I was sitting in Cafe Doris one afternoon last fall when Katie Duffy, a GTI from my foundation year EMAC class approached me. She suggested that I visit Wham City Lights, a company she'd been doing design work for since the company started roughly 3 years ago. "We're a start up" she said casually, before continuing on her way. The truth was though that I had convinced myself of being over tech start-ups, and in way still decompressing from my previous summer internship at Jawbone in San Fransisco. I was tired, but not tired enough to turn down a new opportunity and learn new things.As a company that, at the time, described itself as equal parts art, music, and technology, I knew something was there for me to explore. After an initial visit, the CEO, Keith Lea, forwarded me some coding challenges as an interview evaluation. After a few weeks, my position was secured.
Wham City Lights uses patented ultrasonic audio technology to synchronize smartphones at live events. In a stadium concert, smart phones waving in the hands of fans become a live multicolored light show synchronized with music, images, and LED flashes across the entire audience. The company's rigorous engineering, design, and technology integration creates a real interactive art experience for participants. As a front end developer with a design and engineering background, my first task was to optimize the animations a user sees when she first opens the Wham City Lights app at a concert or other live event. After this assignment, I worked closely with the team to overhaul the company's website. I quickly learned how to manage my work as a part of a large project, and contribute to improving internal project management practices.
While my work continues to be substantial, I know that Wham City Lights has a lot on its plate. Managing the development of our technological infrastructure, sales process, internal design process, and project management strategy has proven to be consistently difficult for a small team of artists, designers and engineers. As a member of the team at this stage, work has undoubtedly become challenging at times. Despite this, Wham City Lights has been the perfect place to learn and grow as a designer, engineer, and budding entrepreneur–– more than I have at any other work experience. While at Jawbone, my impression of the company as an intern was similar to that of a well oiled machine. With the exception of an intern round table where the CEO painted that all too familiar picture of the enduring entrepreneur, he who bravely takes risks and overcomes challenges, I knew nothing of the real challenge before joining Wham City Lights and seeing it up close.
My experience at Wham City Lights has given me a glimpse of what I consider to be the real start up narrative– one that is not made magic, romanticized, or cushioned by millions of dollars in venture capital. I am learning what it really takes to convince others of the value you find in your product, and the personal strength required to endure even the smallest challenges of running a company– or perhaps more importantly, believing in oneself.