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CEO Debara Medina starts Clear Story in Cloudy Market

Published on May 18, 2012

Cary Sherburne sits down with CEO of Clear Story Debara Medina and asks her about starting a new company with no equipment during the economic recession.

Cary Sherburne:  Hi.  I’m Cary Sherburne, Senior Editor at WhatTheyThink.com and it’s my great pleasure to be here with Debara Medina, the CEO of Clear Story out of San Diego.  Welcome.

Debara Medina:  Thank you.

Cary Sherburne:  So you’ve got a clear and great story.  So maybe you could tell us a little bit about how you got started in your business and what your business is about.

Debara Medina:  Sure.  I got started about, truthfully about four or five years ago in researching the industry, and I wanted to be into photo industry and I didn’t know where exactly I would land.  I have a background in computers and digital equipment, and I really wanted to combine the two.  So I didn’t know and I started attending a lot of meetings and trying to meet anybody I could.  I found my way into loving the side about photo books and wanted to be able to communicate, at that time anyway, the abandonment rate was about 85 percent, and so it wasn’t widely accepted as it is now.  And I thought we really need to bring this to the consumer and make it easy.  

So we did a lot of testing of software and trying to get people to give us feedback on what was good and what didn’t work, and so my business plan started there.  And I had actually started at a smaller foot print in a retail store and I wanted to have a place where people could come in and get a book done quickly and done well.  And we ended up moving from that platform when I got to see the Indigo presses and I fell in love with it, the quality and what we could do with it, the versatility of it just bowled me over.  So we moved out of that smaller foot print and decided to have more of a production facility.  

So we are targeting a flagship store in San Diego where we’re going to have a classroom because people need to be educated on the products, they to be educated on the software; and just the whole idea about one-off technology and what we can have with it, so most people don’t know that.  Most small businesses don’t know that they can come in and have a very short run of 50 menus if they want, so the retail store is set up to do that.  San Diego is a big County so we’re going to have a flagship store with all the bells and whistles.  And then we’ll have some satellite stores on different parts of the County that’ll support that.  

So to that end, I’ve got a production facility in the center of San Diego County with my Indigo and all my other HP equipment, and so it’s situated to have two—it’s built to have two presses.  Right now we have the first one.  And then it’s going to service most of Orange County and San Diego as well.  So we’re building it for volume and as the business plays out our anticipation is that we’ll go up to Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York.  So those are the areas of growth that we’re looking to do over the next few years.

Cary Sherburne:  Wow.  That’s really, that’s aggressive.  And I understand you got a little flack from people about 2010 not being such a good time to start up a business.

Debara Medina:  Yeah, we got a lot of flack on that.  They didn’t want to believe that it would work.  And I think that because I didn’t come with old equipment that I had to cost justify and I didn’t come with sort of a really—that I wasn’t struggling in a down economy, that I came sort of with fresh eyes at it, and an energy and an excitement about it.  And so some people did and some people were just kind of go do it and see what happens, and we’ve had a lot of really great success.

Part of the platform that we have in terms of having a smaller plant and having it sort of strategically placed around the country is we get people on the B-to-B side, we get people in the graphic arts business who want to come and have specialty things done.  So we’ve got a full bindery department and we can make handmade books, and we’ve got wide format, we’ve got dye sublimation.  We have a lot of versatility so they can come in and say we’re thinking about doing this for our client, can you create it.  Yeah, we can.  So we’re having a lot of fun experimenting with a lot of different substrates too.

Cary Sherburne:  So you really have a blend of B-to-C with the photo books and B?to?B with what you just described and it seems like there’s a huge opportunity for corporate photo books.

Debara Medina:  Oh, that’s part of it, and event books too.  So we’re doing books for corporate, we’re doing books.  We just finished a run of books for—I don’t know if you know the organization TED?

Cary Sherburne:  Oh yes, yes, absolutely.

Debara Medina:  Yeah.  Well, we’ve done books for TEDx, award winning actually.  So we didn’t do the design and we’ll say that.  We didn’t get a chance to do it.  We would love to do that for them.  But the book in itself, it laid out beautifully, the designer that I worked with on that book, she just did an incredible job.  So they’re pretty excited about it.  So we’re really looking forward to doing more of the event book.  It’s a piece of—a memorable piece.  When you go to something like TED that you don’t probably go to many of them in your lifetime, but you get to go to that one and a takeaway from that is really nice.

Cary Sherburne:  That’s great.  So congratulations on making it a success and it’s a really inspirational story for our viewers who may be saying, you know, what do I do next or how do I, you know, how do I really boost up my business.  So congratulations. 

Debara Medina:  Thank you.  Thank you very much.

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