In this series of articles, I speak to entrepreneurs from different fields in an effort to uncover the secrets to their successes and pinpoint commonalities among them.
Steven Cantor started Stick Figure right out of USC Film School. And before that, in fact before enrolling in his post-graduate study at USC, he undertook the daunting task of producing, directing and editing his own first film, which just happened to garner him an Oscar nomination while he was in his first year there. Since then, he has been steadily cranking out award-winning films and TV series and developing a reputation as a go-to guy, particularly in the ever-growing worlds of non-fiction and documentary. Last year sold his Stick Figure banner to Ora, a network owned by billionaire Carlos Slim.
T.O. Steven, what made you decide to start your own company?
S.C. I'm not sure I ever consciously thought that I wanted to be an entrepreneur or company-owner type of guy. In my case, it was more that I felt I would be creatively able to develop and produce and direct films and I wanted to have as much control over that process as possible, so I created a production company as a vehicle to make that happen.
T.O. What were some of the initial challenges?
S.C. I think most people who boot-strap their own companies as I did, would tell you that the early years are fraught with financial peril. It's difficult enough to bring in any business when you're young and relatively inexperienced and when you do, it feels vital that you use most or all of it to grow the business. In my case, I lived a pretty spartan existence for a number of years so I could put all the resources I could into paying my staff and making a few necessary hires.
T.O. Did you ever consider giving up or perhaps taking a job during lean years or difficult times?
S.C. No. From the start, Stick Figure has been my baby and the people who have worked there have been like family. I always felt a keen sense of responsibility in that regard and it has never occurred to me to do anything else except work as hard as possible to keep it healthy and growing and producing good films and series. To this day, I hear from employees that working at Stick Figure feels like a being part of a big family and even though that sounds like a cliche, it still makes me happy that the team feels that way.
T.O. What qualities do you think are most important for building a business like yours?
S.C. In my case, probably the most important thing is a short memory for disappointment. I can't tell you how many productions, including many that I thought were going to be huge successes, fell apart at the last minute for some reason unrelated to the creative process. I know that's also a bit of a truism - one that I have heard said about successful entrepreneurs, athletes, actors, but it could not be truer. If you are the type of person who dwells on disappointment and can't quickly shake it off and move on to the next idea, then I suggest you go the employment route.
T.O. I would file that under "Persistence."
S.C. Yeah, that's a good word for it. Staying power is the name of the game. Another important quality is adaptability. In most cases, what you start out to do will undergo some significant change along the way and either you adapt or you die with the dinosaurs.
In my case, the entertainment industry is undergoing a sea-change due to the streaming model, with audiences ceasing to watch commercials and going to movie theaters less frequently. The main reason why I decided to join forces with Ora last year was not to cash in, but rather to make sure we were part of this digital revolution that is clearly upon us. I think it's going to be harder for independent production companies to find their way in this new world order. It's increasingly about owning IP and figuring out distribution on your own, as we are able to do with Ora now, or else figuring out ancillary ways of monetizing content.
T.O. That's good advice. Any last words of wisdom?
S.C. Work hard. That's the last one. I have not taken enough vacations in my life, but ultimately I think it's worth it. I do love my company.
You can learn more about Steven Cantor and his company Stick Figure Productions on their website: www.StickFigureProductions.com