Gunship Revolution: Five Years in Five Lessons

 

Gunship Revolution celebrates its fifth anniversary this week and those five years must count for something. That's about as much as most startups get according to some industry statistics. Of course, five years probably should count for something more than fancy equipment and a stuffed pantry and given the occasion, we'd like to mull over the ways ours do. Doubtlessly, our time together as a company with all our clients and partners has been, if anything, a learning experience and that's probably what we're most thankful for on our anniversary. Triumph or adversity, success or failure, lucky break or sudden loss - there was always something there to learn and someone to learn these things with. Perhaps it comes with having started as something new and unusual from the outset: there wasn't a "traditional" way of coordinating teams of online freelancers in 2011 and we did have to learn a lot of things by way of running full speed and hoping the door breaks open. In this week's Capitana's Log, we list five of the most important lessons we've had to learn in our five years as Gunship Revolution.

The Gunship Revolution Team, 2016. Photo by  Louise Manuel-Portillo of the Hollow Box Photography.

The Gunship Revolution Team, 2016. Photo by  Louise Manuel-Portillo of the Hollow Box Photography.

Lack can be Liberating.

Gunship Revolution didn't start with investors. It didn't start with a venture capitalist fueling a business plan with equipment, facilities, and snacks. Gunship Revolution worked out of an open-air garage those first few meetings and the administrative groundwork was laid in an apartment without its own bathroom. Apart from the first artists tied to the project, it was just the three of us: Emmanuel Javier, Harvey Bunda and myself, what equipment we owned between the three of us, and a few month's savings from our previous work. The thing was, I don't think any of us saw it as being a problem or even a challenge really: we all felt kinda liberated by it. We used that lack of the usual amenities to differentiate us from the rest of the industry, seeing it as chance to try out new business strategies offered by (relatively) improving home internet services as well as new lifestyle options offered by not having to commute two hours to the office every morning. Because we couldn't field local clients with our exurban arrangements at the time (unless we make those three hour journeys from and back to our fishing town headquarters), we also found ourselves having to look far outwards for clients we may not have pursued otherwise. In the end, while the three months of living in that tiny apartment had been an ordeal of bad ventilation and zero indoor plumbing, we only had ourselves to answer for it. And by the time we moved on, our admin system was set up, our website was online, and we had the rest of our history to attend to.

The apartment was in that building behind the tree. It's just more fun to show our neighborhood's ghost house.

The apartment was in that building behind the tree. It's just more fun to show our neighborhood's ghost house.

A company is only as good as the people in it.

The first Gunship Revolution website was a tragedy of awkward design and the less said about it, the better. However, it did start a few of Gunship Revolution's most enduring yearly traditions, not least of which being the annual GR photo day. Aside from the fact that we are all incredibly, incredibly vain (and that, being a majority Filipino community of artists, picture-taking is an intensely spiritual activity for us) picture day represents a lesson we learned early on: Gunship Revolution is defined by who's in it and why they're there. Sure, picture day gives a human face to our virtually online-exclusive company as a shameless marketing ploy but it's not an unfounded shameless marketing ploy: when you see those awkward looking faces on our main page roster instead of self portrait avatars or sample works, it's essentially to rebut our own corporate introduction with a confession that Gunship Revolution actually has a couple dozen other introductions that we somehow have to connect together into a working whole. Given that we didn't have facilities or even big projects under GR to present either, we literally didn't have much to present beyond ourselves. We simply decided to be honest about it then, except for the bit were we're all tidied up in business casual.

To be fair, I had to design this on a futon in the sweltering heat.

To be fair, I had to design this on a futon in the sweltering heat.

Not everything fits the way you'd hope.

Given the diversity of backgrounds and viewpoints that make up GR, there was also the possibility of friction among the parts that make the whole. Artists, above probably all other kinds of professional, do not come with standard shapes, and there will be times when pieces of the puzzle simply cannot fit together. The first few years of Gunship Revolution had been something like that: assembling a puzzle with mismatched pieces. Unfortunately, we had still been in the process of figuring out what image it was we were trying to build in the first place and the variety of talents, potentials, and idiosyncrasies didn't make the pile of pieces any easier to wade through. Sure enough, we lost people in those first couple of years as well as planned projects, potential clients, a number of unsustainable practices, and some of the initial fire that sparked us to build GR in the first place. Then again, we did come out of those turbulent times with a clearer vision of who we were.

Brian Valeza's Fire Monkey: celebrating a year of... interesting challenges.

Brian Valeza's Fire Monkey: celebrating a year of... interesting challenges.

Identity is (a pliant kind of) Destiny.

In finding out who we are, we learn which way we should go: this has been a lesson we had to learn time and time again. We have potentials, we have limitations, and the more deeply aware we are about these things, the more we are able to do something about them. Learning this as GR led to the formation of our two main divisions: Arbalest and Wolfram, two distinct sets of interconnected strengths and challenges led by two of our top art directors Kriss Sison and Brian Valeza. The clearer the picture got, the more invested we became in what we offer and how we'd want to be known for it. Of course, five years in and we're still adjusting our vision according to how we've changed as people and as a group: Harvey's still an integral part of GR but he's left the hometown to head a studio in Serbia. We've added Wilfred Custodio to the cast to handle a financial side to GR that we wouldn't have imagined we'd have back in 2011. Lynsley Brito, who led GR's team in Guangzhao has since gotten married and moved base to Shanghai. Our man in Portsmouth David Richardson has similarly moved to Dublin with his family. Gunship Revolution is, as we've said, only as good as the people in it and while the reason that's true has changed so much these last five years. This is how we learned that the task of envisioning who we are and what we want to be can't ever really end: the portfolio will never be so good that it won't have to be updated.

You can, contrary to popular belief, do business with friends.

Five years ago, Emman and I were at our usual CBTL, ironing out the details of the first Gunship Revolution masterplan. We'd been friends for five years since, having worked on a manga magazine together with some of the other guys who would be starting Gunship Revolution with us. We weren't talking about compensation structures though or copyright registrations or ownership agreements. Those were peripheral plans and some of those things we didn't get to for much later. No, the GR masterplan had been about our workout schedule when we moved out of the city, it was about me not having to eat KFC everyday anymore because my current job was giving me hypertension. It was about how maybe we'd do events organizing in Singapore if things don't play out because we've already done conventions before so why not? That was how a lot of our CBTL meetings went long before Gunship Revolution was a glint on anyone's minds. Emman and Harvey had been in a group of friends who trolled around the city past midnight. Harvey and I were in grade school together. Even the idea of Gunship Revolution came from market research conducted entirely out of artists exchanging war stories over smoke breaks.

So much has happened since that beginning that makes me wonder, personally, if we'd have fared so well if we hadn't been friends aside from business partners. Seven months from this fifth anniversary will be the fifth death anniversary of Emman's father; we were barely into our first year and already, fortune lands a massive reminder that tragedy can strike at any time. Tragedy has since then, several times. And triumph. And depression. And celebration. But between the nights of dreaming big at the CBTL and the wake of May 2012, the first lesson was the clearest of all: Gunship Revolution was built on strong friendships, stands on strong friendships, and thrives out of strong friendships.

But no. Not like this. Never like this.

But no. Not like this. Never like this.