Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors

The Start of Something New: Part 3

Since before 2001, I’ve wanted to be a photographer.  After September 11, 2001 — hours after– I went to photograph Ground Zero.  Those photos launched my career.  But careers don’t happen overnight.  Even with some magazine covers under my belt, I had to think hard about how I’d leverage this new found obsession.

That’s what it was: an obsession.  I started mulling about how to be a successful photographer as the industry changed from film based cameras to digital.  From traditional printed news to online.  I knew what was coming.  I knew film was toast.  I understood the darkroom I spent hours and hours and hours and hours in, breathing toxic fumes and mangling my chemistry, was this century’s buggy whip.  Most people pine nostalgic for the darkroom.  Not me.  I remember it like Harry Potter must remember the closet he was locked in growing up:  way too small and way too stinky.

Now it was early 2002.  I lived just off the Chesapeake Bay in an old farm house in Tyaskin, MD.  The attraction was the isolation.  The problem was the isolation.  At night, I’d sit in our makeshift hot tub.  He Who Shall Not Be Named (my ex)  created the hot tub from an old chest freezer.  He’d removed the lid, plumbed in a hot tub jet pump he bought from a junkyard, added a water heater and VOILA! Perfect hot tub.  As I sat in the tub, glass of box wine in hand, cold night air settling around me, I’d lean back and look at the stars.

And I’d plot.  And plan.  And scheme.  I obsessed over this frontier of digital photography;  the opportunities raised,  how to earn a living.  How to afford equipment.  How to build a website.  How to market online.   Night after night I sat in the freezer chest, chlorinated 104 degree water bubbling around me, glass of Franzia in one hand, and gnawed over what it would mean to be an internet based photography business.

It was now 2002.  Late 2002.  There were virtually no internet based photography businesses, and photographers were all scrambling —  trying to figure out how their business would evolve.  I launched  A competitor (who has since become a colleague and friend) created  Notice the only difference?  The “s” on the end.  I didn’t discover the conflict for a few months.  We could have gone to war with each other.  We could have been nasty to each other.  We could have sued each other.  Instead, we called and talked on the phone, laughing about “great minds” and all.

We developed a cordial relationship.  We both kept our sites.  To this day, I always tell people to put an “s” on the end of “photos” even though the site has changed to US Event Photos.  Always.  Habit.  Since 2002.  Every once in a while I still hear from Ben, DC Event Photo.  He’s a nice guy.

We both realized nobody has an idea that is totally unique.  And, sometimes, our individual ideas pop with strangely similar timing.  A suspicious mind would call foul.  But: here’s the thing.  When I researched DC Event Photo, I realized his site came online a few months BEFORE my site.  And while our ideas were similar, even our wording oddly close, I knew I hadn’t copied him.  All my ideas came from the freezer hot tub and drinking wine under the stars miles from Washington, DC.  So, how could I think he copied me?  Research suggested he was first.  Better friends than enemies.  (And while I’m happy to steal ideas that are successful and put my spin on them, this was not one of those times.)

It was a great decision for both of us.  After all, I’d later realize I wanted to work nationally.  Ben, the owner of the other site, has always been happy sticking to Washington, DC.  He travels, but it’s not his focus.  We would have fought an expensive, silly war for no great benefit.

That is the story of one innocent — but weird — similarity between business concepts and marketing strategies.  But for every innocent story, there’s some truly devious people out there.

One morning, as I was eating my standard hotel breakfast at a Doubletree in Sonoma, CA before an Indycar race.  (Granola and yogurt, toasted bagel, cream cheese, coffee and orange juice.  I still remember the granola.  It had big cashews in it, and they kind of stuck together in tasty clusters.)  My cell pinged.  It was a text from Melanie, my Las Vegas manager, who wrote, “Check out MikeGatty.Com.”  When I put the url into Safari, up popped a competitor’s website.   He had taken my name, registered it as a domain, and pointed it to his site.  Clearly trying to get people to hire him when they thought they were hiring US Event Photos.  At the bottom of the page was a tiney, itsy-bitsy disclaimer that said, “not affiliated with Mike Gatty or US Event Photos.”  He didn’t even make US Event Photos a backlink to my business.  Bastard.

However, this is why the Goddess invented the attorney.  A few threatening letters, and the domain redirect was eliminated.

And so was any goodwill I had tried to build with that competitor.  And I had reached out.  I believe we are better off personally knowing our competitors.  Developing cordial relationships.  Ben from DC Event Photo taught me that.

But to this day this competitor is on my naughty list and will never get any assistance from me.  If he was dying at my feet I wouldn’t kick him.  That’s the help he can expect from me: not to be kicked while dying.

When COVID-19 hit, and the world stopped spinning on its axis, it planted a new idea, one that is blossoming under my consciousness.  And like those nights in the freezer hot tub, I’ve obsessed over this navient idea for months.

Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors
Audrey the plant threatens to consume the shop owner in the movie <em>Little Shop of Horrors<em>

I’ve let it sit there.  I’ve walked around it.  I’ve poked it.  I’ve poked it again.  But the idea won’t go away.  It’s growing and feeding and evolving right in front of me.  Audrey lives, and like the plant, it threatens to consume me.

I need to go buy a freezer and make it into a hot tub.  This new idea will require real study.  I can put the hot tub on our patio outside the kitchen door.  The Franzia will be steps away.  And, yes, in the middle of the city I can still see the stars.  (To be continued…)