This is a follow up story for BIGFILMS. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published over 1 year ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
Hey! My name is Steven Liszka, I’m a filmmaker from France and the founder of BIGFILMS.
BIGFILMS is a company that offers digital products that allow filmmakers to add blockbuster special effects to their films directly in their editing software.
I started BIGFILMS 5 years ago as a side project when I was working on my short film called ASTRONAUT. There’s an interesting story behind this project. ASTRONAUT is a short film for which I was able to send 4 of my cameras into the stratosphere to get real shots from Space. This was a fantastic adventure, and we’ve released a trailer of the short film here (you’ll see a short making-of at the end of the video).
In 2015, I was working as a freelance VFX artist in Los Angeles, and I was desperately looking for funds to produce ASTRONAUT. That’s how the idea of BIGFILMS was born. I wanted to build a business that could run itself so I can focus on my projects. As I was good at visual effects and filmmaking, I decided to use my knowledge to turn it into a product.
Today BIGFILMS has a growing library of 10 unique products that allow filmmakers to easily create complex visual universes directly in their video software. Our MI6 Action Pack will help them to create adrenaline-packed action scenes, while our CYBERCITY Pack will add to their projects a singular futuristic touch. We even offer a giant sound design library called CHAOS that has all the action sounds that you can dream of for your projects.
The last time we spoke, BIGFILMS was making around $35K per month. We’ve now doubled our monthly revenues to hit almost $85K during our best-selling month.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
On a purely business side, we were able to double our revenues since last year. The growing success of our brand is mainly due to the new products that we’ve released throughout the year. Our marketing strategy heavily relies on video ads, and we see a massive engagement under each one of our Facebook and Instagram targeted ads.
1- Marketing Agency
What has changed since last year is that I’m no longer managing the marketing by myself. As the amount of ads is constantly growing, I felt that I needed to outsource this part of the process. Being a solopreneur, it’s always a challenge for me to delegate these tasks. You have so many individuals and agencies offering their services in this specific area that it’s easy to feel stuck by the choice overload. Fortunately, one of my good friends from Paris named Kevin Arnaud was starting his own ads agency (agenceads.fr) at that time. The great story behind this collaboration is that Kevin knows BIGFILMS from the beginning and he shares the vision and the values of the brand. During all these years, I taught him everything I know about marketing through my successes and my failures, and he’s now doing a much better job than I ever did with targeted ads. He was able to continuously scale our results month after month by optimizing our marketing strategy through micro-adjustments, which eventually allowed us not to increase our ad spending.
2- Goodbye Shopify
The other great update is the new website that we’ve been working on during this year. I decided to move away from Shopify so we could have more control over the user experience. Shopify is by far the easiest way to launch your online store, but it comes with some limitations. A good friend of mine named Mohamed Al Rifai, who’s running his web design agency called LaDiligence took care of the UI and UX design of the new website. He is by far the best web designer I’ve ever worked with. Our new website will be powered by WooCommerce on WordPress, and it will allow for a much deeper interaction from the product pages to the checkout process. We expect to launch the new version of the website in October of this year.
3- John Wick
And finally comes my favorite part. For our latest MI6 Action Pack, I decided to go a little further than what we did with our previous products. As this pack was inspired by action blockbusters like John Wick and James Bond, I wanted to pay tribute to these movies that we all love. I reached out to Aurélia Agel, a French stunt performer who I always wanted to work with, to see if she’d be interested in collaborating on an action short film for BIGFILMS. At that time, Aurélia had just finished working on the latest Marvel: Black Widow movie that hit the theaters earlier this year (you can see her fighting hand to hand with Scarlett Johanson on-screen). Working with a performer like Aurélia on this project was a real privilege. She connected us with the best artists in the industry (like Jérôme Gaspard who did all the choreography and Teddy Masson who directed the project for us), and together we shot and produced the short film WARLIKE:
The post-production was made exclusively using our MI6 Action Pack, and it was a way for us to show that our tools can compete with Hollywood’s best VFX studios. The reaction we got from our audience on social media was so overwhelmingly positive that it reminded me of the importance of going the extra mile when you’re creating something that you believe in.
The success of a business shouldn’t only be measured by numbers. It should be defined by the connection that people have with the brand. By how much your message resonates with your audience. People can always tell when there is passion and love behind a project.
Stop comparing yourself to others. It’s great to see how others run their businesses, but don’t try to compete with them.
Now here’s the exciting part of this story. Most of the team who has been working on WARLIKE is currently shooting the next chapter of the John Wick franchise. And guess which effects they are using on set to preview the action scenes of the movie? Our MI6 Pack!
I think that we can proudly say that the circle is complete.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
Apple (almost) killed Facebook
Despite all the exciting new projects that we’ve been launching, we’ve had one major setback earlier this year. As you probably know, Apple launched its iOS 14 updates that affected almost every marketing tool relying on track, including Facebook Ads and email campaigns. As all our selling strategy was built upon Facebook and Instagram, we went through some stressful times these last few months. Facebook’s algorithm has become less effective at targeting potential customers, so we had to rethink the way we approach our campaigns.
We’ve spent weeks tweaking and testing new settings, but we haven’t been able to find the perfect formula yet. What seems to work for us though is to have a broader variety of video ads and to change them every week or so.
How we survived (and got even stronger)
But difficulties stimulate your creativity. As we’re not able to target precisely our customers through ads anymore, we decided to diversify our traffic sources.
One of the first actions that we undertook was to communicate more through emails. Earlier this year, I had the idea of creating a mini action pack called HACKER. This mini-pack was inspired by movies like The Matrix and Mr. Robot, and it allows you to create complex computer interfaces directly in your editing software. As there are not enough assets to make this product compete with our bigger packs, I decided to offer it for free. The pack is not listed on our platform, and it only appears as a pop-up when you visit the website. If you close it, you won’t get the opportunity to download it again. This encourages people to leave their email addresses in the pop-up bar to get the pack for free, and they are usually extremely happy with what they find inside.
This strategy allowed us to gather 20,000+ new email addresses within 6 months.
We also started to engage much more with our community on Instagram. As filmmakers, we always seek new video content that can inspire us for our projects. And Instagram has become the perfect place for discovering new media online. The platform is now heavily pushing video content through Instagram Reels, so we decided to use this trend to make our IG page an inspirational channel for everyone who’s looking to see original action and fantasy projects.
We’ve hired a talented young filmmaker who’s been following our brand for years, and he’s now creating amazing video content for us using exclusively our products. This way, we’re able to offer new entertaining content to our audience every week.
Youtube has been the channel that we’ve used the least since we started BIGFILMS. I always felt that this was a big mistake, especially for a brand that’s relying so much on video content. But keep in mind that until this year, I was doing everything in the company by myself: from the customer service to the video shootings. I was managing the team of freelance artists working on our packs, as well as working on the web design of each product page. This was such an enormous amount of work, that running a Youtube channel wasn’t in my top priorities.
Now that I’ve outsourced the customer service, the marketing, and the web design, growing on Youtube has finally become an option.
Our Youtube channel will be used for educational purposes. Our goal is to create a series of entertaining and inspirational videos that will teach people how to get the best out of our effects when creating exciting video projects. I want to teach them how to create blockbuster short films using only their iPhone, a laptop, and our action packs.
We will start releasing the tutorials in October of this year.
OK, so this is something that I never even considered doing until now. Our customers are usually male filmmakers between 30 and 45. This is not exactly TikTok's main demographic, but as our Instagram videos are entertaining and viral, this new channel could allow us to touch a younger audience that is out of our targeting criteria right now. If you think long-term, and we’re here for the long run, the earlier these creators hear about our brand, the deeper the connection once they become potential customers.
In conclusion, what we first took as a hard blow for the company eventually brought us much closer to our core audience and our customers. And this is something that you should never forget as an entrepreneur: don’t focus too much on numbers, focus on creating a deep and long-lasting relationship with your audience.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
There are a lot of exciting upcoming projects that we’re already working on for the next few years. Let me share two of my favorite ones.
1 - Online School
The first one is called “The Blockbuster Academy”. The idea behind this project is to start the first online film school that will effectively teach you how to become a blockbuster filmmaker. We will walk you step by step through all the complex processes of choosing the right camera, working with a crew on set, and creating professional-looking visual effects on your film projects.
It will be a zero hero course. The purpose of Blockbuster Academy is to teach you everything that a traditional film school doesn’t teach and for a fraction of the price.
We’re currently creating and recording the lessons with filmmakers in Los Angeles.
I will be happy to update you on this project once the Academy goes live.
2 - The Festival
The second big project - and this is maybe my favorite one - is the creation of the world’s first Blockbuster Short Film Festival that will take place in Hollywood during the summer of 2022.
I can’t tell you too much about this one as we’re still working on deals with ventures and partners, but this will be an exciting event that will bring together creators and producers from all around the world. It will allow us to celebrate tomorrow’s talents by showcasing and rewarding their ambitious projects while connecting them to professionals from the filmmaking industry right in the middle of Hollywood.
So yes, at this stage we’re still a fairly small company made of 3 passionate creators and an army of talented 3D artists. But now our goal is to grow beyond the e-commerce industry so we’re not simply seen as a brand selling digital products. We want to be a complete solution for filmmakers, offering them education, tools, and connections with big blockbuster studios.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
This might sound like weird advice, but I noticed that the less I read or listen to entrepreneurship-related content, the more creative I am. I used to listen to a lot of podcasts of founders and entrepreneurs who had succeeded in their businesses, but it wasn’t making me any better at what I was doing.
Sure, you can always grasp some interesting insights here and there, but actually, I never felt that I’ve learned something valuable that I wouldn't have learned anyway by making my own experiences.
Earlier this year, I drastically reduced my exposure to business-related content. To be 100% honest, my only source of reading in this field remains StarterStory’s newsletter. Seeing hundreds of different ways to approach a business opens your eyes to how creative and unique you can be as an entrepreneur. No one follows the same path.
I also forced Youtube’s algorithm to show me only art-related content instead of business videos, and since then, I feel much more productive and inspired. This allows me not to compare myself to other entrepreneurs, nor to feel the pressure of being a perfect CEO who’s never making any wrong choices.
As long as I do things with passion and love, I feel happy to learn by making my own mistakes. That’s what I find exciting about entrepreneurship: it’s all about experimenting, doing things in your way.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
Well, I think that there are 3 main pieces of advice that I would give to entrepreneurs willing to grow their business.
1: Delegate. Hire people. They don’t necessarily need to be absolute experts at tasks you hire them for. But they have to share the values and the philosophy of your brand. Their mission is to give you time to focus on other aspects of your business that you would have neglected otherwise.
2: Don’t be too attached to numbers. Numbers are great short-term indicators of how your business is performing, but if you want to grow something big, you need to think long-term. And long-term means making customers excited about what you’re building, and creating a deep and long-lasting connection with them. Try to detach yourself from numbers and take decisions based on how passionate you feel about your projects. Customers will feel it.
3: Stop comparing yourself to others. It’s great to see how others run their businesses, but don’t try to compete with them. Everyone has their challenges, and growing faster or slower, or even walking in another direction doesn’t mean that you’re not going the right way.
The more unique you are, the better. It’s your business, your vision.
Where can we go to learn more?
Come see what we’re currently working on!
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