I'm a big believer that every business needs to understand exactly what business they are in - and for us, this has been a journey. I'm confident, through months of discussion and testing, that we've defined this direction for Common Craft. Here is what we learned:
I started Common Craft in 2003 to do consulting. It was just me and I provided consulting services. Once we started making videos, we were hired to make custom videos. Again, we were a services business. In the summer of 2007, we realized that our videos could be products - products that could create a business that scales more easily through licensing. Ultimately, we felt confident in our ability to pick a subject and explain it simply and effectively. The question became - what do we do with this kind of product?
There was a specific point in our business when we decided exactly what to do. It was just a few months ago, during the financial meltdown. We were getting lots of suggestions to explain the mortgage crisis. We did a lot of research and had every intention of publishing an explanation of it all in 3-4 minutes. But it didn't feel right. Something made us feel out of our element.
Despite spending a lot of time on it, we chose to throw out our mortgage crisis work and refocus. Why? Because it didn't match with the business we wanted to be in. The more we looked at a mortgage crisis video, the more it seemed like news. We could see that explaining news events was fertile ground, but not necessarily the best thing for Common Craft. Here's why:
- Shelf Life: While news has enduring value, that value often peaks the day it's released. Videos can easily become yesterday's news.
- Production Time: Our videos take a long time to produce and it would always be a fire-drill to try to get on the next big story.
- Ad Revenue: From a product perspective, news is mostly paid-for by advertising. This model isn't our focus these days.
- Positive Impact: News surely plays a positive role in our world, but we saw other opportunities to educate people about fundamental topics.
So, we refocused. We stopped considering news stories or any time-sensitive events. We looked for ways that we could have a lasting, positive impact. We looked for problems that were relevant and timely, but had a potential shelf-life of years. We looked for ways to create a product that made sense for our business.
Through these discussions, we realized that we are an education company. We make videos that explain the basics. We give people a foundation for understanding important subjects that impact their lives. We want our products, over the long term, to help people become more informed and knowledgeable so they can become more responsible citizens. If we can accomplish these goals, our business will be successful for years to come.
Right now we're in the process of publishing a series called "Financial Basics" that is our response to the mortgage crisis. This series is our way of combating the troubling lack of understanding people have regarding personal finance. This is one of multiple broad topics plan to cover in 2009.
By creating educational explanatory videos, we can build products that scale, support us through licensing and hopefully have an enduring, positive impact. It may take a while to get there, but like we say in Financial Basics, it's all about thinking long-term.
In 2009 you'll see that our business is built around licensing videos to individuals, schools and organizations of all types.