“Stop being a big shot” was the best advice I received from a young and successful content creator back in 2006. It came from one of my friends who was one of those hustlers who succeeded early and knew what the hell he was talking about.
So, my first real digital content studio began like most; Two friends sick of endless gig work, branch off on their own and work very hard to change the world. Our plan: to revolutionize digital content creation and distribution. We created a semi-intriguing digital thingy and a bunch of content to use as examples. This content/tech mash-up allowed audiences to create and interact with online content in whole new ways.
“What we really need to do now is build a website”…
We went through the usual studio start up struggles, we got a few thousand bucks together from friends and family, we hustled, raised a little angel investment, and eventually got a sizable chunk of funding. We were off, sky’s the limit. So, we say to ourselves “what we really need to do now is build a website. A really cool website”. And this is the point when we set out to make the mother of all websites. It would be edgy, but clean. It would say just enough to peak people’s interest. So, we hired a really talented British design firm (Who were awesome by the way. None of what I’m about to tell you is their fault). Simultaneously, we had a bitchin’ logo made and then proceeded to spend an obscene amount of our start-up money and a boatload of time getting the site built. Much blood and treasure later, we were ready to hit the pavement. With a website like this, who could fail?
With new shiny site in hand, my partner and I proceeded to go out into the world to sell our wears. We were convinced we were about to blow people’s minds. There we were, young creators, with their brain-melting content, tech, storytelling game-changing thing dressed in that creator costume everyone with a sizzle reel and hot script seemed to be so fond of in those days…”They wear $300 sneakers with a blazer? Holy shit, they must be breaking all the rules.” Short Pause… wait for it, wait for it… THUD. People were, let’s say, whelmed. For a host of reasons, it just didn’t catch on. We got a lot of, “This is really cool, but…”
What we really need to do is appear bigger… like really big.
Like tons of young, eager creators we said, “Why let an early, lukewarm response stop us? All we need to do is lick our wounds, adjust, and we’ll be back in the game.” And to our credit, we were right to do so, but it was the way we decided to adjust that spelled disaster. Never the less, that’s when one of us said to the other, “I think they think we’re just a couple of dudes with some digital content and a piece of tech. What we really need to do is appear bigger… like really big. What we’ll do is have different divisions; a content division which we’ll split up into unscripted and scripted but we’ll go niche, right?” “Yeah, really niche…food and thrillers.” “And we’ll have our technology division too, right” “Right… and we’ll give all these divisions separate names with separate websites so our audience doesn’t get confused” “Fucking Awesome, Dude”. Again, what could possibly go wrong with this ill-advised entrepreneurial adventure… and to our naive shock, once again, crickets.
This was the moment my friend’s advice came screaming back and perched itself back in my ear. This is when I learned not to try to appear like I was a big shot. Not to be a person who was ashamed of starting out and being new at something. This is the moment when I learned to lean in to who I was, to where I was, and to what I had…. in that moment. This is when I learned to be myself and that was way more interesting than the character I was playing. The one I thought everyone needed me to be in order to give me their trust and money.
What if we admit that we’re just starting out…
Since then, I see it all the time. In the privacy of people’s rooms, they are completely logical. They are calm and know exactly who they are. But the minute they put their stuff out there or face somebody across a conference table that has a modicum of juice, they all of a sudden try to get everyone to think they’re Apple, or Quentin Tarantino or the inventor of White Out (I can say this because that was me).
When did they think that pretending to have offices in Barcelona and Sydney (seriously, just saw this) was going to so dazzle successful, busy and smart people that the checks would come rolling in? I see it at film festivals, media conferences and in one-on-one meetings with producers. I talk to dozens of creators every week and great portion of them seem too afraid to admit they’re simply working towards something better for themselves but haven’t yet sold anything. Instead, I get the character they are playing, the version of the person they want me to think they are. But once we finally get to the truth, the real person has so much more power and freedom to create the work they want to be known for. They become infinitely more interesting and their work instantly becomes more sellable. Remember, it’s the business of YOU, not the single piece of content you’re selling.
“Here is my argument as to why my shit is worth paying for and if you buy it, here is the outcome I believe you’ll have”…
So, what if we just admit that we’re just starting out, or that we’ve created a ton of great work that has prepared us for the next step. What if we admit we have a lot of experience in one field (corporate content), and now we’re taking all that experience and we’re moving it into another (creating web series). What if we let people know we’re super excited, we have something unique to offer and this is going to be content that adds value to people’s lives. What if we simply say, “Here is my argument as to why my shit is worth paying for and if you buy it, here is the outcome I believe you’ll have.”
In the end, it’s a simple recipe. Humility is perceived as strength and bullshit and feigned confidence is uncovered with the same embarrassment and shame of someone who just got caught stealing a meaningless trinket from CVS.