Biz built in parents’ basement. Article in the Tri-City News
August 27, 2012
Published: August 23, 2012 2:00 PM
Just before he graduated from Coquitlam’s Centennial secondary in the late 1990s, Ted Lau placed a note in the school time capsule describing his dream career. “Graphic designer or movie director,” it read.
But when it came to apply to Simon Fraser University, Lau registered business as his major — a choice he soon came to regret.
As a co-op student, he took a customer service job with the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). He remembers the work being so tedious that he went in to complain to SFU officials.
And that’s when luck struck.
While on campus, he noticed a sign from the communications faculty advertising a digital video course for the next semester, starting in September.
As it turned out, the class was full. Still, Lau managed to get an appointment with the instructor but, before the meeting, he devoured the course text book while commuting by bus to CRTC in Vancouver every day.
By his appointment date, his knowledge of the digital video program was so thorough that the teacher waved him in.
Three years later, armed with a bachelor of arts degree in communications, Lau found himself without a job and in a failing global economy from the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001.
However, Lau had a new partner he met at the Vancouver Film Festival who was willing to launch a marketing business with him, called Ballistic Arts Media Studios Inc.
And so Lau and Tak Kawana built a website and waited for clients to come. “That didn’t happen,” Lau remembered. “We had no idea at the time what we were doing.”
To pay the bills, Lau took a job as a cameraman for Citytv. Then, one day, he got out the phone book and started cold calling to promote their company. “Guess what? No one wanted video but they all said they needed a graphic designer because theirs was unreliable…. We were hungry and needed money.”
Lau and Kawana restructured Ballistic to create a one-stop shop marketing company, providing video, photos, graphics and web design to a core Metro Vancouver base.
They found their niche in smaller businesses that couldn’t afford downtown prices. And, because they offered the full range of digital marketing services, Ballistic also attracted larger firms looking for a complete online package.
Slowly, the pair built Ballistic, starting from Lau’s parents’ basement. Two years later, they had their first employee — Marisa Woo, Lau’s girlfriend and a fellow SFU communications major — to do the invoicing and computer programming; by 2005, Ballistic boasted six employees. “I was making more than any of my friends from Centennial,” Lau said.
Each year, Ballistic grew at least 25% more from the previous year and, in 2009, after a push from the entrepreneurs’ organization program Accelerator, the company had double the work and 10 employees.
Today, the agency grosses under $1 million and has about 120 clients annually — three-quarters of them returns — who prescribe to custom bundles, aptly named Regular Strength, Loco-Motion Non-Drowsy Formula and Add on: Rx, for example.
Past and current clients include Port Coquitlam’s Treehouse Pub, Phoenix Truck and Crane in Coquitlam, PoCo Building Supplies, Pasta Polo, Wesbild, Westwood Plateau Golf and Country Club, BCAA, Vancity, Tourism New Westminster and the Canadian Mental Health Association BC.
As well, it has done gratis work for Share Family and Community Services’ Just Desserts gala fundraiser.
Two years ago, Ballistic moved its headquarters to Burnaby after failing to find adequate office space in Coquitlam.
And, on June 28, Ballistic marked its 10th anniversary. “A great decade,” said Lau, noting Ballistic hopes to expand to Alberta next year.
A former board director for the Tri-Cities’ Chamber of Commerce, Lau said the concept for his “asylum” is simple: Provide remedies to “patients” with marketing ailments and, most importantly, offer top-notch customer service.
The creative principal and CEO takes every opportunity he can to meet with clients face to face to analyze their business’ aches and pains. “I’m the sales guy, the visionary,” he said. “I like to know how their company ticks from the inside out.
“Like, we had a pub that featured a lot of football games. I started to watch football and, you know what? I’m a football fan now and that translates online for them.
“That’s how you stay on top of the game.”