Amid the glitz and glamour of this Sunday's Academy Award winners, there were a few fresh faces from the start-up world—namely, William Joyce and Bradon Oldenburg, the founders of Moonbot Studios, a digital animation and development company based in Shreveport, Louisiana. Moonbot won its first Oscar for the visually stunning animated short film The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.
What sets the two founders apart from the big Hollywood studios they're seeking to disrupt? In the pair's joyous acceptance speech, Joyce described him and Oldenburg as "just, like, two swamp rats from Louisiana." But there's a business angle to it, as Eric Markowitz wrote in January: "At 35 employees, Moonbot operates at just a fraction of the budget and manpower of production studios such as Warner Brothers or Pixar, which also produced shorts that landed on the Academy's shortlist."
When we asked Oldenberg how he felt being a David vs. so many super-sized Goliaths, what he said illuminates how a start-up can succeed as an underdog:
We want to be able to take what's great about the boutique-size businesses, and apply it to great ideas, like publishing programs or feature films. Maybe we're naive enough to think we can pull it off, and that's half of the reason we're doing it. We've seen how it doesn't work the other way. We're trying a new way to tell our stories in new venues and be flexible enough to change the mediums for them at the change of the wind.
In other words, stay nimble if you're scrappy. Put lots of cool ideas into motion, and if they don't work, fail fast at them. You've heard that before—at least in technology companies. We learned that when an artistic studio adopts a start-up mindset, though, interesting things—things that bust-up bureaucracy—happen. As Moonbot Joyce told us:
What I see at bigger companies a lot of times is that you're given an assignment and you're barely given any direction. You work 16 weeks on something and 12 people are working on it with you and you present it to whoever is in charge and you get 30 seconds of feedback. Maybe you've been on the wrong track for 16 weeks or however long, and you start over. It's all about getting a little bit of feedback from the guy in charge every couple of months. When our guys have questions they don't have to go through layers of management. They come directly to us, and bingo, we're right there. That's the kind of shop we want to have.
The end product?
We paint, we write, we sculpt, we edit, we score. Fifty percent of the company has their finger on every aspect of everything they make. Everybody feels totally part of it, and they're on board with it, and so they're proud of it.
And now they have an Oscar to go with the feeling. That's also something to be proud of.
Read the complete interview with Moonbot Studios, and watch the winning short below.