4 startup principles you can learn from Deadpool

Warning! A fair amount of spoilers ahead for Fox’s Deadpool movie. In case you are planning to watch but do not mind little hints of the movie, read on.

The Catalyst team went to see Deadpool a few weeks ago for our Fun Friday agenda. See, I’m not exactly the biggest fan of superhero movies, but right after the funny opening credit appeared, I knew that this movie would be different. In the specific scene where Deadpool (a.k.a Wade Wilson) went on a killing spree to hunt for Francis (the bad guy who turned him into a villain), I noticed something very relatable to my work. In that scene, notice Wade’s first costume was an ugly grey sweatshirt. He chose the easiest possible costume, probably much cheaper and most importantly, it worked. This was Deadpool’s first MVP (minimum viable product). Well, it was, until it got blood all over it.

After learning that sweatshirt and blood don’t match, Wade just earned his first validated learning. He experimented more about the costume — choosing red fabric instead of grey, replacing it with ventilated fabric, until he finally got the ultimate Deadpool anti-hero costume.

And in that very moment, Wade Wilson has officially started the Build-Measure-Learn engine.

Source: Eric Santos

But this engine is not only limited to the movie’s plot itself. The production of the movie itself applies the same Build-Measure-Learn engine. This movie was given enough freedom to experiment by its studio, 20th Century Fox, right from the pre-production until the release.

Here’s a few lean startup principle that Deadpool applied to achieve their massive success!

Lesson 1: Making sure there is a market

It all started back to Comic-Con 2014 where a test footage was leaked online and surprised all fanboys in Comic-Con’s Panel H. The leaked test footage, be it a marketing stunt or not, was the first successful experiment with a very valuable validated learning; People actually wanted to see a Deadpool movie. The comic fanboys were their first validated market, which was enough to get the movie running from its development limbo.

Lesson 2: Turning a challenge into a value proposition

The development of the movie then led to the dilemma, whether to pick between two options — a) prioritizing a PG-13 rating by sanitizing content with a possibility of not getting the core of Deadpool’s character, or, b) to take a risk and make it as raw and comical as the character himself. They chose the latter, and making this as their Unique Value Proposition— the movie’s superpower (pun intended) possessed by itself and can never be duplicated. They took this risk acknowledging past R-rated Marvel adaptations like Blade or The Punisher that did not sell as expected. Here they have definitely redefined how R-rated superhero movies does not have to be dark, intense or bleak

Lesson 3: Take strategic and calculated risk

Timing is always of the essence. Most superhero movies are designed to be a summer release, but rather than going with the stream and release it on the crowded summer time, Fox decided to release it on February 14th, making it arguably the first big movie/blockbuster of 2016. Validated learning here is that sometimes taking smart and calculated risks are worth it.

Lesson 4: Never stop playing and experimenting

Deadpool’s marketing team has been really, I mean SERIOUSLY, aggressive on selling the film. From the infamous Playboy-esque spread, chick flick inspired poster, and the emoji ad billboard, the team never stopped playing on how to market the movie. By experimenting with more marketing gimmicks, successful or not, can only bring you more insights on who your potential customers (or users, or audiences). By understanding what your customers want is the best possible lesson for you to develop on your product, or in this case, a blockbuster movie.

Source: Reddit
Source: geektyrant

So, did it work?

With only a budget of $58 million (less than half of what is usually allocated for superhero movies, FYI), Deadpool was able to generate $609 million worldwide. That’s about 950% increase compared to the budget allocated.

What other successes did Deadpool achieve? Let me paint you a picture of what the success means.

  1. Biggest R-rated opening weekend — Deadpool has beaten Warner Bros. Inc.’s The Matrix Reloaded by $3 million.
  2. Biggest opening weekend for a first-time director — we’ll be hearing a lot more from the director, Tim Miller.
  3. Biggest Friday-Sunday opening weekend from a long weekend — outperformed Walt Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides by $21 million.
  4. Biggest R-rated comic book superhero movie ever — Topped all three R-rated comic book superhero movies including Watchmen and Blade.
  5. Biggest X-Men debut ever — the movie has beaten all X-Men franchise in their debut, including Wolverine and X-Men: First Class

Hell yeah, it did.

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Source: Forbes, data based only in North America gross

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