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5 Things That Made Our Start-Up Work

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They say that most startups don't make it 18 months. My current company, Rebel Pilgrim Productions, just survived to celebrate our two-year anniversary. We are probably typical of start-ups who make it this far. We aren't going to be featured in the Wall Street Journal, but we are slowly growing and making it work. Here are the top five practices that got us here:

1. We are missional.

That mission statement thing they say you're supposed to have? Turns out, they're right. Our core team spent over a year before launch narrowing our mission down to this -- We tell stories that spark hope and action. When we launched on May 1, 2012 as a film production company, that was our mission. It still is today. Honestly, it didn't mean that much to us at the beginning, but we had no idea how important it would be in the lean months to follow. Without that mission we would have failed.

2. We trust each other.

We launched with a core team of three paid staff including myself. That grew to five in the first year. By most standards, we are a small start-up. We had limited angel investor support, but we weren't in a position to seek venture capital. We were all coming out of the non-profit sector and none of us had accumulated great personal wealth. It was a huge risk to start our business. We raised enough for a small office and meager salaries for the first year. I took a 35 percent pay cut that remains my base to this day, but I've never been happier because of whom I get to work with everyday. They say not to hire your friends, but I decided that if I was going to embark on an adventure this demanding I wanted to be surrounded by people I know and trust. Our core team is highly talented, but we are also limited. We sacrificed having some skill sets on board at the beginning in order to build a team that was committed and trustworthy. As a result we attracted like-minded people who want to be a part of what we are doing -- so much so that people often ask to volunteer with us if we can't afford to pay them.

3. We are willing to pivot.

Our mission grounds us, but it isn't our strategy. You have to be willing to change or pivot from your original plans. We all assumed we'd be telling stories that spark hope and action by making feature films. We did that and continue to do that, but at a slower pace than our original business plan mandated. I remember the day I had this thought: "Our mission says nothing about movies." We are storytellers and hope peddlers. Movies are one way we do that. We began to see right under our noses that there were other opportunities to tell stories of hope through web media, television, client-based relationships and live theatrical events. We became "story agnostics." To us that means that our job is to tell the story in the best way possible regardless of the medium.

4. We make friends.

I'm an introvert and can easily spend my day not talking to anyone I don't already know. I found out quickly that the more people I know, the better our business becomes. On average I meet about 7 new people each week for lunch, coffee or on a introductory call. These aren't sales calls. There is no agenda except to hear their story and let them hear mine. As a result I have found that about half of the people I meet with "need" me more than I "need" them. For the other half, it's reversed. I often ask to meet with competitors to find out ways we can help one another. Only once in two years has a competitor refused my request to meet. Believe it or not, many people would rather share success with their friends than take all the loot for themselves.

5. We invite people in.

I can't tell you how many times I ask clients to be a part of what we are doing. Every pitch meeting we do casts a vision for a long-term collaborative journey. We want storytelling partners. We don't just want to make videos for someone. We want to play in their sandbox -- and invite them into ours. We're finding that when one of our movies is released in theaters or on DVD that our "corporate clients" are as excited as we are. Many are even starting to use "we" language for our projects that have seemingly nothing to do with them. The reason is simple -- it's the first four values listed above walked out. 1.) They see our mission and want to be a part of it. 2.) We invite them into the trusted family-like atmosphere of the core team. 3.) If possible, we pivot what we are doing to include their vision into our own. 4.) We become friends.

I like making money, but I like a fulfilling purposeful life filled with friends even more. Our revenue projections for this quarter are more than double our best quarter to date. Things are starting to look better on the bottom line. Here's why -- every new client we've received in this calendar year was recommended by one of our current clients. Our clients are our national sales force... and they love doing it because they are inviting their contacts into a mission and a family -- and that's what almost everyone really wants more than anything else.

If you're reading this and something about our mission stirs you, I'd love to hear from you. Maybe we can help each other tell stories that spark hope and action. Connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin or by email.