There is a typical phenomenon of memory which already applies to us and our young company, which has just turned one, more or less exactly. From the idea, conceived in the late summer of last year, to where we are now we have taken a number of small steps ahead every day. Going forward, one hardly recognizes these steps as the kind of transformation one does in fact undergo. Looking back through the rearview mirror, that same development seems enormous – and its starting point seems to belong to a distant past, to which it is impossible to return. This phenomenon, which casts the past in a different light and rewrites it, is known within several academic disciplines as the “curse of knowledge”. It posits (simply put), that former states of knowledge cannot be reloaded like datasets, so as to start over from where you left off until everything neatly works out. What we’d do differently today we only know, precisely because we did not know it back then.
So the founding of a non-profit production company for educational media turned out, first off, to be a pretty ambitious auto-didactic enterprise. We had to get to know “our” branch first. We had to learn to understand in what way digital media are produced and distributed; we had to find our bearings in the field of creative and cultural industries and to comprehend by and by the special kinds of obstacles to clear out of the way in the non-profit sector. What Alex Aßmann has already described elsewhere as a “motor that brakes” was, in fact, – involuntarily at first – the construct we had drafted up and began to market, too.
There is another paradox springing up in the process of founding such an enterprise, bearing on the side of our social environment. In principle, being a young media company we belong to the creative industries, which is being regarded on almost all state levels as a growth sector and, therefore, heavily funded and subsidized. As a non-profit entity, however, and due to our choice of subject – biography and contemporary history – we rather belong within the domain of cultural promotion, a sector operating mainly via the cultural departments of local municipalities, via culture, arts and media foundations and charities, much more seldom through grants from state funds.
First and foremost, the initial task in founding a company is, of course: get start-up funding. Because we are a non-profit (a pretty on-point concept), in many cases means from economic promotion programs were off the table then, as the corresponding departments are commercially and growth-oriented. The same applied, perhaps expectably, to banks and to getting loans. Repeatedly, negotiations already well under way failed, because we were neither going to provide liquidity planning nor profitability previews or visions of the number of personnel we’d be employing five years from now. The plan was simply to realize projects and break even at the finish line (while we do want, of course, to be able to make a living off of them). In the same way, a great many non-profit associations and organizations fight for their existence. We were able, finally, to acquire the necessary funding from private contributions.
Cultural promotion programs complement this special kind of problem: While it is their assignment to provide financing for clearly defined and temporally limited projects, supporting business formations is not. That’s the economic programs’ responsibility. Culture is promoted mainly in the form of events, exhibitions or talks. Those foundations active in this field must themselves confront complicated legal pitfalls and oddities: Some organizations are virtually prevented from financing at least some physical resources, materials, or the purchase of technical equipment as they would have to warrant for every laptop or projector to be used for non-profit purposes during its entire “lifespan”.
What we are seeking to do thus evokes difficulties of this and other kinds, which we have indeed to find creative and innovative solutions to; which makes up a major part of our daily work and also a part of the particular knowledge we generate.
By way of what we did not or could not know upon establishing our company, we have set a task for ourselves which an economic adviser considered “exotic” yet at the beginning of the year. He was befallen with the “curse of knowledge” himself, though: from his perspective as an economics veteran we were setting out on an improvident path he could not advise, regardless of the fact that he viewed us as likeable ‘offenders by conviction’, worthy of finding alternatives for. The curse-of-knowledge theorem also states this, however: those who know, do not always know better. So in the course of the past year, we have also encountered people who encouraged us to stay true to our vision. Everything else – except that central idea we pursue – could be learnt. A notion, which neither the adviser had objected to.
By now, we no longer consider our economic “undemandingness” as solely a structural problem, but as a project in its own right, that is: we are also trying to do some sort of pioneering work.