Erin Sarofsky On Being Solution Oriented

Erin Sarofsky is President and Executive Creative Director of Sarofsky Corp, a design-driven production studio she founded in 2009. Her company specializes in live action production, visual effects, 3D development, design, animation and editorial for entertainment and advertising content. After graduating from Rochester Institute of Technology with a BFA in graphic design and an MFA in computer graphics, Erin worked at Digital Kitchen and then SuperFad. In 2006, she was nominated for a Primetime Emmy for her work on the “Ghost Whisperer” main title sequence. More recently her company’s featured pieces are the main-on-end titles for the hit Marvel film, Captain America: The Winter Soldier as well as the main title typography for their summer blockbuster, Guardians of the Galaxy. Erin is dedicated to her craft and demonstrates a work attitude that is both flexible and smart.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be an astronaut, a geneticist, and then a photographer.

Who would you most like to be stuck on a desert island with? Why?
My fiancé, Kevin, is an Eagle Scout, so for that and a few other personal reasons, it’s got to be him.

What single book has had the greatest impact on you? Why?
I’d be lying if I didn’t say the Harry Potter series. I just love the magic, wonder, friendship and mentorship; the search for truth and, of course, the fact that the main character has to beat all the odds. Also, seeing those books translated into film has been inspirational on so many levels.

When do you go to bed and when do you get up?
I fall asleep around 11pm and I’m up at 7am. I really need sleep.

Can you briefly explain your career path to date?
After college, I took a position at a company called Digital Kitchen in Chicago.  I spent almost six years there and grew from designer to creative director. While it was just six years, I can say that it was mileage, not time. Over the years, I produced work on hundreds of jobs on overlapping accounts and worked nearly around the clock.

When I felt my career stagnating at Digital Kitchen, I left and moved to New York for a job at SuperFad. SuperFad was a similar company but I was in a position to help grow their NY office and be a significant leader.

After just under two years there, I made the decision to leave as I wasn’t loving life in NYC and wanted to move back to Chicago. I struggled to find a company to join that really inspired me, which probably had a lot to do with the fact that I was looking for something quite specific. So in 2008 I partnered with two guys to open our own studio. It was tough to build a company in such a rough economic climate. While I appreciated the slower growth, my partners had wildly different expectations. By late fall that year, the partnership fell apart.

After a very short bit of freelancing and reflection, a client/friend had a job he wanted to award to me, but I didn’t have a company anymore. It was the push I needed to go out on my own. I created my own entity in a rush, and was up and producing work within a couple days. 

It’s now six and half years later and I’ve grown that one job into a significant business. I have 15 full time employees and staff up to as many as 40 when the jobs call for it. We produce work for Fortune 500 companies daily and for some of the highest grossing box office movies of all time.

What is the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome, as it relates to your career or industry?
This industry is a boy’s club for sure, especially on the creative side, so being a woman has made things harder. I never thought much about it when I was starting out. I started to take noticed when it became obvious that I was paid significantly less than my male peers and was getting passed over for promotions while my less experienced male peers were not. I spoke up and made changes. I’ve never been one to wallow or abide unacceptable behavior.

In a way it was good I wasn’t too aware of these politics at the beginning of my career. For me, it was all about the work and I was able to perfect my skills. I was sad to come to that realization eventually, but had I known that was going on earlier, I’m not sure I would have had the confidence to overcome it.

What motivates you?
Two things. Finishing things and the next project.

There is nothing like crossing something off a to-do list, regardless how big or small. I rarely relish in past work or events, I am all about what’s next in the hopper.

What do you wish you’d known at the start of your career?
I wish I was more patient with myself. I wanted results so fast and expected so much out of myself.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My greatest achievement is creating and growing a healthy company.  At the end of the day, a happy life comes from being surrounded by other happy, inspired people. We are a petri dish of creativity and fun, and somehow we have been able to make it profitable too.

What do you believe has been the key to your success?
Being okay with failures. Whenever something doesn't work out, I am able to easily detach and move on to the next thing.

What is your life motto?
I always approach opportunities without fear of failure.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
It’s not age, it’s mileage. Meaning, it's the time and effort you put in that gets you where you want to be. You can be young or old, it doesn't matter or entitle you to anything. It’s all about experience.

Who do you most admire in business? Why?
I can more easily tell you who I don’t admire. For me, this business is all about the collective. I always look at what is best for the company now, in the short term and in the long term. I try very hard not to be overly narcissistic about things and make anything about me. Whenever I see businesses fail, I assume it’s because simple things went wrong, like bad partnerships, overextending, ego... All of that can be avoided if you have a clear vision for your company and truly want to grow a healthy entity.

What do you believe is the secret to rising up to the top?
I believe always being solution-oriented gets you to the finish line in style. No matter how talented you are, if you can’t think on your feet and be good-natured while you’re doing it, then people won’t want to work with you. Nothing ever goes according to plan, so it’s important to really understand what you’re dealing with so that you can be both flexible and smart.

Are there work ethics and attitudes that you most admire in women?
In my experience, women tend to over-prepare in order to feel comfortable walking into a situation. Generally, we are also great listeners. The two necessary things to solving problems are hearing what the problem is and being educated about it.

What's next?
Right now I want to increase volume a bit. I feel like the studio can handle a bit more work. I do get restless. I always have some side burner ideas ready to move to the front. I’d like to work on developing some ideas I own – and create content around that.