnkey” or to do everything. But, it wasn’t until I focused on one key aspect — lighting — and dedicating myself to that one area that I found traction.
2. System: Every business needs a system. The client relationship management process for weddings has several stages, from the initial interest in your services to post-wedding follow up. Document your processes, analyze your system, refine it, and improve it. This will help you better streamline how you operate. With Lighting Professors, that’s my main role — to evaluate the system and find ways to improve it. When you experience growth, old processes are likely to become obsolete and you’ll need new processes that better align with the state of your business.
3. Grit: The wedding industry is pretty labor intensive. Monday through Friday are usually spent meeting with clients, networking, and working on pre-event processes. Then, the weekend comes and it’s time to execute. Since it is seasonal, there are pockets of time throughout the year to catch your breath, but it’s still a tough industry. Having grit is key to getting through the industry demands.
4. Creativity: Regardless of vendor category, we’re all creatives in the wedding industry. Thinking of new and creative ways to execute your service is essential to success. Don’t become complacent and stick with the same ol’ thing. Try new things! I’ve booked lighting concepts that I’ve never done before. I’d go through some testing and build the specs and everything looked good — but there was always a bit of anxiety because I hadn’t seen it executed before. But, time after time, the installation would go perfectly and I’d wonder why I was so worried. Creativity can lead to some level of discomfort, but it’s well worth it when you’re innovating new ideas that dazzle your clients.
5. Emotional Intelligence: Weddings are emotionally-driven events, so you naturally deal with a lot of emotions from clients. Additionally, you’re collaborating with many other vendors to execute this picture-perfect wedding. Emotional intelligence is a must when dealing with all of these interpersonal relationships. When I first got started in lighting, I would always offer a helping hand to the caterer or planner when I finished setup. It always resonated well with other vendors to see that I was ready to help. There was one caterer in particular that barely acknowledged me. After setting up, I offered my assistance and his whole attitude changed toward me, making sure I had food and drinks throughout the event. It’s the little things that go a long way in this business.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Mindset is everything, and it’s sad when I see people struggling in life but not making any effort to adjust their mindset and change their path. Many times, fear and lack of confidence play a big factor in restricting a growth mindset. I would start a mindset movement that helps people overcome those obstacles, create actionable steps to shift their mindset, and put themselves on a stronger path.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can find FeteTech on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/fetetech/. Instagram and LinkedIn pages are still in development.
Thank you for joining us!