Masters of balance: TJ Wagoner and Tyler Fenton discuss juggling school and business

November 27, 2017

UAA Natural Sciences/Pre-Health Junior Tyler Fenton, left, and UAA Finance Senior Trevor (TJ) Wagoner, right, photographed with one of the drones they operate as part of their business 2 Core Films. (Photo by James Evans / University of Alaska Anchorage)

It all started on a wintry afternoon, in a backyard on the Kenai Peninsula. Two boys grabbed their snowboarding gear and their hand cam, in an attempt to make a snowboarding video—at least according to TJ Wagoner, a junior and finance major at the University of Alaska Anchorage, and one-half of 2 Core Films. Tyler Fenton, the other half, is a natural science, pre-health occupation sophomore. He nods in agreement with TJ, adding that the two have been good friends since boyhood. Although each attended different high schools and were fierce competitors during hockey season, they have remained friends.

The UAA students’ friendship and their creative side hustle—mostly to avoid the 9-to-5—has turned into a successful business for the 21-year-olds.

“We found a niche, especially with wedding videography in Alaska—there’s just not a lot out there,” Tyler said. “Alaska is kind of behind the Lower 48 with this and we just took advantage of that—with the skills we acquired doing the fun stuff we did growing up.”  

TJ adds that he and Tyler are a good fit for wedding videography because they understand their audience. Being young, knowing the latest trends, and creating a fun and memorable product for their client is what they’re all about. This model has served them well. Business has started to kick up since they began the business about two years ago, although this year, they have gone “legit.”

They applied for their Limited Liability Company (LLC) license and obtained their drone certification, which allows them to legally produce drone videography. It was a process, but they say having these two licenses bring peace of mind to their clients.

Learning to fly…

TJ, like many young Alaskans, left the state to pursue his college education in the Lower 48. For about a year, he attended Azusa Pacific in California and that’s when he and Tyler got serious about starting their own photography business.

“I started reaching out to companies and asking, ‘Hey, do you want to send us your T-shirts? We can take photos of them in the Alaska wilderness and show off your product,’” said TJ. That’s when the two realized that photography could be a viable business and it turned into something more than just having fun. “That was the start of us connecting the dots—that this could actually be a thing.”

But it wasn’t until the two spent a summer working 12-hour days for the Alaska Department of Transportation (DOT) that things started really taking off. The two spent the workweek at their DOT job, and on the weekends they grabbed their film gear and headed down the aisle to shoot weddings for clients.

“That’s when we started acquiring our equipment,” TJ said. “We had a job that supplemented the finances of the business and then we went fully into it once we a had a good amount of assets.”

Balancing act

It’s not easy balancing a business with a full load of classwork, while also trying to have a personal life. TJ and Tyler are not like most 21-year-olds their age. The two don’t really believe in “down time” and said they always feel like they could—or should—be doing something more, either for school, meeting with a client, or hitting up YouTube for video tutorials for education and inspiration.

“That’s kind of part of the balance of doing school and this because we can always be learning in school and we can always be learning in videography and photography,” Tyler said. “So if one of us is super weighed down with school, one of us might be focusing more on the business—and then we can come back together and help each other out.”

Sometimes it’s stressful, constantly balancing their life, but when it comes to their business they don’t feel like it’s work, which makes taking on such a busy schedule doable and worth it. Since TJ and Tyler own their own business, they have the flexibility of when, where and how often they work, which they said really depends on school—a priority for both of them.

“That’s what we’ve kind of enjoyed about this—that it’s somewhat seasonal,” said TJ. “In the summertime, especially in the wedding industry, there’s a lot of work, and in the wintertime, we’ll get maybe one wedding a month. “It’s up to us to take on a client—if we’re available or if we’re super busy with school, we’re not going to be saying yes to everything.”

Down the road…

TJ and Tyler are not sure if they’ll continue to pursue their business into the future—but for now, they’re happy to balance school and their business. They’re both focused on finishing their degrees, with TJ graduating early in December and Tyler finishing up in the next year or two.

“It [this business] is a great option to have—it has been very successful and I am confident that if this is what we wanted to pursue, this could be a viable occupation for us,” Tyler said.

“That being said, I still plan on completing my education to have that option as well.”

Although TJ’s and Tyler’s futures are still unknown, they do know the experience and skills they’ve gained in starting their own videography business will serve them well in the future, no matter where they land.

They know that whatever industry they end up in, whether that’s physical therapy for Tyler, finance for TJ—or the wedding industry for the two of them—all businesses need photos and video at some point for marketing.

“Our big thing has always been lifestyle—whether he [Tyler] is a physical therapist—we still want to have a lifestyle where it’s not just work,” said TJ. “So we’ve been pretty happy with this and it is enjoyable enough for us, even when we’re doing it as work.”


Written by Catalina Myers,  UAA Office of University of Advancement

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