Boutique Studio Model


There was a startup circa 1999 in New York City that ultimately failed, not because of the dot-com bubble bursting a year later but because of getting localization wrong.

Based in NYC because that’s where the money and enough talent resided, their target customers were the general populations of Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese speaking Central and South America.

The irony is that even with a founder and CEO from one of their target countries and many, many immigrants from each and every one of the intended nations, they still fumbled on localization there.

By the time this lesson was learned, however, it was too late to adjust despite already having an IPO and secondary offering of public stock as well.

If a company of well over 300 employees with in-house talent– in this case for translation and localization– still got it wrong, what hope might an upstart company have?

What about the entrepreneur that begins solo?

There is an urban myth in the US of the self-made man, that it can “happen” to anyone if only they try hard enough or are resourceful enough or maybe lucky enough. Stories of particular characters arriving with “barely two nickles to rub together” or a “newspaper and loaf of bread” as their only possessions upon arrival float through a romanticized history of the nation.

While a single individual can create a company, it arguably takes more than one person to be a proper company.

Observed repeatedly within the tech startup communities of multiple cities along the west coast of North America– a person with an idea starts something new.

For many, their “startup” is an app for mobile devices. For some, it’s a web app that munges your data in a particular way. Each of these perhaps requires only one person.

It may be a viable business as a sole proprietorship but not necessarily a company.

Without quibbling over what may be legally permissible for incorporating, consider a proper company to be an entity that requires multiple people to operate, much like the crew of a ship. (This analogy is after all the apparent origins of corporations: limiting liability by diversifying across individual seafaring voyages.)

When there is only one person, certain problems emerge.

From experience, one person wearing too many hats becomes counter-productive after three distinct roles. There’s also a cost– a penalty of time/duration, efficiency and precision– of changing from one role to another.

For small scale operations of a sole proprietorship, that may be acceptable.

For a full service company, however, one human doesn’t scale well enough.

Consider the various roles, tasks and duties required for most software based businesses to launch, in no particular order:

The list for things to do prior to launch goes on for an early stage company, let alone after launch: selling, building community, support, damage control, more fundraising, etc.

It makes for questioning one’s sanity to consider starting such a business at all!

Yet we do it anyway.

Forget all the cautionary rhetoric– with appologies for taking Buddha’s words out of context:

Begin. Then continue.

An entrepreneur is one who is compelled to start something, to make a difference, to do it differently, to affect change, etc. You know this.

The guidance here, then, is to know the rules before breaking them.

Understand what ordinarily requires more than one person, and adjust accordingly.

If you are just one person yet the idea is bigger than just you, there is a way.

As long as you believe in what you are doing– truly believe and not just conning yourself or others– people will follow you if you are effective at getting them to believe as you do. these traits indicate being an effective leader.

Without sharing in your belief and mission, it’s just bringing them along as audience or paying them as employees. That would fall under followership. For some, they might assist by way of being an advisor. Some may be more hands-on. Others can give you a break in terms of services they offer, giving you financial assistence, deferred payment or possibly a “friend discount” that effectively waves any fee for a time.

Being an effective leader means being able to communicate your message more clearly, more concisely than this essay can deliver the point. (Discussions about “begin with why” are elsewhere…)

An effective leader might mean your business manifests as a set of companies: one creating core product versus those servicing a particular channel or locale.

Let those who live in India, Pakistan, Croatia, France, Algeria issue the local version by re-skinning, re-branding (or co-branding) but also supporting their own communities in ways that you cannot as one person or one company from afar.

Even with staff of 30 or 300 may still want to take this approach.

This form of outsourcing or channel relationships requires that you share the revenue. (Keep it interesting– financially– for these partners.)

But it frees you from the burden of attempting and likely getting it wrong– things like the cautionary tale of critical errors with localization as described above.

Selling across a single nation, this model still works too.

A contemporary video game franchise essentially requires multiple studios for relasing a new title each year, let alone more frequently. Consider one of the largest today, Call of Duty, where a family of diverse companies release individual titles yet publish under the umbrella of Activision. The studio heads meet regularly among other means to ensure consistency of brand, aesthetic, story-line and to negotiate extending the story canon such as for settings in future or past.

Build upon the boutique studio model.

As the visionary, be the core. Delegate everything else.

Develop the product (or service playbook), and be true to that effort.

Let someone else build the support organization.

Let someone else handle community engagement.

Delegate each component to its own botique studio.

However, each must follow certain guidelines and remain faithful to your story canon. Partnership agreements can enforce these constraints, and starting with re-branding during a trial period is one way to free you from concern of tarnish if their execution is substandard. Otherwise, aim for success and be strict like a franchise.

Varous books dating back at least to the 1980’s explain the value of operating even the smallest of businessed as a franchise by the three step rule: 1) document as you begin anything new; 2) second time around, follow your own notes yet revise proactively; 3) third time through should be strictly by the book for final vetting.

Now you are ready to hand-off that playbook to an employee or partner locally or abroad and have an expectation of success.

There’s another benefit to this model: money generated in any one region mostly stays in that region. Some licensing revenue still flows back to you for the core offering, but the bulk stays. This gives them an added incentive to be your channel partner.

It also spreads good will to those communities, which can be part of your mission. Don’t just pay lip service to the mantra, “making the world a better place.” Live it.

Copyright © 2017 Daniel Joseph Pezely
May be licensed via Creative Commons Attribution.