An Interview with Alex Meiners & Max Hellmann:
Founders of Family Industries & BFFs for Life
Ten years ago, Alex Meiners and Max Hellmann lost their jobs on the same day. They had just enough money to continue renting a garage in Downtown Los Angeles for $300 a month, and a solid enough network of people who were able to hire them to do small printing jobs.
Today, ten years later, Alex and Max have built a company beyond their wildest dreams. From a small carriage house with no power, to building their very own, brand new office and printing facility; Alex and Max have not only built a company from nothing, they’ve raised a Family.
How did you two meet?
Max: Alex and I met at a new years eve house party hosted by our mutual friend Josh back in 2007.
Alex: It was like straight up out of the movies. Looked like “Can’t Hardly Wait 2”, but instead of high schoolers trying to be more adult, it was just a bunch of adults acting like they were in high school again.
After that fateful meeting, what was it that made you two decide to start a business together?
Alex: I had been wanting to start some sort of printing business, but it was straight up IMPOSSIBLE to find anyone that wanted to do it for real. Like, actually knew what it took and was ready to go all in. Not just a club of buddies making shirts and messing around.
Max: I mean, we became pretty fast friends there at the beginning. Similar interests and mindsets kept bringing us back to the idea of working together.
Alex: Totally. Which made it even more apparent, I think to the both of us, that we had each found someone who knew what they wanted, and was ready to do whatever it took to get it. We both wanted something bigger and more structured than anything we had done previously.
What were those early days like? Before Family Industries, when you were just two friends with a small printing business?
Max: At the time, we worked in a TINY back carriage house in Echo Park. It had no power, so we used to have to throw an extension cord from the Juliet balcony of my apartment, across the back lawn so that we could get power for our the flash dryer. We probably blew the circuits of the apartment building once a print session.
Alex: Humble beginnings to say the least, but hey, we were broke.
Like some kind of divine, really twisted intervention; you both lost your jobs on the SAME DAY in 2009. Tell us more about that day, and the days thereafter that ultimately led to you going all-in on starting Family Industries.
Alex: I’ll never forget that day. I was already out of the building I had been working at, and I was printing in the garage we were renting Downtown LA. I was pouring my frustrations, and all of that pent-up emotion into my printing. Then, and I remember this moment like it was yesterday, Max pulled up in his car. I knew something was up, cause it was the middle of the day. He parked in his spot, I walked outside, and Max just said “welp, I no longer work at Filter Magazine anymore”. Then, just like that famous shot in “Jaws”, the background behind him blurred, and my whole perspective just zoomed in on Max. It was a weird feeling, but I think we both knew, in a weird sort of way, that this was meant to happen.
Max: As excited as we both were that we no longer had to work for someone other than ourselves, we were broke. I mean, BROKE.
Alex: It was a rough go at the beginning, cause we had zero help from our parents or anyone. It was our money, and if we failed, that was it.
Max: It was better than the alternative though, which was finding another job working for someone else. Which we just couldn’t do. Luckily, we had a built up a solid network and were able to bring in a steady stream of work to slowly grow the business.
Alex: Max is the Ying to my yang. Over the years we have grown up together. We have learned from each other tremendously. From that, we’ve been able to adapt to anything that gets thrown our way. From the jump, we knew how to weather storms together and not get caught up in the little things.
Why the name "Family Industries"?
Max: Even from the very beginning we set ourselves apart from the pack because we treated all of our customers and clients like family. In the printing world, that kind of personal touch and attention to detail didn’t really exist. On top of that, Alex and I had been through so much together as friends that we actually became brothers. So, we decided on Family Industries for the simple fact that our goal was to always treat our employees and customers like Family.
… and everyone wants to know: Why the elephant??
Alex: Oh, it’s very random. We were playing with graphics for an event. I was mocking up a burger headed man playing an accordion. It was sort of a remix off another design we used for… was it Record Store Day?
Max: Yeah, Record Store Day 2009 at Amoeba Music in Hollywood.
Alex: I shot the design over to Max and he sent me over a Frankenstein-ed design. Instead of a burger head, he changed it to an elephant head. He also threw a boom-box in place of the accordion, which I really dug. I sharpened it up, tweaked a few things, and there it was. Originally it wasn’t our logo, but people were loving it so much that we decided it made sense for our logo.
Max: As anti-climactic as that may sound, that's how "Elly" was born.
It's been 10 years since the day you started your company. You've seen a hell of a lot, rode the roller coaster through all the ups and downs, and now you've reached a milestone very few businesses in the modern era may ever hit. What would you say was THE defining moment for Family Industries.
Alex: [laughs] I always think back to this one job we did for a pretty big client, and how that order went terribly wrong. We were sent a perfect looking graphic from the client, everything looked solid.
Max: From what I remember, the graphic was a URL for their new website.
Alex: Right! Yes, and we didn’t see aaaaanything wrong with it. So, we went and printed the order. 1,000 shirts.
Max: We sent it to the client, thinking ‘hell yeah, we nailed it’. Then, we get a call telling us WE messed up the entire order.
Alex: Which, fine I’m always willing to take the heat whenever I mess up, but we couldn’t see a thing wrong with the graphic they sent us.
Max: It turns out that the graphic they sent us of their URL had a period somewhere that should have been a dash. So minuscule a detail, but obviously something that needed to be changed IMMEDIATELY.
Alex: I’ll never forget the client told us it was only “30%” their fault. How they came up with that number, I'll never know, but we both had to move passed the ridiculousness of that statement and try to make it work. Cause at that point, we either made this order happen, and make it right, or Max and I were getting back on craigslist to find new jobs.
Max: As unfortunate as the situation was, it taught us that mistakes happen, and though it may not 100% be our fault, we have to do what we have to do to make things right. It almost killed us as a brand new business, but we were able to work with the client and make things right.
What have each of you learned the most from being business owners for 10 years?
Alex: I’ve learned to always move forward, and never let adversity get in the way. It’s never as hard as it seems, and if you keep a level head about things; anything is possible.
Max: To keep plowing forward, and learn from your mistakes. Make sure your employees are taken care of, and have a vision of your company’s future. Our business is our ship, and it’s up to us to steer it in the right direction.
As business owners, friends, and bosses to a wide range of different personalities: What is the most important advice you can give to someone looking to start their own business?
Alex: Speaking for a CO-owner of a business: NEVER HOLD ON TO BULLS*** FEELINGS. Max and I never hold on to a fight or an argument. We address it and move forward. If we need to talk to each other we go outside, look each other straight in the eyes, and hash it out. As I said earlier, always move forward. Max and I don't hold grudges. Grudges are a waste of time.
Also, for anyone looking to start a business: PUT MONEY BACK INTO THE BUSINESS!!! Don't gobble up the profits. You have to invest in the business. Sacrifice is key.
Max: You are either 100% in, or you are going to fail. That simple.
10 years down. What next?
Max: Hard to say what the next 10 years hold, but we are looking forward to expanding our reach, continuing to be the innovators in the on-site customization world, and navigating the changes that are coming to this industry. We’re prepared for whatever comes our way.
Alex: To piggy back off of Max’s sentiment, part of our expansion is moving into our BRAND NEW FACILITY! Construction just recently begun, but we are beyond pumped to move into a space we’re building from the ground up. It’s weird, but in some ways our new building (Camp Family in Elysian Valley, CA) is a physical manifestation of the hard work we’ve put in to building our company.
Max: In Family Industries’s story, this is the most exciting chapter yet.