Ting Li was born in Guangzhou, China, the daughter of a well-established writer, journalist and editor. From a young age, Ting was enamored with the literary arts and possessed a strong curiosity for science and technology, which followed her as she moved to the United States and as she studied to attain her Master’s in Biophysics.
After living and traveling in Europe post-graduation, she returned back to the U.S. and founded Pixelatoms, LLC., a creative digital media and product studio, in 2009. Pixelatoms (http://www.pixelatoms.com/) has created award-winning content for the web and broadcast by combining technological aptitude with a passion for storytelling to provide a unique voice for their clients.
Ting continues to lead Pixelatoms, following a philosophy of valuing education, pursuing knowledge, building a strong community and using their collective talents to transform imaginative concepts into meaningful realities.
Keep reading to learn more about Ting Li and Pixelatoms in this exclusive interview!
Charlotte Business Resources (CBR): When did you first become interested in owning your own business?
Ting Li (TL): My earliest memory of “owning” a business was selling preserved sour plums to my classmates in elementary school in China. I would save my allowance and purchase the plums in bulk at a discounted rate from different vendors then sell them for a profit. Since allowances were rare, preserved sour plums became a valued commodity in our school. Ever since then, the supply and demand curve has never veered far from sight.
CBR: Who or what has inspired you on the road to entrepreneurship?
TL: For me, inspiration can come from anywhere, such as the markings of a monarch butterfly, or colors of a sulfur spring, or from Carl Sagan’s Cosmos series. I am inspired by people who are not only great business leaders, but are also innovative and disruptive thinkers. People, such as Elon Musk, who have reshaped the culture and understanding of our world.
CBR: Tell us a little bit more about Pixelatoms. How did the idea come to you, and what were the early days of opening a business like?
TL: Pixelatoms is a creative digital and product studio. Our portfolio includes both client work (such as branding, web and app development, video production, illustration, and motion graphics) and our own creative ventures (such as education apps and community-focused projects).
I have had the privilege of meeting incredibly gracious and talented people during the early stages of our formation. One of these talented individuals is the director Sasie Sealy. While working on one of her award-winning films, The Elephant Garden, I was reminded of how much I enjoyed storytelling in all media. Having a predominately science and computer background, this experience reignited my desire to work at the intersection of art and science; thus, Pixelatoms was started as the platform to work towards that goal.
The early days of operating Pixelatoms involved struggling to stay focused at endless crossroads where risk management was nearly impossible. It was wild, but it was exhilarating. We are still here laughing, crying and experiencing all the emotions in-between.
CBR: Did your background or education lend itself useful to your current position? How?
TL: My father is an accomplished writer and a professor, and instilled in me a love of the arts and storytelling. He is also a tinkerer and maker, so we spent substantial time in my youth imagining and building things. So, while studying for my degree in Biophysics, I was also learning programming and web design, developing an aesthetic for modern storytelling utilizing emerging technologies.
My paternal grandfather was a revered general in Mao’s army, liberating most of southern China. This may not be a beautiful part of history, but on a personal level, under the context of his time, he fought to be better than the education afforded him. He gained respect from his fellow soldiers, not because of his physical prowess (legends of defeating mountain lions and tigers with no more than his horse and an umbrella), but because of his humanity. He told my father to always remember that our spirits were stronger than any bullet can penetrate. These poignant words of my paternal grandfather have helped me get back up throughout my personal and career pursuits.
CBR: How would you describe your artistic/design style? What inspires your style?
TL: Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. Regardless of the medium, whether it be film, illustration, web development, animation or graphic design, we exist in the role of communicators. Everyone has a story. Finding engaging and accessible methods of telling that story is our goal and our passion. We find inspiration from our love of technology, science and the human story.
CBR: What has been your greatest challenge as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
TL: We work in an industry where clients may not always understand the value and cost of quality design, and are willing to sacrifice quality for cost. So, for us, the challenge has been not compromising on the integrity of our own brand, and the quality of our work, for a contract. We educate our clients so they can make informed choices, and we have resolutely stood by the quality of our own brand and the integrity of our work.
CBR: What has been your proudest moment to date? And where do you see your business in the next 5 years?
TL: Even after winning numerous awards, such as music video of the year, our proudest moments are when we can give back to our community, whether it is creating graphics and motion video for local and national charities through our “Create for Good” initiative, or through our community initiatives such as our historic building preservation project, Built Cities, or educational affiliations with The Learning Lotus Project. We hope to continue creating unique voices for our clients and building and launching meaningful products.
CBR: What would be the best advice you’d give to an entrepreneur starting/growing their business?
TL: Being an entrepreneur, starting and growing your own business, is not a job–it is a lifestyle; set hours and days off will be distant memory. Failures are inevitable; plan for them and mitigate them. Acquire a deep domain in your area of interest, and be a gracious collaborator because no person is an island. Calculate your risks, then take them; after all, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Measure your success, and build your dreams on your own terms. Even if all the stars line up, failure is likely, but the reward of hard-fought success is exhilarating.
CBR: What’s the one thing about Pixelatoms that you’d like for people to know that they don’t know now?
TL: Our mascot, Pixie, our beloved and curious pixel-bot, has been with us since our inception. She has traveled far and wide representing our own curiosities about the world around us. She stands proud as a builder in our logo, and her fun antics are no stranger to our social media followers (Facebook & Instagram). Our building blocks are pixels; thus, our name Pixelatoms, and she keeps our childlike curiosities bright. We are fans of modding legos, building robots and exploring emerging technologies.
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