This portfolio originally appeared in Jump Point 5.5.
“Only available on Earth and Terra. That’s the type of exclusivity we want,” claimed Candace Cowley in a controversial 2903 interview with the Terra Gazette. Cowley, who goes by CC, was the public face of Ascension Astro, a boutique component manufacturer that found its start catering to the ultra-wealthy. During the interview, CC proclaimed that the company preferred to sell their stealth components solely to an elite clientele, who could then safely travel throughout the Empire without fear of being targeted by outlaws or other ‘ruffians.’ She also bragged about how their two storefront locations, one in New York and the other in Prime, were invitation-only establishments with a waiting list months long. To some, CC embodied the glamorous and outrageous lifestyle they wanted to live; to others she epitomized everything wrong with the UEE. Few knew that CC — herself synonymous with Ascension Astro — was but one of the three founders who catapulted the company from obscurity to one of the UEE’s most exclusive in just a few years.
Something from Nothing
Ascension Astro was founded in 2901 by CC, Kaitlyn Barwick, and Tim Kraft. CC and Barwick had grown up together. Barwick’s father owned a small repair shop in Shanghai and found four-year-old CC abandoned at a local transit stop. Similar in age but drastically different in personalities, the two still became fast friends. As adults, Barwick married Kraft and took over her father’s repair shop, while CC got a job as a customer service rep at an Origin Jumpworks dealership. Thanks to her persistence, charm and fervent philosophy of only targeting rich customers, she quickly amassed a lengthy roster of highclass clientele.
Then the Origin dealership fired CC for referring clients to Barwick and Kraft’s struggling repair shop. CC argued that her intentions were nothing but honorable and within the best interests of Origin’s clients, as the services she was recommending were not available at the dealership. Notorious tinkerers, Barwick and Kraft had devised a way to dramatically reduce the IR and EM signature of the thrusters that came standard in Origin ships. With these high-end ships often being targeted by outlaws and (even worse) paparazzi, reducing their signature was an invaluable aid in being able to cruise about unmolested. Barwick and Kraft’s intricate process was effective, yet the price point for the time-consuming procedure put what was essentially custom-built thrusters out of range for all but the wealthiest customers.
Following CC’s dismissal, Origin attempted to retroengineer the work done by Barwick and Kraft, but couldn’t quite crack their complicated process. When CC heard what her former employers were up to, she took a drastic step and filed a lawsuit against them. Although the courts eventually tossed out the case, the episode became a publicity nightmare for the company, so they attempted to backpedal and offered to hire the duo as consultants. Barwick asked if CC could get her old job back, but Origin refused. Loyal to their longtime friend, Barwick and Kraft turned down the offer. In the midst of all of this, CC had a realization. If Origin was interested in Barwick and Kraft’s work, then it must be valuable.
Even though CC built relationships with many wealthy people while at Origin, she knew approaching them out of the blue with a business proposal would probably fail. Instead, she contacted her former clients to notify them of what she described as her already immensely successful venture. The “ultra exclusive” mobile modification and repair service would send Barwick and Kraft directly to a client’s hangar to perform the complicated work on their ship’s thrusters. Since the process only worked on certain thrusters, CC had to deftly confirm the person still flew a ship with the appropriate thrusters in it.
CC initially offered drastic discounts to entice these wealthy clients into hiring them. Of course this scheme lost money, as the parts and labor involved far exceeded the price tag, but once in the door, CC worked her magic. She painted the picture of a business so busy she was forced to turn down new clients every day, then adroitly transitioned the discussion to how what they were doing was small potatoes compared to what it could be if only they had the capital to make their own stealth components.
CC’s masterful backdoor pitch worked. Several clients became intrigued and invested in the operation. Ascension Astro incorporated in 2901 and a small number of their stealth components, designed by Barwick and Kraft, rolled off a Moscow production line later that year. Some investors were irate over how few components were produced, and to make matters worse, CC gave away a few of those scarce components to a select group of new contacts while spending significant company credits to build a fancy showroom hidden down a dingy alley in New York City. The location had no official Ascension Astro sign, only a comm channel to be used to set up appointments. For the first three months, anyone who contacted them was instructed to check back later since they had no available appointments.
But the stealth marketing campaign was a success. The few who were gifted components happened to be the most braggadocious people CC knew. Other elites, not used to being denied what they wanted when they wanted it, flooded the comm channel with appointment requests. When Ascension Astro actually sold a few components, they did so at exorbitantly high prices, and sold out immediately. As the next run was manufactured, the company again claimed that they had no available appointments and refused to take preorders. When the second run was ready, the components were sold at an even higher price.
Of course, CC’s shrewd marketing ploy could only work more than once if the product was good. Fortunately, Barwick and Kraft were as skilled in their way as CC was in hers; the components were as outstanding as CC claimed them to be. The couple avoided any high-level discussions about the company, preferring to spend time perfecting their designs and tinkering, and leaving targeted sales techniques and networking opportunities in CC’s hands.
Meanwhile, CC continued to hone Ascension Astro’s public image. She refused to do any traditional advertising, arguing that it would tarnish their reputation by making them like any other brand. Instead, she bribed gossip columnists to report on her partying at trendy establishments with their elite clientele. CC did what she needed to ensure “Ascension Astro” made the column’s copy.
Privately, Barwick and Kraft worried about CC’s increasing obsession with her new lifestyle, but couldn’t argue with the results. Their stealth power plants were named by multiple publications as “The Must-Have Ship Component of 2903.” That same year Ascension Astro opened a second storefront in Terra, just as low-profile as their New York showroom, and CC gave that now infamous interview to the Terra Gazette. CC had suddenly become a celebrity CEO; beloved by some and loathed by others … until the following year, when she vanished from the public eye.
Expansion & Maturation
At first some assumed CC’s disappearing act was another clever marketing ploy. Then a few publications began to ask what had happened to her when her absence became months long. Meanwhile, industry insiders realized that Ascension Astro had begun to adopt more traditional practices. They opened more locations and eliminated the need to schedule an appointment to visit the store. They also significantly expanded their production capacity, and ran actual advertisements for their components. Their initial marketing campaign was shockingly bland, though it winked at the reputation CC had established. It featured a generically wealthy family comfortably enjoying a journey aboard their 890 Jump under the company’s still-used tag line “Enjoy the Journey.”
Whenever questioned about CC, Ascension Astro representatives simply asserted that she was still involved with the company. Most industry experts assumed that she had been ousted from power. That misconception was cleared up in 2908 when CC returned to the public eye to promote her memoir, Something from Nothing. Although the book chronicled her search to find the parents that abandoned her at that Shanghai hub, she also went into great detail about her part in the rise of Ascension Astro, and how a growing dependence on drugs and alcohol, combined with crippling bouts of depression, ultimately forced her to reduce her role in the company. She praised Barwick and Kraft for their stewardship of Ascension Astro, and after revealing that she had failed to locate her birth parents, declared that they were the only family she needed.
Today, CC maintains a position on the company masthead, but spends much of her time overseeing charities she’s established to help orphans across the UEE. In the absence of her unconventional marketing and sales methods, Barwick and Kraft transitioned to a more traditional business model and expanded the company’s suite of stealth components. They now encourage the purchase of a complete complement of upgrades to ensure better security while flying, driving home the point to their wealthy target audience that a stealth component can only do so much to conceal a ship’s signature if other systems are running hot. Ascension Astro continues to thrive under their steady hands.