How I turned my passion into a business

There's one thing  that unites all entrepreneurs - the huge passion for whatever they do, whether that's inventing disruptive technologies, selling an awesome product, or working with people. Everyone has a passion, but figuring out how to turn that passion into your day job can be difficult. Virgin Startup-funded entrepreneur Dan Weaver is the co-founder of Fudge Animation Studios, a Surrey-based animation startup - here's how he took his passion and turned it into a business.

Most of us have aspirational goals, and much is written around the topic of making one’s dreams come true. My personal journey towards achieving my lifelong ambitions led to what’s been a crazy year - the first twelve months starting my business. Now that the hectic first months are over, I’ve been thinking about the things that made my dreams come true. How I made started up my own animation company - Fudge.

I’m always interested to speak to partners, clients, and prospects about their goals; but whilst most businesses have strategic objectives that they can regurgitate when asked, I’m sometimes surprised at how few seem to have cherished aspirations that they feel really passionately about. Maybe having a dream in the first place, something that you genuinely feel fanatically about, is not that straightforward?

I’m lucky. I’ve never had to spend much time thinking about what I want to achieve because I’ve only ever wanted to do one thing. My dream has always been to tell entertaining and engaging stories - to produce, direct and film.

Like most children, I grew up reading comics and watching animated children’s television and movies. However, from as young as I can remember, I always thought I could do a better job. I’ve always had a passion for storytelling and also spent much of my youth sketching my own characters and conceiving my own TV shows. I remember selling my family tickets to productions which were played out by me and my five year old friends in my back garden. It was at this age that I was given my first camera - an old 8mm Bolex. I don’t recall it ever containing any film but I do remember running around pretending to capture everything around me. Unfortunately, none of my early ideas made the cut with prime time TV producers of the day, but I never gave up on my ambition to write stories and direct films.

I got my first taste of creative production at the BBC where I was fortunate enough to work on some of the Beeb’s landmark children's series - shows like the Tweenies and Teletubbies. I was responsible for building interactive stories and games and also created other cool stuff like fun, animated e-cards featuring Postman Pat and Bob the Builder for kids to send to their friends.

The BBC is a great place for creative people to cut their teeth and I was fortunate enough to be assigned a Senior TV Director as my mentor. I told him about my long-term intentions and he gave me one of the best pieces of advice I’ve received to date - to quit!. “If you want to be a Director then you need to quit your job here and go and learn how to make film,” he told me. As you can probably imagine, working at BBC Television Centre at the age of 18 with an access card that seemingly allowed me to roam around wherever I wanted was amazing, and leaving was not a decision I was going to take lightly. But, I was determined to make it as a director and left the BBC to train in film production.

After graduating film school, and after 18 months’ well-earned travelling around Europe, I returned ready to begin my career as the world’s best animated storyteller. I expected the phone to ring off the hook with job offers. But, to my disappointment, it didn’t happen. I’d done everything right – I had good work experience, fantastic references from the BBC, I’d studied at one of the best film schools in Europe, I was resolute and focused, and I was incredibly passionate about the industry I wanted to work in. But finding a job was harder than I’d anticipated and I spent the next few years jumping from one contract to another and taking mundane freelance opportunities to make the ends meet.

For a little while, life got in the way and the ideas I had as that little boy running around with an empty camera seemed to get further and further away. Then one day, completely out of the blue, a colleague at one of the companies I was contracting for came in with her newborn son and the little boy’s slightly older brother. In his hand, he was holding a toy version of my old 8mm Bolex! I haven’t got a clue why (or how) he’d got his hands on it, but everything came flooding back. Later that week, my contract came to an end and I swore that it would be my last. I wasn’t going to wait around for the phone to ring. I was going to start my own company.

Going out on my own took a huge leap of faith but I was confident in my ability. As Walt Disney said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” I had the skills, a few basic animation software packages and, technically-speaking, a computer. Working from my flat, I didn’t have a studio to welcome clients into, in fact, I didn’t have any clients. Moreover, I didn’t have any prospects or even a sniff of work in the pipeline. But I didn’t care. I had an unwavering belief in my abilities and in bringing my dreams to fruition.

It took a lot of hard work and involved hours of reading, studying, and experimenting with software. I honed my skills and spent hours sketching, painting and developing my animation knowledge. In between, I sent thousands of emails to potential customers to let them know that I existed (I might have thrown something in there about being absolutely incredible and excellent value for money). Over the course of a couple of months the work started to come in, followed by a few very welcome recommendations and referrals. Then quite a more projects surfaced – and then all hell broke loose. It was time to scale up.

I realised at this point that if I was going to create a successful business, I wasn’t going to be able to do it all by myself. Dealing with the finances, marketing, business development etc. is something I can do, but I’d rather not. My passion and real ability is for being creative and imagining new ways to tell our customers stories. At Fudge, most of this stuff is dealt with by my colleague and co-founder James. James is really creative but, by his own admission, “couldn’t draw a bath”. He has little interest in the production side of what we do but has a passion and flair for the numbers (he claims to have invented Excel) and growing the commercial side of our business. Working alongside James frees me up to focus on being creative and allows him to focus on business development and it’s great that we both have our own defined roles.

In our first year, we won some incredible projects with some of the world’s largest companies and most recognisable brands. We continue to grow and to delight our customers with fun, engaging character animated videos which help our clients to launch new products and services, increase sales conversions, showcase their brand’s personality and much more.

I started this story by talking about how to make your dreams into a reality. So here’s my advice – just go for it. The only thing that will prevent you from achieving your goals are the limitations you put on yourself. Work hard, believe in yourself, and surround yourself with good, intelligent people who complement your skills. And good luck!

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