Blink Tower is a small Cape Town based production company that make explanation videos. Their animated videos demonstrate just how businesses, products and ideas work, minus the boring Powerpoint presentations or corporate jargon. Blink Tower was started in 2010 with a small team, and they’ve managed to hook corporate clients like Vodacom, Zando and AfriHost.
They recently made a video called Engineering is Amazing and entered it into the Engineering for You video contest, which celebrates The US National Academy of Engineering’s 50th year of fellowship, excellence and innovation.
We caught up with the Blink Tower team to find out how they built a successful business around explaining things.
Who is the team behind Blink Tower?
We are a small but very busy little team with a rather strange sense of humour. As co-founders, Elodie and Adrian steer the ship – Elodie manages all things financial and operational while Adrian focuses more on the creative side of the business. They’re joined by Henk – entrepreneurial mastermind – who oversees our marketing initiatives; Graeme, who looks after the writing and storyboards; and Sabine, who manages just about everything else! We also employ a number of talented (local!) illustrators, animators, sound designers and voice artists on a freelance or project-to-project basis. We’re a tight-knit bunch with an annoying number of in-jokes but we’d still love you to stop by for tea!
How was Blink Tower started?
Adrian (with a background in film and animation) and Elodie (with a background in education and business) started working together on a mobile soccer show in 2010. Like most small businesses, that crashed and burned a few months later. However, due in part to a sense of ceaseless optimism and/or stubbornness, we teamed up to start a production company and looked for new projects to work on.
As a result of some great advice from the third partner, Henk (business savant), we decided to “do one thing, really really well” and specialised in explainer videos.
Why explanation videos?
Adrian, while still a spotty-faced teenager, made what was (arguably) South Africa’s first explainer video for Henk’s fledgling company Skyrove. We realised storytelling was the perfect way to cut through the corporate jargon that companies generally used to describe themselves. There was something refreshing about a simple, character-driven story instead of a dry, lifeless Powerpoint presentation.
Explainer videos combine a whole bunch things we’re passionate about. Apart from some creatively challenging disciplines (animation, illustration, sound design), at the heart of it we get to spend our days telling stories, coming up with crazy ideas and learning lots about businesses of all shapes and sizes.
What’s the story behind the name?
After countless brainstorming sessions, sleepless nights and hair pulling we came up with… nothing! As is the nature of these things, after a few days not thinking about it at all (and some laser hair treatment) it finally hit us!
We wanted something quirky together with something “reliable” and solid. “Blink” gave us quirky in the form of a charming cycloptopus called Blinky, and “Tower” gave us something strong and dependable. We liked how they sounded together!
What has been the greatest challenge in starting and running a creative business in South Africa, and how did you overcome it?
In the creative world your portfolio is what gets you work. So when you don’t yet have a portfolio things can be tricky! You need to prove yourself as quickly as possible – which unfortunately often means working on risky jobs for potentially no real money. However if your work is consistently great quality, then you’ll soon be able to charge what you’re worth and move out of your parents’ basement!
What have been some highlights since the start of Blink Tower?
Even though we’ve only been around for a few years, we’ve been been blessed with a number of seriously great clients and the highlights have come thick and fast. We nabbed our first major client in Vodacom by making them a shotgun video out of our own pockets (and Elodie’s mom’s kitchen!) and sending it to them on a wing and a prayer. Fortunately, it paid off and we went on to make another 10 videos for them.
The Shuttleworth Foundation has been another seriously cool client, and has opened up opportunities for us to work with other like-minded organisations around the world (including those in Sweden, Qatar and the UK). Many of our favourite projects have been videos for international companies, where we’ve had great fun working with foreign voiceover talent and learning a little about other languages and cultures.
And we’ve been privileged with some success on the awards front, winning first place in the Creative Commons: Why Open Education Matters video competition in 2012 and placing second at last year’s Cape Talk 567 Small Business Awards. Watch this space!
Which other local creative entrepreneurs inspire you, and why?
Living in the Design Capital of the whole entire world makes that a hard one to answer! But we can pick out a couple if we absolutely must.
Kerry Muller from Simple Intrigue
Kerry takes old books destined to be pulped, and turns them into the most whimsical creations you can imagine. Wowza.
Alex is just one of the coolest illustrators ever, with a wonderfully unique style. On top of that he wrties and illustrates his own children’s books!
Mike Raimondo from Green Renaissance
A local production company with a green angle that do work internationally. They tell moving stories quickly, and they are so pretty it will make your eyes hurt.
What are some the benefits of owning your own business, specifically in the creative industry?
It goes without saying that the experience of building something that does what you love, attracting talented people to employ and partner with AND getting paid to do it is pretty incredible! That being said, it’s still a business, with the same challenges that any other industry faces. We just get to face them while wearing slippers to work and drawing silly pictures.
Any advice for someone wanting to start a creative business?
Ideally, do it in a partnership! There will always be overlap, but you need at least one creative genius and one person whose focus is on the business side of things. Never forget that you are a service provider and that nothing is more important than your clients’ happiness. Network, network, network! And be an advice junkie – get lots of it, and learn quickly how to filter, discard, adapt and apply other people’s pearls of wisdom.