Wes Burke felt like his life was crumbling. Instead of spending the afternoon with his newborn, he was sitting in a bankruptcy lawyer's office — three months behind on his mortgage.
Freelancing as a 3D-environment games artist wasn't working out.
For me it was a self-reflection moment, like when Atreyu is confronted with the magic mirror gate. 🤓 I was recognizing that it was me. I put myself in that position, and ultimately it was my responsibility to get out.
Something needed to change.
During his 5:30 AM train rides to Chicago for work, Wes built his first company: CG Cookie. The site teaches artists how to use Blender, a 3D-sculpting software that, until CG Cookie came along, was shrouded in mystery. In fact, the first question Wes set out to answer for his community was "How do I use Blender?"
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Now, 12 years later, CG Cookie boasts more than 500,000 users globally as well as 15 crew members who continue to provide Blender users with resources.
I took questionable risks by covering initial costs of contractor payments with credit cards. I'd commission a tutorial for $125 with the hopes that eventually I'll make that back plus additional money to help commission the next tutorial. Rinse and repeat this for a few years.
His brilliant idea for getting users to his new site? Convince the thought leaders to join first, then the rest would follow.
What really worked for us in the beginning were interviews with famous artists like Alex Yarotsky or Ted Wallace. Nearly every Pixar or ILM artist I emailed would say, "Sure." This provided interesting content for our visitors, while being an easy share on CG news sites and of course the artists themselves would share it.
These days, CG Cookie has gained a reputation as the the premier destination for Blender resources.
Yet Wes's thirst for perfection hasn't subsided. He's taken the platform beyond text-based documentation and recently released novel tools that help artists speed up their workflows. While some founders can be content with success — and then stagnate — he isn't one of them.
While providing for my family is a driving force, fundamentally I simply enjoy building things that didn't exist: the challenge of it, potential rewards, to simply enjoying the thought of it affecting people's lives in a positive way.
Read the full interview to learn how Wes dug out of his financial hole to bootstrap a seven-figure business.