I first met Walker when he was running Corley Printing: we discussed his acquisition of Mira’s print division, but we never came to terms. From that, I recognized a savvy negotiator and someone extremely knowledgeable of business, despite being south of 40. I recognized from our discussion how creativity does not have to come at the expense of a good business deal
An Excerpt from the Book:
“I have always been interested in success and how it can be replicated”
Walker obtained his undergraduate degree from the University of Kansas and an MBA from Washington University in St. Louis. He was CEO of Corley Printing Company, one of the largest book manufacturers in the U.S. before it was acquired in 2013. He is an executive producer of several feature films, which have premiered and won awards at Sundance, SXSW, and the Toronto International Film Festival. Walker has been involved with several boards and initiatives focused on entrepreneurship, and is working on his next company, EDC.
I’ve been involved in a number of startups, and not one of them has made it. Each failed for different reasons, but it speaks to how hard it is to start a business from scratch. The marketplace is ruthless, and has no sympathy for a misstep. A new endeavor may fail for a host of reasons: investing too much money in a product that does not sell; a great product at the wrong time; cash flow; and so on. But I am still at it: one of my latest ventures is modeling what a typical successful startup looks like: my goal is to develop a process that reduces failure rates. I am optimistic this one will have legs. I have always been interested in achievement and how it can be replicated – and taking what I’ve learned to reduce my own pains on the next one.
There is a rich blend of success in my family going back generations: on one side are artists and academics, with established careers in fine arts, teaching, and graphic design. On the other side are businessmen, with successful ventures in printing, animal feed products, and filtration products. I have an uncle who has acquired numerous companies, improved their operations, and sold them. At Thanksgiving, there is talk of the economy’s impact on small business on one side of the table and the philosophical meaning behind obscure art on the other. Most of my pursuits have drawn from both, finding the creative side in business and the business side of creativity. I lean more toward the business side of things because if a project isn’t sustainable financially, then it’s not sustainable at all. The numbers have to work.
In 1997, I was an undergraduate at University of Kansas, where I studied English Literature and Religious Studies. A good friend in St. Louis had taken several film classes and we decided to make a movie – more as a hobby for me, but a serious endeavor for him. Like most college students, we had more determination than money. He wrote the entire screenplay as a feature-length film; we would shoot a scene with the resources we had, which was then used to raise money for the next scene. Long before Kickstarter, he had a “handshake” crowd-funding campaign and managed to raise over $120,000 in the process. We shot the movie in a little over three years – on actual film, not digital – which ended up looking amazing. It was picked up by Lionsgate in 2000 and went straight to video; before YouTube and social media, the idea that anyone could make money on a film deal was a rare thing.
I had a roommate in college who was also into films – but he was more interested in the business and production side: he ended up working for producer Scott Rudin at Paramount. After I graduated, I got a sales job in the Bay Area, and would spend many weekends commuting to L.A., hanging out on the Paramount Lot, and interview anyone who would talk to me.
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