"You have brains in your head, you have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose." ~ Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You'll Go!
I've been a movie producer for over ten years. It's not the kind of job you're really supposed to give up -- it's a notoriously hard industry to break into, can be both fulfilling and profitable, and people who couldn't possibly know any better think it's cool and glamorous. But over the last six months -- after a few sidelong glances, late night flirtations and moments of soul-searching, I've decided to stop cheating on my day job and commit to a new life partner.
I'm now officially a software mogul.
Well not technically, but that's what I've been telling people. Full disclosure: I actually know very little about technology. The screen saver on my iPhone is Cookie Monster staring hungrily at his favorite snack; my six-year-old daughter set the picture when I got the phone and I can't figure out how to change it. So I'm not exactly Steve Jobs.
My career change began innocently enough when I was introduced to a group of kids right out of college, lifelong buddies who had a why-didn't-I-think-of-that idea. Though it's related to film and television production (hence my initial involvement), the applications for this simple yet incredibly effective software extend well beyond entertainment. I decided to work with them not because I thought they'd come up with the next Salesforce or LinkedIn (though that would be nice), but for other, more pedestrian, reasons:
They're genuinely good guys.
They're fully open to new ideas and collaboration.
They have no ego.
They work their asses off.
They refuse to be deterred.
They're genuinely good guys.
What I soon discovered about my new partners and their peers is that the world of tech start-ups has its own lingo, rhythms and quirks -- just like Hollywood -- but with a few key differences.
Most surprisingly: They support each other. You don't see the cutthroat mentality endemic to so many other rags-to-riches industries. These guys root for their peers to succeed; in their eyes, the more people creating cool stuff for us all to use, the better all around. Seeing technology improve the way we communicate, share memories, change antiquated systems -- it's all part of the digital revolution and it's all good. When a nascent company gets sold for a huge chunk of change, you don't see the expected envy from others -- you feel the excitement that a cool product created by some close friends in a cramped apartment is now going to reach a wide audience.
It reminds me of my first film job, when I worked at Miramax around the turn of the century. When a My Left Foot or Cinema Paradiso or The Crying Game succeeded, it was a victory for movie lovers everywhere. The fact that people paid money to go see a foreign film or a micro-budgeted character piece opened up the world of possibilities for everyone else.
These entrepreneurs are doing. They try new things, they fail, they try again. Stuff that interests them, that makes a difference, that is risky and creative, that makes things better. How much of that can you say about the movie industry?
In the last few months alone in my adopted new field, I met a 19-year-old girl who left college to run her own friends-and-family funded tech company; a first generation American who taught himself English, coding and how to get financing for his app -- all online, of course. And I witnessed a software presentation where I couldn't understand a single thing the creator said; between his thick accent and the technical jargon, it was literally gibberish to me. But their energy, presence, passion and honesty came through clear as day, and if I had more time and money, I would have invested with all of them on the spot just to accompany them on what are sure to be incredible journeys.
There's also quite a wide discrepancy in the economics. The company I work with was part of an amazing three-month incubator program called TechStars, which selected 13 companies from an entry pool of thousands. At the end of the program, each company presented their vision in front of a group of potential investors. For the price of a typical independent film, an investor could have acquired a sizable chunk of ownership in the start-ups. Not one of them -- every single company. It's not always about raising the most money, it's about what you do with it and - more importantly -- to whom you give it. These tech guys seem to get it, while their peers in Hollywood are left wondering what went wrong with Dark Shadows, Battleship and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter -- and where their $250m film fund just went.
I'm considering working with another software start-up and investing with a third. I know there are obstacles ahead -- but much like when I embarked on my film career,
I remain purposely naïve, not jaded, optimistic, trying my damndest to not let the other voices muddle my excitement. I am 178 pounds, soaking wet, of pure, unadulterated Pollyanna -- grateful to have a new passion at this stage of my life and career, a year or two before I'm placed against my will in the Home for Insane Former Film Producers (included in our union dues).
And so my adventures in the technology trade have officially begun. I Tweet and I Blog. I Post to my Wall and I try to be Pinteresting. I Tango and I Uber and I Doodle.ly and I Tumblr. I ooVoo and Bump and Kullect and Growl. I ZocDoc and Dropbox and Skype and Soundhound. And every once in a while, when I think of the places I'll go - I Songza while I Spotify and I Yelp on my Path.
Dr. Seuss would be proud.
Rick Schwartz is a New York-based film producer and financier whose credits include The Others, The Departed, and Black Swan. His writing has been published in The Huffington Post, Grantland, and The Times of London. He is an adviser and board member for several tech companies.