#StartupsEverywhere: Inglewood, Calif.

#StartupsEverywhere Profile: Hope Horner, Founder and CEO, Lemonlight

This profile is part of #StartupsEverywhere, an ongoing series highlighting startup leaders in ecosystems across the country. This interview has been edited for length, content, and clarity.

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Creating High-Quality Videos for All 

The Los Angeles metropolitan area is home to more than 13 million people. It’s also home to Lemonlight, an Inglewood-based video production company that focuses on creating well-designed, affordable videos for companies across the U.S. and, soon, across the world. We recently spoke with Hope Horner, Lemonlight’s co-founder and CEO, about the startup’s work, her experiences in California, and her goals for the company moving forward.

Can you tell us a little about yourself? What is your background? 

I grew up in Johnson City, Tennessee, and moved out to California when I was 18 to go to school. I’d say I’ve always had the entrepreneurial bug. In my early 20s, I worked in several more corporate environments, but I eventually left in 2010 to start my first company. Since then, I’ve been engrossed in the startup world. I worked for other startup companies and started a couple of my own. In 2014, my two co-founders and I started Lemonlight,  which is where I work today.

Tell us more about Lemonlight. What is the work you’re doing?

Our mission is to create high-quality, affordable content for brands of all sizes. Back in 2014, when we started the company, the average cost of a commercial was about $350,000. That basically made it impossible for most companies, especially small business owners, to have access to that type of digital content. As video became more popular and more effective in digital advertising, we saw a really unique opportunity to empower small business owners in a way that could allow them to participate in the digital evolution of advertising. 

So, we set out to help small business owners. We made the pricing transparent and the process simple; we pre-packaged offerings to cut down on the meetings and chaos generally involved with traditional commercials. And, most importantly, we made the process affordable and we showed companies how to use it. That’s more or less what we’ve been doing since then. We do work with larger brands now, but at the end of the day, it’s about making great content accessible to everyone. 

What makes Inglewood’s startup ecosystem unique?

The Los Angeles area as a whole has really blossomed over the past 10 years. From a startup standpoint, there are now a plethora of resources available that people didn’t have access to back then. It’s easier to start a business, which also means there’s more competition. But most importantly, there’s better access to the resources which increases the likelihood of success. 

I think Inglewood is really unique because in Los Angeles -- especially for a startup company -- you don’t want to overspend for an office space. Inglewood is nestled in between Marina del Rey and the airport, and it’s still an affordable place to open an office. So we can get more space, and we get to know the community around us better. There’s a lot going on here now, like the new stadium and the metros, and that’s why we felt it would be a really perfect home for us. 

Are there any policy concerns that you have about California’s startup ecosystem?

There’s going to be something on the ballot in 2020 called a “split roll” tax measure for property taxes. That’s one of the big issues for us because we just purchased the building that we’re working in now. 

The initiative on the ballot would basically allow our property taxes to go up each year -- pretty significantly because the value of property in LA does change so much. And that’s really scary, because we just bought our building, everything was budgeted to a tee, and the idea of our costs going up dramatically in 1-2 years is kind of scary.

What issues are California startups and entrepreneurs like yourself dealing with that should receive more attention from state and federal policymakers?

Access to capital. While many startups go the angel route or the VC route, we’re completely self-funded. We bootstrapped the company for the first few years but now that we’re more established, we’ve been exploring raising some debt capital to scale our business more quickly.

But it’s been harder than I feel like it should be. At 18 years old, I could borrow $200,000 for a student loan with a great interest rate and nobody blinks an eye. Now I own a business that makes millions of dollars a year, and it’s a struggle to find a lending institution that offers competitive rates. We’ve been profitable since day one, but we can’t get a line of credit for $200,000 with an interest rate below 10% - that feels crazy to  me.

What is the goal for Lemonlight moving forward? 

Our vision is to become the expert in video production and video marketing. If you have any kind of online video that you want to make, we want people to think of us first. 

In the next year, we’re specifically building out some technology to help scale our business, and ultimately giving more people access to video content for affordable rates. We’re nationwide right now, but we’re expanding globally. Our main focus now is on continuing to grow and being at the forefront of the industry. 

All of the information in this profile was accurate at the date and time of publication.

Engine works to ensure that policymakers look for insight from the startup ecosystem when they are considering programs and legislation that affect entrepreneurs. Together, our voice is louder and more effective. Many of our lawmakers do not have first-hand experience with the country's thriving startup ecosystem, so it’s our job to amplify that perspective. To nominate a person, company, or organization to be featured in our #StartupsEverywhere series, email edward@engine.is.