I'm very excited by Miguel Hernandez's interview here -- it covers how he took a huge risk to kickstart his animation business, and how's kept his quality extremely high through systematization. Miguel is running a pretty exciting GGW deal: "Document & Systematize Your Whole Business/Workflow"
"On Conquering the World (the whole world)" by Miguel Hernandez, as told to Sebastian Marshall
I think a little is the makeup of who I am and how I grew up. My parents are awesome and I love them a lot but unfortunately they separated many years ago -- one of the reasons is because they're so different, and I picked stuff from both of them. My mother is a creative person, a painter her whole life, and a very spiritual person. My dad is a brilliant electrical engineer with an amazing analytical mind. They're like oil and water, they don't mix together (and that's why they're not together any more). But I got stuff from both of them. I picked up a lot of the creativity from my mother, and a lot of the square-headedness from my father.
It's allowed me to put it together to build a business that mixes both -- the creativity, and the ability to sit down and be very organized. It's a good combination for this type of business. We have to be very creative to tell compelling stories, and when I'm running the business, I need to be very detail-oriented.
I'm a risk taker, and that's just me. I inherited a creative and analytic mind from my parents, but the risk taking is just me.
What I realized early in life is the the only way you can enjoy stuff is when you're at the edge of yourself. Taking a risk allows you to feel that you're more alive.
I think when you're in a situation when you have almost nothing to lose because you've lost almost everything, you either just sink into misery or you do crazy stuff to get out -- and in my case, it panned out.
I spent a year and a half developing a web app that was a disaster. I ran out of money and never even launched it, a complete failure.
So I knew I didn't have another year and a half.
I knew, I would have to be very strategic about how I wanted to spend my time to validate my next potential business. So, I took a risk -- I knew I could do videos, so I decided to a video for free for a company to prove my work.
But I didn't just choose any company! I was strategic here. I picked a company had a lot of leverage and exposure in Silicon Valley that, at that time, I thought they could use a demo video and they didn't have one.
So I spent about two weeks producing an entire animation by myself without telling this company. They didn't know I was doing this. After two weeks, I sent this to their support email. I didn't even know how to get in contact with them, so I typed into their chat box, "Hey, I really love what you guys and wanted to contribute, and thought you could use a demo video."
I didn't even ask for anything. I said said, here's a video for free for you.
My hope was that they'd like it and use it as their official video, which would mean it would get a lot of exposure. At that time, it was an up and coming startup in Silicon Valley founded by two very popular founders, one of them being Alexis Ohanian, the founder of Reddit.
And I thought, if this turns out well, it may gave me a lot of exposure.
That's exactly what happened.
I took a risk in doing all that free work, but it paid out in such a large way that I was able to build a whole business. Not only did they like it, they promoted it to every single person knew in Silicon Valley!
Because they were so connected, I got a big demand for my videos, enough to build a whole business off of.
I see life as a very limited opportunity to enjoy this world. You're given this opportunity just once -- your life. And it's got a deadline.
Most people aren't aware of the deadline; they act like they'll just live forever. But the truth is, every moment you live is one moment less you've got for the rest of your life. My biggest fear is looking back and realizing I didn't try hard enough to make my life the best possible.
I know I've got a big deadline -- the day I die. And every day I don't do everything I can to have fun, to take risks, to enjoy, to try new things… that's a day I basically wasted.
Most people don't have that mentality, so they aren't motivated. What motivates most people are deadlines. When you know you've got a deadline coming up, you do everything you can to make things work.
But in my life, the deadline is so far away that most people don't take it seriously, and don't worry too much about it. But in my case, I always have that in mind. It gives me an urgency to get stuff done.
If you want to get more stuff done than the average person, you're going to need to take more risks than the average person. I know when I'm taking risks that I'm doing the right thing.
I've never regretted taking this type of risk. The hard part is just yourself to do it.
When I wanted to start getting into the film and movie industry, I was already in my late 20's and I wasn't going to back to school -- it would have been too expensive.
So I started asking how to get the maximum possible exposure to the film business without spending tens of thousands of dollars to go back to school.
I asked, what's the fastest way possible to learn about the film industry without costing lots of money?
Most people would quit their job, spend a year and $45,000 to learn the basics of filmmaking, and I couldn't do that. I had to be more strategic.
I used logic. I thought, "I'm sure, in my network, there's somebody that knows somebody high up in the film industry. It's just numbers. We're always separated by only a couple degrees of separation from someone in almost any industry.
Instead of going to school, I started reaching out and looking for a connection with someone high up in the film industry.
I asked everyone I knew if they knew anyone in the film industry. After two days, one guy got back to me and said "I know someone who is a set designer." I said, "Would it be possible for me to go onto a Hollywood set?"
I had very little experience, but my friend made a call for me. The set designer called me the next day, and said "Patrick gave me a call and said you wanted to learn more about film. You can come by the set, just remember this is a fast moving industry with a lot of people very busy, so make sure you don't distract anybody."
I went, and I watched, and I learned. I went from no experience in filmmaking to get very precise details on how Hollywood movies are made from a week and a half of when I decided I wanted to learn about the film industry.
That film was "White Chicks" from the Wayan brothers. I'd never been in touch with the film industry before, and now I was watching, talking to people on the breaks, and learning how film really works.
I wanted to be in a situation where I could learn a lot, and didn't have to pay a lot to learn it. Taking those strategic risks lets you grow faster.
That's a good way to start a business -- taking a risk. But if you want to grow it, I recommend from Day One that you systematize absolutely every single thing that happens in your business. That means sit down and document every possible process. It's time consuming, but it allows you to get consistency and saves you time every time you bring someone onboard. Then they just have to go back to the Operations Manual and they can know about every single process that needs to be known.
Instead of coming to you with questions, they go to the Operations Manual.
It's a written document that's there. You don't have to memorize it. If you have a question, you just need to go and look for it.
I document everything. How a demo video should be done.
I looked at a bunch of good demo videos, and broke down what the common themes are that make the good ones good. I made a breakdown of how to do it.
The script shouldn't be longer than 90 seconds. The beginning should always start with the problem to be solved. Then you introduce the solution briefly, explain how it all works, and end with a call to action.
Every single section has a time limit on it, too. The problem is anywhere 15-20 seconds, the introduction is 5-10 seconds, the call to action is 10-15 seconds...
When you bring a new writer into the company to write a script, they have a base to start from. And now we have consistency, because we're all working from the same basic model to create from. That helps keep the consistency and quality up.
It's important to get started on this without getting stuck on the details. You don't need to be fancy when systematizing. I've tested a lot of different software. I've tested all the productivity tools out there.
But the problem is, if you have a very specific workflow, whether it be cookies, cupcakes, bicycles, whatever… if you detail it in a very specific way, most productivity tools don't work just for your workflow. So if you're using Basecamp or any generic tool, it may work for any part of your workflow, but if it doesn't work for any single part of your workflow, then it's entirely not good for you.
I need my systems to have a ton of flexibility and to be easy to use. So I keep coming back to Excel spreadsheets.
Everyone who sees it says, "Man, this is great. It's so simple and it works perfectly."
It does. Every production stage we have has a single cell for it. In those cells, a "1" means we need to do something, a "2" means a client needs to do something, and a "3" means the stage is completed. It's simple, powerful, and everyone who joins the company can learn to use the process very quickly.
Instead of learning a tool with tons of features and is very complicated, I found this way works. In the beginning, you have to be very organized.
I use Google Spreadsheets, which is free. I put my entire workflow into the cells at the top. If you need to take advantage of the flexibility, you'll never want to use something more complex.
Excel sheets probably have their limitations for very big businesses, but you can run the first few years of a company's workflow on a spreadsheet. If you're organized, you can rely on spreadsheets while growing to be quite big before getting more fancy. It works great for me and I'm very happy.
Not everyone naturally thinks this way, but there's a way for everyone. I've been thinking of making a course for this, because you can realize that everything you do is a system of steps.
Break down your entire workflow into steps, and then use color-coded cells and commenting. It's actually amazing what you can do with it.
A lot of people don't realize, too, Google Drive has revision history. If someone screws it up, you can see who screwed it up and go back and fix it. But so far, nobody's broken it.
I do back up the sheet on a regular basis in case Google Docs disappears. Google is a big company, but you need to back up any cloud based system you're using -- sometimes they break down, or maybe you don't have the internet. If your entire business is online, you must get in the habit of downloading and saving a backup of everything you have online. Some day it will go down, so be ready for it.
A good exercise to get started -- once a day, when you're running your business, think of a what to make your business more automatic. Think of a way to represent your business by breaking it down into a series of steps, ask, "What are the steps that it takes us from a sales call to getting the product delivered?"
As an example, imagine you're building websites. You're a web design company. Their steps would be, say: design, mockups, first meeting, revisions, deployment, debugging…
Every single product has a series of steps. Ask on a regular basis, "How can I break this down?" Then add that to a system like an Excel sheet, and it lets you see your overall workflow and business in one shot.
Instead of carrying it all on your mind, break down every step of the business into smaller chunks, into stages. You can start doing this right now. You don't have to do it all in one day, but if every day you think a little bit, "How can I make this automatic? How can I break this into stages I can replicate and explain?" then you've started.
The step after that is to look at every stage and ask, "How can I ensure we do the best job possible at this stage?"
Study what makes the best at each stage and get it documented.
If you write down, "At the design stage, we have to meet these 3 standards…" and let everyone in the company know they need to meet these standards, then you'll have tremendous consistency in your business.
If you want to improve your business or freelancing, check out Miguel's deal at GiveGetWin: "Document & Systematize Your Whole Business/Workflow" -- there's seven spots available at $19.95 -- a steal for this kind of quality guidance and workout.