Life Lessons: Ryan Nadel, 20 Year Media

A merger brings an unexpected pause to innovation

Ryan Nadel, executive vice-president, 20 Year Media

Ryan Nadel is the co-founder of 20 Year Media, a Vancouver-based company that gathers and analyzes data on consumer demand for movies and other digital content. 

In 2015 Nadel’s company acquired a New York film distribution business called Emerging Pictures. It was an unusual step: Emerging Pictures was a seven-employee company with around $1 million in revenue, while 20 Year Media had about the same number of employees but was still an early-stage startup with no revenue.

“The idea was we could apply our demand analysis system to their network of theatres and help those theatres do a better job picking movies to show, market those theatres to our user base and create that integrated solution,” Nadel said.

The merger hasn’t been without its challenges. For a time, operating Emerging Pictures’ existing business meant putting aside development of the new products 20 Year Media had been working on. 

“One thing that I wasn’t expecting was how taking on an operating existing business, how that diverts you from building new things,” Nadel said. “All of a sudden we were running this company that had established customers and established ways of doing things, and we needed to keep it going.”

Nadel solved the problem by arranging staff into two teams. The operations group concerns itself solely with running the film distribution business. The labs team focuses on creating consumer-oriented products such as a system that helps movie watchers keep a list of films they want to see, and analytics products for movie theatres.

“That’s proven to be a really effective way to manage an operating business but bring a new way of thinking,” he said.

On bi-coastal communication | “It’s very fluid and natural, it’s [communicating] on the phone, on email, on Slack constantly. At the nuts-and-bolts level of the organization, it’s been a lot of – at the beginning – saying, ‘When in doubt, pick up the phone. Don’t wait for someone to respond to an email.’ I’ve been really encouraging my team to be active in how they communicate. … I think the tendency at first was to send an email and wait for a reply, where if that person was in the same office as you, you would just tap them on the shoulder and get the answer to your question.”

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