Making Something From Nothing: Jerry Kolber Of ATOMIC ENTERTAINMENT GROUP On How To Go From Idea To Launch
An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis
Be PATIENT. Because we are creators, we want to have our creations enjoyed, used, and loved as soon as possible. Whether you create physical goods, digital products, or media — the road from idea to execution to widespread adoption is always longer than you think. It was more than three years from our having the idea for the science series Brainchild before it began streaming on Netflix.
As a part of our series called “Making Something From Nothing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jerry Kolber.
JERRY KOLBER is an Executive Producer, writer and the CEO of ATOMIC ENTERTAINMENT GROUP — creators of the hit science/edu-taintment shows BRAIN GAMES and BRAINCHILD. Kolber graduated from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, with a degree in theater and concentration in film.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
I grew up in the swamps of South Florida, with a lot of free time to wander around nature and make up games and adventures. My backyard was basically the Florida Everglades, my parents were very big on making sure that my sister and I spent a lot of time outdoors. Our bike rides took us by alligators, crocodiles, and iguanas, which we just figured was how everyone grew up.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Art is the elimination of the unnecessary” — Pablo Picasso. This quote has always stuck with me, because it points the way towards impact through simplicity. Eliminating the unnecessary is a difficult process, but when done correctly, you are left with the essence of an idea, which is beautiful. It is so much harder than it sounds, but worth the effort. The creative work like we do at Atomic, results in experiences that are honest, insightful and impactful.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Seeing Star Wars as a kid was a game-changer for me. It was the first time I was aware of the power of media to fully immerse an audience in a vision — which led me to create my own little productions when I was 8 or 9 years old — and I never really stopped. It also sparked my love of science and space and wonder.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. There is no shortage of good ideas out there. Many people have good ideas all the time. But people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. Can you share a few ideas from your experience about how to overcome this challenge?
Persistence and commitment are highly underrated. Many great ideas fail because the ‘idea creator’ expected success in the first year or two; many fewer great ideas succeed because the creator stuck with it through the rigors of early startup. We live in a world where tech companies have trained us to expect — or demand — nearly instant gratification. That is quite the opposite of how success happens in business. I’ve found it generally takes at least 18 to 24 months for a business to establish a good foundation — and then you can build from there. The caveat being, if you do take an idea to the marketplace and aren’t getting any positive signals in the first 12 months — you might have more of a hobby, than a business.
Often when people think of a new idea, they dismiss it saying someone else must have thought of it before. How would you recommend that someone go about researching whether or not their idea has already been created?
First, it is not unlikely that someone has had the same idea before you. The real question is -which you can probably answer with a basic online search– has someone done exactly what you intend to do in the exact same way you intend to do it? For example, there are dozens of true crime TV shows, and dozens of home renovation TV shows — but each one approaches the subject a little bit differently.
For the benefit of our readers, can you outline the steps one has to go through, from when they think of the idea, until it finally lands in a customer’s hands? In particular, we’d love to hear about how to file a patent, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer to distribute it.
While the specific legal processes may be different, the actual process of going from idea to finished film, book, TV series, or podcast is not that different from idea to manufacturing a physical product. Just as you can patent an invention before it is actually produced, you can copyright a script before it is produced. In both cases, it is NOT enough to just have an “idea” — you must actually write the script — or provide details of your invention — and then file it with the Library of Congress (Copyrightable Work) or Patent Office (Physical Products). It is highly advised to work with a specialized attorney when filing a patent or copyright. If your work has an overall brand identity you’ve invested in, you may also want to trademark the brand — again, hire an attorney who specializes in this. To create your creative product or physical product, the best way to find a producer or manufacturer is to tap into the network of people who’ve executed successfully in areas similar to yours; you don’t want a startup or newbie learning the ropes on the back of your IP. Depending on your track record and what you want out of the deal, this is going to cost you money, equity or both. For creative work, you can either self-distribute if production costs are low (self-publish, podcast, TikTok or YouTube channel, etc), or find a distributor in advance if costs are high (but you’ll need to partner with someone who can get you in the door at networks). For physical products, many people are going down the DTC route (via Instagram, Amazon, etc), since it eliminates the retailer and only requires a distributor, which can easily be found through some online research.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started Leading My Company” and why?
- Don’t do something just because you are good at it. As soon as possible, you should only be doing the things that ONLY YOU CAN DO. It’s easy as a founder to get caught up in doing everything because you CAN — but you should strive to delegate roles that someone else can do proficiently. In my own case, I’m good with financial work, but there are many people who are better and get more pleasure out of it than me. By removing the day-to-day financial oversight from my role, it frees up time for me to focus on big picture: creation and strategy, while still keeping an eye on KPIs and the overall financial health of my business.
- Be PATIENT. Because we are creators, we want to have our creations enjoyed, used, and loved as soon as possible. Whether you create physical goods, digital products, or media — the road from idea to execution to widespread adoption is always longer than you think. It was more than three years from our having the idea for the science series Brainchild before it began streaming on Netflix.
- Have ALLIES. It is vital that you have people around you who believe in your idea and are willing to tough it out with you. Whether this is a co-founder, investor, or another person, you cannot do it all alone. If you cannot find anyone who is willing to walk this long road with you, ask someone you trust whether the issue is you or the idea. Adjust accordingly. I could not do what I do without my producing partner Adam Davis, or the moral support of my friends and family.
- Begin with the end in mind — BUILD SYSTEMS. After the first few years in business, you should be able to go away for a few weeks without impacting the health of your company. This means that you cannot be the central asset of the business, but that IP, products, and systems are. The sooner you start building systems that can run without you, the better, because this is also what anyone considering buying your business is really paying for (unless they are buying IP). If you start this process when you’re thinking of selling your company, you’ve started too late. Reap the benefits of systems as early as possible.
- PICK YOUR BATTLES. You cannot fight every competitor, bad review, bad vendor, bad client, or whatever other injustice you think has been done to you or your business. Your job is to create, grow, thrive, and sell. Investing too much energy in fighting every battle will exhaust you and leave a bad impression. Pick your battles, and be willing to explain to your team & whomever you are engaging with WHY this is so important. And if someone you trust says, “Let it Go,” — you should probably just let it go.
Let’s imagine that a reader reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to invent. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?
First, really define the product. Ideas are everywhere, but walking an idea down the road to something specific is difficult. That first step takes you from dreaming to doing. Next, figure out who your audience or end user is, and be very specific — really imagine them, their lives, be able to describe how and when they’d interact with your product. This process should help you refine your idea. You need to really understand and kick the tires on your idea before you start talking to other people about it (outside of your allies/trusted circle).
There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?
Consultants are useful if you’re taking a product or idea to the market to look for investors. We use IP consultants, attorneys, and chain-of-title companies to ensure that our ideas are not in legal violation of any existing intellectual property. In the big scheme of things, they are not very expensive, and they can help provide assurance to investors, partners, and distributors. If your invention requires knowledge and expertise that you don’t have, an invention consultant could help get you from idea to product. But I wouldn’t spend the money unless I’d done the research to know that my idea is viable to market.
What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?
I am a fan of bootstrapping. We’ve run Atomic without outside investment, because we did not want the pressure of investment forcing us to make projects that we did not want to do or that did not align with our mission. This has been challenging at times, but overall we feel it’s been the right move for us because our reputation is based on the fact that we only create premium edutainment. Bootstrapping also means you only “eat what you kill” so you have to hit “publish” and get revenue as soon as possible. We are opening up to VC investment for the first time to build a subscription content platform around our educational podcast Who Smarted?, but only after we’ve spent the last 18 months ‘bootstrap proving’ the concept, and getting to 40,000 active users & over 400,000 downloads per month.
Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
The filter for every project we do is — how does this make the world a better (or smarter) place? Our mission is to improve the world through premium educational entertainment. My success, and improving some aspects of the world, are quite literally the same thing. We’ve impacted millions of adults and kids by creating entertainment that improves critical thinking skills, improves science understanding, and helps people understand how their own brains and bodies work.
You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would love to inspire a movement that resulted in teaching basic life skills to children and young adults. The fact that (at least in the US) we do not explicitly teach financial skills, critical thinking skills, and basic behavioral psychology is a massive missed opportunity. If we taught those three skills to an entire generation, it would radically change how we interact and prosper together.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
This is a tough question. I think I would want to have lunch with the Obamas. They both rose to prominence, not through wealth or family connections, but rather their own combination of hard work, learning, leadership, social skills, and commitment to excellence. They seem like great people and their mission aligns with mine. I’d love to grab lunch with them because I know we’d come up with an incredible project together.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
Making Something From Nothing: Jerry Kolber Of ATOMIC ENTERTAINMENT GROUP On How To Go From Idea To… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.