Thinking of a Start-up as Making a Movie

IndieLoop is an online marketplace to help indie filmmakers find jobs and connect with one another.

Term Sheets. AB Tests. Series A. LTV. NDA. B2B...

Entrepreneurs and Venture Capitalists have a certain love of acronyms and austere terminology. For those of us who never went to business school, it can start to feel like you don’t know the secret handshake to get into the club.

So I’m going to do some decoding and reassure you that if you’re an artist thinking about doing a start-up, things will eventually get familiar… if not sticky (insider entrepreneur joke…).

Let’s talk about starting a company like we would talk about making a film. Or rather, marketing a film—because one of the first things V.C.’s (Venture Capitalists) ask is, “Who’s your customer?”

And that is a really really important question—not just for entrepreneurs, but for artists as well.

When I first came to NYU grad film, I wasn’t even an artist: I was an astronomer. And I got the following question quite a bit, “Who’s your audience?” My answer was usually, “Well, people...People are my audience.”

That's a bit obtuse.

After a little bit of self-exploration, I narrowed down my audience to the following subgroups: astronomers, the funeral home industry, and clown military industrial complex. Overly specific? Yes. Accurate? Maybe.

The same goes for start-ups.

That’s the first thing I learned in The Summer Launchpad: IndieLoop’s first audience is not filmmakers. It’s not even independent filmmakers...although, we do have our big dream (see tag line above!). Our first audience is much more specific. So we dug deeper:

If you’ve never heard of the Business Model Canvas and you’re building your first start-up, you’ll probably get familiar with it pretty fast. It’s like a crash course in film school, giving you the basics and teaching you how to market yourself and build your audience in order to understand what product you’re making. The following translates the initially daunting Business Model Canvas into film terminology, so we can think about how to build the best product:

Who’s your Customer Segment?
Film translation: Who’s buying a ticket to see your movie?

What are your Value Propositions?
Film translation: I will make you laugh and then I will make you cry, and then you will feel like you have spent your fifteen dollars wisely…

What are your Key Resources?
Film translation: What do you have going on that will make your movie great?

What are your Key Activities?
Film translation: I’m going to be writing, attaching talent, location scouting, and making an action film about killer robot kiddies, but Indie-style.

What is your Cost Structure?
Film translation: What is your budget? Are you paying for crew? Camera package? Locations? Spell it out!

What are your Channels?
Film translation: How is this movie going to be seen? How are you distributing it? Movie theaters? TV? Web? Your grandmother's retirement community movie-of-the-month?

What are your Customer Relationships?
Film translation: How are you going to build your audience and get them to see your movie? Social media? Direct ads? This has to be more than just people who know you and like your face.

Who are your Key Partners?
Film translation: Make friends with production companies and grant partners.

What are your Revenue Streams?
Film translation: Tell your investor how you’re going to get their money back…

Starting a business will give you that same daunting feeling you got the first time you picked up a camera and yelled, Action! (Or, in my case, Go for it!). And if you’re not a filmmaker or this jargon still seems overly specialized, don’t let the invisible wall keep you from decoding the rules.

Just like making a film, eventually you’re going to start to decipher the language, just like you when you finally realized what SWF stood for on SAG worksheets (translation: Start, Work, Finish) or what a Tier 1 production is or how to make a script breakdown or that equipment trucks can’t be legally parked on the streets of Manhattan overnight...

It’s terminology we learn, not that we’re born knowing. So if you’re an artist or a filmmaker and you decide to start a business, think about it a little bit like making a movie. A really big, long-running movie.

Good luck, and break a leg.

Meet some of NYU's top startups and founders, including Dagny, at the Summer Launchpad Venture Showcase. RSVP here!