Just four years ago, Blackmagic Design created its first digital film camera. Today, the Port Melbourne innovator is leading the world when it comes to cinematic camera design. It is a truly amazing David and Goliath story that Blackmagic Design founder Grant Petty and his team are competing with a film industry that can often be resistant to change.
Over the past 15 years, Petty has built Blackmagic Design from the ground up with a never-ending desire to improve the products they create. The company now has a turnover in the hundreds of millions and employs more than 1,000 people globally, including 500 at its Port Melbourne headquarters.
Many will be surprised that, firstly, they have never heard of the company nor realised that every year, probably thousands of movies are created using Blackmagic Design equipment, whether it is their leading-edge cameras, editing, colour grading or VFX products. Petty’s philosophy is simple.
“The traditional camera makers were just not producing products that were affordable, severely limiting the accessibility of high technology digital film cameras, so we decided to build them ourselves.
We got to a stage where we thought if we don’t build the cameras everyone needs how long will it take the other manufacturers to fix the problems. Something had to be done.”
Petty is all about innovation. “To me, life is about quality. Even cavemen wanted to improve their quality of life and that triggered the start of innovation and the life we all live today.
They realised that the world could be a better place. It’s quite simple really. With any of our products we are always looking at improvements and making the world better.
“We invest millions into camera design and testing and that carries enormous risk. But if you don’t try things you will regret it.
I don’t want to be retired sitting in a rocking chair one day and thinking about the things I didn’t do. It’s better to be proud of the things you did do!” Petty admits there is a downside to this approach: “We release about eight or nine major products every year and the minute we release them, I love them! But two days later, I hate them, because I can always see how we can still make them better.
That’s really tough. I feel I am not allowed to love our new products for very long, or we will be in trouble!” Petty is one of the most hands-on CEOs you will ever find. He can take apart his cameras and put them back together. He can talk to engineers in their own language.
Blackmagic Design has been a major disruptor in the film industry. Its products are not only leading the world in terms of features and quality, but Petty has slashed the prices. “I feel if I am getting too much margin I am lying to my customer. It is a fundamental moral problem. A lot of businesses focus on the most profitable customers.
However, I feel it is a business’s responsibility to be efficient, it’s not the customer’s responsibility to pay more because the company is lazy!
“If you genuinely try to get it right all the time, your consumers will trust you that you are trying to do the right thing. This trust is so hard to build up.
GRANT PETTY, FOUNDER AND CEO, BLACKMAGIC DESIGN
In many ways we have gone through the Iron Age, the Industrial Age, Atomic Age etc, and now with social media, I feel we now have the Hate Age!
Everyone wants to see the worst in each other, so we have to do the right thing to the best of our ability. “We are human and we make mistakes, but doing the right thing is fundamental. You cannot just run a PR campaign to customers, like you could 20 years ago, and that just does not work.
You have to be a good company and if you make a mistake, then just work harder and work to get it right.” Some consumers also find it a conundrum. “I was at a trade show in the US and this guy said he had $40,000 to spend on a product.
Our similar product did everything he needed and it was $1000. What amazed us is he just could not understand he could get the features he needed for under $1000. It was fun but kind of terrifying all at the same time! “I don’t know why our products are so much more affordable as I don’t look at the price of our competitors.
No one ever truly innovated by obsessing about competitors. We just do what we can control and that is to continually work to make our products better. I do know a lot of our competitors are hooked on revenue. They are selling the same camera at the same price point they had 20 years ago with only a minor tweak here and there.
Where are their new ideas to generate new revenue? Stable growth only comes from new ideas.” Petty says he is driven to make better products to create a better world. “I can attack the problem because I have a wonderful team of people. We usually start with everyone in a room – lots of different skills.
One of the biggest problems is usually getting smart people to work together for a common goal. Our philosophy is the best idea wins; and leave your ego at the door. Let’s dream and let’s imagine what we would like the world to be and then build that!” Petty has a management structure that is virtually non-existent.
“I believe most companies have too many managers. They report on this and that and are obsessed with data and databases have become a drug businesses are addicted to. We just don’t have those people and we don’t do it that way.” And he has a simple outlook on life: “My last day on Earth should be the smartest day of my life”.