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Quick Chat: Rampant Design Tools’ Stefanie Mullen

Many of you are already likely familiar with Rampant Design Tools, who are well-known in the industry for their high-quality drag-and-drop visual effects offerings. You might even have some on your system right now.

What you might not know is that Rampant is a small shop owned by the husband-and-wife-team of Sean and Stefanie Mullen, artists themselves. We thought it would be fun to get a look behind the curtain at this small company that creates tools that a lot of pros rely on every day.

How did Rampant begin? What was the genesis of the company?
Rampant began five years ago, but the true beginning of the company goes back 20 years when my husband Sean began working in Hollywood. He was working with top producers and visual effects teams who were showing him how to composite and create practical visual effects. My favorite story from Sean’s past is him learning from the original Star Wars team how they created the effects for the trilogy.

From there his visual effects “bag of tricks” began to grow and grow, with music videos, movies and television shows. Which brings us up to five years ago when Sean decided that maybe other industry professionals would be interested in his “bag of tricks,” so we began to build the online store and started creating new elements to sell.

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Rampant is a small company in a sea of large ones. What are some of those challenges?
It’s like yelling from the bottom of the Grand Canyon in the hopes that people will hear you. We don’t have the reach or the marketing budget of the big dogs, so getting our voice heard is very difficult.

Other challenges come from the fact that there are only two of us running the entire show. We have to produce the content, finalize the content, create the web material, advertise that material, handle customer service and the payment gateways, and then finalize everything in our accounting/bookkeeping software. Some days there just are not enough hours in the day to get everything finished that needs to be finished.

Anyone who has walked NAB or Siggraph knows this is a male-dominated industry. Do you feel being a woman company owner is a negative, positive or plays no role?
I believe that it is definitely a positive thing. However, I do not believe it is widely accepted in this industry. It amazes me how many times I have heard, “Oh, that’s cute that you own the company.” Or “Is there someone here that can REALLY help me with my concern?” Every time I hear something like that I think to myself, “What year is it again?” I know I am not alone in these experiences.

How hard is it to break through with the tools that Rampant offers, which tend to be very niche products?
That is our toughest challenge. We’re often told that people like our content, but we also get a lot of, “Why haven’t I heard of you before?” But we keep pushing along and try to get our content out to as many people as we can. We rely on word-of-mouth advertising and hope that if users like our products, they will tell their friends and co-workers about us.

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What’s the process like when creating new products/fulfilling industry needs?
We’re always monitoring trends and fielding requests from fans and customers. We’ll experiment on multiple ideas in the shop at any given time. When we feel like we have a successful recipe, we start production on that particular product right away.  From there it goes to post, debayering, color correction, rendering, uploading to our servers, cutting promos, creating marketing materials and web content.

You and your husband Sean run the company. What is that dynamic like?
We truly have a great partnership. Sean runs the creative side with the production of products, and I run the analytical side with website development, accounting and customer service. We are definitely two halves that come together to make a whole. We work well together and we keep each other balanced. But don’t get me wrong, with two strong, opinionated people there are definitely heated discussions… but in the end, it all works out for the better of our company.

Is it hard to keep a family life while running your small business? How do you balance the two without melding the worlds together?
It is very hard to keep family life separate from the business. More times than not you find yourself staring at a computer screen, looking up at the time and realizing it’s 11pm. Then you think to yourself, “Did we eat dinner? Did I fix dinner? Is it really 11pm?”

I try to balance this with forced breaks for both Sean and myself. It is probably sad but we actually schedule in when we will watch TV and have meals, and even then there are times where the schedule needs to be ignored. It is tough but we love what we do and would not change it for anything.

Do you feel it is more rewarding running your own business than working for a corporation?
It is definitely more rewarding, but at the same time, there is more stress than working for someone else. I never knew what 80-90+ hours a week looked like until Rampant came along. But even with working seven days a week and more responsibility than I could ever imagine, it is a great job, and I love that I get to work with the person I love most.

How does piracy affect your business? How do you combat it?
Piracy is tough. It certainly hurts us, and it’s never fun to see your content listed on pirate sites. We’ve had our content stolen quite a bit, even from other companies. It’s part of the business, and it sucks. All you can do is keep moving forward, make great content and hope that your fans and customers will continue to support you.

What is the future you see for Rampant?
We have several new concepts that are a major departure from what we have today. Rampant is constantly evolving and our new products coming up are going to be an industry game changer.

Main Photo: Stefanie and Sean Mullen

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