written by John Dikmen - President of ChoreoGraphics
The history of ChoreoGraphics is primarily tied to me as the founder and therefore this reads more like a personal journey than a corporate evolution.
PERSONAL BACKGROUND (pre-ChoreoGraphics):
After an exhaustive 5 years attending Texas Tech University year-round in pursuit of a degree in Architectural Design, I was ready to leave the nest. I quickly discovered that pursuing a career in Architecture was going to require even more financial sacrifice by working as an apprentice for a few more years! Unwilling to commit to that path, I instead took a job with The Ortloff Corporation in Midland, Texas (Chemical Plant Engineering & Construction Company) in the Design Department. Because of my background in engineering courses, I was transferred after a few months from Design to the Engineering Department. Since I did not have a “degree” in engineering, I assumed the title of “Engineering Technician” which involved many activities in mechanical and structural areas... long story.
After 5 years to the day, I quit the Ortloff Corporation with no idea what I would be doing next, I just knew that I did not want to burn another 5 years reporting for duty! Since lots of people knew my background, once word got around the professional community that I have left that job, I started getting several job offers without even applying anywhere and finally accepted a job with Texas Tanque Manufacturing. While this doubled my previous salary, it really did not make that much difference after taxes, so I knew it would probably be temporary. In the meantime, my Brother who was five years younger than me, had started his own business right out of High School and was doing FAR better than me financially. It was clear to me that owning a business - while more risky - offered more potential rewards if the planets aligned.
After a long story as to how it all happened, my Brother introduced me to the Amway business and after an even longer story I decided to give it a shot; however, I was probably the most unlikely candidate for that type business ever (as I was constantly reminded in the beginning). Bottom line is after a few months, I had left my job at Texas Tanque and was full-time in the Amway business and within a couple years had a marketing organization of over 2,000 independent distributors. Then, due to another set of extraordinary circumstances, I was compelled to develop an independent marketing system (dba Eagle Enterprises) which involved authoring and publishing a couple of books and many other printed presentation materials in a relatively short period of time. This had become necessary since my organization (then numbering in the thousands) had spread throughout many states as well as overseas and there was suddenly no viable upline marketing system in place with which to affiliate. So, how was I going to create and publish all the materials needed?
TECHNOLOGY TO THE RESCUE:
As fate would have it, “Desktop Publishing” (or so it was called) had just recently been introduced to the public. Once again, my Brother recognized the opportunity and became an Apple Developer and once again, I joined in the frey. In 1988 (when this was all beginning), Desktop Publishing, for most individuals including myself, consisted of an “all-in-one” Macintosh® computer with a built-in 9-inch black & white screen, a 300dpi Abaton scanner and a 300dpi Apple® laser printer at a entry cost of about $12,000. While the price might seem high (especially in 1989 dollars), that price included the cost of Adobe® Illustrator 88, Aldus® Pagemaker and Digital Darkroom (which later became known as Adobe® Photoshop) software packages as well as a whopping 20-megabyte internal hard drive (donated by a close friend at the time).
(Factoid: By comparison, on an average day in 2018, ChoreoGraphics creates permanent client files which could easily fill up about 50 aforementioned drives per day! In 1989 cost/megabyte terms that would have come to about $15,000 per day in hard drive storage alone! The storage of a single studio photo we take today after post-processing would have cost over $1,000 to save it!)
SETTING THE STAGE:
Just to clarify, ChoreoGraphics did not begin as the realization of a vision for a new business or even as the natural pursuit of a passionate hobby. It was not the result of a lifelong dream or the execution of a well thought out business plan, but rather born out of necessity. It was a sequence of unanticipated events over the next few months that forced ChoreoGraphics into existence as an autonomous entity. Once the initial set of Eagle Enterprises printed materials hit the market, there was not only an overwhelming demand for the finished products themselves (over 10,000 units sold the first month), but for information as to how they were produced as well (graphics, layout, phraseology, insight, etc.). It was this secondary curiosity that would eventually lead to the formal birth of ChoreoGraphics. While my first 10 years following High School were emersed in Technical and Design training and experience, it was the following 10 years of Amway organization-building and marketing experience that earned me a "PHD in People" that few people in the world will ever understand! I am still convinced to this day that if you can build a successful Amway business, you can probably do just about anything! If any one of those disciplines had been missing in the 20 years leading up to ChoreoGraphics, it would never have been born.
It began innocently enough by accepting an invitation to spend a couple days with the leaders of one of the two largest and most successful Amway organizations at their home in Austin Texas to discuss Amway in general. Through pure accident they discovered a set of the newly produced materials in the trunk of my car and what originally was planned to be just a two day social visit, turned into a several month stint where I was contracted to assist in developing a similar sub-set of materials for their (much, much larger) organization. This constituted not only the ultimate compliment to someone in my position at the time, but it also meant that I had to create a secondary business with a separate checking account to deposit this new (albeit fleeting) source of income. Therefore, at a restaurant in Austin, Texas on a summer’s afternoon in 1989, the name ChoreoGraphics appeared on the first check to be deposited (FYI-the name "ChoreoGraphics" was derived by joining 'Choreograph... to compose' with 'Graphics... visual art'). Following this temporary assignment, I was offered a very generous on-going retainer to continue developing materials and perform other organizational tasks for this Austin-based business. When I say “generous”, I mean we are talking about the potential to double my previous income overnight with even greater long-range benefits on the horizon. Since “my” personal Amway business was only demanding a few hours per week this was a golden opportunity - even if no money was to be involved at all! Unfortunately, a set of complications in my personal life forced me to terminate this extraordinary offer before it ever came to fruition and I also ceased any ongoing efforts to expand my Amway organization as well on February 2, 1991.
Although I still had no plans of pursuing a career in design and publishing (especially after abandoning my once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in Austin), word-of-mouth continued to spread to a few local merchants regarding what I had been developing with this new Macintosh® tool in my spare time. As a result over the next few weeks a series of small nuisance job offers kept popping up. Much of this was due to the owner and employees of a local supportive computer store (where I purchased by first Macintosh system) who were excited about what I had been creating. In fact, they eventually hired me themselves to design a set of printed materials for a “secret” retail product they were developing on the side (Actually, they gave me a key to the store and let me come in on my own schedule at night and use whatever I needed to get the job done). Remember this was around 1992 and to scan a single black and white sheet of paper was $10! It was during this period that I was introduced to an employee of Harrison Interests, Ltd. out of Houston, Texas while at the computer store one afternoon which set the next evolutionary step in motion.
A few days later my Harrison Interest’s contact asked me to meet him and his boss for lunch to discuss a “top secret” Macintosh-based Geological Workstation they had been working on for some time. The following Monday I was hired by Harrison Interests, Ltd. on a contract basis to work in the afternoons to accelerate the development of this project. This contract continued to be renewed every week for over a year! One afternoon toward the end of the Harrison project, I received a panic call from a high-ranking official in Dowell (Schlumberger). He went on to explain (in no uncertain terms) that he had hired a leading local photo-reproduction facility two weeks earlier to produce a series of 35mm color slides for a critical Dowell “Alliance” presentation to Amoco. The presentation was 16 hours away and the facility had just had informed him that the project was beyond their graphic and imaging capabilities and that they had absolutely nothing! Therefore, they gave Dowell my name as the only person locally that might be able to pull off a miracle like that overnight. I met with the Dowell Area Manager an hour later and was able to deliver the entire project just under the wire the following morning (with no sleep). The Amoco meeting went as planned and the “Alliance” was a success. As a result, ChoreoGraphics has gone on to perform hundreds of projects for scores of Schlumberger officials in the U.S., France, Venezuela, Canada, etc. for all these years following thanks to the repeated word-of-mouth recommendations of satisfied managers within that extraordinary company.
Since securing those initial purely accidental projects which could not have been scripted or successfully solicited if given a lifetime, in 1996 ChoreoGraphics switched from a dba to sub-S Corporation status. It was around this time-frame that the “web” was gaining in popularity. All of a sudden “everyone” was getting a computer? Up until this point pretty much 100% of everything ChoreoGraphics had been creating was for “print” in one form or another (since there was no Internet previously), then out of the blue the few companies and buisnesses we were working with started asking, “Do you build websites? You designed our logo and all our marketing materials and we need to take them online”. Therefore, I was thrust kicking and screaming into web design which was frustrating at best in those days (still is). It had little in common with “page-layout”, and yet they were calling them web “pages”. In the end we fought through the various releases of HTML and CSS standards with detours into FLASH® and ActionScript® and even the SiteGrinder nightmare. By the year 2000 about 50% of ChoreoGraphics revenue was coming from web work and the remaining 50% still in the print realm. When we needed custom “photography” for either, we generally hired professional photographers to shoot the content - scanning the photos in since pretty much everyone was still working in “film” (Canon did not even release their first DSLR camera until 2000 and it still was not ready for prime time!).
As time went on, it became more difficult to work with a number of professional photographers we had been using. Most were great photographers, but since most had a camera-only background in photography where they had been trained to get everything “in-camera”, they were not really up to speed with the software that I had been working in for years. I finally realized that for most projects, it would be easier for me to expand into photography than for them to try to attempt ten years of “catch-up” in software expertise. In fact, many if not most high-end full-time photographers, still outsource the developing of their RAW files to professional retouchers (like ChoreoGraphics) and concentrate on what they are best at - taking the photos.
So, by 2008, ChoreoGraphics had expanded into photography as well (primarily commercial in-studio product photography) and by 2010 photography was accounting for about 33% of the total revenue (including post-processing).
ChoreoGraphics has now reached a high level of expertise and experience in providing a wide array of design solutions encompassing print, web, multimedia, photography and beyond. ChoreoGraphics reached its first million dollars in revenue by 2004 with just a few preferred clients - over 90% residing outside of it’s West Texas Permian Basin geographical location. Today with over 350 satisfied “repeat” corporate and business clients both domestic and abroad, we have a track record hard to dispute. Over the first 15 years with well over 1/4-million dollars re-invested in state-of-the-art equipment, software and training during that period, I guess it is time to concede that ChoreoGraphics finally became a “real” business in it’s own right. Probably the most amazing statistic is that all of this came from one person not looking for this business (already totally immersed in another venture at the time) and now after over 25 years not a single dollar was spent on advertising of any kind whatsoever (including trade-outs)! You read that right… so far 100% of all revenue has come from personal recommendations of satisfied clients or “word-of-mouth”. Even now there is no effort being made to list this site on the Internet with search engines, etc. - its purpose is not primarily intended to solicit new clients, but rather just to establish a web presence with existing clients. Therefore, I would have to consider that the most extraordinary achievement of ChoreoGraphics has been that it rose to this level so far primarily due to revenue from the advertising/media sector without doing any paid advertising itself!