Q+A: Harrison Winter of Co.MISSION
Co.MISSION Content may be just three years old, but they are already making a big name for themselves with their unique global network of content creators working together to help brands tell their stories. Intern Amanda Salguero visited their beautiful DUMBO studio to chat with founder and CEO Harrison Winter.
Tell me about Co.MISSION Content!
Basically what we do is we help brands tell stories. We do this primarily with video and photography, and we do it around the world in over 150 countries. That global scale is one of our defining points as a company, and really what makes us unique. It's a really a big part of why brands and agencies have chosen to work with us over the past few years.
Three years ago I became completely passionate about and obsessed with shooting, directing, producing, editing, and color grading, and when I started to do that, I met a lot of other filmmakers and content creators. It became really apparent to me that there are really talented photographers and independent filmmakers around the world, and they are able to create content at a really great quality, faster, and at lower budgets. I spent a year, and basically and created a global network of content creators in 150 countries. The long story short is now we’ve used that network over the last three years to do work for some really great, cool global brands like Starbucks, Hyatt, Newcastle beer [see the video below!], Stoli, and a bunch of others.
How did you find the people in your global network? What is their role within your small DUMBO based company?
I hand-picked all of them. I looked through tens of thousands of different people's and filmmakers’ portfolio sites, and I looked for a really specific type of filmmaker and photographer. So I basically curated that entire network myself.
Everything is overseen here in DUMBO, so even when we’re doing a project like we just did for Starbucks where we filmed in 36 cities and 28 countries around the world, we oversee that from here. For big projects like that, most of the time we won’t even travel; we’re better to stay here and oversee all of those teams individually shooting content. They’re basically our people on the ground that we’re using to help us tell the stories that we want to tell. And I think DUMBO in particular is an important part for us and why we chose to be here; it’s just a creative and innovation hub. We like to be in that atmosphere. There’s a lot of other content creators, filmmakers, production companies, start-ups, small agencies and design boutiques in DUMBO; it’s just a really great place to be. It’s got the right vibe that’s a really good fit for us, and it feels unique.
You mentioned before that you focus on telling authentic stories; what do you think makes a story authentic?
What it comes down to is, are you able to connect with people? Is there emotion present in what you’re telling? It’s the look on people’s faces. As human beings we can recognize what a real smile looks like in another person, versus one that’s slightly forced, and so it’s all those little things that kind of add up to telling a story authentically. A lot of what we also do is documentary in nature, and watching real things as they happen. I think that goes a long way in terms of authenticity and story.
One huge project that you keep bringing up is the Starbucks campaign; tell us more about that.
The majority of the population around the world has had some sort of experience with Starbucks, and I think at the surface level, everyone would say that Starbucks is about coffee. We wanted to tell the story that Starbucks is about much more than just coffee. And I really truly believe this; if you think about it, how many times have you said to a friend, meet me at Starbucks? That’s a very common thing. And so what ends up happening is that Starbucks ends up being a place where you meet up with people, but you also end up incidentally sharing a lot of life’s moments.
So what we were asked to do was use our network in 28 countries and do two different things. We picked one single day, September 3, 2014, and had every single crew in those 28 countries go to a specific Starbucks and capture what moments people share when they get together; real people, real moments, and what it looks like collectively. We also had each of our producers in a few key cities research and talk to people at Starbucks and try to find stories that are more in depth of how people meet at Starbucks. So we try to find stories like that, and then gave our filmmakers creative freedom to try to tell those stories.
What would you say some of your greatest challenges have been as a young start-up company, and what have been some of the most rewarding aspects?
I think for any start-up, one thing that seems to be fairly consistent with other entrepreneurs that I talk to is that things just take time. No matter how many relationships you had working at other companies, when you set out to start your own company, you are in essence starting from scratch again. Those relationships are still extremely valuable, but you still have to build up the credibility as a brand new company, even for existing relationships to trust you. I think one of the biggest challenges is just it takes time to get solidified, to get your company name out there, and to get enough work under your belt for people to trust you again, like they trusted you when you were under another established company. It takes patience, it takes vision, and trust and faith.
The biggest reward is that inherently embedded in that entrepreneurial experience is a rollercoaster. No matter how hard you try you can never really escape it completely, but it ends up being very rewarding. So you have your highs and your lows, but when you pull off a project like Starbucks or Newcastle, I can look back on all the time that I spent, and I have something tangible that I can show for it. It’s as simple as the gratification from cooking a meal. I have something tangible that my team and I have worked on and created, and it will always be there, and that’s extremely rewarding. We care a lot about it, the things that we create. There’s a lot of love that goes into it.
And then I think the other big reward is seeing a team grow, in size, in ability, in talent, in confidence. When I started the company it was just me for the first year, and then I got to a point where I was able to hire a first employee. Now we are up to 5 people total in Brooklyn and we have one full time in our LA office. It’s very rewarding to see that grow and to bring in people that really love the vision of what you’re trying to do, and then they get behind it, and it takes on a life of its own.
Why do you love being in DUMBO?
The view is probably one of the first things. It’s awesome. Space is really really important to me- environments and atmospheres and aesthetics are really important to me. I really like that it’s on the East River, I feel that it gives me breathing room. I also feel like it gives me a totally different perspective on Manhattan. When you’re in the center of Manhattan, you can’t see Manhattan. When you’re here on the East River, you can see the forest for the trees, and I like that a lot, in addition to everything that I said about DUMBO as a creative and innovative hub. I think there’s also really great community here in DUMBO between all the different companies. There are events in the evening where people meet up for things that are specifically DUMBO related, and I just think it has a lot to offer.