It's been a while since I last posted and it's because I've just been so focused on trying to grow my video production agency. Looking back I can't believe it's been three years since I posted this blog post about moving out of being a beginner. I don't feel like a beginner anymore these days but I also don't feel full confidence that I have what it takes to succeed as a entrepreneur.
It is quite a journey looking back at when we first started doing small business videos, we we're paid just a couple hundred bucks; now moving up the value chain, we've closed projects in the five figure range, which is exciting because it allows us more resources to put into the craft and creativity of the video. For example, one of our most recent projects involved renting out a large cross-fit gym and then setting up a 15 ft dolly track, and a fog machine. That was super fun and I really got to experiment with carrying out my directorial vision. One of the most exciting opportunities last year was the chance to pitch to Sandisk. We had always dreamt of having enterprise clients so we we're really eager for the opportunity. The pitch went really well and was accepted, but we found out that many enterprise clients don't pay deposits; Since we're too small of a company we had to turn that project down. It was sad mainly because these past two years I've been so gung-ho on my dream: Making videos for fortune 500 companies -- for Nike, Apple, and shooting television / Super Bowl commercials; and its sad because we had been so focused on growth in the form of high-value clients (which is riskier) rather than growth in client base and while that trajectory looked promising it is abruptly halted by this ceiling.
All of this sounds like I'm getting a ton of traction -- and I think I am, but from a financial standpoint it sucks. Sure, I've cut my expenses down and can survive but I'm not making much money at all. All of our profits go back into the business, and we have super low margins because we use so much budget to make the video look good. The project budget gets spent on equipment, crew, actors, and set dressing, so at the end, there's barely any profit left for the three of us. I wouldn't mind it so much if I felt I had a good grasp of marketing, but I can't seem to find consistency. Certain things have worked. I'm running Google Adwords, and that's been a good source of leads for us for far, but it's not consistent enough and the cost per click is insane.
The hardest part of marketing is knowing that the biz dev responsibility lies on my shoulders. I didn't mind it at all when I first graduated out of college, but now that it's been a few years, I can't help but question myself: Am I just playing around? Am I in the wrong market? Maybe I should do something else
With each passing year the pressure grows. The pressure of making this a sustainable source of income. Like I mentioned before, I personally don't mind a low income because I believe in the Early Retirement Extreme philosophy, but It's hard not to be envious of your friends working at tech companies making such-and-such. And it's not just my employed friends either, I have entrepreneurial friends who are also young and in their mid twenties with growing businesses, and while I'm super happy for their success I can't help but question the lack of my own. I look at my progress from when I was 23 to 24, from 24 to 25, and 25 to 26 and I wonder if this is sustainable going into my late twenties and thirties.
I've since paused my Adwords campaign because the CPC is too high (going to wait until I set aside time to optimize my quality score to turn it back on) but last year about a third of our closed projects came in from Google Adwords.
Here's a few pictures:
I've found that one of the best ways to be less wrong overtime is to do an analysis of why an idea wasn't successful. It can be overwhelming to try to dig into analysis, but I've found that being wrong usually came from a few different reasons. These five reasons usually relate to business/marketing but can be applied to other ideas you develop or want to execute.
First I'll state the five reasons, then I'll explain a little more my thoughts on how they apply to the real world.
1. There were false assumptions made
2. The idea was a bad fit for you
3. You didn’t understand the psychology of the applied tactic / technique, and thus there was an error made in application
Strategy is the deployment of tactics operating under a principle...
I think the brilliance that comes from having a piece of information like this is in how formulaic it is. Because it’s formulaic, you can take the same variables and apply it to any other subject:
style is the deployment of elements and technique operating under a philosophy
expression is the deployment of communication operating under a set of values
Just taking a look at those two properties, style and expression, and you have a whole chunk of understanding for any type of art (painting, music, dance, fashion)
I've noticed that of the friends I have, the cool successful entrepreneurial types, when you tell them a lofty goal or aspiration they never respond with "you know how hard that is?" or "you really think you'll manage that?" their responses are more along the lines of "that's cool man, do it up", "let me know how I can help or who I can introduce you to", "that's ambitious, can't wait to hear your progress"
And when you tell them about a failure or a stupid decision, they usually empathize rather than tell you what you should've done:
"I can relate, made a similar mistake a few months back"
"awww man that sucks, better luck next time"
"that was horrible, you totally f'ed that up haha" (In a joking way rather than a I'm-trying-to-solve-your-problem way)
I work at a large company now and when having conversations with my friends they would often express surprise at my decision to do so. Up until now I’ve only done creative freelance work, or worked at small startups because I wanted to have creative input. I had an expectation that because I was doing client work or working directly with the owner of the company that my ideas would be heard, but I would say my experiences haven't met these expectations. This jadedness has lead me to fall into state I call mercenary mode: I’ve cut my feelings toward a project and approach my work with a cold distance, whatever my client or manager wanted me to do, I would just implement. And this was my reasoning for joining a big company, if my ideas weren’t going to be heard either way, I’d rather be at a place with more structure and downtime.
These days I contemplate going back to creative work. On one hand I feel most fulfilled doing creative work, on the other hand doing operations at a large company is very straightforward and stress-free, I would even say its enjoyable. When I do humor myself at the thought of doing creative work again I will inevitably feel cynicism thinking back to the many ideas I’ve brought up with excitement and sincerity only to have them be turned down.
I do, however, question the validity of my frustration. Are my feelings toward wanting to have my idea heard valid? In an interview with Rene Ritche, Apple Designer May-Li Khoe expressed astonishment at the fact that other designers are upset with having to do work that eventually gets thrown in the trash. She says that 99% of her work gets thrown in the trash and that's the normal.
And maybe this is what it takes? Maybe the right mindset is to be okay with knowing it takes having 99 ideas turned down, or having 99 prototypes trashed to have a chance at that 1 project completed the way I envisioned. Maybe this is the price paid to be a creative.
A quick tutorial I made on using Tampermonkey to automate your form fills. If you guys have repetitive tasks that involve forms, this can save you a ton of time.