The Where I Work series explores San Antonio’s evolving workplaces. It takes readers behind the scenes to learn from the people who work at companies large and small, nonprofits, family-owned enterprises, and in other nontraditional workplaces. Get in touch to share your story.

My mom gave me my first hammer at 5 years of age — and I promptly smashed my thumb with it. I hid it from her because I didn’t want my new hammer taken away. I’ve always been curious over the inner workings of toys and other gadgets. I was the kid who would take his toys apart and put them back together, sometimes with missing parts that were obviously not necessary. That’s something that has always stayed with me, I’ve always loved creating and figuring out how things work and go together.

This passion has driven me to learn a variety of skills and led me to start my own business. X-Managed is a workshop specializing in custom woodwork, signage and large format production. It began as my existing job was transitioning into more of a design and creative firm and less of a production house. With less production in-house I didn’t have the daily hands-on projects that I really enjoyed, so the idea of doing things on my own was born. That idea got a push from my girlfriend at the time who believed in me being able to do this on my own and in June of 2018, I finally decided to go all in with it. Almost 5 years later, I can’t thank her enough for that push.

For my business, I learned woodworking over the years by trial and error as a hobby of mine. My garage was my hobby shop for years before I built my dedicated woodshop. I learned signage from other local sign makers, my current sign maker, YouTube and buying and learning the machines used to get them done.

I use 3D modeling and mockups in all of my design work for clients so that we both know exactly what we are building. I learned the 3D modeling software in high school and Photoshop and Illustrator via online tutorials while I was working for a local print shop.

Probably the most important part of my business education was learning to run a business. My friend Alexander Hilmy and I started Hilmy back in 2011 (at that time it was Hilmy Photography), and I learned firsthand what it took to start and run a business before leaving in June of 2018.

My day at X-Managed usually starts with figuring out if it’s a production day, an install day, a meetings day, or a computer work day. Sometimes it’s a combination of all of the above.

Production days are days that we spend making sawdust, running the saws and CNC machine, and assembling. Install days are when we take what we’ve built or fabricated and deliver it to the client, whether it’s cabinetry, a lobby sign, or an exterior building sign. Meeting and site visit days are when we go out and take photos and measurements and discuss details of a new project with a potential client. Computer work days are where we 3D model, mockup, figure out pricing, and invoice.

The Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine cuts a design into a slab of PVC board inside of Derek Aguilar’s home workshop Tuesday.
The Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine cuts a design into a slab of PVC board inside of Derek Aguilar’s home workshop Tuesday. Credit: Bria Woods / San Antonio Report

We have recurring clients like Hope Hits Harder and Child Advocates San Antonio and create large-format installations for their yearly fundraising galas. We’ve done work with El Guapo Fabrication and Centro San Antonio to bring a 12-by-12-foot photo frame to life in Travis Park and even built a 6-by-10-foot stadium for Whataburger out of nothing but the things you find in a restaurant.

The project I’m most proud to be a part of is partnering with Chamoy Creative and Community First Health Plans to build and deliver 50 food pantries all over San Antonio. They are directly helping people in our community in a very real way. We’ve installed counters on every one that track how many times a month the doors are opened, and I was told that they average around 1,000 counts. The food pantries stay stocked and everything is free. I am very proud to be a part of that project as their builder.

The clients who are most rewarding to work with are the ones who are also local businesses getting their first sign or building out a brand new retail space. Being a local business owner myself, helping local businesses get set up and bringing their ideas to life is so fulfilling. When those clients come back to us for more work after they’ve grown a year later or two years later, that’s an amazing feeling. Revisiting them makes me proud to see how much they’ve accomplished.

In partnership with Community First Health Plans Derek Aguilar constructed a series of food pantries installed around the city.
In partnership with Community First Health Plans Derek Aguilar constructed a series of food pantries installed around the city. Credit: Courtesy / Derek Aguilar

Equally as rewarding is being able to give the vendors I work with more work and money for their own businesses. My vendors are some of my closest friends and they are professionals in their own fields. I have guys who do everything from vinyl installation to sign making and installation, cabinet making, metal fabrication, and large format printing. Getting to collaborate across fields is one of the things I love most about what I do.

Scaling the business is my greatest challenge currently. We are doing more and bigger things and it is requiring a shift in how we need to operate and take things on. With a business like mine where every project is different and everything is a custom solution, it is extra challenging to structure.

I hope that my work will continue to allow me to do more things that give back to our local businesses, nonprofits, and community. The goal, of course, with any business, is to be able to pay your bills, but I’ve been able to give back more and more year over year and that’s truly what I’ve loved the most about what my work has allowed me to do. 

As for the future of my business, I love big, elaborate, unique and crazy builds, so I hope to continue to be the guy that people seek out for that. I also want part of my company’s future to be a place where we could potentially mentor people whose curiosity, like mine, was sparked at a young age.