(Courtesy image by Linda Watson)
This article appears in a 12-part series on minority entrepreneurship and is underwritten by the Wilmington Alliance. It was independently reported and not reviewed by Wilmington Alliance before publication.
Growing up in Wilmington, Linda Watson found that she had a particular talent: She could take electronics apart and put them back together from memory — not uncommon among people who become innovative thinkers, creatives and entrepreneurs.
Before long, she was repairing broken VCRs. Eventually, she taught herself how to build computers after breaking one down and reassembling it, leading to her first business, Watson’s Computer Services.
“I didn’t go to school for graphic design,” said Watson, now the founder of Mädō Creative Agency. “I’m just a very technical person.”
She would decide, nearly 20 years ago, that computer repair wasn’t for her. Instead, inspired by a world-traveling aunt who needed flyers made, she started teaching herself desktop publishing.
Then, “I just happened to be visiting with my best friend one day and my pastor’s youngest son, who was a graphic designer, offered me a position to work for my pastor’s ministry,” she said.
The ministry sent her to take a night course at Delaware College of Art and Design for graphic design: “You had to know how to code back then,” she said. “It makes it easier for what I do today.”
For more than a decade, Watson did design work exclusively for churches, learning and adapting along the way. That changed about four years ago when she connected with WIN Factory cofounder Tamara Varella and started doing graphic design on a full-time basis for businesses. Watson became a founding member of the company, when it was located in the now-closed CoIN Loft coworking space.
Working for businesses proved to be a major change, she said.
“People think you can do graphic design for everyone the same — actually business and ministry are two different things, the process is totally different,” Watson said. WIN Factory “was where I just fell in love with what I’m doing. Not that the church ministry was something I didn’t love — I’m a preacher myself, I grew up in the church. There’s just something about business and being able to help them to get started, doing the visuals as a way of communication.”
She can break her design philosophy down into four words: focus, simple, bold, fun.
“It’s simple,” she said. “It starts with being focus-driven and telling a story from a visual perspective that provokes a user experience that produces results. A bold approach, not being outrageous, but in making a stand in what we believe and in what we design.”
“I want to be a trendsetter, I don’t want to follow the trends,” she said. “With our culture, if you want to make that dollar you have to follow the trend. I want to do something different, I don’t just want to go where the money flows. I want the money to flow to where I am because I’m creating something that is unique.”
Watson met Varella through Jason Aviles of Green Box Kitchen, who, with Green Box partner John Naughton, was hosting a four-week program called “The Business of Art” on Sundays at The Mill. Varella brought in creative professionals such as DETV’s Ivan Thomas to talk about how they made the switch from being a freelancer to having their own business, which was exactly what Watson was looking to do.
“I knew all about design, but I wanted a business,” she said. “That was the only thing that I was not able to connect with — how do I turn my freelancing into a business? Myself and my son went through the process to be a part of this group. It branched off to where I had an opportunity to work with Tamara, and from there it was just kind of grew.”
WIN Factory’s move to its currently location at 500 MLK Blvd. proved difficult for Watson, who has physical challenges that make it difficult for her to use stairs. (The WIN Factory coworking space is located on the second floor without an elevator.) “Physically, I had to find an accessible place for the moment, until it’s no longer difficult to climb steps,” she said.
Those challenges inspired another business, a clothing brand Watson started in partnership with Terrance Wiggins, founder of T & T Custom Embroidery, called Focus on Your Goals. “One thing we do want to do once COVID slows down some is to be able to introduce it as activewear to young people and gyms,” she said. “My son lost close to 310 pounds, so he’s very into the gym. We’re going to let it go under his umbrella for a bit and see what he can make it become.”
Finding an accessible space came with a side effect: It allowed her to focus on her graphic design business, which she started rebranding from Pynk Print (“I was told it sounded too much like a printing company,” she said) to Mädō Creative Agency in January.
“WIN Factory is a big part of my heart,” she said. “But working as its lead designer, I kind of neglected my business. It consumed everything that I had. I had to get back to doing things on my own.”
She had planned to become a member of 1313 Innovation, but found that it is no longer a coworking space. Another space showed up in her search, one she hadn’t heard of called XPO Suites at 300 Delaware Ave., across from the Nemours Building that houses The Mill. It was accessible and affordable, and she found other entrepreneurs of color using the space, including United Tech Project founder Danny DeJesus.
“It’s hidden jewel. I was shooting for just a desk. It went from just a desk to an office in the matter of a week,” she said. She shares the office with Focus on Your Goals partner Wiggins. “It’s the most motivating. We have a corner office with an amazing view.”
Still, while Watson has been getting work, the pandemic has made things increasingly challenging.
“I have not been able to take advantage of any of the funding that came through the COVID-19, none at all,” she said of applying for small business relief funding. “It’s disappointing. With the new business, I went and did everything that I was told to do, and then it came back and it was declined, and so, even starting in a new space, my desire for my company is really to reach back to other creatives and help them to be able to do it right.”
She plans to do that via a new project, a Facebook group she’s developing called Creatives are Human.
“Oftentimes,” she said, “we’re on the backburner. Most of the time a person contracts our services and they never get to meet the individual. I’ve struggled with knowing my value, and because of that it has gotten me hurt, damaged to the point where there were times when I wanted to no longer do it anymore. But when it’s a part of you and you love it, it’s you wake up the next day like, ‘OK, I’m going to give it one more shot.'”
The group will offer support and resources for creatives, especially those starting out who aren’t necessarily thinking about things like intellectual property law. Her first piece of advice for people starting a creative business? Consult a lawyer.
“Our culture, especially, we run from that — but trust me, years later, you’re going to wish you had ran to it,” she said. “So that’s one of the things I want to do with Creatives are Human, connecting people who can provide those resources for creatives to be able to have that backing and information.
“Within the past three weeks, I have seen about five [Black] creatives who’ve said that they were giving up. I don’t want to see another one. We’re too talented, we’re too needed. When you feel like you’re going up against something, or if no job is coming your way or you don’t know how to get your next lead, hopefully this community can help with that.”
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