Have you ever met someone and known they are going to be a big part of your life? That's how I felt when I met Jess Peterson. Peterson, a stunning, petite blonde with oversized glasses she exudes quirk and confidence simultaneously.
Through her experiences in the music world, art school and working for a non-profit she has become an innovator in the world of animation. She turned her hobby into a full time business called Mighty Oak with work being featured in Dream, Girl, Samsung, Perrier and many more.
In addition to managing the business side of Mighty Oak she was also the co-founder of a meetup called HATCH for creative female founders to learn from one another.
On October 25th HATCH & Six Degrees Society will be hosting an event at Coworkrs Gowanus called HATCH Hookups where each guest will get 4 curated 15 minute matches.
For the meantime, read all about Jess's story navigating the music industry and starting her advice for starting your own company.
1. Your background was in music and managing bands. Can you tell us how you went from being on the road to showcasing your stop motion animation in a movie like Dream, Girl?
I’ve always been a music nerd. I started playing piano at age 5, started selling mixtapes at age 8, went to Woodstock 99 at age 15, studied music business in college, put on concerts for a campus of 20,000 students, and immediately jumped into the industry after school. I was sure that this was my calling. But as the music industry changed dramatically in the early 2000’s, I found myself losing my passion, and was feeling discouraged by the way the industry treated its artists. During the recession, the music world took an even worse hit. And it was hard to keep the distinction between music as an artform and music as a money maker.
I decided to go back to school to figure out how my love for music and the arts in general could be more helpful to others. That eventually led me to my job at the Children’s Museum of the Arts. It was there as I managed the communications department that I first really became drawn to stop motion animation. I come from a family of actors and professional storytellers (yes, that’s a real job,) and have always had a love for telling stories. Animation allowed for storytelling in ways that were hard to do in “the real world.” It was nostalgic and magical. So once I decided to leave the museum and start my own branding business, I found myself calling upon my friend and former colleague Emily Collins to help me tell stories for businesses through stop motion.
Well, that collaboration worked a little too well, and it became clear that I wanted Mighty Oak to focus on telling stories for brands and films through hand-made animation. That’s how Emily and I first got started. And here we are -- one year later-- with our third partner Michaela Olsen, and a number of projects under our belt (including the Dream, Girl film that you mentioned.) You can’t always predict the path that your career will take, but sometimes, you just have to embrace it!
That said, I still Dj with my husband (weddings mostly), so I still get to stay involved in some way. Music n3rd 4 lyfe!
2. Stop motion animation is a patient endeavour, do you have any advice on securing your client before going through the process of creating the product?
Like any creative project, the most important step before getting to work is communication. My job is to ensure that we understand the client’s audience and goals, and that they completely understand how we plan to bring their goals to life. Emily and Michaela make sure that their storyboards and color schemes are always clear and accessible.
As someone who doesn’t have a degree in animation, I make sure to ask myself “would I understand this if I were the client?” I do the same when thinking about the audience. The more we can get inside the head of our clients ahead of time, the smoother the process goes for everyone. That’s been my observation across the board -- no matter what industry you’re in.
3. What has been your greatest pinch me moment so far? What's been a hurdle you've had to overcome?
To be honest, this whole process has been a pinch me moment. To be able to hone your creativity in a way that helps all types of clients is a truly rewarding process. This past May, we had a chance to see a special screening of a film that we worked on at The White House, and that was pretty darn special. The next month, that same film premiered in the city to a packed theater, and my parents were able to attend. Experiencing that moment with them was a serious ‘pinch me’ moment.
But yes, there’s also been a million hurdles along the way. Finding a studio, understanding how much to charge, growing the team, honing my accounting skills -- it sounds cheesy but I really do see it all as a learning experience. Usually after the fact, though! The thing is, there’s absolutely no way that I would have learned these lessons so well had I been working for someone else. Now, no matter what the next chapter of Mighty Oak holds, I feel really ready for the next hurdle. :)
4. If you were to talk to the Jess who worked in music what advice would you give her?
That is a great question. I would have told her to spend more time understanding the business behind the music, and to explore how technology was going to affect the industry. In other words, I would tell her to invest in Spotify.
5. If there was one piece of advice you'd share to future entrepreneurs, what would you tell them?
Write a business plan. This may not sound like the sexiest answer, but it’s absolutely crucial. Understanding who your target audience is, why they want your product, how you’ll produce it, how you’ll sell it, how much it all costs, and most importantly how much you can grow is absolutely critical to starting any business. There’s always going to be a sense of ‘winging’ it in entrepreneurship, but with a strategy in hand, you can exchange those late night fears for confident pep talks. And that makes all the difference.