It’s been 1 year since I’ve read Peter Thiel’s “Zero to One”. It’s a a great read for anyone involved with entrepreneurial pursuits. The best insight from the book is arguably the “7 Questions Every Startup Should Answer”. If a company can’t answer 6 of these 7 questions, they’re likely to fail. The book is designed for startups, but there’s a lot of amazing insights here if you apply it to creative pursuits.
- 1. The Engineering Question: Can you create breakthrough technology instead of incremental improvements? 20% improvement is not enough. As a designer, I don’t create technology from scratch, but I can always push the envelope in the work I produce. Instead of steering my design work to be 20% than the next guy, I try to think, “How can it be 25 times better”? Sometimes that involves creating a workflow or plugin that allows you to complete my work exponentially faster. In other words, how can you add more value in a breakthrough way?
- 2. The Timing Question: Is now the right time to start your particular business? There has honestly never been a better time to be a professional creative. Anyone with a functioning laptop can crowd-fund an album, use off-the-shelf software to create the music, and utilize Facebook to book shows and promote the album (please don't invite me to your show). Just a few years ago, this would have been impossible. Any sort of niche artwork or project you create, you can sell online. A few months ago, I made the best purchase of my life and dropped $200 on a custom action figure of myself. The company I bought it from is profitable and growing, proving my point that any obscure product or service you can dream up, you can probably sell. Technology and capitalism have turned creatives into rock stars.
- 3. The Monopoly Question: Are you starting with a big share of a small market? This one is especially important. In an attempt to attract clients, creatives cast a wide net (think of someone who says they specialize in 10 different creative skills) and end up with a small share of a huge market. If you look at something like web design, it’s a huge market. What about the web design market for fashion brands? Smaller. The web design market for boutique fashion brands with high end clientele in Manhattan? Way better. If you can specialize in a very scarce and niche service, businesses will always be willing to pay a premium for your services.
- 4. The People Question: do you have the right team? This one is obvious but often overlooked: always connect with creatives that are better than you. I make it a point to work with people that push my skills to the limit. You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.
- 5. The Distribution Question: Do you have a way to not just create but deliver your product? I try to implement this one by giving my clients a download link with all final project files and assets neatly organized. This could also involve sending the client a post-project card or gift to show your appreciation for their business. Just don’t send the final thing and move on.
- 6. The Durability Question: Will your market position be defensible 10 and 20 years in the future? As more people around the world come online, there will only be a higher demand for creative work. Think of it as "more screens = more content.” As a motion graphics designer, I know that my industry will always be around in some capacity, even if it evolves into interactive animation and VR /AR. Whether you're in photography or painting, you should think very hard about the future of your specfic industry.
- 7. The Secret Question: Have you identified a unique opportunity that others don’t see? This blog is actually an experiment in answering this question. There’s a ton of resources online for learning technical skills but I’m hoping to create something unique, by repackaging business practices for creatives and artists. Try to be different in ways that are important to your clients and audience.