The exception to the rule isn’t adhere to the expectations every parent has for their child-work hard in high school, get into the best college and become a success. Instead, he became a success without the first two.
By Brittany L. Turek/Special to The Malibu Times
Around this time every year, high school seniors begin receiving acceptance (or rejection) letters from the colleges and universities they applied to in the fall. Regardless of the good or bad news enclosed in those envelopes, they must decide whether it will be the fancy private school back East or the Cal State close to home that all their buddies are going to.
Then there are the others. The handful of students opting to go directly into the work force, or a trade school, or maybe do some traveling abroad, rather than spend another moment stressing over term papers and finals like so many of their high school counterparts.
Grant Powell was one of the latter. Powell, who turns 20 this month, was among the five or six students in Malibu High School’s class of 2000 who chose to go straight to work.
Born in Long Beach and raised in San Diego, Powell moved to Malibu with his mother and three older brothers in 1997 and began attending Malibu High his sophomore year. He was a straight ‘A’ student, taking all honors classes. Then, during his junior year, “I gave up on high school,” said Powell. “The corrupted system had nothing to offer me … College has a little more to offer, but to get into college, you have to buy into high school …”
Powell, not one to “sit down and play video games and smoke pot or get fat,” decided to pursue other ventures. “There were a lot of things that interested me and I wanted to figure out how they worked.”
One of those things turned out to be computers, and, coincidentally, graphic design.
Powell had been working full-time since the 10th grade in local coffee shops like The Coffee Bean and Deidrichs. He was able to save up enough money to buy his first car, and soon after, his first computer. He also had some friends who were experts in the design industry, such as Point Dume resident K.C. Blinn.
Blinn, co-founder of the graphic design company called Drive Designs, informally interned Powell. Blinn gave him all the programs the company uses to install on his computer at home and anytime Powell had a question, he called and received help and guidance.
“So I just started from nothing,” Powell recalled. “No classes, or anything, just hashed away at the computer until I figured it out.”
His very first freelance job was for a well-known singer, who was popular in the ’70s, and still has a large following.
“In Malibu, it’s all about who you know, not what you know,” said Powell. “I was totally ineligible for the job. But I knew this guy who worked for [the] managing company, and he came to me and asked if I wanted to do [the singer’s] brochure. So I did the brochure.”
Powell continued doing graphics for various clients, and graduated from high school.
“Barely,” he laughed. “And I did apply to colleges.”
Powell applied to UC Berkeley, Cal Poly, UC Santa Barbara, and UC Santa Cruz, but was rejected by all of them. He grew tired of working at coffee shops and quit his job.
“Then, my savior came in,” he recalled. “David Rose.” Rose offered him an internship, at his company Santa Monica Studios, doing graphic design. He wanted to start an Internet company and trusted that Powell would learn.
Rose had expected Powell to take six months to a year to learn the ropes, but after interning for only three months, he had learned enough to start working as a fulltime, full-pay employee.
“I beat his standards,” noted Powell.
Powell worked for Rose for close to two years before going out on his own. He created designsource7.com and began to put his name out there. In addition to graphic design, Powell offers identity branding and Internet solutions, which involves creating marketing logos and a visual expression for the client.
“It’s just high-class stuff,” he said. “Simple design, but it’s catchy.”
The company for which he had done his very first job, heard again about Powell through an employee and hired him on a project basis. Not too long after, he went to work as a regular employee, and six months later, he is still there.
“To me, Grant represents a different genre of people,” described a fellow employee. “He is somebody who is true to himself, very capable, skilled, determined.”
Powell has reached a turning point, however, and has decided that in order to devote more time to his own business. He will stop working for his current employer and once again resume life as a free-lance designer/business owner.
In addition to designsource7, he owns multiple online businesses, including a development company.
Powell works on projects for several international telecom companies-from logos, to business cards, to Web sites. He also has done work for many local businesses, including Geoffrey’s, Pepperdine University, Malibu Makos, Madison, The Malibu Inn and others.
“I’ve never advertised myself,” Powell admitted. “It’s all word of mouth.”
“Grant has learned that the key to success is enjoying what you do, and therefore doing what you want to,” said his co-worker. “His outlook is inspiring and makes him fun to work with. Grant is not like most creative people. He is strong with both his left and right brain, combining creativity with focus for an extremely productive result.”
Then there’s real estate.
About six months ago, Powell and his mother bought a townhouse near Point Dume.
“I’ve been remodeling, and it’s a lot of fun, but it’s also lots of work,” he said.
His next real estate venture will be to buy land, most likely in Kanan, with the intention to build a house. Then he plans to rent out the townhouse.
Above all else, Powell is a musician at heart. He used to play with the members of the band now known as Lifehouse, which was up for Favorite New Artists in the pop/rock category at the American Music Awards, when he was still in high school. He was their bassist. He left, though, about a year or two before they made it big. “It just didn’t work out,” he said. “I still keep in touch with them. I even designed a postcard for them.”
During his senior year in high school, he formed another band, Bridge 22.
However, he recently decided to quit the band to pursue his design career further, putting his musical aspirations on the backburner.
What drives this young man to pursue so many paths, many all at once?
“I have moments of inspiration,” he explained. “Not directional inspiration, meaning that I’ll be sitting there and all of a sudden I get the feeling that I can do anything or I can be anything. And it’s not like I go, ‘Oh that’s it, I’m inspired to be a musician.’ It’s like I feel inspired that the world’s an open door.”
Powell will be the first to admit that he works too hard.
“The one fear I have, other than spiders and mice, is having to worry about money,” he said. “I’m not materialistic. I don’t need riches to get me along in life. But I don’t want to worry about money. Whatever it takes to get me to that point.”
In addition to paying his own bills, Powell helps to support his family. His mother was a housewife for the first part of his life. “She raised the family, made the dinners.”
After she divorced his father, who is in construction, she had to get a job. She now teaches at Juan Cabrillo Elementary School fulltime.
“I treasure my mom,” said Powell. “I take care of my mom. I think that children owe their parents everything (assuming that they were good parents), because they raised you and gave you everything. In return, when you get older, you should give them everything.”
Powell has many philosophies about life, some of them conflicting.
For instance, in the world of business, he believes there is no room for nice. Either get stepped on or step on other people. But he also believes you should do unto others as you would have others do unto you.
Powell’s life has had its own ups and downs, to be sure, but he has always believed that he is an exception to every rule, and that that is his luck.
He broke a rule when he chose to skip college. Powell can make up his own rules, or even make things up as he goes along, because he believes he can.
“Happiness to me, whenever I’m in my worst moments, is: As long as I have legs to walk, hands so I can do things, and a brain that has the capability to learn, I’m happy. That’s it.”