Seven years ago, on April 1, 2014, Lemonlight was born in a spare bedroom in Los Angeles. At the time, the average cost for a 30-second commercial was $342,000, a price point that was unrealistic for many businesses—especially the SMB (small- to medium-sized business) market. Lemonlight became the solution to this ultra-high price point, making video production affordable and accessible to a wider audience.
A lot has changed since those early days. We’ve expanded our team, moved offices, and adapted to the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve also served clients in virtually every industry, at every price point, with every video type you can imagine. And while we continue to serve the SMB market, today, we also work with enterprise clients and advertising agencies, producing content for many of the most recognizable brands in the world.
As we celebrate our 7th Anniversary and our recent milestone of 10,000 videos produced, we’re looking back at the last seven years and what we’ve learned along the way. Keep reading for reflections from our co-founders Hope Horner (CEO), Daniel Marlow (CCO), and Chad Rogers (CRO) about what they wish they’d done differently, how Lemonlight has grown and changed over the years, and the production tips and tricks we’ve picked up from 10,000 videos.
How are you feeling about the seven-year milestone?
Chad: Lucky number 7! It’s surprising—it doesn’t feel like it’s been seven years.
Hope: I remember back in November of 2014, we had to sign our first real lease. We had 6-8 employees working out of Chad’s apartment, and we found a place in Culver City for a six-month lease. I remember thinking we couldn’t possibly commit to that long, but we did it! And it was great. I remember that so clearly. And now we’re here!
What have you learned since our early videos?
Hope: It feels good because the hypothesis that we had seven years ago turned out to be correct—video was the future. We took a risk because we weren’t sure if that would be the outcome, but it was.
We’ve also learned that in the business as a whole, managing people is the hardest. People are human and unique and everyone is motivated differently and challenged differently.
In terms of production, a lot of the processes we put in place early on, we still do. Especially on our documentary-style and animation videos. Our lifestyle videos and the things we do in the studio have evolved a lot. We’ve learned how to do them well, and it requires more resources than we thought early on.
And overall, nothing ever goes as planned. Everything costs twice as much and takes twice as long.
Chad: We’ve learned to treat clients like partners. We’ve built longer-lasting relationships because they understand us and we understand them.
We also learned how to produce higher-caliber work. We’ve worked with a lot of creative people, and when you ask them what excites them, 9/10 will say that it’s more interesting projects with more interesting clients.
When we started out, we didn’t have a whole lot to show in terms of a portfolio, and a lot of people didn’t know us. We slowly worked with one large brand, which led to another. Building that trust and showing that we’re working with larger clients on a consistent basis helped to put that in motion.
Hope: Also our content marketing strategy—positioning ourselves as thought leaders. The credibility from our online presence has elevated us in the space to where big brands see us as an equal player. We get asked to speak at conferences. We really are thought leaders in the space.
What has been the most challenging part of the last seven years?
Hope: I think one of the biggest challenges is wearing so many hats as founders and executives. Being responsible for so many things—even if it’s a team member who’s dropping the ball—at the end of the day, we definitely have to fix it. Sometimes that means driving hard drives with footage to editors in the middle of the night, or flying Daniel to a shoot in Texas in the morning and then Arizona in the afternoon. We’ve had some crazy moments.
Chad: I think it was also challenging to learn the way to grow our business. When we first started, we thought we had to sell so many videos and work with thousands and thousands of clients.
We’ve learned that we’re always going to be chasing that new account, so now we focus on getting accounts with people that understand marketing, want to grow their business, and want us to come along for the journey. We’ve learned to build relationships and do great work to grow accounts.
Daniel: On the production side, our healthy challenge has just always been really committing to doing great creative, and figuring out how to do that more affordably or for a more modern budget.
We’re always trying to use technology to see if we can be as creative as possible in a different way or use new techniques. Always the challenge is pushing the creative and then facing that within the normal realities—budget, time, client expectations. Even though we’ve produced a ton of content at this point, each project is still a unique challenge.
Hope: We also learned that spending more doesn’t always equate to better quality. I think that’s been challenging too—especially early on when we were trying to change the industry.
Trying to hire people at lower rates and have them work more often—that wasn’t how the film industry worked in 2014. We were trying to change the mindset to “more content, more frequently.” Trying to get that into people’s minds on both the client side and the crew side was difficult, but that’s definitely where the industry has shifted today.
What has been your favorite part of the last seven years?
Chad: Hope and Daniel and I were friends, but I feel like we’ve become family. We’ve been a part of big life events. It’s been great. We’ve grown together. I’ve grown as an individual—I’m a calmer person now. Having kids and working with our team and our customers has taught me and helped me grow as an individual for sure. That’s something that I could never trade for anything else.
Hope: For our five-year anniversary, we made a ski movie with our team to celebrate the milestone. That was amazing for me. But overall the team—those events, those memories, those moments. We’ve worked with so many funny people. Even the people that have worked here and left—those people I cherish so much and am still friends with. We hired our first few employees a few weeks after they graduated, and just getting everyone to believe in this idea and this vision… I will never forget that.
Daniel: It’s been incredible to see the team grow. We started with just three of us, and there’s been steady growth year after year. So many people have joined and seeing that growth has been incredible.
To have the team grow from a few people to where it is now… small office to larger offices, shooting productions in an apartment to having a real studio. Experiencing the growth year after year kind of feels like a movie. It’s seeing progression before your eyes.
Chad: Also, hearing from our customers how much we care. Our team really does care about our clients. They want to do great work and it shows. That’s always how we move forward really—we care a lot, so we’re willing to go the extra mile.
How does it feel to hit seven years in the midst of COVID-19? What has it meant for the business to survive this challenging time?
Chad: A lot of people spent 2020 on self-improvement. Lemonlight did the same thing. We had the opportunity to slow down and focus on where we needed to improve, and we did, and we really committed to hiring the right people, building out our studio, getting new equipment, getting tools that our team has been asking for. We took time to improve ourselves and stopped trying to grow so fast.
Hope: I’m sad that we’re not together as a team this year. That is sad for me. But there is something to be said about getting through this. Our six-year anniversary was right at the beginning of COVID, and to reflect back on the growth we have had this year, both quantitatively and qualitatively—to have gone through that and had that experience and leaned into it rather than away from it—it feels good.
Daniel: It was a tough year for everyone, and I have more admiration and pride for our team than I ever have. It’s incredible that everyone was able to get through it and ride a very bumpy year with us and come out the other side. I feel thankful that we were able to make it through, and that we were able to keep the team largely intact and keep everyone employed.
I think I’m also specifically very thankful because production is an industry that was in a unique challenge because of COVID. By nature, people in productions have to get together and meet in person, so we experienced all those unique challenges firsthand, and I’m proud of the team for really pushing through all of that.
I’m thankful that we were able to adapt and figure out ways to still do productions. Production is one of those industries that was a big question mark—will it survive in a COVID climate? And for our team, it did.
Looking forward, what do the next seven years look like for Lemonlight?
Chad: When we first started this company, we wanted to change the video production industry with more transparent pricing. We focused on doing more with less. Right now, we’re thinking about less of a “make me a commercial” service and focusing more on helping guide clients on their overall strategy—where video can benefit them at every stage of the marketing funnel. We’re partners in that process rather than just the people who deliver the video.
Where we’re going is building out technology that allows us to again provide more transparency, more scalability, and a better experience for our clients. The platform we’ve been building is going to be so useful for that.
Also continuing to hire great people and building a great team, working with new clients, bigger clients, smaller clients, and championing them, expanding our reach. Lots of exciting milestones ahead.
Hope: Clients using the platform. I’m really excited about rolling that out company-wide later this year.
Daniel: I’m excited about having our team back in-person. Working together… having that collaboration again. We’re trying to create a company that has great company culture and is a fun place to work.
Life is too short and everyone works too hard to not like where you work. My mission is that I can’t control where everyone works, but I can control a little bit of the culture at Lemonlight, and creating a fun place to work for everyone to have a voice and make cool content is important to me.
Do you have any advice for others who are just launching something new or are in the early phases of growing a company?
Chad: Don’t sell yourself short. Don’t sell cheap. The biggest mistake entrepreneurs make is that they don’t value their services enough. Yes, you have to build a portfolio, but don’t undervalue what you have to offer. It might take a little bit longer to close the accounts, but that lesson would be a big one. Not everyone can just lose money for a year like we did because we accepted the cheapest work.
Hope: Focus on sales and marketing. A lot of product companies are so focused on building the perfect product, but Mark Cuban said it best: Sales solves most problems. I’ve seen a lot of companies struggle in that capacity.
Chad: Also, don’t over-plan in the name of trying to move forward. A lot of people sometimes can really sit on ideas to the point of planning for perfection and then trying to execute. Try to execute and get momentum even if your idea or business plan isn’t perfect. It’s essential.
It’ll never be perfect. So, just try to move forward and you’ll perfect things as you go. And always be transparent and honest. The biggest problems and pitfalls that you’re going to encounter are going to happen when you’re not honest and transparent with clients.
Any final thoughts?
Chad: I’m excited to see productions every day in our studio. I can’t wait to see everything bustling again with actors and clients—can’t wait to see the energy here.
Thanks to all of our customers, partners, readers, employees, crew members, and supporters for helping us to reach this milestone. We couldn’t have done it without you! Here’s to the next seven years at Lemonlight.
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