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Jeremy Weisz 18:43 

It’s really wild. Talk about motivating staff and the team. Again, these are laborious projects. It’s fun looking back, probably when you’re in it, it’s intense, it’s exhausting. Talk about the ways you think about motivating teams.

Salman Sajun 19:07 

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think it’s such a big part of what we do. And I mean, I say this to our production manager and all our producers as well, and it’s kind of like a little bit of an echo and back and forth. And I hear it back from them too, where we just need to constantly be looking out to make sure that everyone is in a good state of mind, despite the stress, despite the intensity of we were talking about earlier, about a job for veggie Chris, which we had drop bear come down for. That was also a very intense project with A lot of moving parts and an extremely tight timeline. And I remember at one point looking over outside my office window and seeing, one our production manager, he was seeming stressed out, and I was like, we need a pause.

Like, we know people aren’t dying here. This is not life or death. Let’s sit down. Let’s have a chat. What’s happening, and how can we kind of take some of this load off your shoulders if it’s too much, and so ensuring that we’re constantly looking out for each other is a big way. Is a big thing that we were always doing. But you know what, Jeremy, I feel like again, you were talking about easier to have this conversation after the fact. But it’s honestly, when everyone in the room and everyone kind of doing that job is already so excited and motivated to do it, and it’s pushing 110% to make it so good. You aren’t motivating people to be like, do your job. You’re motivating people, in a way, to be like, don’t burn out. We’ve got to take it easy through some stuff, because it’s going to get intense and crazy. So mapping and ensuring that the plan is sound is a big part of it.

And then, because everyone is giving that 110% it’s about also, as I was saying earlier, letting people kind of have that space to be able to do what they need to do, and like a big learning over the last three, four years has been letting those mistakes happen, even if sometimes they’re bigger mistakes, as long as they’re not absolutely crippling, like I found so much growth and learning, at least in the team in my direct reports, that it’s been unreal to watch and see them kind of break past these, their own goals and barriers within the year, and then suddenly be like, oh my gosh, let’s set new goals, because we set these for the year, and we’ve kind of reached these. And let’s push for more. And the same thing, the company is there to kind of help elevate and to basically allow them to do their thing. And that’s been a, it’s been a, I find a great way to help motivate.

So if you find yourself or if other people find themselves with teams where they’re really wanting to have control, or wanting to kind of do things a certain way, or really worried about a client because of it being high stakes, et cetera, like having trust in that first part of it, which was surrounding yourself and building that team with people who have that care and are aligned in that same goal. That path to it might not be exactly your path, but letting other people talk it out. It’s been a game changer, like it truly has been a game changer, and has been one where it’s got me like seeing and learning and respecting others around to a degree that I didn’t think would be possible.

Jeremy Weisz 22:38 

Because does that go back to kind of what you were saying in the first whatever, five, seven years, you would tend to be more the force leading it, and now you’re stepping back and letting other people lead it. Am I understanding it?

Salman Sajun 22:52 

Yeah, that’s pretty much it. And the more and more that I’ve been doing that over the last three, four years, I’ve realized that my role has definitely changed. And the fact that we’ve got a really, we’ve got a great team, like, we’ve got a great team of people who are just great and amazing at what they do, and they’re constantly sharpening their skills on their own. Like, it’s not about me having to show up and be like, all right, you guys need to get this done. Or where are you with this? Or we need to kind of push past it’s about curing what they want to do, how they want to do it, how it aligns to the company goals.

Readjusting some of those, if they’re way off with, having it be in sync with where they want to go, and then building from that. So, yeah, absolutely, that’s exactly it that, and I found that doing that has changed the way at least, I motivate, and it’s more around the person itself, as opposed to, we got to get this done. It’s like, what’s the growth that they’re going to have within it, and how is that going to affect future projects and stuff?

Jeremy Weisz 23:58 

So from a motivation perspective, let me recap, and let me know if this is right. So one is, you have an awareness of people. I mean, you’re just aware. And if someone seems stressed, at least your spidey senses get alerted, and you’re aware. And then second, you acknowledge it, right? So you go to whoever the person is, and you just acknowledge, I feel like sometimes acknowledging maybe just kind of deflates the tension. And then the third is, sounds like you put perspective on things. I mean, like, no one’s gonna die here, or whatever you say, and is there anything else I’m missing? So it’s like an awareness and acknowledgement, and then a perspective as part of your motivation philosophy.

Salman Sajun 24:47 

Definitely, definitely, it definitely is those three. And I think that, and the other big one is, is trust, right? So trusting that they know, that I know and they and even. Them leading their teams the same way. So they need to know that the people who they’ve brought on to have trust in who they’ve brought on and then and let them kind of do their thing.

Jeremy Weisz 25:11 

Talk about starting the agency? Right? You’re obviously having a lot of fun doing your thing with, you worked at various positions and been successful at that, including Mattel, what made you finally decide I’m going to start my own

Salman Sajun 25:29 

I’ll jump back just a little bit and come back to this. So I used to be in a completely different field. I did my undergrad and economics, Anthropology and History at the University of Toronto. So not on the creative side at all. And once I kind of got done that, I was like, job hunting and trying to figure out what I wanted to do. And I was like, I was literally felt like I was looking down and staring out a barrel of a gun, being like, this is not me. I can’t do this. Like, I need to do something different than this, and I just kind of stumbled into doing that as a norm from just background and childhood. So once I kind of realized I don’t want to do this, I was lucky enough to have a little bit of time and space to explore what I wanted to do, and I ended up on the creative side.

So I found myself at a big disadvantage everyone in the industry who I was in and around after I finished my schooling on the creative side, I finished up in film school, I realized that everyone else had just years and years on me, because they’ve been going through that they kind of knew where they wanted to go. So I was like, I’ve got catch up to play here. And that motivated me a lot into saying what I wanted to do. The one big thing that differentiated where I was currently, at that point and even am now, is that I had one thing really clear in my mind, is that I knew that every time, everything that I was doing in the creative space, on the art space, so to speak, was very design driven.

It wasn’t just it wasn’t art. Art has its own space, which is expression, expression and putting creative out there to evoke emotion in people. This was very design driven, as in, it was there to solve a problem. So I was one of those few people in my school who, well, I would say the only guy at least, in class, in school, way back now, 12 years ago, 13 years ago, where I didn’t want to, I just want to create commercials, because I knew with commercials, you were given a brief and you to solve the problem and need to be done in a way that creatively, how do you stem all that together? Stitch all that together, make it have an impact.

Jeremy Weisz 27:36 

That’s your economic brain. Be like this is going to generate money for a company.

Salman Sajun 27:41 

Pretty much. I mean, yeah, all of that, all of those years of schooling, did do something to me. Changed me in some way, for sure, and absolutely for the better. I wouldn’t take any of that away for anything, but yeah, definitely must be part of it. And knowing that kind of allowed me to then run in a way that was like, okay, what exists out there? How do I kind of learn from people who are already doing this? And how do I add my stream of education in the past that I have and experiences to kind of add to it? So all of that led to a love for the tangible, a love for you, like you were just talking about, and we were just seeing these props and these objects that kind of are there.

And so much of commercials, as in, are about selling products. And so when you’re selling a product, majority of the time, they’re tangible products. And there was this innate sort of love I had for if it’s a product, we need to bring this product to life and tell people about it. And what better way to do that, to actually physically use that product to do it? And so it was a bunch of exploring, and diving into that art form while trying to solve problems that kind of landed me up into doing some of this stuff and realizing there aren’t too many people doing this at a level that’s, at a high level. So, training in that and surrounding myself with the right people around that kind of got me to being like, okay, we’re now doing this. And it slowly kind of started to roll in terms of people started realizing and recognizing through the different platforms that I’m there as an artist who’s doing this, and that started to generate some more people excitement to kind of come in to do that.

And I want to say that despite us having five-year and 10-year goals and having that vision and mission and all those things being in place, we’ve very organically grown, even just as I was mentioning earlier, we used to be very much a shop that specialized in stop motion. And we cut our teeth doing that for years. I mean, we’ve gone up against Oscar-winning stop motion directors, and won jobs off of them. And we’ve done things that usually a small shop, small boutique shop, like us, wouldn’t have done, and then that just eventually, just grew to becoming represent. Think, some of the best talent around the world and taking on things in all forms of animation. But to answer your question, where the agency started from, it was that love of solving problems, adding a really high level of artistry to those briefs, and then putting that out there with an end result in a process that the client has no shadow of a doubt that every blood sweat and tears and like, 110% went into it.

Jeremy Weisz 29:57 

Because you could have stayed, you’d be like, listen, Mattel’s very company. I can do my thing at Mattel. What made you decide to branch out finally?

Salman Sajun 30:39 

Well, I found myself a bit of a crossroads. Again, Mattel, they’re such a fun company to work for, as I was mentioning earlier to you as well, offline that they, too, still are a client of ours, and we’re currently doing some jobs for them as well, and they’re fantastic too. They do what they do really well for a reason. And they’re as big as they are for a strong reason. And working for them on the inside was fantastic. It got me so much, so many learning a got me exposed to it was kind of, I would say, now, it’s been about five years since I’ve left. I worked there for four years so a little while back. So from when I joined, but being exposed to how a $6 billion $7 billion company works, the framework inside the processes of how they do stuff.

I feel like, for me, it opened up my mind to how to service such clients, how to think about how these clients think when I’m on the outside. To answer your question, what made me leave? I found myself at a crossroads. I just had my first kid, and I was always doing a little bit of SSS work outside of Mattel, but there was very cherry picked project. And we were very cherry-picked projects. And we were very small team taking on small stuff in the tech side and the fashion side. We did some work for Aldo, and we did some work for Google. And there was a few of these jobs that, you know, one or two a year, which where I was like, just building portfolio with that. I feel like I always knew that Mattel was a stop off and not anchoring a place because I did. What excites me about commercials is the fact that you get to touch passion to pharma, to kids, to detect everything.

You get to touch it all, and you get to kind of problem solve across the board. So to me, that’s super exciting. I feel I understood and learned toys so well when I was with Mattel, but understanding the kids space is I feel like we definitely have an edge just the legalities around it and how everything kind of works. But at a certain point, after I have my kid, I was like, I got to make a choice, either I’m going to stick and really stay in corporate, or I need to kind of give this a proper shot and give SSS a proper shot and see how it goes. And it was a very difficult decision, because Mattel made it really difficult on my end as well, because there was some great offers made at the time of me saying that I’m parting ways, but it was definitely with a heavy heart that I did make that decision.

But I do think it was the right one for me and for the company. I mean, I think it also worked out for Mattel, because we still continue to service them in a way that we put our best foot forward, and we bring in learnings that I don’t think I would have had exposure to had I not done this. So adding that edge as a vendor for them.

Jeremy Weisz 33:40 

So what was one or a few of the lessons you learned from working at Mattel?

Salman Sajun 33:45 

So a really big one, I would say, is their culture and the way that the amount of respect given to all the different departments within that company, it’s phenomenal. We’ve had clients across the board from like, all the different industries I mentioned. Every industry has its own sort of groove that they work in. One of the big things, I would say, is the Mattel culture was something that I took away being like, I want to make sure that SSS fosters this sort of culture where everyone is given that respect, everyone is given that space to kind of grow and learn from and we’re not. There’s no Doggy Dog. There’s no like, oh my gosh. This is better than that. That was a really big one that I took away from them,

Jeremy Weisz 34:40 

I want to talk about, since we’re talking about Mattel Barbie in the project you worked on there,

Salman Sajun 34:48 

Yeah, absolutely. So this was a couple of years ago. In fact, we did some work for Barbie last year as well being at a Barbie year, we did a commercial…

Jeremy Weisz 34:55 

That was a serious Barbie year at the movie. Yeah.

Salman Sajun 34:59 

You watched the movie?

Jeremy Weisz 35:00 

Of course, I have two daughters, so.

Salman Sajun 35:03 

Oh, there you go. Yeah, I mean, my me and my wife kind of got a got one of these nights out away from the kids, and we wanted to go watch a movie, and so we ended up at the bar movie.

Jeremy Weisz 35:12 

A romantic date night, I get it.

Salman Sajun 35:17 

Yeah, there you go. I love the fact that Mattel actually, didn’t take themselves super seriously. It was a knockout. I really enjoyed that movie. What was interesting about this project, though, was, like I was mentioning earlier, like, even Mattel knows us as the agency that takes on a lot of stop motion and does a lot of things in camera. And so this was a series that they wanted to take on and do, which was more about, well, it was a series that needed to be done in 3d so we kind of pitched it in 3d and again, talking about that respect and talking about that they know that when we’re saying we can do something, it’s going to be a knockout.

This is one of the first few 3d series that we did. We’ve done a bunch of work in 3d in the past, but this is one of the first few 3d series that we did. I believe it was six or seven episodes, and it ended up, kind of us having to build a team of, like, I think it was 60 people working on this, and it took a good amount of time. I think it was, I want to say, like, six or eight months to develop these six, seven episodes. And yeah, outside of the fact that it was a first 3d series for us, and that trust kind of coming in from, a very trusted client, the learnings across the board were fantastic for us and for them. I think this was the first time that Mattel Mega Blocks team was doing a series like this in 3d so yeah, it was a lot of fun.

Jeremy Weisz 36:51 

Talk about so staffing up and down with projects, because, like you said, you get a project, it may take six to 12 months to complete. How do you handle staffing?

Salman Sajun 37:05 

So the way we’ve typically handled it in the past is, well, I mean, we even currently do it now, to quite an extent, is we have experts in each department. So from our post-production side, we’ll have, like, someone who’s really well versed and the kind of head of the show of and then we’ll have, when it comes to physical stuff, we’ll have our production manager, or someone who’s just really well versed in that certain field. And then based off of that, we use their lead. So we don’t hire out like we aren’t overhead heavy, in the sense that a project like this won’t always be like, let’s hire 70 artists to kind of come on and do it.

So we use our expertise with the few people that who are on our team, and then they would go out, use their network, or we have a big vendor list of people who we’ve been working with in the past. So there’s a lot of studios that are just pure production studios when it comes to doing 3d work, or doing 2d work, or doing physical building stuff and things like that. So we use their, we reach out to who we’d worked with in the past and who we know, and we can see that this is the right fit for the job. And then we’ll sometimes build out three, four of those teams, and then they’ll all come together and kind of build that way. Some jobs take a year. Some jobs, it’s not very many, that take a year, but most of them are done between six weeks to three months.

And so the smaller ones are small, nimble teams that kind of make that happen. And other times we need even for smaller jobs, or smaller time frame jobs. We need bigger teams, but that’s kind of how we staff. We have our expert experts in the house that know what they’re talking that we know we’re not being kind of taken for a ride when you know someone else is telling us something. And we’ve vetted the other teams we’ve worked with a lot in the past. And once they’re ready to kind of go ahead, we go ahead and bring them on for a project. We also do this thing. I do want to kind of just clean my thought there.

We do this thing at SSS, which is called sips, self-initiated projects. And so our roster, when they’re sitting on the bench or they’re in between projects. We do these things called sip. So we you want to sit before you take a big chug and you jump into a big client project. So we have our creatives kind of team up with some of these vendors who we’ve been sourcing in the past and chatting with. So we want to make sure that they can, we invest in this so, we bring them on, and we basically let water run through the pipe, see how it goes, see how our producers are working with them, any flags, any issues, we chat with them about it. We make sure that they’re vetted from that front. And then once we see the quality and the results, is when we kind of ramp them up to a smaller project, and then once that’s done, well, then we ramp them up to a bigger project. That’s usually our pipeline for vendors and stuff kind of falls within that.

Jeremy Weisz 40:06 

I love it. So first of all, I just want to thank you for sharing your journey and lessons. It’s fascinating. I want to encourage people to check out, to learn more, and check out projects and Sal I want to be the first one to thank you. Everyone, we’ll see you next time.

Salman Sajun 40:23 

Thanks so much. Jeremy, thanks.