Think. Make. Share.
My first job out of college was as a producer for a small film production company in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In this role, I had the opportunity to produce some pretty fun commercial and narrative projects.
It was a great gig.
One of the things I learned early on was the standard process the company used to bring a film to life. We utilized this same process on pretty much every project, both commercial and narrative alike. It went something like this:
Phase 1: Development – The idea for the project was conceived and planned out.
Phase 2: Production – The plan was physically manifested in the form of a film.
Phase 3: Distribution – The film was pushed out to a target audience.
Development. Production. Distribution.
Let’s call this the Standard Process.
Each phase of the Standard Process was equally important, equally challenging, and equally expensive. We did our best to make our way through this process on each project, but it seemed like there was often a hang up somewhere. Truly innovative development took forever. Quality production cost too much. Mainstream distribution was out of reach. Was this really the right process for this company, or was there a different way?
But before I got neck deep in it, I left the company to go back to school.
In grad school, I was exposed to businesses in a variety of industries- automotive, tech, retail, etc. I didn’t pay much attention to such businesses before b-school, but as I dug into these industries, I realized that, at a macro level, they were bringing products to market using a similar process as the one I was trained to use in the film production company. Companies in all of these industries invested immense amounts of resources in R&D to design innovative new products; they then took their designs and manufactured them into a physical form; and finally, they worked their distribution channels to push their products out to consumers.
Development. Production. Distribution.
I know this isn’t an incredibly novel concept; however, for me, at the time, I did not realize that the Standard Process was so universally applicable. And not only were Fortune 500 companies utilizing the Standard Process, but I realized the ones that had clearly mastered it were ridiculously profitable.
Development. Production. Distribution. Seems pretty straightforward.
And I suppose it should be when you have coffers like a fortune 500, right? But I certainly remember struggling through the process when I was working for the film production company, wondering if the model really worked. Maybe if you were a large company with unlimited resources it was less complex, but the rigid structure and “rules” associated with navigating this process “the right way” seemed to bog our little company down on several fronts. We either didn’t have the know-how to develop, the capital to produce, or the relationships to distribute – one of these always seemed to be missing or unattainable. My assumption, post b-school, was that, no matter your place in the market, you just had to keep working this process until all the pieces came together. It seemed that was just the way it was done.
And then I heard about this guy named Ryan Moran.
Last year Ryan Moran and his business partner generated over $1 million by selling yoga mats on Amazon. And when you listen to them talk about it, the process they utilized, although similar to the Standard Process, was much less complex. They did some basic market research on reddit; found a Chinese supplier on Alibaba to manufacture the product, and then hooked up with Amazon to distribute. All the main pieces of the standard process were there, but there was something different about their approach.
And then I heard about this guy named Nathan Chan.
Nathan Chan started up a magazine for entrepreneurs called Foundr Magazine. In less than one year, Nathan took his magazine from zero readers to thousands of monthly subscribers via the iTunes platform. He used a magazine design and hosting platform for the actual digital product creation and outsourced much of the magazine’s operations to contractors he connected with online. Again, in hearing him talk about the process he went through to bring his magazine to market, it sounded very similar to the Standard Process, but it wasn’t bogged down in the same complexity.
And then I heard about this guy named Casey Neistat.
Casey Neistat is a filmmaker and entrepreneur that lives in New York. Currently, he posts a short film every single day on Youtube (apparently it’s called “vlogging”). He carries a camera around with him and films his daily activities. At night he edits the footage down to a digestible six to eight minute film, and then uploads it to Youtube for his 1.5 million Youtube subscribers to see the next morning (his life is actually super entertaining). In watching his films, I realized that he goes through a very similar development process to the Standard Process, but the soul of this process is not the same.
The rigid structure isn’t there. The expense isn’t there. The complexity isn’t there.
In fact, I believe the process Casey, Nathan, and Ryan all went through cannot properly be characterized by Development, Production, and Distribution. It is much more simple than that. Instead, the processes they utilize seem to fit an entirely new model that looks more like the following:
Think. Make. Share.
Let’s call this the Modern Process.
The Modern Process, although similar in form to the Standard Process, diverges substantially in each phase. Entrepreneurs using the Modern Process are not spending immense amounts of time developing their ideas. They also are not investing immense amounts of capital producing or manufacturing their ideas into physical form. Additionally, they do not need high-level relationships with mainstream distributors to get their products to consumers.
Rather, these entrepreneurs simply think of an idea, figure out a way to make it, and then share it with the world.
The Think phase lasts as long as is necessary to conceive the vision for what will be. The Make phase utilizes the tools that are immediately within the entrepreneur’s reach. The Share phase leverages the entrepreneur’s surrounding network or the network of others that are freely open to anyone.
When the Traditional Process was conceived, this wasn’t possible. Traditional development was required to ensure the product met the needs of the market (it took forever and required specialized knowledge). Traditional production was necessary to obtain the quality and quantity required to meet the market’s demands (and it was $$$$$). Traditional distribution channels were necessary to actually get the product to consumers (every channel had a gatekeeper). By design, each phase required partnering with someone else. Rarely did any one person (or company for that matter) control all phases because, historically, the tools that have made this possible have either not existed or were not readily obtainable.
But the tools exist today and they are readily obtainable.
Never before in history has one person with an idea been more empowered to take that idea, bring it into being, and push it out to the world. The tools have destroyed the barriers that used to make this next to impossible.
Now a 20-something from Austin, Texas can create a million dollar yoga products company in under 12 months.
Now an IT guy working 9 to 5 can launch a magazine featuring some of the world’s top Billionaires.
Now a high school dropout who started out washing dishes can publish films to millions of people every day.
There is much, much more to say about the Traditional Process vs. the Modern Process- we’re really only scratching the surface. And don’t get me wrong- I’m not saying the Modern Process is always easy or that it always leads to success.
What I’m saying is that it is attainable.
It is reachable.
It is real.
It is the reason you are reading these words right now.
And so I encourage you- if you want to do something, start something, make something, be something, never before in the history of the world has it been more possible to go and make it happen. Don’t get bogged down in the Traditional Process like I did when I was working at the film production company. It doesn’t have to be that complex or costly or perfect.
Use the Modern Process. The resources are within your reach.
Short on cash? Kickstart it.
No access to a high-end camera? Use your phone.
Can’t get your product into Target? Try Etsy. Try eBay. Try Amazon.
Don’t have a CNC machine? Borrow a 3d printer.
Sundance doesn’t want your film? Vimeo does. Youtube does. Facebook does.
If you have an idea you can bring it to life and you can share it with the world.
No more excuses.
So get out there and get going!
Think. Make. Share.