WFIO (We’re F*****, It’s Over) : Same Mission, Different Direction.
In the fall of 2012, I volunteered as a production assistant on the set of a highly emotional documentary about racial identity for the Oprah Winfrey Network. After seeing the completed film and being disappointed by the delivery, I thought to myself, “why don’t I make the film that I want to see?”
I was like a sponge while I was working on set, speaking to people from every department and absorbing all of the information they shared with me. I had a relatively green understanding of what it took to put an independent documentary together but it wasn’t long before I convinced the other production assistants to join me.
If I knew how hard it would be, I don’t know if I would have ever started.
It was an ambitious undertaking but I decided to create a feature length film for my directorial debut. We immediately began cold emailing professors who had done research on racial identity. I created craigslist ads inviting people to share their experiences and Facebook messaged random people who I thought would make a great interview. We had no website, no experience, and no big names backing our film. All we had was passion and grit! We were able to interview around 20–30 people during our first month of production in December 2012. I took a trip to Louisiana for Christmas and gathered a few friends to film another 5–10 people.
Passion projects do not pay the bills.
Upon returning to Los Angeles, I found everyone was busy with their paying jobs, school, and other responsibilities. We went from filming three days out of the week to meeting up once every two months. It became clear to me that I needed to create a budget and raise money to compensate my team. I applied for grant after grant with no luck. Looking back I realize that the lack of media attention and online presence definitely hindered our likelihood of success. I just thought if we build it, they will come and that isn’t necessarily the case. I prioritized creating the work over raising money or putting in place the appropriate systems to build a business. I should have spent more time at networking events and developing relationships, instead of sending cold emails with links to our reel once a month.
I had to bring in income as well. I ended up taking a marketing job at a technology company, which introduced me to the world of start-ups. It was there that I learned about the lean startup methodology and the concept of pivoting an idea from what you originally envisioned to one that would make more sense. I began brainstorming ways to apply technology to my vision of helping people from different backgrounds understand and empathize with one another.
My goal was never to make a feature length documentary. The mission has always been to create a platform for people to unpack all of their race-related baggage. Through my research, I came to the conclusion that working with children would be the best place to start. We have the power to teach them to empathize and understand each other before all of the biases of the world are thrown upon them. All of this led to me creating Culture Chest.
Sometimes you’re passionate about an idea but the business plan is not sustainable or you have a great business model but you’re not passionate about the topic.
I found something that accomplishes both through Culture Chest. I think this is what I was meant to do and I am excited about fulfilling my mission. I also plan on using my existing footage and continuing to film to give others a platform to express their feelings. After two years of struggling to piece my documentary together, I’ve learned the importance of creating a financial plan and raising money.
Bootstrapping is a great idea until it’s not.
I love doing the work; I love creating. I enjoy introducing new products, acting as creative director to bring a vision to life, and managing the logistics of the business. I’ve always hated the process of reaching out to people and asking for money. For some reason I naively believed that I should have a million dollar business before reaching out to investors. Now I know that in order to grow a business, I cannot do it all by myself. I need the bandwidth to recruit great talent and utilize ad spend and other resources to connect with my customers. This time around I am being much more pragmatic about how I manage my business and I am going to take the time to fund-raise properly. Capital is a necessary part of building a business and understanding that I can’t do it all on my own does not make me a bad business leader.