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Footage Firm's CEO, Joel Holland | Business

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Footage Firm's CEO, Joel Holland
Footage Firm's CEO, Joel Holland

How do you concentrate doing all that you do? How do you give enough attention to all that you do? What suffers?
The simplest answer is that I pick my battles and then prioritize. Building a company takes more time than there is in any given day, and I actually like this because it is a huge barrier to entry, pushing most people towards the traditional career path, and leaving more "entrepreneurs profits" on the table for me. Trying to balance a startup with a well rounded social life, love life and family life doesn't exist. That will get you as far as being a small business owner–ie, a comfortable lifestyle. Taking things to the next level adds an exponential amount of work, and certain elements of life are going to suffer. In my case, I've chosen to make Footage Firm my main priority above everything else, and I give it a proportionate amount of time and attention. That isn't to say that I completely neglect my friends and family, but they certainly don't get equal treatment. During the week, for example, I am completely out of commission. In the two years I've been out of college living in the DC area, I've never experienced the "happy hour" that so many of my friends rave about. But I do try to balance out the weekends by putting down the laptop and getting out.

How did you start Footage Film?
I was working on a TV show that I founded in high school called Streaming Futures, which was a small career advice show for teens that aired on PBS. It was nothing big, but to me it was the world. So I found it extremely frustrating that we couldn't afford to get the "beauty shots" that other productions had on networks like Discovery. I wanted to spice up my interviews by adding in special effects, transitions, aerial fly overs, etc. But it was extremely expensive to acquire such material, and we had no budget for our show. 

One day, after returning from a trip to Los Angeles to interview Arnold Schwarzenegger for the show, I was editing the interview and really wanted a shot of the Hollywood sign to splice in. Unfortunately, my options were: fly back out there and try to shoot it myself, hire someone out there to shoot it, or buy it from a news studio. None of these were affordable options, and I felt that there needed to be a company that specialized in shooting the beauty shots (called stock footage), experiencing a one time fixed cost to acquire the content, and then selling it over and over to a large number of production companies at a low cost, until breaking even. Instead of analyzing the concept to death, I figured, if I need it, there must be others who do as well. So I purchased some professional video equipment and went out and shot footage all of DC, then proceeded to test market it on eBay to figure out what to call it, how to describe it and how to price it. It actually started selling, and I was off to the races: In 2001 I setup FootageFirm.com and started shooting more footage in the area and selling it on the site. Upon graduation in 2003, I deferred from college for one year and traveled around the country using my profits from one city to fund a plane ticket and hotel to the next. By the time I started college in 2004 I had a good amount of footage, and Footage Firm was born. 

How did you get your first customer?
I began by selling my footage on eBay, and then cross selling these customers on the additional footage collection I was building on FootageFirm.com. This helped me to slowly start building a nice customer base of returning customers who also spread the word to other colleagues. Then I had a big break when I got a call from a production company working on a show for Discovery Channel called Mob Scene, and they wanted to use my New York City footage in the show. I agreed, and once the show aired and my footage was featured, I had a whole new level of credibility in the industry. Soon we had many big named networks and cable outlets using our content, and today have over 40,000 customers ranging from NBC to ABC to MTV to Discovery/History/Travel, and everything in between. 

Being so young, do you get challenged on your credibility in the business world?
Not so much any more. Thanks to the many successfully young tech entrepreneurs, I actually find that being young has a lot of big advantages that older generations appreciate; we have a ton of energy, a lot of interesting ideas, and the technological know-how to make crazy things happen without a lot of resources. That said, when I was in my teens and getting started, there were some very real barriers, such as not being able to sign up for bank accounts, eBay, PayPal, etc. So I overcame that challenge by creating an alter ego and simply lying about my age. I felt that rules which punished/segregated based on age were no better than those that differentiated based on race. So I fought the system. I'm just glad I didn't mess up my dad's credit in the process.

You host and produce a few career shows? How do you fund those? Where do you find your interview subjects? Who watches it?
I have two big passions in my life: journalism and business. Unfortunately, as Footage Firm took off I no longer had time to focus on both, so I stopped producing and hosting Streaming Futures. It was an incredible experience, and allowed me to interview over 150 powerful career professionals, from Steve Forbes to David Neeleman to Schwarzenegger and many more, and ultimately helped me find the concept for Footage Firm. These days, I scratch my journalistic itch by writing a monthly column for Entrepreneur Magazine that focuses on young entrepreneurs.

How do you market your business to get new clients?

Direct response online marketing. We do a ton of advertising, but thanks to quantitative analytics it is easier than ever to know exactly where every penny goes, and how much it produces in return. So we are constantly building advertising models, testing new markets and mediums, and as soon as we find something that performs at a profitable level, we turn it up all the way. 

Are you VC funded? Is it the best way to start a business? What will you need in the future?
No I am not. Footage Firm was built from the ground up and has never taken on any outside funding of any kind. Not to say this is the only way, or the best way, as I have plenty of friends who have built amazing businesses using VC funding. But for me, I was fortunate to have cash flows large enough to support our growth and capital expenditures over the years, so that today I retain 100% ownership of the company. As for whether I will need VC funding in the future, at some point I would assume the answer is yes. Probably not for Footage Firm, but for my next venture. One of the perks of VC funding is the ability to expedite the research/development/launch of a company. It took me 10 years to get Footage Firm where it is today, but it might have been possible a lot faster if I had extra monetary resources early on to do things like hire additional team members. 

Are you cash flow positive?
Yes, Footage Firm is cash flow positive and has been since 2002. 

Where do you network?
I really don't "network" in the traditional sense of going to events. This kind of goes back to the first question about choosing your battles and prioritizing. Networking can be very beneficial depending on what you are seeking–advice, monetary connections, etc.–but I find time is much better spent working on my business. So for me, I prefer to connect directly with other young entrepreneurs that I've gotten to know over the years, mainly through personal introductions. Building a circle of peers that I can turn to for advice and motivation has been a hugely positive thing for me. But again, this circle was created organically and slowly through introductions and the like, not by attending networking events.


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