Academy Award Winner Colin Doncaster’s Success Story

by:Matt Kissel, The AOS Group

Academy Award winner Colin Doncaster analyzes the art of digital storytelling.

On February 18th Colin Doncaster spoke in front of a full room at the Innovation Factory – ranging from CEO’s, aspiring entrepreneurs, and students.  Doncaster, who founded Peregrine Labs, has accumulated over 25 years of VFX and animation production experience.  He has credits on films such as Avatar, Harry Potter, Superman and the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.  Doncaster has accumulated a wealth of accolades and experience – enough to have the ear of any aspiring entrepreneur and everyone in the room.

During his presentation, Doncaster explained the business of visual effects and animation – adding lessons learned from being an entrepreneur.

Here are some of the key points Doncaster said helped him throughout his entrepreneurial journey:

Everything in business can be transient in nature.  Colin emphasized that he has seen a transient work environment.  An example of this is how top talent have the tendency to job hop from agency to agency because they want to work on top projects.  Whether it is people’s drive for career success or lack of loyalty that causes them to pursue the best opportunities for themselves, I wasn’t surprised when Doncaster spoke of job hoping.  Therefore as an entrepreneur you have to meet the drive to improve from all angles – yourself, employees, and your business because the ever-changing business environment doesn’t slow down and wait for you to catch up, it widens the gap.  You have to be agile and provide the best opportunity for yourself and everyone around you to succeed.

Entrepreneurship can be a lifestyle choice.  Doncaster created a business that fit his lifestyle.  He spoke about how important it was for him to have a mobile office that didn’t tie him down – allowing him to travel and work in different parts of the world if he wanted.  He asked himself – am I able to pick up and go to Paris for 3 months and do my job?

Demand perfection.  Colin gave a simple example, but it is an example that proves no detail is too small.  Everything to do with your brand is important.  Colin walked the audience through how serious he takes the process of choosing his business cards – looking at seven different prototypes, making sure the material is perfect.  Doncaster’s reasons for focusing on perfection when it came to his brand were encouraging.  He explained how the people he was now networking with weren’t his bosses but his peers.

Be picky with who you work with.  Doncaster stressed the important of getting paid.  And if clients don’t pay, pull out and ask them to never contact you again.  The visual arts industry is competitive.  According to Doncaster the average profit margin is only 3 percent.  Luckily, Doncaster said he has been able to stay above the 3 percent threshold, but he attributes a lot of that to being picky with who he works with.

Outsource.  Often times we take on more than we can handle.  I have not ventured into entrepreneurship, but I have seen other entrepreneurs’ pull excessive hours working on mundane tasks not central to improving their product – and it wears them down.  You may have to pay some money to outsource your accounting, but why not get a professional to do it – at the end of the day the time you previously wasted doing that accounting can be used making sales, generating a profit.

Family is important.  Doncaster made reference to his family several times throughout his presentation.  At one point he even got his wife to stand up and wave to the crowd.  He attributed a lot of his success to how accommodating his wife has been.  Entrepreneurship is a 24/7 thing.  Doncaster worked on his honeymoon!

Grow your business organically.  According to Doncaster he has focused on growing Peregrine Labs organically – stressing how he didn’t want to grow fast, he wanted to be around for a while.  Growing organically and focusing on the long term has allowed Doncaster to be successful – he described it as a lifestyle choice.

Matt Kissel provides IT solutions and consulting with The AOS Group, a technology services agency in Southern, Ontario.  He tweets at @matthewkissel.

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