18 Lessons Learned in 2008

It's time for our 2nd annual Year-End Lessons Learned post. 2008 was a great year for Common Craft.  While we published a number of videos that we're very proud of, 2008 was all about building a foundation for the future of our business.  Going into 2009, we're feeling confident that we have a solid foundation in place - and now is our time to put more videos into the world.

Here are a few things we learned: 

Overall Business:

Build Foundations. Think hard about long term opportunities and what could stand in your way.  Ask: What needs to be done now so that road blacks don't occur in the future?  For us, it was legal documents, our new studio and our Store.  These work together to allow our video licensing model to scale for years to come.

Care About Contracts.
If you strip everything else away, the skeleton of the business is supported by the promises you make to people.  Contracts and agreements should be well-written, specific to your business and reflect the exact promises you're making.

Always Test Business Models.  Companies who are dedicated to being small still need ways to grow.  We started three new business experiments in 2008: Our video store, Kindle Books and the Explainer Network. 2009 will be when we understand the extent to which these experiments work - and likely adjust and start new ones.

Constantly Build Brand.  At the end of the day, your brand is what matters. Your product can disappear and your brand will still have value. Make business decisions with your brand as a top-level priority. Ask: Does this match with the brand we're building?

Know What Business You Are In.
  Over 2008, we realized that we enjoyed a focus, not in marketing/promotion, but in education.  By making this distinction, it's easier for us to make business decisions and build a brand that reflects this focus.

Start Now.  If you have an idea, do whatever you can today and solve problems when they need to be solved.  Duct tape and popsicle sticks can go along way when used to test a concept in public.  As Guy Kawasaki would say "Don't worry, be crappy."

Have a Positive Impact.  Look for opportunities to have a positive impact, whether it's through your business, or willingness to go the extra mile for someone.  The returns may not come immediately, but they will come many times over in the long run.

Be Good to Those Doing Good.
  We love that our videos are used in schools and by non-profits - and we want to see more of it. Unfortunately, these kinds of organizations aren't usually well-funded. It helps us sleep a little better at night knowing that we're offering our videos to these kinds of organizations for free and at a huge discount for the presentation quality versions.

Small is Still Beautiful.
  We continue to be confident that we don't want to grow and manage a team.  We are small, happy, flexible and having a blast.  I've talked with too many disappointed people who thought growing a business with many employees was going to make them happier.


Working with Others:

Assume Positive Intentions - We're so happy to be able to put our videos into the world for free with a Creative Commons license.  Unfortunately, people aren't always aware of our licensing and we sometimes contact them to help them understand.  This is a great opportunity to look like a bully.  We've learned that the best way to approach these situations is to be friendly and assume positive intentions.  Most people mean well.

People Want To Do The Right Thing
- It's true.  We see this nearly every day as people ask about the proper ways to share our videos.  Our challenge is education - not policing.  If the rules are clear and easily understood, the vast majority of people will follow them.

Every Contact is an Opportunity.  Never, ever underestimate the power of taking the time to respond to someone who reaches out to you.  It's sometimes hard and time consuming, but the greatest things sometimes start with answering a simple question.

Consider Community Instead of Competition.
  Everyone has a choice in how they look at the people and businesses in their niche.  If you think about the potential of reaching out to them and sharing with them, hardcore competition seems to look a bit outdated.



YouTube Creates Brand Awareness.  Our Common Craft Show videos have over 4.5 million views on You Tube alone. Sure, we're giving content away for free, but this volume of awareness creates new business models, like our Store.  Had we chosen to make our video subscription-only, I don't think we could have created the brand awareness it would take to be successful.

Video Licensing Works.
  Organizations of all types are looking for quality educational videos. Licensing "Presentation Quality" versions of our videos via our Store offers them an easy path to find, purchase and download videos for internal use. From day one, this model has exceeded our expectations and we expect big things in 2009.

Own The Supply Chain.
Today it's possible for a small company to operate almost every step of chain that delivers content to customers.  From concept to production to marketing, to the digital download, we manage each step of the way with the help of very affordable services like PayPal and e-Junkie. This wasn't possible until recently.

Listen to Twitter.  Twitter Search is a powerful way to understand brand perception.  We not only listen, but use Twitter to respond to questions or just thank those who comment.  Twitter is going to be interesting to watch in 2009.


We learned that you can't underestimate the power differing points of view.  Sachi and I have similar values, but look at the world, ourselves and Common Craft differently.  We talk about the differences and the opportunities.  I don't believe we could be successful if we thought alike and I encourage others in business to find people who think differently and talk with them.  Debate, challenge, ask questions and remain open to new ideas.

See also: 15 Lessons Learned in 2007.