The Art of the Start

Ironically, I drafted the following post at the same time my friend, Jim Stamos, sent me Marc Andreessen’s recent post about the current writer’s strike in Hollywood Rebuilding Hollywood in Silicon Valley’s Image.

"Last week I posted a rather pointed polemic titled "Suicide by strike"
in which I argued that the big entertainment companies were acting
suicidally in picking a fight with the writers at precisely the wrong
time.

In this post, I more dispassionately outline my theory of why that’s the case, and what I think may happen next.

The writers’ strike, and the studios’ response to the strike,
may radically accelerate a structural shift in the media industry — a
shift of power from studios and conglomerates towards creators and
talent."

I would argue that the two businesses are eerily similar today and do hinge on the creative art, execution that "pierces the veil of disbelief" and branding/share of attention. I would also comment that the current B2C phase we are in has dropped the cost for start-ups and has shifted more of the power to the "creators". That said, most large successes require significant resources (e.g. more than a Digital Video camera or more than bootstrapping a start-up) and so, the "producers" have leverage vis-a-vis their capital and their connections (to talent, financial markets, strategic information, etc). However, venture requires much more of a cooperative approach while Hollywood has tended to use the buyout "iron fist approach". Here is my original post…

ART OF THE START

Many a time, I have heard entrepreneurs bemoan the fact that their company is just like a successful competitors and yet they are not getting the traction or attention.  I have often thought that the movie and venture businesses had a great deal in common. Both are “hit” driven with high failure rates and success is driven by detailed execution and the stars involved.  Venture capitalists act much like producers whose job it is to make certain that all of the key resources are tied in and the venture has sufficient capital.  Directors are like CEO’s and the key actors are like top managers. While certain talent helps improve the odds for success, the core fundamentals of the story (business or movie) can make or break.

Rishad Tobaccowala, the interactive marketing guru at Denu/Starcom, often says that memorable, impactful campaigns have a compelling story at their heart. In the movie business, it is how the plot holds and flows. In the venture business, it depends on the impression the elevator pitch makes on the investors, customers or strategic partners. Some resonate quickly and others get thrown into the generic bucket.

I wish I could layout what the formula is for success, but it is more art than science. That said, look at the persistence of certain producers (Bruckenheimer, Bay, etc), directors (Spielberg) and stars (Ford, Cruise, Smith, etc) in cranking out wins. Successful producers and VC’s have developed certain pattern recognition advantages and have built out an array of supporting resources (camera men & editors or board members & domain experts) that they can bring in at different phases of the effort.  Success, as in venture, begets success as the most promising scripts (or business plans) will often work their way to the star producers.

A successful company starts with a quality "script". Business model, market size and economics set the foundation for everything coming together. However, few businesses think enough about how the pieces hold together, what makes them compelling and where the “drama” is. Why do people “have to see” the movie and tell their friends. It’s only after this comes together that meticulous execution can drive it to the promised land. This is what the rapid, exponential success stories have in common. The story attracts talent, the talent leads to execution (initial talent obviously comes with the story) and execution leads to success. Without the heart of the story, companies can still be very successful, but it makes it more difficult to break out of the crowd (“aren’t you just like…”).

This may all sound superficial but I do believe that success in entrepreneurship and success in movies have a lot in common. Founders should look to script writers on the art of story, CEO’s to directors for how to motivate and direct people and VC’s to producers for how to pull it all together. The same goes in reverse.  Art is art and hit businesses are hit businesses for better or worse. That said, Hollywood does need to figure out a more cooperative model that aligns the interests of the various players as Marc states above.

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