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Just the Beginning

A Message from Tom and Mike

April, 2009. I was at the tail end of a contract as an executive for a New England company that was spiraling due to the actions of its founder and the impact of the recession. My wife and I were two months from the birth of our first child, we were living in a part of the country we thought we would call home through retirement. We had a house in Florida for which we could not find a buyer and my father was fighting cancer, a battle he lost just one year later. There was no work. I did not know how I would, at the very least, get moved back to our house in Winter Park.

Some kind people helped me, supported me and even broke a few rules to give me a running start. Sleep seemed less possible than witnessing a flying pig and anxiety fully replaced the adrenaline-fueled happiness. On May 13, 2009, Mike Ostendorf and I stumbled through the paperwork to file our LLC and began work in an empty condo in downtown Orlando as AOA. Since my job could not pay out all they owed me, I ended up with some office equipment which I drove all the way to FL and in fact, had to sleep on top of in a parking lot because I could not find a hotel room. Sometimes words just don’t sum things up the way you want. On May 23, 2009, my son was born. Stress? Fear? Doubt? You bet. A truckload of it.

Had I not pursued this career, I would have become a schoolteacher and would have chosen English Literature or History. Both are passions of mine, as I often lean on the wisdom of the authors who shaped the thoughts of my youth. I am a lifelong fan of the writings of Henry David Thoreau and ‘Walden’ was a bible-like book for me (TY Miss Maichle) as a young adult. One of my favorite quotes of his, and I have many, is “I would rather sit on a pumpkin, and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion.” During this time, I repeated this quote as a mantra supporting my decision to go my own way and reassuring me that all would work out. As long as I believed in me, and in us, and allowed others to help when they asked if they could, all would be OK. It’s never easy to receive help, but if you are a good, loyal person you will never forget what others did for you and you will either pay it back somehow, or pay it forward. I know that Mike and I have never forgotten those that propped us up and encouraged us during those early days of the unknown.

It took nearly 2 years for AOA to get out of the red and move ahead, but it did indeed happen. Mike and I sat on a couple of pumpkins, alone at times, but that is what we wanted and we knew we were different. We believed, worked hard, learned hard and never, ever stopped believing.

Nearly 12 years later, I have not forgotten those emotions and the deep, deep dive you have to take to find inspiration and motivation to overcome setbacks and persevere. So, with that, and in particular to those at Walt Disney Imagineering and Universal Creative who have been released into the entertainment river we call our industry, I tell you that you’ll be fine. It will all work out exactly as it is supposed to. Being a part of a major company’s creative team is a dream job, but it does not define you. It’s just your job and the collection of experiences along the way make you stronger, more capable and more experienced.

If I can help, if my team can help, we will. We may or may not have a position that fits whomever, we might not even contain in our ranks the work at which they’re the best, but we are well-connected and experienced in making electric connections. We also like meeting people and encouraging them as they embark on their journeys. I was asked a couple of weeks ago if I was worried that all the people hitting the market would make competition for work oversaturated with startups and freelancers. I am not. I want all those that need work to get work, because that means the confidence is back and entertaining experiences are in demand again.

Believe in yourself, acknowledge that it isn’t going to be easy and just go forward. That pumpkin is way, way more comfortable than any cushioned seat the world has to offer.

Hang in there, and tell your team and all our friends to do the same.

Best to you and all,

Co-Founder + CCE

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