Pixar's Slow Start

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One of the more interesting moments, from an entrepreneurial perspective, of last night's Golden Globe awards was the acceptance speech of John Lasseter. Lasseter is the hot shot producer at Pixar who created the Toy Story series and, this year, Cars, which won the best animated feature award last night. (As Lasseter noted in his speech, this was the first such new category added by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association in many years.)

Cars, which was the second highest grossing movie of 2006, was also the seventh hit in a row from the innovative animation studio that most people associate with Steve Jobs. But as Inc. reported in its June issue, the impression that most people have about Pixar—that it is a remarkable overnight, tech-driven success story—is all wrong. In fact, Jobs' co-founders, two obscure computer graphics researchers named Edwin Catmull and Alvy Ray Smith, struggled for years to figure out what business they should be in, and what their revenue model ought to be.

Just 15 years ago, the company barely survived thanks to TV commercial work totaling $2 million in sales, a paltry sum when you consider that Cars produced well over $200 million in domestic ticket sales. Indeed, the story of Pixar's early years provides a nice reminder of the fact that even long-suffering companies can, in the end, work out a valuable business proposition.

Last updated: Jan 16, 2007




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