Editor’s Note: Marcelo Lewin is a serial technology entrepreneur who has started many successful companies.
He is currently the CEO and founder of FilmmakingWebinars.com which creates webinars for and by filmmakers working in Film, Video or the Web.
The following narrative was the keynote delivered by Marcelo at last June’s MediaProCamp run as an annual event by the MCAI-OC at Santa Ana’s Digital Media Center. Marcelo is a master of reinventing himself and is an inspiration to all who know him. There will be a short Q&A with Marcelo at the end of the keynote.
I was working in the accounting department of Toyota Motor Corp, the one in Torrance. God I hated that job. I don’t know how anyone can love doing accounting! Anyhow...I sat next to the IT team and saw that they not only were having fun, taking daily afternoon breaks to Starbucks, but also loved what they did. That was in 1994. I was just getting into the web. I got my first web server, called O’Reilley Website. No one ever heard of HTML, web servers, or even the word “Intranet” or “Internet.” So I studied at night. Learned everything I could. I would stay up until 2 in the morning coding HTML. Then, the next day I would go back to my boring accounting job. One day I decided to start networking with the Information Technology (IT) folks. I would visit them every day and talk about the Web, HTML, and web servers, anything I was learning the previous night. All of a sudden, the IT folks started to call me the “Internet guy”. They had no clue about the Internet, but loved listening to my stories about the cool stuff I was learning.
One day, I approached Human Resources and asked if I could go ahead and create a bulletin board (there was no Intranet) to share the information I was learning about the Internet with the employees of Toyota. They loved the idea. I would stay late after work posting my stories about the new “Internet”. I posted day in and day out. The folks in the accounting department thought I was nuts. Well, guess what, after a couple of months, that bulletin board became extremely popular within IT first, then within the rest of Toyota. People were constantly e-mailing me questions about the Internet. When it came time to get Toyota on the “Internet Bandwagon”, guess who they came to? Me! They already knew I knew the stuff because of my bulletin board posting and the networking I was doing with them.
So they offered me a job to work in the IT team doing web development. A couple of months later I was now working full time doing web development. Goodbye accounting job! Reinvention #1 took place. I saw the Internet coming and I was not afraid of it. I embraced it with all my heart and it paid off very well. I stayed with Toyota’s IT until 1996 when I got a job offer to be employee #4 for NBC Digital Productions. Today it’s known as NBC.com. I stayed with them for 1 year and then moved on to Walt Disney Imagineering, again doing more web development and project management for them until I saw a new trend coming - the Dot Com Boom.
It was 1999 and I was sitting in my bed watching TV with my wife (and my other wife - my laptop) and thought about creating an online system where you could manage your virtual life and data. I decided to call it MyInternetDesktop.com and created it as a “side business” while working at Disney. Well, guess what, I ended up quitting Walt Disney Imagineering to go full time with this company. One and one-half years later, I sold it to Internet Appliance Networks and stayed with them for close to one year until the .com crash closed down many .com companies. Fast forward to 2005, I started to see another trend coming. I was a developer for JF Shea, when I started to see that podcasting was getting pretty big, so I created a company, on the side again, while working at Shea, called Pixel Heads Network which hosted various podcasts all focused on media creation.
That’s “reinvention #2”
I decided to leave my nice web development job to start doing media, specifically podcasting. Well, that “reinvention” paid off once again. I ended up selling Pixel Heads Network to ProMAX in 2008.
In 2009, Reinvention #3 came.
As people who know me well, know that I get bored easily. I was tired of web development, podcasting, and media creation, but I noticed that webinars were starting to get “hot”. A new trend! So I created NewMediaWebinars.com. The new “webinar trend” didn’t scare me. In fact, it excited me. I decided to mix everything that I love. Let’s teach online all about media creation. I took yet another chance and quit ProMAX to pursue this business full time.
Later on I renamed NewMediaWebinars.com to FilmmakingWebinars.com, because of the trend I saw of filmmakers needing good cheap education online. No one wants to travel and pay for a hotel plus all the other related expenses just to get good education. Well, that seemed to have worked. We currently have close to 40 presenters and almost 70 webinars produced. We had over 7000 people attend our webinars last year alone and this year we are on track to surpass that. So how did I reinvent myself? Skills baby. Continually learning new skills and staying ahead of the competition. It’s the only way.
Get Out Of Your Comfort Zone Do something new. Produce something unlike anything you’ve done before like a documentary or music video. Experiment with some visual effects, just because you can. Do some green screen fun with your kids! Get out of your comfort zone and the experience will teach you new skills, but more importantly it will give you perspective. Can you write? Are you waiting for that big Hollywood break? Forget it. Make your own break! Start a blog and get noticed. Go create that TV pilot you always wanted to make, except it’s now called a webisode!
Why not try out podcasting? Go ahead. Do it. FAIL AT IT and then get up and try again and make it work! The point is to do something out of the ordinary FOR YOU. Something beyond your comfort zone.
Speaking of comfort zone, networking and meeting new people is probably one of the hardest and most “uncomfortable” activities for me ever. I’m not a “people person”. But in this business, I have to network. I have to know people. So I make every effort to attend as many events, just like this, as I can. You should too. Attend all the great events that MCAI puts together. Register at Meetup.com and look for local groups and Meetups that you are interested in and make every effort to attend them regularly. Force yourself and volunteer to speak at these events, even if you hate public speaking (as I do!!) Attend industry expos, such as NAB, DV Expo, HD Expo, CineGear but, don’t just walk the floor and not talk to anyone, make a point of meeting 10 new people in every one of those shows. Introduce yourself. Tell them what you do. Ask them what they do. AND don’t forget to take their business card, because you want to stay in touch with them. This is a crucial step. Ask for their business card and then follow up with them a couple of days later. Keep networking with them. Have regular weekly lunches with people you know. As incredibly awesome as Facebook is, it does not replace face-to-face interaction with your potential customer.
Editor's Note: As smart and innovative as Marcelo is, he is universally liked and admired by all who know him. A genuinely nice guy.
SOCAL: What was your life like growing up and when and how did you get to California?
Marcelo: I had a good childhood surrounded by both parents, which I believe, is really important for kids to have. I was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina and lived there until I was 8 years old. Then we migrated to California in 1976. Though we were poor when I was a kid, I never felt like I missed out on stuff. In fact, I attribute the fact that we didn’t have much to my work ethics today (and also to my dad, which, though he didn’t have much money, he always worked very hard and stressed the importance of working for a living and not living off anyone). My dad became a US citizen and by default so did I until 18, when I could have rejected it if I wish to, but of course…I never wished to. I consider myself to be 100% American and love the opportunities this country gave to my parents and now to me.
SOCAL: Who were the people who most influenced your work ethic? (Eventually I would like to reprint your very touching message about your dad but this should be a brief note about him and/or others. (Art, feel free to reprint that if you wish. Just email me where it was reprinted).
Marcelo: Without a question, my dad and my mom. My dad was all about work and making sure you provide for the family. My mom was all about saving the money and making sure you “own that home”. I’m happy to say I was able to accomplish both (my wife stays at home with the kids, by choice, and we now own our house). When I was a teenager, I did not like the advice my dad kept giving me (I wanted to slack off), but I eventually listened (when I was close to 22 years of age!) and from that point on, I understood what he meant by “don’t live off of anyone…value your independence”. We are far from rich, but I can take care of my family and there is great independence in that you can do what you want without anyone ever telling you what you can or can’t purchase, or how to live your life.
SOCAL: What did you study in school that qualified you for your job at Toyota in accounting?
Marcelo: I went to school for Accounting, at Cal Poly Pomona, but quickly changed to Computer Information Systems. Unfortunately, after my dad got Cancer, I dropped out the last year to help take care of him, and I never went back (but in this industry, I really never needed it in the first place…I just kept myself up to date via the Internet…but don’t tell my kids I did that… :)
SOCAL: You have shown great insight into developing trends in technology. What do you think about the proliferation of iPad type devices? Cloud computing? What do you see as being the leading “new” technology during the next 5-10 years?
Marcelo: Funny you ask that because a friend of mine and I are starting a “side” business for creating mobile apps with data that lives in the cloud. Mobile apps (and cloud computing in general) is definitely the future. Everyone is using a smart phone and now starting to use tablets. And cloud computing is just the natural progression of computers. Think about it. We don’t each own an electric station. We get our electricity from our electricity company. We just plug stuff in and it works. That’s cloud computing. Companies one day will no longer have “IT Data Centers” in their companies. They will be outsourcing it all just like they get their electricity. We are not there yet, but that’s where we are truly headed. Think about movies today. We are slowly (but surely) migrating away form blu-ray (which I love) to streaming (e.g. VUDU…which I love as well).
SOCAL: Any closing thoughts you’d like to share?
Marcelo: I just want to tell everyone, that in the United States they are in a country that gives them unlimited opportunities. Take advantage of that and just do it (as that wonderful Nike commercial used to say). Talk less, do more and fail at it. Then get back up again and try again. It’s not easy (many times I wanted to…and sometimes still want to…quit at what I do), but you just keep getting up and doing it. I wish you lots of luck with whatever endeavor you decide to try out!