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Order The Shrimp

In many ways, my family's frugality has served me well and has helped me keep Little Airplane both profitable and debt free for more than 11 years now. But there is one area in which we do spend rather freely, one that is both highly enjoyable and also very good for our bottom line: Travel.
July 5, 2011

Though it was never explicitly stated in our home, my brother and I understood from an early age that, when dining out, we must not order the shrimp.  It was not because my family was Kosher, we’re not, it was because we were cheap.  While most of our neighbors drove Volvos, we drove an old Ford Fairlane station wagon.  And while most of my fellow seventh graders had a rainbow of Izod Lacoste “alligator shirts” in their closets, we shopped at Bradlees and got the shirts that looked like Lacoste shirts but had a sad little starfish where the alligator was supposed to be.  We weren’t poor, but we certainly weren’t rich.  Our mom raised us both all by herself and there was a lot of love in our home and we always had whatever we needed but, when we ate out, we weren’t allowed to order the shrimp.

As a small independent production company, Little Airplane is constantly having to make tough decisions about how to spend our money.  We once bought three Final Cut Pro stations for the cost of one Avid station.  And when we renovated our historic building in New York’s South Street Seaport, we decided against getting “#1 Oak” for our floors so that we could afford to build out two Pro Tools audio suites instead of just one.  To this day, we not only watch every penny we spend, but we watch the global exchange rates to see what that same penny is worth everywhere else.

In many ways, my family’s frugality has served me well and has helped me keep Little Airplane both profitable and debt free for more than 11 years now.  It’s also helped us keep our budgets comparatively low which allows us to continue to make most of our shows in-house.  But there is one area in which we do spend rather freely, one that is both highly enjoyable and also very good for our bottom line:  Travel.  As some of you may have noticed, we get around a lot at Little Airplane.  We may not be eating the warm cashews in business class and we may not have Patron in our hotel mini-bars but, in just the past year, we have been to more than a dozen countries.  Why do we travel so much?

We travel because you can’t actually make a new friend on Facebook.  We travel because you can never really talk to someone on Skype.  We travel because the children’s television industry is more global right now than at any time in history and so, if we’re not making real connections with the folks who can help us finance, produce, broadcast, license, distribute and promote our shows anywhere in the world, then we’re reducing our chances of success.  And invariably something good comes out of every trip we’ve ever taken: a new partner, a new project, or a new alliance forged over a pint of beer.

Now, I can’t say that everything always goes smoothly on our adventures.  There was the time that I accidentally confused the Chinese Minister of Culture with the head waiter at a dinner in Seoul.  There was the time that Tom Brown and I tried (and failed) to find a rum & Coke in Qatar during Ramadan.  And who can forget the time I mistakenly used the phrase “here in the U.S.” while on a panel in Ottawa?  Certainly not I.  But these were small things compared to the tremendous value of these trips.

I know it’s hard for many small indies to spend money on travel but we’ve found the costs are manageable as long as you fly coach and don’t stay in the Imelda Marcos suite.   So, my message to you all this week is to buy a ticket.  Get on a plane.  Pitch your show to an international broadcaster in their own country in their own office.  Because when it comes to traveling for your business in our current global economy, it pays to order the shrimp.

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