In this three part series we explore the insights and themes shared by Mike Mcgee and Sir William Sargent, founders of Framestore, in their presentation at August 2014's Startup Grind London (opens in new tab).
One of the main advantages that startups and (to some extent) SMEs have over corporations is the ability for rapid change. Without the rigid structure of process that comes with managing a large number of people, smaller organisations can implement new strategies without going "all in". One way that startups leverage that advantage is through the use of new technology, and in their talk Mike McGee and Sir William Sargent explained the advantages, and methods, that keep Framestore on the cutting edge.
Benefits of early adoption
Mike summed up why Framestore's philosophy of constantly pushing to use and incorporate new tech when he said: "Technology is moving at such a rate and budgets seem to be squeezed more and more." Although speaking specifically about the visual effects industry, that statement can be applied to any industry. As technology automates, streamlines, and frees up time to spend on more meaningful tasks, clients and consumers ask for more, for less.
Adopting new technologies quickly is risky, especially when they're unproven. Sir William lamented that sometimes they "chose the technology that didn't become the industry standard, even though it was better than the industry standard". Choosing the seemingly better technology too quickly was a mistake because they didn't wait to see where the technology was going. Despite this, Mike and Sir William found that, in the majority of cases, utilising new tech allowed their company to fill niche roles and create shots that no other visual effects house could do.
By constantly looking for new technologies and asking "how can we use this?" your business stays knowledgeable about current trends, limitations, and how your sector is progressing. Through actively scoping out technological advances your business stays one step ahead, forecasting market disruptions, possible new markets, and helps define the enterprise's trajectory.
Cutting edge of hiring
Another strategy Mike and Sir William attribute to their success is hiring "as early as possible." Naturally, talented staff are always in high demand, and Mike and Sir William developed an innovative and mutually beneficial method of securing highly trained staff before their competitors.
In order to get the cream of the crop before anyone else, Framestore set up a "Framestore university" in colleges. The scheme gives students the opportunity to work on real projects, earn some money, and develop their skills.
The benefits for Mike and Sir William are even greater; the scheme allows them to see what skills are being taught at the universities, to develop the skills in potential staff that Framestore need, and start a relationship with them before anyone else.
Mike and Sir William also find another advantage in hiring early, Sir William revealed: "One of the ways to stay nimble is to depend on your colleagues, particularly the younger, more junior colleagues." Due to the rate at which tech advances it can be near impossible to keep track of it all, which is why Framestore create a culture in which staff feel able to share ideas and make suggestions: "By giving people permission... they show up with surprises."(opens in new tab)
Cut the edge yourself
Of course if you really want to be on the bleeding edge you can't be chasing others around to get your hands on their tech. "What's important for us is to be part of a technology eco-system that we're aware of and feeds into us, and we can then pick and choose tech that's relevant to the job," Sir William explained.
For the recent film Gravity, which won them an Oscar, Framestore was tasked with producing shots that used to be "impossible". However once the technology was available Framestore built the necessary tools from a car manufacturing robot, a high speed camera, and a dedicated programmer. Even the lightbox that was created to simulate the extremity of unfiltered light in space won a place in Time's "25 Best Inventions of the Year 2013".
By creating tools and utilising new technology your enterprise can offer clients and customers a unique experience or product. Similarly through partnerships with learning institutions you can shape and mold the kind of staff required, and by building a company culture of innovation and imagination keeps your enterprise agile.
In part two (opens in new tab) of the series we solve the "Expansion vs. Manageability" conundrum, and in part three (opens in new tab) demonstrate why networking is essential, even in your own business.