I’ve consistently been surprised by the many similarities between investing in startups and making TV shows. I transitioned from investing in and building startups to running a long-form content house last summer. Over the past year, I have built a creative team, led the scripting of 6 web-series, produced 4 shows and built a pipeline of 15+ ideas that we’re actively pitching to platforms.
The move has definitely been challenging: making a show is hard work. You’re managing sets of 60–80 freelancers with very different skill-sets. It often takes at least a year to write, shoot, edit and release a series. It’s also more fun and stimulating than I could have imagined.
Some of the similarities I’ve found striking are:
The pain and pleasure of being in a hits business
Just as in early-stage investing, despite your carefully thought out hypotheses, frameworks and screens, you can’t predict what’s going to work. You bring a strong idea of what you want to make and why to the table: but in the end, your success or failure is determined by what your consumer wants.
You take a portfolio approach: you know that you’ll end up having some hits, and some flops, and do your best to ensure that your hits are large enough to more than make up for the failures.
Diversification matters: you start by taking small, inexpensive bets on ideas and faces, and testing shorter form content on free platforms.
You invest in building your brand, so that you can develop as large of a funnel as possible. In both cases, you’re often looking for a needle in a haystack: we’ve been through over 150 ideas to build our current pipeline.
And you learn to be intentional about how much energy and time you dedicate across your portfolio, and tend to the higher potential teams more carefully: they will decide whether you break out or not.
But when you do have a hit on your hands, the synergies it brings are absolutely beautiful. You’re caught in an upward spiral, where everyone wants what you have. It’s so much easier to place the next product or season, and make it even better.
A heady mix of art and science
Great investors and producers are always switching from using their left brain to their right brain and back: you need to be equally creative and pragmatic. Logic doesn’t always win: you’re taking leaps of faith, and visualising what’s never existed before when you initially decide to back a founding team or writer. I love working with a blank sheet of paper: brainstorming characters and settings for our shows brings me joy.
You’re doing your homework, but you’re also often operating on gut and instinct. You’re balancing making the best show possible- developing a great script, finding actors who can bring your story to life, a director with a strong vision- both highly subjective and taste-driven- with cost and time constraints- in the same way you’re helping young companies build their initial core teams and run experiments, with scarce resources.
In both cases, you run as structured and sensible a process as you can, while allowing room for creativity and unexpected fires, in order to be able to package the elements together, sell the end product, and make the show/product on time and on budget.
A long term game: relationships and reputations
Supporting startups and making shows are long-term games. They’re heavily relationship based. A lot of people have resources and networks: why should the best creators and entrepreneurs choose you?
The quality of your networks and reputation will determine how much people trust you and want to work with you. They’re counting on your support and guidance to bring their vision to their life. It’s not enough to provide the capital or place the show with a platform or brand.
You invest for the long term: you start building relationships before they’re ready to pitch to you, and meet as many creators as you can. Your best relationships will arise from taking risks: when you take a chance on people, and give them a platform no one else has.
Often your biggest value-add will come from who you can introduce to the team- whether that’s a rockstar VP, co-founder or fabulous director. What your creators say on the ground about you matters most. They will remember how you made them feel, and not just what you did.
Adding value without stepping on toes: a careful dance
As a producer, you’re shaping the product alongside a range of creative teams: writers, directors, actors and editors, that have their own vision. Your role in is to bring a strong creative and practical perspective to the group: but to also allow the final product to be shaped as collaboratively as possible.
I think having high emotional intelligence is key to both being early-stage investing and being a showrunner. You need to have serious respect and empathy for your teams, to not only help them work together and support them as needed- you’re often a counselor, agony agent, therapist, given the high-stress environment- but also to leave them alone, when they need the space.
And this is important: as much as you’re there to provide feedback and motivation, you have to know when to back off and allow them to create. Knowing when to get out of the way, instead of becoming a roadblock, is a delicate skill.
Open-minded but opinionated: stories evolve
Storytelling matters in both early-stage investing and making long-form content. What idea are you supporting that will capture people’s hearts and minds? Why would they want to spend time on your product- given all the choices they have? How can you bring the most authentic and relatable voices to the table?
On the other hand, you bring a strong hypothesis. You’re here because you want to create. You have some ideas about what you want to build and why. You have to feel strongly about what you’re backing, given what a long term, uncertain and relationship-based ride this is. But it’s your audience that will make or break you.
Just as you find while building any consumer tech product: your audience often can’t articulate what they’re looking for, or like or need, until it’s in their hands. You test cheaper versions of your product, before you roll it out. You keep in touch with your audiences, and stop yourself from developing such a high-level view or such strong conviction that you forget to ask them what you want. You listen to the feedback, engage with the comments, ask them what they want to see, and keep tailoring for them. Their tastes continue to evolve: particularly in crowded markets, as they grow more choosy.
Humbling and inspiring: there’s always hope
My favourite part of both businesses are the people you meet along the way. I love how resilient the entrepreneurs and creators I’ve met are. I’ve learned that when the journey is long, persistence and consistency matters as much as talent.
I have so much respect for our creators: I see the same passion and vision in the entrepreneurs we backed at my previous firm. I’m inspired every day by being around people who love what they do.
I hope you find that too! Do leave your comments below- I’d love to hear what you think.