It Takes Thunder to Shake Up the Tech Scene


Startups used to be perceived as that risk you took if you were older, experienced, and wanted to put your experience and knowledge to the test. Now, young entrepreneurs pursue their dreams with the same determination, chutzpah, and skill as you might expect from any seasoned capitalist. In fact, startups are such a big deal that Troy Carter (an investor whose clients include Uber and Spotify, as well as artists like John Legend and Meghan Trainor), is launching a new program called SMASHD Labs to assist Startups in making it big.

That’s commendable—and innovative. But how do they even get off the ground? It’s one thing to have an idea, and another thing to bring that idea to life. Let’s look at an example of a new but successful startup.

In 2013, Tolga Onuk had an idea for a tech Startup that took root and blossomed not in Seattle—on the boundaries of Microsoft and Boeing, nor in Silicon Valley—where tech companies are the norm, and not even in New York City—a metropolis of entrepreneurship. No, he began developing Thunderbolt Studios in Beverly Hills, California.

The idea beyond this unusual location, he said, was to be the “big fish in the small sea. Plus,” he added, “starting from Santa Barbara to Rancho Palos Verdes and (going down) to San Clemente, the entire coastline has a giant amount of disconnected private investors.” Onuk wanted to bridge that gap.

“We are happy to be here in L.A.,” he says, “and we are proud to be the only digital and mobile design and technology development company in Beverly Hills.”

Finding a hole in the current system, and filling that need, is one way that startups ensure their livelihood. In the case of Thunderbolt Studios, its journey to success involved not only filling a need but finding the right people for the job.

Good people, in Onuk’s opinion, are what make Thunderbolt great. Sharlene Golshirazian, who handles team and client relations as Thunderbolt’s Director of Operations, concurs.

“There is no one like us out there,” she says, attributing Thunderbolt’s ability to not only survive but rise above expectations to its “highly motivated and dedicated team that has made many sacrifices for the success of the company and ultimately for the success of their teammates.”

And she isn’t being elitist, just stating a fact. One look at the company’s Leadership page on their website, and you see a small group of industrious young people, from a variety of educational and personal backgrounds, each playing at least two or three roles in a tightly-knit group of entrepreneurs.

So, good people equal a good company. Well…that, and its products and services, of course.

“We design the next generation applications and user experiences,” Onuk says, with the belief that “Design makes a difference.”

“We make people’s dreams a reality,” adds Golshirazian, describing the company as being both disruptive and driven at its core.

Naturally, design takes vision, and vision takes determination to make that vision a reality.

“We determine our own future,” says Onuk. “It is like riding in the fast track with a bicycle. You really have to be an over-doer, and keep being hopeful. There is nothing to lose, really. Once you get it working and once people notice what you are trying to accomplish, miracles can happen.”

Miracles did happen.

Well success, as he points out, “is a very relative term,” the key is “being happy and healthy and being able to help others, always doing the right thing, building promising projects, and being proud of being a part of Southern California’s evolving and growing Tech Scene.”

Forbes magazine reports a failure rate hovering between 80-90% for startups, so Onuk’s instinct to build a technology and design company where none existed was a smart move. Between 2013 to now, Thunderbolt has become a leader in providing web platforms, design and technology services, and has partnered with big brand names like Beats by Dre, Fox Sports, and Verizon, just to name a few.

When asked to describe Thunderbolt Studios in five words, Onuk chose “High standards, honesty, integrity, positivity and faith.” Those descriptions not only describe the company but perhaps shine a light upon what has allowed the startup to thrive.

Designing application that gained over $6 million in funding, Thunderbolt is the result of years of education and life experience in its leaders.

Onuk himself said he has been doing “the same thing” since he was a kid. He began in design, creating interactive board games in elementary school and playing sports (football) on the side. By middle school, he was designing graphics and rapidly gaining becoming more proficient in graphic design and product manufacture. Flash websites and 3d animations allowed for greater possibilities in design and marketing, a process which Onuk had already begun at age twenty. But it wasn’t that simple.

“The problem,” he states, “was that when I was doing these, I was in Turkey.”

Inspired by companies like “Design is Dead,” from Beligium, with a very active, creative team, as well as numerous others, such as 2 Advanced, Blitz, and Red Interactive, Onuk pushed forward to irrigate the soil of his own digital roots. Fast forwarding seven years, he had not only assimilated to American cultural norms, but had gained citizenship.

“After working for a bunch of L.A. digital and creative companies, I started Thunderbolt two years ago. Here we are,” he explained.

However, the “we” in that sentence is, like all elements of business, a constant work in progress, because the process of creating and maintaining a streamlined, cohesive team that shares your vision isn’t easy.

“It doesn’t happen all the time,” Onuk admits. “It is certainly a constant battle to make everything work perfectly, to make clients and partners happy, and there is no reason to lie here: Sometimes things go wrong.” Often, there are misconceptions—not to mention varying levels of knowledge and proficiency—regarding technology and apps, which makes work both challenging and rewarding.

Golshirazian echoes that sentiment. “It is hard to explain what Thunderbolt does to most people,” she says, “because we are more than just a design (team).” In other words, not only is the company working with new and innovative technology, but most clients are seeking these products and services precisely because they lack the background to understand them on a deep level.

Though a startup is challenging it its own right, a tech startup has this obstacle to add to its list.


Onuk elaborated to explain that client misconceptions can lead not only to negative assumptions but a lack of trust if not addressed. The job of the Thunderbolt team is to build and maintain that trust, which “requires a lot of patience and work. That is why we are employing very positive, calm, communicative and problem-solving people, and are willing to work with same-minded clients/partners.”

One big step forward in creating trust with clients and partners is the Thunderbolt Engine, set to launch sometime soon this year. Its purpose is to better connect investors, influencers and entrepreneurs.

“It is a private crowd investing platform,” Onuk explains. “I personally believe this will help Southern California to have a more connected (business) network. Thinking about SoCal’s potential in investing, I really think that Thunderbolt can become Southern California’s leading startup technology design and development company which can also help with raising money for its projects.”

Still in the process of fundraising, the entire Thunderbolt team is excited to see where the fuel behind Thunderbolt Engine will take them.

It’s not an easy task, as Golshirazian explains that it can be frustrating “not always getting immediate results, and working under stressful and heavy workloads since each team member functions as multiple people.” However, she adds that “the relationships with team, clients and partners, the determination, motivation, and support of the team” all add up to “make it an irreplaceable experience.”

Ultimately, Thunderbolt is focused on people—specifically its clients, just like any other good company. “We are just willing to work with people who want to build great products and great startups,” Onuk says, “with the intention of helping others and making others happy.”

With an organized Private Technology Summit in L.A. January 2015 and 2016, Thunderbolt is off to not only a great start, but a great future. And that’s good, because it’s come a long way from its humble beginnings when Tolga Onuk was working on Curbstand.

Perhaps the greatest takeaway from this promising startup is its willingness to grow.

“We are creative, driven to succeed, and highly adaptive,” Golshirazian says. “We make sacrifices and work tirelessly because we believe in our mission. These are the qualities needed to be successful in our field.”

In response to a question regarding the possibility of expansion and change in Thunderbolt’s future, its founder and CEO proves this dedication to adaptation in his candid reply: “Yes, always.”

As the name suggests, those at Thunderbolt are prepared for any kind of weather.


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