The studio is quiet. The afternoon sun pours in from the window behind me as I reminisce about the time that’s flown by. “Spanish Bombs” by The Clash plays through my headphones and it’s reminds me of a time back in 2010… Time flies as they say. The first year of the studio, I worked around the clock building a future project by project. Fast forward a year and I hire on my first employee, and a year later, acquire my first studio space.
There’s been a lot of ups and downs. There’s been a lot of good times and there’s been some bad times. Lots of people have come and gone, but the community that’s grown over the years has been one of candidness, loyalty, hard work and passion.
I’ve made my mistakes and I’ve also made some very smart moves. All of it teaches me a lesson that helps me grow and move forward. Here’s what I’ve learned over the last 7 years…
- Profit on day 1. Our entrepreneurial culture likes to gloat about finding investors, series A and B rounds of fundraising and their exit strategy. What that teaches them is how to spend money, not make it. When you’re in startup mode, you should be making profit - not revenue - day one. It doesn’t need to be money in the bank, but a signed contract is good enough. When a bakery opens its door, it needs to produce profit on the goods sold in order to keep the doors open. Some mistake a passion or hobby for a business. If you don’t implement business practices on start, then you know which one you have.
- Work with what you got. Some think in order to open or start a studio you need lots of desks, chairs and computers and beer on tap… But, if you don’t have deep pockets (I don’t), then you must think creatively on how to move your product or service. There are many online services that can help supplement in areas that you lack such as server space, project management and communication. You can find your team online and host voice and/or video conferences with clients. The tools are just about endless. And with a smart system for how to use these tools and resources, the more valuable these tools become.
- Culture is grown, not designed. The “experts” of big business like to chant how they’ve created and designed company culture into their business plan. But having valet parking and on-site masseuse with daycare and pizza Friday does not culture make. They’re perks - nice ones at that - but culture are the values and habits that come from how we work on a day to day, and it starts on day one. Not to mention, it starts from the person at the top on down.
- Be transparent. With everyone. As part of our culture here at Echo Bridge, transparency isn’t limited to a few who need to know. Even before we start a project, we’re as up front as we can be with potential clients and crew members. Especially when the situation has taken a southward turn; when people are informed they can make informed decisions that not only affect the project, but their lives too.
- Promote. Promote. Promote! I learned this the hard way… When you are at your busiest moment… Promote! Promote like hell. Get on social media. Submit to film festivals. Write blogs, record vlogs, throw parties, host events, go to conventions and reach out. Don’t wait until the day you’re out of work. Stay ever active. I read this quote… “There’s no such thing as shameless self-promotion, unless you’re ashamed of what you’re promoting.”
- Dedication counts. It’s not enough in this industry - in my studio more specifically - to just punch in and punch out. When we take on a project, we must all commit 100% to ensure that the production does its best. From coordinator to cleanup artist; when there is dedication to the work, it shows. And when we do commit on a consistent basis, the quality of the work increases tenfold. It’s this dedication to excellence which separates the wheat from the chaff.
- Grow slow. My idea for this studio is to have a legacy business. A business that I can pass down to my kid(s), or at least surpass me when I’m not able to work. To make quality productions that have a long shelf life and impact. But you can’t do that if when all you think about is your exit strategy. Our post-modern entrepreneurial world is obsessed with fast growth. You fatten your calf so you can sell at the market for a hefty sum and cash out. If that’s what you want, fine. But if you want to make a business that will be around for some time, then the metaphor most relative to the topic at hand is to plant a tree. Curate, cultivate and care for the tree. It might take a while, but it’ll provide shade and oxygen for years to come.
There is one other lesson I learned, I mentioned it briefly before, but it’s noteworthy: People come and people go. Understandably, my studio is not a final destination for those on route to places like Los Angeles or Toronto. When they have to move on, they have to move on. When I find people of value, who contribute and dedicate themselves day in, day out; I try to keep them around as long as possible. Plus… I hate change. A good team who knows and understands you is - to me anyways - critical.
Some situations are in your control, but many aren’t. You’ve got to burn to learn, and I am crispy.
Hope you found some of what I’ve had to share useful.
Connect with me on Twitter @echobridge.