“For ten months our codename was Seabiscuit,” says Nicky Daez, director and co-owner of Seabiscuit Films. Unlike many entrepreneurs, who borrow money, in order to generate startup capital, Nicky and his business partner, Sarie Cruz, worked full time production jobs while taking on extra projects in order to save enough to build their company. When they finally felt they had enough, they decided to go the old fashion route. In an industry that often sources freelancers for every project, they chose to hire full time employees. “It felt like, to really make this a business, we kind of have to bite the bullet. We can’t keep outsourcing.”
Just a year of working out of the basement of Sarie’s parents, they incorporated, found an office, and began hiring people. “Producers, sound engineers, we made everyone in-house,” Nicky said. Frightening for a brand new production company, knowing that they had to meet huge overhead costs every month. The solution? “Take all the lame projects!!” Sarie said with a laugh.
Taking on every project was the opposite of the original plan, and the very reason why Nicky and Sarie had chosen to leave their old jobs. Without realizing it, they built the kind of company they hated. “We could feel it when we entered the office, people were depressed. They were overworked. They were stressed out,” said Nicky.
“Turnover of employees was really fast,” added Sarie.
Learning to Say No
Finding out that they were starting to hate their jobs, living with tension day in and day out, and watching that negativity seep into their personal lives was a wakeup call. They needed to learn how to say no, even when the project offered good money, to not make their work a numbers game. “We started doing projects we actually liked, that make you want to be at the office,” Nicky said. “The mood just changed instantly.”
They knew they were on the right track when their employees started affirming their decisions. Changing the kind of work they did changed their relationships with their employees, and they work to keep it the way it is currently.
“The office feels better,” Sarie shared. “Everyone is friend. We try to do something every month, company trips, karaoke, throwing a party… It’s the way we have chosen to interact. Like we’re friends, and with respect.”
Sarie, who jokingly calls herself head of HR, revealed that a big part of company culture begins in the hiring process. “I always hire someone better than me,” she said. “They have to be better than me at the thing I want them to be good at.” Admiring her employees changes her attitude towards them, which changes their attitude towards her, creating relationship of equals and colleagues instead of owner and employee.
Keeping Them Happy
“We respect work-life balance,” Sarie continued. “In this industry, the hours are long, the norm is for people no to go home.” Both Nicky and Sarie are proud to say that no employee has every slept in the office. While many stay past seven or eight in the evening, it is often just to skip rush hour than because they need to work. “In bigger places, you feel like a cog in the machine. Here, we are a team, we work together. That’s important because with small companies, one person can kill the vibe.”
Apart from hiring the more talented, spending time outside of work, and making sure employees are not overloaded, Sarie also makes it a point to have “feedback sessions,” where both she and Nicky talk to their employees about how they are feeling about work, their projects, and the company. The sessions help them adjust to the work styles of their employees, and just understand them better. “We treat everyone like people,” Sarie said. “That’s the difference.”
Continuing Their Culture
Both Nicky and Sarie still consider Seabiscuit to be a startup. Both feel that they are still building their company culture, but they know that they have already taken really good steps. A lot of it coming down to being happy with their projects. Sometimes purposely ignoring large figures in order to work with people they believe in and creating content they want to see in order to keep the team happy has been more rewarding.
Nicky said it best, “It’s not exactly sensible, but sometimes I think intuition is more important. You’re not in this just to make a living. We spend so much time doing work, you might as well do the thing you love.”