Welcome to the fifth installment of our new RebusFarm Business in Arch Viz series. Over the next year we will be featuring two articles every month. Each new article will discuss the business side of working in and running businesses in the visualization industry. We will feature articles from some of the top studios in the world and have in-depth answers to questions that every studio and artist in the industry should know.
The goal of this series is to provide a long-term resource for not only new artists and business owners entering the industry, but also long-time industry veterans. The topics will range from contracts and IT infrastructure to hiring and business strategy.
Studios participating in this series include: 2G Studio, ArX Solutions, Beauty and the Bit, Cityscape, DBOX, Designstor, Digit Group, Inc., Factory Fifteen, Kilograph, Luxigon, MIR, Neoscape, Public Square, Steelblue, The Neighbourhood, Transparent House, Urbansimulations and many more. Collectively these companies generate hundreds of millions of dollars a year in revenue, and have decades of experience running some of the most successful businesses in the industry.
We hope you enjoy the series!
We would like to also like to sincerely thank RebusFarm for supporting this series. Through their support they are helping better our industry and contribute significantly to future generations of visualization businesses in our field. If you are looking for one of the best rendering farm companies in the world, we highly recommend checking them out here
When you started the business did you have a well established business plan, or was it done guerilla style?
ArX Solutions: When we started is was something organic. We didn't plan it but as soon as we started to grow, we put one in place.
Beauty and The Bit: It was never done guerrilla style from day one. Lina has always taken good care of this and has always drawn a good financial plan. The only difference is that when time passes, benefits are higher because you are a more reputed company so your rates can be higher than years ago.
DesignStor: Total guerilla!
Kilograph: guerilla 100%
MIR: Our business was built around the desire to just do everything differently. It has proven a very effective and fun approach. But there is no plan at all, just to be stubborn and try to kick ass.
Neoscape: We had a business plan but our approach was a lot more guerilla style. For us this was over 20 years ago when the business of visualization and 3D filmmaking was just starting to take hold and the technology and software were changing rapidly. We didn’t have good models to build off of or to study so we just figured it out as we went.
PixelFlakes: When we first started Pixelflakes there were so many unknowns, both from a personal standpoint and a financial one. We did have a business plan which we used as a guide, rough direction, of where we wanted to be rather than anything too elaborate. We used our gut and logic however to tweak this as we went along, adapting it as different challenges arose. There were far too many variables on Day 1, a lot of unforeseen issues which due to a lack of experience were unpredictable. As time went by this business plan was embellished and firmed up, eventually resulting in the yearly targets that we still use today.
PURE: Business what? I used excel sheets..and later on my accountant said that I did a business plan..which I was not aware of. There I realized that it's actually quite easy if you stick to your common sense.
2G Studio: guerilla style. When I started the business I didn’t know anything about this industry, all I knew was if could do 10 images in a month I can live happily.
Anonymous: Decent business plan on start.
Urban Simulations: Guerrilla, actually I think that after 5 years i didn't realize i was actually owning a company. I was just playing and enjoying a hobby of doing the most realistic work I was able to do
How often do you review the direction of the company and pivot or develop new areas of the company?
ArX Solutions: Twice a year we have a partners meeting that we focus only in the business. Traditionally it is two/three full business days.
Beauty and The Bit: Day by day. We have a spirit of always evolving, so inevitably that drives us to use our brain to look for better solutions in all areas of what we do. That doesn´t mean to be crazy and go from left to right on a daytime basis. It means to be consistent but at the same time do things better and search different ways to be the same company but in version 2.0.
DesignStor: I feel like I’m always reviewing the direction. New developments take time and happen maybe yearly or bi-yearly.
Kilogaph: I’d say every 10-12 months we develop a new area of the company. In terms of the overall direction we have been experiencing a slower shift from pure architectural rendering to more comprehensive marketing. The advent of VR has really accelerated this part of our business in a way we haven’t experienced before.
MIR: This is a constant effort. We are probably more concerned with what we are doing and how we are doing it than what is healthy. This is what keeps us interested in running the business. It is like drag racing; you have to tweak stuff all the time to make sure that your next run is faster. And from that work comes some key realizations, like that you have to ditch the old combustion engine and invest in jet propulsion.
Neoscape: Every few years we re-work our business plan to set direction for the company. Business plans tend to provide benchmarks with with to measure yourself as opposed to a recipe for success. We find that committing our ideas to paper are often enough to make them happen.
PixelFlakes: We discuss internal matters on a weekly Monday morning meeting. We hold strategic finance meetings quarterly with our accountants and discuss other important information between Partners and Associates as and when required. These meetings allow us to review current output and pivot if required however, thus far, we have managed to develop new branches of the business based off business plans rather than as a response to market trends. Attempting to produce a unique product rather than something we feel other companies are already doing very well.
PURE: Every month!
2G Studio: Twice a year, just to check if we are still on track.
Anonymous: Regularly question, significantly review every couple of years.
Urban Simulations: Once a month, I did it once a year but since we are involved in new technologies we need to be more responsive
What specific things do you look at in the industry, or internally that help you craft the direction your company takes?
ArX Solutions: Always client's feedback and industry trends.
Beauty and The Bit: Quality. We are always hyper worried about quality and the product´s finesse. You can craft shoes all your life in an artisan way, no mass production, but if you are the best shoemaker you'll never run out of jobs.
DesignStor: We try to filter out hype and concentrate on needs and potential. I listen a lot to my staff and we have taken their advice on a number of directions. I also listen to trusted clients and some peers that I have in the industry.
Kilograph: We track our proposals every month and where new business if coming from. We also track our win/loss closely and this helps us to understand how we are doing in the market and what factors might be affecting the numbers (competition, interest in specific services).
MIR: Since we want to do things differently, we keep track of what is produced in general in the market to see what to avoid. Our key business philosophy of doing it differently has also become our philosophy when making images: «But how is it different?»
Neoscape: We are always trying to balance the type of work we want to be doing with the work that we perform best on. We look at technology trends, real estate trends, experiential trends etc to gauge direction.
PixelFlakes: We often look at the approaches from other companies just to see how the market is progressing and to establish some references in our minds, such as the imagery they produce or the social media presence they have. We look and have workshops before and after projects with our clients that dictate the approach we take on what we do. They also sometimes even push us into new directions as we try new approaches or techniques which could complement certain projects well.
PURE: Are we profitable? Are we doing a good job? Do I like what I do?
Anonymous: We look more to client needs than to what is visible in the industry. Something to keep in mind, what you see in the industry may not be what is largely being produced. Much of our work we strategically kept confidential. Imagine you don't know what the industry is doing, what would you do and how would you service your clients?
Urban Simulations: What everybody is doing to avoid going in the same path. If 30 companies are good in still renderings 75% made in photoshop, please, don't become the 31th, just look for your own way
Tell us about your first office space and when you made the decision to “move up”. What factors affect your decisions to move into new space?
ArX Solutions: We were overcrowded and we really needed it.
Beauty and The Bit: Our first office space was my little home studio years ago but for healthy-living reasons that didn't last long. We rented a small space (6 people) in front of my house literally and in one year time we moved to a bigger office 5 minutes walking from my home. It is our current office and it tripled the old office size so I guess right now we are really happy with it. The main reason obviously was that the old office was getting too little for our growth.
DesignStor: Our first office space was a shoebox in a converted industrial warehouse in downtown Toronto. It had loads of charm, but little sound proofing and some whacky tenants. Our downstairs neighbour was an artist that used hot wax as his medium. During the day we were constantly overwhelmed by the smell of hot wax and by his terrible habit of putting CD’s on repeat for the entire day, often while he wasn’t there. Those factors and the need for more space made us move.
Kilograph: Our very first office was our kitchen table. The second office was about 450 sf and had no windows. We expanded from 3 to 6 people in this space and it was getting tight. I was pregnant with my son and we had no child care so I needed a space where I could work through the pregnancy and have him in the office with me in a comfortable way. We rented a big rambling house in los feliz around this time and cleared out the lower level and basement for the office. I lived upstairs. This worked pretty well for about 2 years. When we hit 10 employees we moved to our current space on Wilshire blvd. This was about 3 years ago and we have progressively been expanding and improving the space ever since. I hope we’ll be here for a while because we’re all pretty tired of moving!
MIR: Our first office was 4x2 meters. We sat back to back and worked day and night. Since then we have had a bunch of offices, but never really invested in a proper office with good enough ventilation. Perhaps it is time to move on now?
Neoscape: Our first office space was a shared space in Cambridge, MA. Kind of like a WeWork from 1995 - without the cool factor. We started with about 250sf, 2 computers and 2 phones for the three of us. Rod and Nils used the computers and I used the phone. At night I would hop on a computer to make our “marketing” materials. Fortunately the space provided us ample room to grow as there were only a handful of tenants in the space. When one of them moved out we would usually take over their space. Eventually we had the whole floor and the next decision was where to relocate. We chose to move to Boston.
PixelFlakes: Our first ‘office space’ was a small spare bedroom at Matthew Reid’s (Founding Partner) family house in Essex. Marvin commuted here monthly from Amsterdam, Holland, staying for weeks at a time. We made the move to find an actual office when we started earning enough money. We knew that being in London itself is a huge draw for architectural practices looking to collaborate as being able to go around for meetings at short notice is an integral part of building relationships and understanding projects in their initial stages. Not only that but as we looked to expand we knew that attracting talented artists would be key in the growth of the company and to do this a London postcode made it much more realistic. In a sense, moving into London and our first office was the main priority of the company, as soon as enough income was secured, before we even began taking a salary.
PURE: We started quite small and moved just into new spaces when we really needed them.
2G Studio: Our first office space was 3x3 sqm. so small. as my own room. Then we added some new artists, and we moved to the living room, bigger space. 3x5 sqm. haahhaa. Then we finally moved to Bali, and used my whole garage. Once evan's house was finished, we connected both garages (evan's house is next to mine). We don't have any more room at the moment, and we still building our new office. Yes the 2GS office, a 4 storey building and a rooftop. The main factor is we need space for our artists and render farm as well, and we do need entertainment area for our artists. so they can play ping pong, enjo the ocean views, can play PS4, xbox, BBQ.
Anonymous: My apartment?
We chose WeWork as a place to grow. We could start with a 3 person office and then move within the same floor plate as we added team members. We move to a 4 person, 5 person, 6 person space before moving to our own space that could accommodate a dozen. We moved again a couple of years later to accommodate a larger team. The biggest factor was size. We stayed in similar style architecture, in the same neighborhood with a similar amount of space per person.
We had power consumption issues at each of the 3 office spaces noted.
Urban Simulations: I think everybody started in their own home, but when you realize you are working like a Jedi… and i mean in housecoat, it's time to move to an office.
What are some of the things you learned over the years moving between different spaces?
ArX Solutions: Is better to move to a space that has more space than the one that you really need. Every time that you move your business is complicated so this is a major thing. Don't go into an space that you will need to replace if you need to hire someone else.
Beauty and The Bit: Our office has always been a home, literally. It has always been located in a regular house, not in a business park so it helps outstand the fact that our company acts like a little family.
DesignStor: I’ve just moved to a third office and I’ve learned the following:
Open offices sound like a great idea but they don’t work. People need privacy;
Quality electrical power is the single most important thing;
The character of your office can have a huge impact on clients;
Moving is expensive;
Office space can be inspirational to staff, which is a great thing;
Kilograph: Ikea desks have a 3-year lifespan.
MIR: If done properly, moving can be a manifestation of motion or direction; which employees find inspirational. If done poorly, moving can be seen as us making things harder for our employees. It's just a space, but where are we going with it?
Neoscape: Having a space that is designed based on how you work is really important. Having flexibility to grow and try new things is also critical.
PixelFlakes: Location is key. Whilst an office is designed to work, you need to be based in a creative area that offers employees amenities to be able to enjoy what it is they do. Having great pubs and restaurants on the doorstep as well as a huge park (for the little sun England has to offer) allows us to hangout after work and during Friday lunch pub visits, which is of course a great perk. Alongside that being accessible for clients and employees alike is a must, (no one wants to commute for hours) so remaining in areas where creatives dwell, in our case East London, is a smart choice. Finally, on a more practical note, as we move into larger spaces, having additional meeting rooms for employees and clients alike can’t be taken for granted.
PURE: Don't fall in love with the spaces :-) And don't think too big!
2G Studio: Bigger space is needed to ensure the artists are not easily stressed.
Anonymous: Team layout matters. Efficient space planning may not be the best for team working. When rent rates are $70 a square foot, you tend to want to be very efficient but this may not be the best strategy to foster the right culture.
Urban Simulations: If only 10% of the clients visit your office, then just focused in have the office you will love, not the office your clients want to go.
Does your office space support your business strategy? (culture, teamwork, meetings etc.)
ArX Solutions: We encourage team work all the time. We try to create a team that feels as part of something bigger.
Beauty and The Bit: Absolutely, for the reasons mentioned.
Kilograph: Yes it does support the team structure with clustered desk arrangements in a large open space. We also have plenty of comfortable breakout areas where artists can discuss work in more casual ways. Central to the office is a large comfortable client area where we showcase new technologies, brochure designs, sometimes project videos. The best part of the office is having a large deck and lots of natural light. It’s California after all!
MIR: Yes. Our office is an integral part of everything we are.
Neoscape: We just moved into new space in Boston this month and our NY studio relocated about 2 years ago. Both spaces were tailor made for the way that we work and to promote our culture. It's always a fine line between having the right amount of space for now and options for growth without having to overpay for too much space.
PixelFlakes: Yes, we are moving into a new office this summer which has been specifically chosen for this purpose. It is important to cultivate teamwork and culture, as it directly affects the quality of imagery. It is also important to think about how your office reflects your company image to clients that visit or new team members that join. We actively work on this and set aside budget for items such as interior design, break out spaces, coffee machines, office entertainment etc.
PURE: Yes…Except the ZEN corner. I am the only one who is there, taking a nap…
2G Studio: At the moment, not really, but somehow we manage to do it. But in the new office, we definitely can.
Anonymous: More or less, but needs tweaks. Different teams around the world have different challenges. Cost of office space in San Francisco could be unique to some other companies.
Urban Simulations: Yes, and a huge terrace for barbacues, that's a key point.
Do you do internal peer reviews and how is that process handled? Who reviews you? (your peers, partners, employees)
ArX Solutions: We do annual reviews to the staff and give them feedback.
Beauty and The Bit: We have a management office that help us evaluate that because it is always important to have external input about this, but the main thought comes from us always. Lina and I have long meetings reviewing all of this.
DesignStor: Yes, peer reviews are done by managers and partner. I don’t think I’ve had a review in years! It’s about time...
Kilograph: Yes every Monday we have a creative review where we go through the past week’s work and provide critique. We also have structured employee reviews every quarter. We always use the same format for these so people can understand their progress in a straightforward way.
MIR: Yes. The partners interview all staff twice a year. One midterm review that is only about creative development and personal issues, and one at the end of year where we discuss salary and review and critique.
Neoscape: We do yearly reviews with at least quarterly check-ins with employees. Managers and team leads take care of their teams and the owners review Principals. We also welcome feedback from employees about the management team. One thing that I always advise my teams on is having a close relationship with their team so that goals and objectives are talked about all the time and if any issues crop up there should be an immediate way to discuss and resolve it. Yearly reviews only work well if you keep your finger on the pulse of how your team is performing and how engaged they are.
PixelFlakes: Every three months we review our employees. This is done with the founding partners and the employee in question. We set goals, discuss any issues and revisit what’s been raised in previous reviews. What once started as yearly reviews progressed into quarterly reviews in order for artists and employers alike to raise concerns and to ensure that any minor or major issues do not escalate into something bigger over time.
PURE: Yes, once a year. We do it together.
2G Studio: Yes, the senior artist will give score to their own team, and then bring it to the meeting to make some discussion what we can do better on the next week. Then the PM & the founder will score the senior artist. and we always have a monthly meeting with our client to review things. and what we can do better on the next project.
Urban Simulations: Its public the performance you are doing and project supervisors only reports to the art director and executive producer, peer are just improving reviewing not as a stage.
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