Collaborate and Learn From Your Industry Competitors

By Iris Gonzalez
an image of James Chandler is co-founder of IMG Studios in San Antonio, Texas - Collaboration

James Chandler and his wife Heather Chandler decided to start their own video production company in 2007. IMG Studio is a San Antonio-based company that has won many awards, including three Emmys. IMG Studios also develops virtual reality and augmented reality content for various applications, such as helping wheelchair-bound users enjoy normally inaccessible experiences like playing certain sports.

James Chandler shares his thoughts as a first-time founder on what he discovered as he developed a creative company steeped in technology.

When I first started IMG Studios, I was focused on excelling in those skills needed to produce cutting-edge content, leveraging the latest advances in VR and AR while still telling a good story.

What I’ve learned is that you can be really good at what you do. Most of us who start our own business do it to execute our craft at the highest level we think is possible. What you don’t learn, though, is how to run the business side of what you want to do. What will cost money, when you should spend money, how should you hire employees—you are never really explicitly taught the nuts and bolts of running a business.

One issue I’ve had to learn how to manage is addressing the financial swings of a new business. For so many entrepreneurs you can be doing well one week, and the next week you may lose a major client through no fault of your own. I’ve had to learn how to deal with those financial fluctuations.

I’ve taken some general business classes, and it’s just that—general. What I needed was specific advice on how to run my particular business and run it well.

This is why I think it’s very important for you to reach out to people for mentorship and advice who are like-minded and in the same type of business you are pursuing. This approach was incredibly helpful since I could compare notes with someone who is in the same industry as me.

Learning from others in your industry is probably my number one piece of advice to new founders.
The other lesson learned I’d offer is to think outside of your private silo and reach out to your competitors.

Most entrepreneurs hesitate to reach out to those who excel in your same field, but what I’ve found is that we were more productive as collaborators than as competitors.

I was in a leadership program and met someone in the same program who was doing something similar to me. People tend to instinctively become competitive, so I’ll admit I didn’t think we needed to connect at first. I learned later on over coffee that he isn’t doing the same exact work I was. In fact, we’ve since collaborated strategically on some work and have both become successful in our own right.

What I’ve discovered is that each individual brings something unique to the same market. Approaching your competitors collaboratively can often result not only in sharing insights from similar experiences. It can lead to beneficial strategic partnerships.

If you look at the latest SA2020 report progress report, the number of jobs in the creative industry is falling, not growing. People are having difficulty finding creative jobs in San Antonio and are leaving. As a startup, even I have challenges finding creative talent locally—we just hired our creative director from New York, despite looking through hundreds of resumes.

Because San Antonio’s ecosystem is evolving, we cannot afford to develop into self-contained silos. Collaboration is going to be the key to growing what we have and catapulting our creative STEM sector into a higher gear.

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