I took the plunge I always said that I wouldn’t take: this week, I got business-married. I created a digital strategy agency, Lux Digital, with my longtime collaborator, Sonal Bains, after a decade of happily swimming through the life of being an independent consultant. Becoming a company was something I flat-out rejected for years–I valued my freedom too much to load myself with the burdens that a company would surely bring me. But then, last summer, I saw a new light. Here’s the story of how I’ve made this journey.
Lux has been a long time in the making. Ten years ago, I finally admitted to myself, and eventually to my boss, that I wasn’t cut out for a corporate, 9-to-5 life. After years in telecommunications, advertising and finance, I struck out on my own as a freelancer. At that time, freelancing was just starting to come into the cultural consciousness as a Real Job™, and no longer one just for writers and designers. Freelancing life has been good to me: While the hustle for the next paycheck comes with a certain amount of stress, that stress has been much more manageable for me to deal with than living within the constraints of everyday office life. I’ve built up a wildly successful practice over this past decade. I teach my clients how to use digital tools to accomplish their goals, I’ve written a book, Share This!, about how we will all change the world with our social selves online, and have been blessed with an expansive network of co-conspirators, mentors and just deeply lovely people.
Along the way, I met a fantastic young activist and strategist–Sonal–at a party in DC. We connected initially because my necklace matched her earrings, and then she shared a bizarrely funny poem that had catalyzed the breakup with her then-boyfriend. (Happy ending, though: They got married last year.) Sensibility synchronicity–especially around humor and taste–is one of my keys to finding connection in this world, so when Sonal started freelancing as a digital strategist a few years later, we started working together almost immediately. We found our greatest successes in the clients that we shared centered around helping them feel their way through and share the emotional content of their work, and thus be able to deeply connect with their communities.
People often asked us why we didn’t form a business together, and like the partner who wasn’t willing to get married, I’d often answer, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But by last summer, freelance life had finally started to wear on me: Being in charge of every single detail all the time left me no more energy to pursue other kinds work that make me feel passionate and alive. I have another life as a graphic artist and storyteller, as well as life of performance that I had dropped around the time I started writing my book.
I shared my feelings about my digital work with Sonal, and she said, “I’ve been thinking about the bigger picture, too. We should make it official and finally team up. Let’s make an agency.” We spent several hours in Ft. Greene Park in Brooklyn hashing out just what that meant, and by that evening, we had a plan. When we shared the idea with a few close friends and advisors, they were thrilled. “[You’re] combining your awesomeness into Voltron-like immensity,” said author and comedian Baratunde Thurston. It was like getting business-engaged, and we started planning our business-wedding.
Three months in, we found that our day-to-day lives weren’t allowing for the space we needed to really make a launch happen. Sonal suggested that we sequester ourselves someplace warm and beach-y to dig deep. It hit me that visiting Ruth Ann and Bill Harnisch in the Bahamas might be the perfect setting: brilliant advisors close by, aforementioned warm beach requirement, a gorgeous and comfort-filled home, and the ability to be as connected or disconnected with the rest of the world as we saw fit. (Sonal chose the former, I chose the latter. We complement each other well, often. There are plenty of chocolate-and-peanut-butter jokes in this partnership.) We chose mid-February for our retreat, and set up a series of goals and exercises to complete while we were there.
First order of business was branding, and obviously, a name for our agency. The ideas of sun, fire and light resonated deeply with both of us, and on the first morning of our retreat, we started exploring that resonance. At that moment, a flame-colored butterfly flew into the room. She fluttered around through the house for a minute, but then became clearly stressed as she didn’t know how to get back outside. Sonal and I jumped up, and, barely even speaking to one another, we guided the butterfly back outside. It hit us: This is what we do. We guide our clients, in fluid concert with one another. We love working together for our clients’ joy and freedom.
We were also visited by a pair of hawks that live near the house; the first visit came as we were just about to begin a Skype session with Thrivable’s Jean Russell, who facilitated exercises that helped us identify our network of collaborators and others. Hawks and butterflies. Insight, clarity, beauty.
Later, after a run on the beach, Sonal came to me with her discovery of our name:
Lux. Light. Yes.
Thus, Lux Digital has been born. We’re looking forward to the many collaborations and manifestations that this endeavor will bring.
About Lux Digital: We’re based in New York, and we provide leaders in the public, private and social sectors online strategies which create measurable impact and deep engagement. A myriad of targeted services comes in that package: campaign-based and organizational strategy development, online/offline social event integration and implementation, as well as workshops, webinars and training on tools, content and analytics/measurement.