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Walt Disney as Entrepreneur

US postage stamp of 1968 depicting :en:Walt Disney

For a great lesson in entrepreneurship, I warmly recommend visiting the brand new Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco’s Presidio Park. Apart from being a beautiful museum with lots of wonderful artwork, it also illustrates the phenomenal entrepreneurial spirit that made Walt Disney the success that he was:

  • Walt was ambitious and tenacious. He started his first studio at age 21, and when that went bankrupt, he started another one.
  • Walt understood his audience. Right from the start he knew to focus on the story (inventing the storyboard) and on the characters (inventing character animation, where all of a character’s movements map to his personality and feelings).
  • In addition to being a creative genius, Walt was an inventor who understood the importance of new technology. He invented synchronized sound for cartoons, and invested in new techniques such as multi-plane cameras and Technicolor.
  • Walt was a shrewd businessman. He got a 2 year exclusive on Technicolor, licensed his characters to merchandisers early on, and syndicated them to comic drawers.
  • Walt was a good boss. Animation was a hugely labor-intensive art, ¬†and Walt made sure his employees had great facilities and opportunities for education. There were some strike issues in the early 40s, but you can tell from the quotes that most of his employees loved him.
  • Walt took risks, always reinventing himself. Just as Mickey was taking off, he created a series of experimental, music-themed animations. Snow White was the first feature-length animated movie, and a hugely expensive gamble. During WW2, rather than closing the studios, he put them to work creating educational and inspirational videos for the war effort.
  • Walt was an optimist, who dreamed big and let no one get in the way of making those dreams reality.

I found it incredibly inspiring to learn about the life of this great man, and the passion with which he brought so much joy to all of us. And with that, I’m going to put the Jungle Book at the top of my Netflix queue: