Backstory 49 Wed, 08 Aug 2018 17:38:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Backstory 49 32 32 Heidi Tankersley | Author + Speaker | Turning Dreams into Novels Wed, 16 May 2018 03:56:16 +0000

Northwest Arkansas author turned a dream into her first fiction novel (and book series) for teens; The Mod Code. Learn her backstory.

The post Heidi Tankersley | Author + Speaker | Turning Dreams into Novels appeared first on Backstory 49.


Heidi Tankersley, Author and Speaker
Many people strive to find their dream jobs. For Heidi Tankersley, her job literally came about from a vivid dream she had while sleeping. She turned the details of that dream into a sci-fi book, The Mod Code, which is now a three-part series with a fourth on the way. She has also authored an autobiographical wellness book about her personal experience with natural therapy treatment of colitis, and she is currently working on a new young adult fantasy fiction series.

Tankersley has navigated the world of writing, editing and self-publishing her books by trial and error. She says that that finding this career path has taught her something important about herself. “I learned that writing is a really good fit for my personality,” she explains. Because she is motivated by goals and success, she thrives on being able to make decisions and determine how hard to push herself to succeed.

There are a lot of steps in between writing a book and it being ready for public consumption. Tankersley says there are many drafts of each book, and people who give her feedback on each version. Sometimes the feedback comes from editors, and sometimes Tankersley enlists the help of her most honest friends. “You have to have someone who is willing to say it stinks without being worried about hurt feelings,” she says. “It takes a special person for that,” she adds.

As an author, Tankersley knows that she must go through the tedious process of making each draft better than the last, even if that means hearing negative feedback. “I always have the end goal in mind,” she says. Once the book is finished and put out into the world, there is a sense of relief and release of anxiety for her. “Let it be what it is,” she says of the final book release.

Speaking about The Mod Code series, Tankersley explains that writing each book was a different experience for her. The first book took her five years to write, and definitely holds a special place in her heart because of what she learned in the process. The subsequent books came about a little easier due to her already understanding the publishing process. “I couldn’t necessarily say I have a favorite, but they definitely take me back to moments of my own journey,” she says.

Even when writing fiction novels, Tankersley says that it’s impossible to separate yourself from what you write. She says her own thoughts, feelings, and experiences can occasionally be part of the storyline. She has also found that readers can relate more to a very detailed and specific character, versus one that is vague and open to interpretation.

Tankersley’s The Mod Code series is in the sci-fi genre of books geared toward teen readers. The story focuses on a central theme of genetic modification with a conflict between the teen characters and a scientific corporation. While she reflects on the five-year process of writing that first book, she is glad that the experience is faster this time around. She is nearly finished with the first draft of book one of a new fantasy fiction series for teens that has a theme of interplanetary travel. “I’m so excited about it,” she says about working on the new series. “It has really taken me back to what it felt like to start the first series,” she notes.

Tankersley’s path into writing science fiction started with that dream. However, she deliberately chose her next series to fall into the fantasy genre. She describes herself as a deep thinker and quite philosophical. “I wanted to be able to create a way to have those larger discussions with the reader, almost subliminal,” she says.

Sticking with a teen audience was also intentional for Tankersley because she reads a lot of young adult fiction herself. She enjoys the flow and lighter content that young adult books provide. “I don’t like a ton of violence or racy material, so it fits,” she says.

Tankersley has always enjoyed public speaking at schools, events and other group settings because of her extrovert personality. However, she says that writing stories helps her connect with lots of people, too. Her plans for the immediate future include finishing her new book series, and see where her writing career takes her. “In general, when I picture what I want to do, this is it,” she says with a smile.

If she could give advice to someone who has similar career goals, it would be to do work that makes you excited and happy. “You have to write what’s in your heart,” she says.

Heidi Tankersley is an author and motivational speaker based in Northwest Arkansas. Find out more about her backstory at

Click image above to listen

The post Heidi Tankersley | Author + Speaker | Turning Dreams into Novels appeared first on Backstory 49.

Natalie RakesBrewing Life Her Way Wed, 18 Apr 2018 03:38:00 +0000

Fayetteville businesswoman chases her dreams one cup at a time.

The post Natalie Rakes<br>Brewing Life Her Way appeared first on Backstory 49.


Natalie Rakes is well on her way to reaching her career goals. She is currently the manager of The Grounds at Garden Living, a specialty coffee shop and gathering place located on Joyce Boulevard in uptown Fayetteville. “My dream is to own a coffee shop,” she says with determination.

Rakes worked as a barista for Onyx Coffee Lab for nearly two years, where she learned the intricacies of the coffee business, from bean cultivation to roasting. Her bosses and owners of Onyx helped her make connections and introduced her to the owner of Garden Living, who wanted to open a coffee shop inside her store. The transition has been a natural fit for Rakes, who has been preparing for this role since her college days.

Rakes attended the College of the Ozarks near Branson, where she benefited from the school’s required work-study program. Splitting her time between studying and working gave her practical business experience that has paid off. “I actually worked at The Keeter Center, which is a restaurant on campus,” she explains. She notes that she was also a radio DJ during her time on campus.

While she was always interested in running a business, Rakes didn’t reach this path via a straight line. She began her studies as a music education major before finding her way. “Everyone seems more passionate about the students than I do,” she remembers thinking. “I’m more excited to decorate the classroom, so this probably isn’t for me,” she adds.

As a student, she finally landed on public relations as the focus for her degree because she liked the variety of business scenarios it touched. In a class that focused on restaurant hospitality, Rakes found a way to apply the studies to her interests. “When they were doing restaurant stuff, I was planning out my coffee shop,” she says.

Going to the College of the Ozarks wasn’t really a conscious choice she made, it’s a choice that runs in Rakes’s family. At the time, she wanted to join her friends at an Arkansas college, but instead followed in the footsteps of her mother, sister and brother. College of the Ozarks was able to provide her with a debt-free college education and give her unique experiences like a free trip to England. In addition, the work study aspect of the program prepared her for multi-tasking in the business world. “Everything I learned in school applies in my job today: customer service, how to treat people, just going above and beyond,” she explains.

Her journey to where she is now was one with lots of learning and finding her passion for coffee. “Falling into Onyx was the coolest thing ever,” she says. She has gone from working in the coffee shop for the first time as a barista to managing a new shop in just a few years.

Once she met with the owner of Garden Living, she knew she was ready for the challenge of managing a shop on her own. Because the owner lives in LA, she needed someone local to get on board and help set up the shop and run it. “It went up really fast,” Rakes says. “It went from a closet-type storage space to an entire tiny coffee shop. It was amazing,” she recalls.

Rakes says that one of her challenges in the business has been taking on everything from managing the shop to planning the menu. With about a year and a half under her belt, she’s got her footing and is continually working to improve her skills. She has learned that the system that works for one place doesn’t necessarily work for another. Taking into account her customer base and workflow are important to meet the unique needs of her customers.

Looking toward the future, Rakes says, “I think the goal will always be to own my very own shop.” Until that day, she is going to continue working on her skills. She’s already working on a new menu, introducing new shop hours and making the current space better. “I definitely want to be different,” she says, understanding that customers have many options to get a cup of coffee. She likes to look at the entire customer experience as more than only drinking coffee.

Rakes has sage advice to give others who are thinking of jumping into the business world. She says that having a good attitude is very important, as is learning to get up and keep trying after failures. To her, the keys to success are being innovative and quick-thinking. “You have to be ready for what comes your way,” she advises.

You can find Natalie Rakes at The Grounds at Garden Living in uptown Fayetteville. Find the shop on Facebook or online at

Click image above to listen

The post Natalie Rakes<br>Brewing Life Her Way appeared first on Backstory 49.

The New Work Force: Ashton Rail – Capturing Memories Wed, 11 Apr 2018 04:27:35 +0000

Read how Bentonville photographer, Ashton Rail, transformed a childhood hobby into a career.

The post The New Work Force: Ashton Rail – Capturing Memories appeared first on Backstory 49.


Ashton Rail is part of a growing number of local entrepreneurs who have decided to leave the 9-to-5 grind behind for the freedom that comes with being self-employed. The Bentonville native has recently taken the leap to expand her photography business into a full-time career, and she couldn’t be happier about it.

Taking photos is something that Rail has always enjoyed. “I always had a camera in my hand,” she says of her childhood. In fact, her first models were her stuffed animals and her cat, who she loved to dress up in doll clothes.

After high school, Rail spent some time trying to figure out her career path. She wasn’t really interested in taking the traditional college route, but wanted to explore her options. Around this time she found out that her grandfather, who was a retired pastor, had also been a wedding photographer. As she heard more of his stories, and worked with some of his old camera equipment, she became inspired to learn more about photography. “I took a darkroom class at NWACC, and fell in love with it,” she says. She went on to enroll in the photography program at John Brown University, which gave her the opportunity to study abroad in Germany.

Rail’s parents were very supportive of her desire to turn her passion for photography into a career. “We decided that if I were to do it as a job, that I needed to go to college for it, so I could have a degree,” she says. Having a degree is something that she hoped would help set her apart from other photographers in the area.

After college, Rail had planned to relocate to North Carolina to start her business there. However, those plans didn’t work out the way she’d hoped. “But it was a good thing,” she explains. “Because I’m from here, I already had a lot of clients here.”

Now that her business is up and running, Rail finds herself working on many types of photography. She specializes in everything from weddings and maternity sessions to product shoots and senior portraits. “I love weddings,” she says, hoping to book 15-20 wedding shoots this year.

Looking toward the future, Rail hopes that her business will allow her to travel and explore the world while keeping her home base in Bentonville. “My goal is to become a destination wedding photographer,” she says. She has attended photography conferences in Las Vegas, Denver and Phoenix that allowed her to practice with “style shoots” and showcase her ability to create beautiful destination-focused photos.

Managing her own business has been a learning process for Rail. When asked about the hardest part of the process, she says with a laugh, “All the little details…like taxes!”

On the other hand, there are plenty of enjoyable things about being part of the new work force. For Rail, meeting new people is a definite bonus. “When you have your own business, you have to go out and meet new people in order for people to know who you are,” she explains.

Find out more about Ashton Rail Photography and see her portfolio at

Click image above to listen

The post The New Work Force: Ashton Rail – Capturing Memories appeared first on Backstory 49.

Jason Jones | Painting the Town Whimsical Wed, 04 Apr 2018 02:42:37 +0000

Local artist, Jason Jones, has made a career of creating unique art in communities all over Northwest Arkansas.

The post Jason Jones | Painting the Town Whimsical appeared first on Backstory 49.


Jason Jones is a name you have probably heard around Northwest Arkansas. If you haven’t heard of him, you’ve likely noticed his whimsical murals popping up in many of our community spaces. He’s the artist behind the Enjoy Local mural in downtown Fayetteville, along with the Bentonville Octopus, and many others.

The West Fork native says he knew from a pretty young age that he had an interest in art. One of his earliest memories is from when he was four or five years old and drew a very detailed picture of his parents. He recalls his mother’s reaction upon seeing the artwork. “My mom just kind of lit up; she was just ecstatic,” he says. “She’s kept that drawing all these years,” he adds.

Throughout his childhood, Jones was quite introverted and spent much of his time drawing. As a teen, his mother enrolled him in painting classes, which helped him polish his skills. His blossoming talent led to job opportunities like painting the mascot in his school’s gym and creating a mural on a fence for a local video store.

Jones went on to graduate from the University of Arkansas, where he studied fine arts. He originally thought studying graphic design would be his course of work, but decided he wanted to do something with more artistic creativity. He dabbled in sculpture but ultimately landed on painting as a study focus. Jones says he has always enjoyed making sculptures, usually from items found on his hikes in the country. “To me, it’s all kind of connected, whether it’s sculpture, photography or painting. It’s all kind of the basic elements you’re dealing with, like color and texture,” he says.

Jones points out that success didn’t happen instantly for him. Many people may not realize that he’s been quietly working as a professional artist for almost 20 years. “Nothing happens overnight,” he says. “It’s something you build.”

While he admits that not all of his work is great, he does enjoy the experience of creating something unique. “I don’t know anyone else that’s doing exactly the same thing,” he says of his artwork. He finds that listening to music and science podcasts while he works helps keep him alert and moving, especially on projects that take several weeks to complete.

Altered thrift store art is the term Jones uses to describe one type of project he creates, which came from his desire to upcycle and create sustainable art. Because he has always shopped flea markets and thrift stores for old frames to reuse, he was inspired to use the existing pieces of art and paint on top of them. “I’ll sit for hours trying to match colors and textures,” he says of the process. Jones later learned that other artists have done similar artwork and that this type of upcycling has grown in popularity.

He recalls how he once bought a framed picture of a western scene that was old and torn. “I had the random idea to paint a robot over the tear. People really loved it,” he explains. The robot is now a common character in many of Jones’s pieces, and one of his best sellers. What started in college as his recollection of childhood memories was loosely based on Grover the Muppet, and eventually morphed into his robot character. “I like it because it’s a light-hearted character and has a whimsy to it,” he says.

It’s not easy for Jones to choose a favorite among his creations. “I’m not one to get into one thing, so I end up having lots of favorites,” he says, when pressed. Having a variety of projects keeps the work interesting to him, he notes. Sometimes, he enjoys working on murals because of the interaction with other people that it brings. Other times, Jones prefers working on smaller pieces in private.

Working on the Green Candy project in Fayetteville last year was something that Jones really enjoyed. He was selected to participate along with many international artists, as part of the campaign that focused on conservation and sustainability. His submission was a mural of a jackrabbit next to a terrarium landscape. His favorite large mural is the Blue Octopus in downtown Bentonville, which took him about four weeks to complete.

The Blue Octopus project was originally intended to be a more traditional postcard type of mural, with a focus on local landmarks. However, Jones was able to convince the client to go with a more creative approach to the idea. “Let’s make a landmark,” he urged them. The client agreed, and Jones began to work with a local photographer in the design process to merge both ideas together. “I was super stoked they went with something creative,” he says.

Until now, Jones has preferred to work in Northwest Arkansas to be near his family. But as he is becoming more known regionally, the calls have been coming in for opportunities outside of the area. And now that his son is older, Jones says he’s starting to consider more business travel. He is especially interested in the growing popularity of street art and mural festivals all over the country. Jones has worked as volunteer and assistant in The Unexpected art project in Fort Smith, and hopes to continue similar work. He missed a lot of the first year of that project due to his work on the Enjoy Local mural in Fayetteville. “I was sure to be a part of the next year,” he says of The Unexpected.

Jones has provided Northwest Arkansas with many examples of timeless beauty and creativity in his public art displays that will be part of the landscape for years to come. “I put a lot of thought into my work,” he explains. “I keep it whimsical and light-hearted so it doesn’t feel heavy.”

Visit to see a portfolio of the artist’s work in Northwest Arkansas.

Click image above to listen

The post Jason Jones | Painting the Town Whimsical appeared first on Backstory 49.

Omar Kasim | Dealing a New Hand with Juice Palm Wed, 28 Mar 2018 01:50:14 +0000

Find out how Northwest Arkansas is now a part of the growing juice bar trend to support healthier lifestyles.

The post Omar Kasim | Dealing a New Hand with Juice Palm appeared first on Backstory 49.


Tulsa native Omar Kasim didn’t have to go very far from home to find a place that would inspire him to become an entrepreneur. Once he landed at the Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas, Kasim knew it was meant to be. His love for Northwest Arkansas grew even more during his time as a student, so much that he chose to stay around and open a business after graduating in 2015. “I just fell in love with the area; I love its emphasis on local business and the outdoor lifestyle,” he says. “It has a big city feel with small town appeal,” he adds.

Kasim had originally planned to attend law school after graduating, but fate had other plans. In 2016, he opened the popular Fayetteville dining spot Con Quesos instead. The concept of the restaurant was actually the topic of his honors thesis for business school, and Kasim decided to pass on law school to bring that project to life, despite having no previous restaurant experience. He says that he was inspired by other successful entrepreneurs who’d come before him, many of whom were immigrants or others who had no formal training or business experience. “It can be done because it has been done. It’s just a matter of how hard you want to work for it,” he says of his motivation to succeed.

Con Quesos is a fast-casual taco restaurant located near the UofA. Kasim says that his goal for the eatery was to incorporate unique flavors like Caribbean, Indian and Mediterranean into tasty tacos. The restaurant is still in operation, though Kasim has split from his financial partner and left the business. However, that bump in the road didn’t deter Kasim from seeking out his next opportunity. “I wasn’t done with entrepreneurship, and I had a lot more steam in the tank,” he says.

The experience of opening and operating Con Quesos taught Kasim several lessons for the future of running a business, but the most significant was related to team culture. He says that the initial focus of the company was on branding and the customer experience. While not a bad thing, it led to a lot of employee turnover because the staff culture had not been a top priority for management. Kasim went on to attend an executive training session at the Culinary Institute of America, where he learned the importance of a healthy team culture in the restaurant business.

After the experience of splitting with his partner in Con Quesos, it would have been easy for Kasim to just leave the restaurant business behind forever. Instead, he talked with many friends and mentors in the local business community, including restaurant operators. Kasim was advised by those seasoned experts that it was a lesson learned, and he should just move on. He uses the analogy of a having a bad hand in a poker game. “You can’t take those emotions into the next hand,” he says of his decision to find a new opportunity. “Just play each hand as you go,” he adds. In his heart, Kasim knew he was still an entrepreneur and that all his business endeavors wouldn’t end the same way.

Fast forward to present time and the opening of Juice Palm in uptown Fayetteville. It is a USDA-certified organic juice bar that serves salads, smoothies, acai bowls and other health-focused items. Kasim says, “I sought to create a concept that was built towards people that wanted to maintain a health-conscious lifestyle but didn’t necessarily know how.” The menu incorporates superfoods into all the dishes but blends them with more familiar foods. “At Juice Palm you can order anything on the menu and be assured that it’s health-driven and it’s flavorful,” he explains.

Kasim settled on this business concept after he visited a friend in New York. While exploring the city, he noticed that juice bars were popular, and he found them interesting. After chatting with a juice bar operator, and trying out the core pressed juice, Kasim realized that he’d gone a whole day without eating a meal and still had a high level of energy. After that trip, he began to notice the growing number of juice bars in other big cities he visited. Kasim saw that food trends were leaning toward natural, organic and more sustainable options. His idea for Juice Palm met all of those ideals. Kasim describes himself as “health conscious” and “always on the go,” so the idea of bringing a quick and healthy food option to Northwest Arkansas was very appealing to him.

The future is very exciting for Kasim and Juice Palm, as he has just signed a lease for a new location in the 8th Street Market in Bentonville. Kasim admits that he was a little hesitant to start working on a second store when still trying to open the first one, but he knew it was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up. “That’s going to be location number two,” he says. “Let’s see where we go from there.”

Kasim says that moving forward on the plans for the new location has forced the need to expedite the learning process to streamline operations at Juice Palm. He realizes that growing can be difficult, especially in a transition to two locations. “If you can make it to that second location and thrive, then the rest is just a matter of finding real estate and good opportunities,” he explains.
Outside of Juice Palm, Kasim stays involved in the community. He enjoys speaking about entrepreneurship and following dreams, often in high school and college classrooms. He is currently helping establish an upper-level class in the Walton College of Business that will introduce students to successful business people in Northwest Arkansas. The goal is to help students make connections and encourage them to stay in Northwest Arkansas to become part of the business community.

Juice Palm is located in uptown Fayetteville, and open every day. To find out more, visit

Click image above to listen

The post Omar Kasim | Dealing a New Hand with Juice Palm appeared first on Backstory 49.

David Kersey | Inspiration Through Education Wed, 21 Mar 2018 03:50:44 +0000

Find out how David Kersey keeps learning while helping others do the same.

The post David Kersey | Inspiration Through Education appeared first on Backstory 49.


This is the conclusion of a two-part interview with David Kersey, executive director of the New Design School in Fayetteville.

After his arrival in Northwest Arkansas, David Kersey learned about the New Design School from a friend who had worked with a former student of the school. Kersey then met with the school’s founder, Sonia Gutiérrez, to discuss starting an animation program. After joining the NDS staff, Kersey served as the school’s first director of development and went to work promoting the school and creating an animation curriculum. “It became a much bigger thing than just an animation program,” he says.

Kersey recalls his time as a high school student and how his career path was influenced by the introduction of technology. This led him to investigate what digital art courses were available in Northwest Arkansas schools at the time. “There were surprisingly very little new offerings in the 20 years since I was in high school,” he explains. He knew there needed to be more opportunities and art curriculum for local students.

The school has since built a relationship with the Arkansas Arts Academy in Rogers, where its digital arts program is now in its second year. The success of that partnership set Kersey’s team up for deciding the direction for the future of NDS.

New Design School began its curriculum with a graphic design program, and has grown to include classes for creating video games, animation, web design and more. Since the school offers post-secondary education, Kersey realizes the value of relationships with local high schools to help build his school’s student base.

Another move that helps reach potential students is the addition of the Nerdies program to the NDS family. The non-profit status of the Nerdies program allows for raising funds to put kids through technology summer camps. In their first summer of operating Nerdies, they were able to teach over 200 school kids about technology through on-site partnerships at places like Crystal Bridges, the Amazeum and the Arts Center of the Ozarks. Through the Nerdies camps, kids get to spend a week having fun and learning from a professional in areas like making video games, computer programming and robotics.

“My vision is to be the leader in the creative meets technology space,” explains Kersey. He hopes that NDS programs will be used by children and adults alike, to make something awesome. Adult classes are available through the NDS master program, or what Kersey called “the portfolio school.” He says, “I don’t want NDS to take away from the secondary education that exists out there, I want to go in and work together.”

Kersey says that many employers aren’t as concerned with where a potential employee went to school, but if that person has the proper skills to perform a certain role. The adult program at NDS provides students with a chance to develop those skills and go away with a portfolio of work to show.
Staying current on new and popular technology is important for the school’s success. One benefit of the structure of NDS is that it’s very flexible and in tune with the creative climate, and course offerings can be updated as new software and trends emerge.

When talking about the future, Kersey says his team is looking to expand into direct professional development and working with corporate trainers to teach more people. He has a vision to both lead creatives to technology and provide them with a setting to collaborate with others.

For now, Kersey and the NDS are focused on the success of the current products they offer: the Nerdies program, developing high school curriculum and offering post-secondary training. He says, “Do it right and the other pieces will kind of organically form.”

Kersey acknowledges that his move into education wasn’t a seamless transition. Giving up a steady Disney salary to become an entrepreneur has had challenges, but he describes the process as a character building time. He also has seen the impact that working with kids has had on him personally. “I did not know how blown away I would be by the kids,” he says.

The admiration he feels is obvious as Kersey talks about his students; he wants the community to know that digital art talent is thriving in our area. He recounts the story of an NDS student who was also working in an internship position at the same time. “I’d put him up against some of the best designers in the country, and he’s 19 years old,” he says.

Watching others learn has always been something that Kersey enjoys. He remembers mentoring two interns at Disney and the passion they had for their creative projects. In fact, what he witnessed with those two interns proved that he also needed to keep growing in his own skillset.

Kersey is excited to be a part of NDS and what it offers the community. “New Design School can be that world-class institution that sits in the center of America. Northwest Arkansas is the perfect place for that to be,” he says. He looks forward to the future of the school and the possibility of working continuously with individual students from elementary age all the way up through high school. For Kersey, his art career that took him so far from home has now brought him back to inspire and educate others.

Information about the New Design School and its programs can be found at

Click image above to listen

The post David Kersey | Inspiration Through Education appeared first on Backstory 49.

David Kersey | Art + Tech Creates Ideal Career Tue, 13 Mar 2018 21:57:57 +0000

David Kersey shares how he started his career making movies in Hollywood and what brought him back home.

The post David Kersey | Art + Tech Creates Ideal Career appeared first on Backstory 49.


Living in Hog country is a natural fit for David Kersey, executive director of the New Design School in Fayetteville. Although he grew up on the Texas side of Texarkana, Kersey was born in Little Rock and raised by parents who graduated from the University of Arkansas. 

Kersey knew early in his childhood that he loved art. He recalls a story of being five years old, carrying around a drawing pad and portfolio of drawings and paintings.  “Art was my thing,” he says.  While art was always a focal point for him, Kersey was also a multi-sport athlete. “There was a time in high school that I had to kind of make a choice between sports or art,” he remembers.

As a sophomore in high school, Kersey was introduced to computers, which changed his way of thinking about art. With help from a friend, he learned about technology and got hands-on experience with how computers work. Around this time, the artist in Kersey became inspired by the smash hit Toy Story, 3-D art, and CGI animation.

Kersey admits that utilizing the technology became sort of a way for him to hide behind a computer, without putting his own original art in the forefront. It became easier for him to work in groups and use computers, instead of taking the route of traditional fine artist.

Luckily for Kersey, he found the Savannah College of Art and Design, which had both a fine arts program and athletic programs. “I played soccer there, and continued to work on art,” he says of his time at the Georgia school. He knew that he wanted to work on movies for a career, so he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with a specialization in computer animation. 

Upon graduating college, Kersey began the job search process. “Basically in the end, I had a VHS tape with a bunch of stuff on it that was pretty terrible,” he laughs. “Well, it was OK,” he adds. He sent dozens of resumes and tapes to places like Chicago and Los Angeles.  After an extended visit to Chicago, and an interview with a game company, Kersey decided it wasn’t the place for him.  With only one interview scheduled in LA, he packed up with his then-girlfriend and moved west.

Kersey didn’t get that job. “But I had a computer, and I had the internet, and I had the tool set to make stuff that I had learned in college,” he says. Kersey got online and began to land some freelance work. He recalls how that time was difficult and credits the family of his girlfriend with helping to keep them afloat in the lean times. “It was feast or famine, for sure. Get a gig, make a little money,” he remembers.

Kersey’s first big break in LA came in the form of a job with a movie production company owned by actor Jon Voight, working on the film The Karate Dog. “I ended up starting there doing something I had never done before,” he says of his role as a 2-D Tracker. Kersey worked from 7 p.m. until 4 a.m. tracking camera movements of a computer-generated dog. Though it wasn’t what he’d studied in college, it was his first taste of the movie making business. He believes that not being afraid to ask questions was a big help during this learning process.

Most jobs for Kersey and other artists were contract or project based, meaning that they were hired for one piece of a project then were able to move on to other work. During this time, he found himself networking with people who had worked for Disney, Sony, DreamWorks and others.

Kersey’s next job led him to Sony Pictures, during the making of The Polar Express, which utilized a technology called motion capture. In this project, Kersey was on the cloth and hair team for animation. He stayed in this role at Sony for six years, until he became weary of designing hair. “I felt stagnant as an artist,” he recalls.

Around this time, Kersey’s friend and former co-worker from The Karate Dog was working at Disney, and told him about an opportunity to work on Tangled. “Oddly enough, I’m ready to quit working on hair, and I get hired for the biggest hair movie ever,” he says with a laugh. At Disney, Kersey began working in the look development department, which created textures and materials for the movie, including the hair.

Once the project was complete, Kersey found himself without work again. Coincidentally, he ran into the supervisor of the hair simulation department with Tangled, and inquired about moving over to his team. As luck would have it, they needed help in hair animation and Kersey was able to work solely on animation for the main character of the movie, Rapunzel.  “Looking back, I was insanely fortunate that it just went like that,” he says.

He worked on Rapunzel’s character for about six months, then remained on the look development team to create Wreck It Ralph, which turned out to be Kersey’s favorite movie to work on and to watch. He was also on the team to create the smash Frozen, which won the first Oscar for Disney in the animated feature category. He also has worked on award-winning short films.

After working five years at Disney and 15 years in LA, Kersey began to seriously think of leaving the west coast. He can remember as early as 2003, talking to his mother about leaving. “LA’s not my place. I’m here for the experience,” he told her back then. He loved the sunny beach life, but knew it wasn’t a great place to stay forever.

As Kersey began the next job search, he found himself looking at similar jobs in big cities, and nothing felt right to him. “I knew education was something that I was going to be part of in some way, shape or form,” he says, because he’s always felt drawn to helping others learn.

He remembers a road trip that brought him to Northwest Arkansas two year prior to leaving LA. He loved the area and all the nature around it. Upon returning to LA, he realized what he missed. “I missed seasons, thunderstorms, bass fishing, hiking, access to nature,” he says.

Kersey knew he was ready to give up the long commute time and the traffic in LA. He left his job at Disney to move back to Arkansas. “I came here with no idea of what I was going to do,” he says.

This is a two-part interview with David Kersey; check back here for the conclusion next week.

Click image above to listen

The post David Kersey | Art + Tech Creates Ideal Career appeared first on Backstory 49.

Rick and Cindy Boosey | Paid in Full Wed, 07 Mar 2018 14:08:33 +0000

The founders and owners of KYYA Chocolate, Rick and Cindy Boosey, are truly partners in everything they do.

The post Rick and Cindy Boosey | Paid in Full appeared first on Backstory 49.


The founders and owners of KYYA Chocolate, Rick and Cindy Boosey, are truly partners in everything they do. They are happily married, with four adopted daughters—two from China, and twins from Memphis—whom Cindy homeschools. They are also partners in business: Rick creates and sells KYYA’s chocolate, while Cindy keeps the books and helps him run the business. They have traveled the world together. They have experienced great hardship together. Through everything, their intent is always to serve others and give back what has been given to them. They have incredible faith and perseverance and live their lives as much as possible without fear. They have sacrificed success to find their true purpose, side by side.


Rick and Cindy met at church while living in Memphis when they were twenty-four. Their first date was three hours of talking while waiting for a table at Red Lobster. Rick says they “had these long talks. I remember my parents saying that they’d never seen anybody talk like the two of us talked.” They married after four months of dating and moved to South Carolina for Rick to work with a healthcare system, moving their operations to Malaysia. While there, Cindy wanted to start an interpretative service for deaf people, so they worked together making sales calls for her business at night. “The entrepreneurial side has always been there,” Rick says, “It’s just depended on the place and where we saw the need.” Then Cindy was in a bad car collision that left her with painful tissue damage that limited her working ability. “We just had to close everything down and take care of her,” Rick says. They closed Cindy’s interpretative business, found some help for her, and Rick changed jobs again.

Soon, Rick found an ad in the newspaper for a job working for Microsoft. He had a promising phone interview, and the recruiter invited him to come to their headquarters in Seattle. As Rick tells the story, “She said I would get plane tickets in the mail on Friday, I would fly out on Sunday, and they would interview me Monday morning. Well I got home at seven or eight Friday night, and there were no tickets. I’m calling Seattle, and no one is answering the phone. So I started thinking about the phone interview—I was going to be in charge of over a billion dollars of Microsoft products, so maybe they were testing me. Maybe this was just a test to see if I could think on my feet, to see if I’m the guy. As I talked with Cindy, she agreed that I might be onto something. So we started thinking back to the interview—they asked me what I liked to fly, I had said Northwest. So I called Northwest, and they said, ‘Yes, Mr. Boosey, you have tickets for Sunday to fly to Seattle.’ So the worst I’m out now is a rental car and night’s hotel, we’re going to go. We called all the hotels in Seattle, couldn’t find a reservation. I flew out on Sunday, and Cindy kept calling hotels. When I got there, I started walking down the line of rentals thinking one of them had to have a rental for me. It just so happened, Avis had a rental in my name. So I ask the guy at the counter, ‘Where does Microsoft put up people?’ He named off a couple, and I said we had checked all those. Then he said, ‘If they really like you, they put you up at the Woodmark. But that’s where they put the executive people.’ I thought, what did I have to lose? I called the Woodmark, and they said, ‘Yes, Mr. Boosey, we have a reservation for you.’ Every step of the way, I had been calling the recruiter and leaving her voicemails when I found each reservation. But on Monday morning, I didn’t know where to go at Microsoft. There were forty-five buildings, so I thought it had to be Building 1. At 7:30 the Microsoft phone turns on and the operator answers. So I called her and explained that I was there for an interview and didn’t know where to go. She said they interview you in whatever building you’d be working in. We kept talking and figured out where I needed to go, up to Kirkland. I walked into the lobby at Kirkland, and the phone rings—it’s the recruiter, who’s just listened to eight messages from the weekend—I had the job before I ever walked in the door. They were so impressed that I had sniffed out the trail.” Cindy continues, “It wasn’t a test! They just forgot.” So Rick and Cindy moved to Seattle and lived there for four and a half years.

During that time, in 2008, Cindy asked Rick to go with her to an Ancient Paths conference. Rick told, “I don’t want to go to any kind of Christian conference, and if this is a marriage thing, I have no desire.” She made him a deal—”If you go with me Thursday night and you don’t like it, we don’t have to go back.” Rick says now, “Thursday night forever changed our lives.” They stayed for the entire weekend. The conference allowed Rick and Cindy to work through “garbage” that had built up in their marriage, work through their hurts toward each other, and Rick especially heard truths about who he was and what he was made for that allowed him to heal from lies he had believed about himself. Rick says,

Following the conference, Rick says, “One day I did a stupid thing and asked God a question. I asked if Microsoft was where he wanted me to be. I knew the answer. From a comfort perspective, we had one of the best jobs in the world. Anything I wanted to do in Arkansas, I could do it with Microsoft’s backing. God answered my prayer by saying, ‘No, Microsoft isn’t what you’re here for.’ I fought God for six months on that, and then the Microsoft job dried up under me.” Microsoft offered Rick a job in Switzerland, which his family was enthusiastic about. But during the interview Rick asked how much travel was involved—99%. “It was the perfect travel job,” Rick says, “but not the perfect family job.” One of the badges of honor at Microsoft was your first divorce, and the Booseys didn’t want any part of that. Rick turned down the job, and once he told Microsoft no, they began to push him out slowly. They walked away from Microsoft after almost five wildly successful years and went to the beach for a month to pray and dream about what to do next.

As their four adopted daughters played on the beach, Rick and Cindy talked about their dreams and vision for the future. They had five big ideas, and at the top of the list was opening a salad bar. Cindy had taken a trip with Rick to New York City, where she played and wandered while Rick was at a conference. Cindy says, “I love salad bars, so I went to all the delis for lunch and dinner. When we got to the beach and were talking about ideas, I immediately thought, I want to open a salad bar in northwest Arkansas!” Rick and Cindy researched and visited salad bars in Dallas and Kansas City and thought, “There’s nothing to this. It’s a restaurant—how hard could it be?” (They laugh now at those words.) They opened a salad bar in Bentonville called World Garden. Their plan was to reserve one-seventh of their profits to support three orphanages worldwide. They stayed open for three years before the recession forced them to close their doors in October 2010.

Just a few years after their peak at Microsoft, they had nothing. They had $350,000 in debt, their house was in foreclosure, and the IRS, their accountant, and even their pastor told them to file bankruptcy. Rick was terrified that Cindy was going to leave him, but Cindy was fearless. He asked her, “What happens when they take away the house?” She said, “We’ll move into an apartment, we’ll have a roof over our head, and I’ll finally have the pool you never bought me.” He continued, “What happens when we file bankruptcy?” She asked what he was afraid of; he replied, “That you’ll leave me.” She said, “I’m not leaving you. Forget about that fear. What else?” They sat together as Cindy worked through all of Rick’s “fear line,” as he called it, until there was no fear left. Then she said, “Now we can pray for God to show us what he wants us to do.”

Rick and Cindy returned to the beach, where they had a free place to stay, to think and pray about what they could possibly do next. Rick says, “I was at the top of my career at Microsoft, I could have any sales job in the world that I wanted, I leave to open a restaurant that I then fail—who would ever hire me again?” They got to the beach on Saturday, and Monday morning they got two phone calls from people who knew them, who wanted to offer them jobs. At the end of the week, Rick flew to Dallas and interviewed for a job with a software company, and he was hired. Rick worked as hard as he could for two years. He hit and surpassed every sale goal they gave him. “We were in $350,000 of debt. I couldn’t even dream of how to walk out of that debt. The amazing thing is, we paid it all off in two years to the day.”

Their last debt was their landlord: he had let their rent slide for eighteen months, and they owed him around $85,000. He had paid it down to $41,000, and he met with Matt, the landlord, to pay the balance. Rick wanted to ask for 10% off, knowing that Matt would say no and give him maybe 5%, but that was better than nothing. They started talking, and Rick told him about the failure of World Garden and a new opportunity the Booseys had with a church in Uganda to build a chicken farm. His landlord began to tear up. When Rick asked him for 10% off, Matt said, “No—I’m going to take 20% off, and I want you to go give that 20% to the Ugandan pastor right now.” Reflecting back now, Rick still chokes up as he tells this part of their story: “Matt stamped Paid in Full on the check, and I lost it. That’s Jesus—our debt is paid in full. Now, out of nothing, out of bankruptcy, I get to give my friend Joelle this gift.” The Joelle, the Ugandan pastor, just happened to be in Fayetteville at that time. Rick took him a check for $3,400, and Joelle began to weep. Rick says, “African men don’t cry publicly, but Joelle starts crying. There’s about twenty people in this room, and we can tell this is about more than the check.” Joelle finally told that in January he didn’t have enough money to cover the bills, so he took a loan from a loan shark. Joelle said, “I was too embarrassed to ask for help, but God knew I needed help, and he has used this today to pay it off.” Rick says, “We asked him if that paid it in full, and he said not quite. I’m figuring it would be another five or ten grand—it was like four hundred dollars. Cindy immediately pulled out her checkbook and wrote him a second check. Paid in full.” This experience was a turning point for Rick and Cindy as they began to fully pursue a life that gave to others freely.

Several years before all of this, Rick volunteered Cindy to go to Africa, accompanying a woman who was adopting a baby from Ethiopia. While Cindy was there, her companions went out on a trip that she wasn’t allowed to go on since she wasn’t adopting. She decided to go find a quiet place to rest and pray. Cindy says, “I was up on the roof, and I couldn’t look down because there was so much poverty everywhere you look. I just wanted to rest, so I looked straight out at the rolling hills. I started praying and having my devotional time, and God started speaking to me.” She had a vision of her and Rick evangelizing and ministering to people in Uganda and Ethiopia. She hadn’t spoken to Rick in ten days, but she called him and told him what she seen; he responded, “What the heck are you thinking?” He had a heart to go to China, since two of the Booseys’ adopted daughters are from China. He had no desire to go to any country in Africa or to be an evangelist. But Cindy’s trip and vision planted the seeds in their hearts, and four years later, Rick found himself in Uganda, sharing his faith.

Long before Rick talked to his landlord about this, Rick had joined a mission board in Fayetteville that was sending money to Joelle, their Ugandan pastor friend, to build a chicken farm. Rick and Joelle met at a fundraiser in the United States, and Rick mentioned that he might come to Joelle’s village sometime. Joelle boomed, “I am going to hold you to that!” When Rick eventually traveled to Uganda to help with the chicken farm, but the construction work his team had planned on doing had already been done by the Ugandan church. Joelle suggested that instead of building, the team could travel around and teach and share their testimonies of faith. Rick fell into the position of the Bible teacher, and taught at over twenty events set up by Joelle. Rick also visited orphanages while in Uganda. He says, “There were people living in squalor and mud, and it had been wet the days we were there. I was okay for the first two weeks, but the third week, when we were supposed to come home, our flights started getting canceled. I knew I was going to get home, but I lost it. I realized that I get to go home, but all these people will stay here, in the stench and the hopelessness and poverty. It got me. I said, ‘all right, Lord, here we go again.’” The church twenty-seven acres of land, and they were just doing broadcast corn planting, like they did in the ‘20s. I knew I had the mind to help them. I had a thirty hour flight to get home, and I had three or four notebooks that I had been writing in constantly. I looked up the natural resources of Uganda: they had coffee, cotton, and cacao. I knew coffee roasters—I know Onyx, I know Kennedy, I know Arsaga’s—the world doesn’t need another coffee roaster. Cotton—I was not a textile guy. But cacao? I was like, wait a minute, we had a restaurant, we’re foodies, this is easy! How hard could chocolate be?” (Note a pattern here.)

How hard could chocolate be?

Rick took six months to get KYYA rolling in its earliest form. He says, “We made a lot of bad chocolate. In July of 2013, I hit on something. I figured out the process, I figured out what tastes good to me. The whole process fit on a six-foot plastic table. The conch, the tempering machine, the packaging—it all ran on a table in our laundry room.” They took their first twenty-five good bars and took them to Onyx Coffee Lab to talk to Jon Allen. They told Jon what they were doing, Jon tasted the chocolate, and he bought them on the spot for $50. They had spent about $5,000 to make $50. Cindy looked at Rick and simply said, “Put up or shut up.” They laugh now, and Cindy explains, “I’m just practical! He has this vision, and I’m thinking about solutions.” In their first two years of operations, they sold only $16,000 worth of chocolate. In just four years, their company has grown exponentially, although they still operate with fewer than five employees out of a 1900 square foot building in Elm Springs.

Rick started looking worldwide, and he realized that most cacao farmers do not make fair trade for their labor. Chocolate is very expensive to buy from importers—Rick’s first batch of beans cost him $7.75 per pound—but most of that money is eaten up by middle men, and the farmers don’t see it. Rick wanted to do things differently for KYYA: “Our model is single origin chocolate. We eliminate between five and eight middle men, so it’s just the farmer, the exporter, and me. The farmer makes better than fair trade, we get beans cheaper than we would otherwise. Fair trade for chocolate right now is $1.14 a pound for organic and $0.92 a pound of non-organic. We spent two weeks in South America, and we told the farmers what we wanted to do. We had just told them what fair trade was per pound, and we asked what they were making then. They said, ‘We make $0.28 a pound, and we’re happy.’ Now, with direct trade, we’re paying the farmer and the exporter $1.63 per pound. So he triples what he was getting, I will still get it much cheaper than I was buying it, and everybody wins. All we did was optimize the supply chain.” Hopefully other chocolate companies can follow KYYA’s revolutionary example in this area.

The post Rick and Cindy Boosey | Paid in Full appeared first on Backstory 49.

Jeremy Hudson Part II : Progressive Planning Pays Off Wed, 28 Feb 2018 12:05:30 +0000

Real estate developer Jeremy Hudson shares how his company promotes healthy community living.

The post Jeremy Hudson Part II : Progressive Planning Pays Off appeared first on Backstory 49.


This is the conclusion of a two-part interview with Jeremy Hudson, Partner and CEO of Specialized Real Estate Group. Read Part I.

As the new owners of what would become Eco Modern Flats, Jeremy Hudson and his team at Specialized Real Estate Group knew that the property needed a major overhaul in order to improve the aesthetics and efficiency of the investment. SREG quickly determined that it would take a collaboration of professionals from varying specialties to make the project complete.

Hudson says his company consulted with a group in Little Rock to assess the property and assist with a redevelopment plan. Through this process, he learned about the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification program and what it would take to create a healthier, more sustainable living environment. “When I started learning about what LEED is and what real sustainability is, it really made a lot of sense to me,” says Hudson.

Through the planning process, Hudson realized that individual health can be affected by the way a property is built, managed and maintained. Because he suffered from asthma as a child, he was able to envision the impact of the health benefits being planned for the property. “I want to own and manage, and be responsible for healthy stuff,” he notes.

What the team learned while developing Eco Modern Flats would become a road map for developing and redeveloping other projects. Hudson now jokes about his feelings on improving that project because he didn’t realize that what they were doing was unique in property development at that time. “I felt like there’s no reason why you have to choose profit over what’s good for the occupants or the environment,” he says.

Hudson credits the success of the Eco Modern Flats project to hiring the right consultants to help in areas where his team lacked expertise. The result of that collaboration was a redevelopment plan that focused on four major areas: health, efficiency, conservation of land and water and creating community. In many multifamily properties, occupants tend to be isolated from neighbors and common area spaces. Because of this trend, Hudson says he felt there was a need for a true community feel, including interaction with neighbors. The goal was to provide a type of urban housing that was energy efficient and safe, while providing desirable amenities for those occupants who wanted a lifestyle free of home ownership. “You could create a better lifestyle, and at the same time, you would create a better investment with good retention,” he says.

The redevelopment of Eco Modern Flats became a way for the company to test some ideas on visual aesthetics, efficiency and environment. In the process, SREG determined that there is a demand for this type of luxury property and that it was doing the right thing by making responsible choices to protect health and sustainability.

SREG has gone on to use the LEED planning process in all of the properties it has developed since that project. There is always a collaboration between ownership, design and construction to set project goals for each property. “Sustainability has absolutely been something we’ve carried forward,” says Hudson. “And health has become even more integral to how we think.”

In fact, the theme of healthy community is the focal point of the company’s website. Hudson believes having that online visual lets people know how important it is to his company. Hudson goes on to explain that there is now more research and resources available that prove a connection between design, planning and air quality than when they set out to redevelop Eco. Because of this, he knows that the work they are doing will have a long-term impact on future generations. “I want to look back on my career and know that I contributed to a healthier place to live,” he adds. Hudson says that the process used in developing Eco has expanded and evolved, but the same basic values exist for new properties. SREG continues to focus on putting people, planet and prosperity at the forefront of each project.

Learn more about Specialized Real Estate Group, and view their portfolio of properties, by visiting them online at

Click image above to listen to Part I of Jeremy Hudson’s Interview

The post Jeremy Hudson Part II : Progressive Planning Pays Off appeared first on Backstory 49.

Jeremy Hudson: Mastering the Risky Business of Real Estate Wed, 21 Feb 2018 06:57:34 +0000

NWA developer finds that success in real estate comes from vision, planning and continuous learning.

The post Jeremy Hudson: Mastering the Risky Business of Real Estate appeared first on Backstory 49.


Mastering the Risky Business of Real Estate

Jeremy Hudson knows that sometimes a career doesn’t end on the same path where it started. He is the CEO and partner of Specialized Real Estate Group, which is a development and property management company in Northwest Arkansas. As a student, Hudson knew that he wanted to work in building design or construction, in some capacity. He even considered architecture, but ultimately decided to study construction management at John Brown University. After school, and learning more about career options, he decided that a traditional role in commercial construction didn’t hold his interest. Instead, he gravitated toward real estate brokerage. “I don’t know how strategic it was, it was just following what interested me,” he explains.

With a degree in construction management, Hudson thought that his career path likely led in two different directions as a new college graduate: working for a commercial contractor or starting his own contracting business. Since neither of these options appealed to Hudson, he decided that real estate was more suited to his personality and taste. Hudson says that his relationship with his friend, and now business partner, Seth Mims helped lead him into the real estate field. “I’m sure a lot of it had to do with the timing of it. It was the end of 2002 or early 2003; it was fast and fun,” he says of the booming real estate market in Northwest Arkansas at that time.

While it didn’t seem like working in real estate was a direct application of his college studies, Hudson soon realized that there was a common link. He figured out that the same skills he utilized in helping people buy and sell properties translated into property management as well. He also discovered that he enjoys the operational side of property management like building a team and strategic planning.

As the market faced an economic downturn, the brokerage business began to decline. In contrast, Hudson found that the opportunities increased to help investors, local banks and individuals with troubled assets. In 2006, Specialized Real Estate Group turned its focus more on property management and less on sales. “We began, very quickly, learning how to help banks and investors deal with those types of transactions. That really kind of catapulted our property management business,” he says.

Moving into the property management role allowed Hudson to be more involved in the operation side of the company, working closely with the finance and marketing aspects of the business. The company took on multi-family properties that each operated like individual stand-alone businesses, and needed to be managed as such. In addition, many of those properties were in poor physical and economic condition. “It was a big challenge to learn a lot in a pretty short amount of time,” says Hudson.

As property management became the central focus for Specialized Real Estate Group, Hudson says the company built a solid relationship with a group of investors in Portland. His company worked with the investors on projects in Northwest Arkansas to help them make capital improvements, reposition properties and resell assets. He recalls that while the population in Northwest Arkansas continued to grow during the recession, the rental market here remained lackluster. According to Hudson, there weren’t enough “rent by choice” options for local residents who wanted to rent because it fit their lifestyle. “We felt like, while we were still relatively new at it, we were in a good position in Northwest Arkansas to understand what the market was wanting,” he explains.

Hudson and his company knew that the downtown Fayetteville area had a real need for additional multi-family housing, but realized that most properties were either dilapidated or financially out of reach for the average renter. In 2010, Specialized Real Estate Group approached the investors in Portland to partner on a deal to purchase a multi-family luxury real estate development then known as Glendale Apartments, listed at over $1.1 million. Although the property was in a rundown neighborhood, it was close to the U of A, downtown Fayetteville and the public library, which made it more appealing. “If we could turn it around, it might make sense,” Hudson says about the purchase.

This bold move in an uncertain economy turned out to be the first step in a total property transformation, and a transformation in the way Specialized Real Estate Group would view their entire design and building process for the future.

This is a two-part interview with Jeremy Hudson; check back soon for the conclusion of his story here.

Click image above to listen to Part I of Jeremy Hudson’s Interview

The post Jeremy Hudson: Mastering the Risky Business of Real Estate appeared first on Backstory 49.