Starting a business in any field can be fraught with challenges, but breaking into a creative industry in New York City is an experience in a class by itself. This is something that David Korins quickly understood as he worked to get his eponymous firm off the ground.
Thirteen years ago, Korins says he took a hard look at his financial situation and calculated the bare minimum of money he needed to make every month. The essentials were a cell phone, rent, ramen noodles and a little bit of entertainment. He slept on four egg crates wrapped with gaffer tape on the floor of an East Village apartment.
“Whatever money I made on top of that nut, I put into paying for help,” Korins recalled. “If I made $500 and I needed $400, I spent a hundred on additional labor to help me, because late night at an off-, off-, off-Broadway theater … if you're painting and propping and building yourself, those four-by-eight sheets of plywood are heavy.”
As he built his business, that was the system he retained. It wouldn’t be a decade until he made more money than his assistant, but Korins says that from the beginning, the most valuable part of his company was and still is the people he collaborates with.Related: 5 Quick Bootstrapping Tips for Entrepreneurs
“The inventory we trade in is the currency of ideas. We don't need a physical plant. We need people who are really talented and lovely and great and responsible and reliable and we need the ability to free those people up to do the best work they can possibly do,” Korins says. “So I bootstrapped this company every single step of the way. Brick by brick and project by project we built this thing together. Which was probably really fiscally irresponsible. But I remember thinking to myself, if I'm not going to invest in myself, what am I going to invest in?”
And that investment has paid off. Today, the Tony-nominated, Emmy-winning -- for Fox’s Grease Live -- designer has worked with big name musicians such as Bruno Mars, Lady Gaga, Kanye West and Mariah Carey and has developed installations for Coachella, Lollapalooza, SXSW and Bonnaroo. His 18 Broadway credits include Bandstand, War Paint, Dear Evan Hansen and a little production you might have heard of called Hamilton.
We caught up with Korins to get his insights about creativity and making connections -- and got to take a look inside his workspace.