5 Things Meow Wolf Did Differently
Creative Startups CEO Alice Loy outlines five ways Meow Wolf set themselves apart as an immersive art startup
The immersive economy keeps me up at night. Yes, partly because we are planning a conference for immersive lovers and tech junkies (CxSF 2022!) – at the tail end of a pandemic. But mostly because, to me, the immersive economy is the most exciting development in the creative economy to come along in decades. There is a wealth of opportunity to tackle some of the big problems we (the global human “we”) face.
In my estimation, many of our contemporary problems stem from a lack of compassion, empathy, connection. It’s easy to ignore the plight of someone living half-way around the world – or living next door – if you believe you have nothing in common, no shared humanity. The antidote to this plague of alienation is shared experiences. Moments of wonder, fear, delight and disgust move us past “me” and “them” and into a sphere of “us” and “wow.”
I believe deeply in the power of creatives to build a different world – one in which connection is at the heart of our stories and the decisions we make. And, as an impact and an occasional startup investor, this lens now drives my professional work.
Being a part of the World Experience Organization's community feeds my passion for all things immersive, connective, and creative. I was delighted when WXO Founder James Wallman invited me to host Campfire 43 and share my thoughts on how creatives can more effectively pursue funding to scale their immersive companies.
Being a very proud first investor in Meow Wolf (and because they are so loved by many creatives), I framed our Campfire conversation by asking, “What Did Meow Wolf Do Differently?” I’d never stepped back to consider this and was relieved I could distill the many things Meow Wolf did well into five things that seemed to make a difference:
1. Be Visionary And Dogged
The Meow Wolf team worked on 20+ projects before they came through our accelerator – and some were wildly successful. But their projects were not lauded by the “traditional” art scene in Santa Fe.
That did not deter the founders. They dug deeper into being (what we call) weird and wonderful, staying true to their artistic calling and their long-term vision.
First-in investors are usually people who are investing in YOU. Not the product, not the market space, not the “total addressable market:” You. Are you all in? Are you visionary, and does your vision have the potential to bring about a different world? Are you building a company – not just an event or a project?
2. Get Obsessed With Customer Feedback
By the time we met Meow Wolf in 2014, they had moved beyond thinking about their business as a series of exhibits. They had begun to envision a company with blurred lines between products, experiences, and content.
It was their relentless pursuit of customer feedback that allowed them to see the bigger potential. Only customers’ insights and behaviors can cue you to where the market is headed. Meow Wolf got there first by listening intently to what their customers wanted.
3. Learn A New Language
After leaving our accelerator in 2014, Meow Wolfers reached the shores of a new world called Fundraising from Investors. And, because it has a language, culture, and norms all its own, they quickly set out to find trusted field guides and get fluent in the ways of investors.
Many entrepreneurs who come to us for advice about raising money haven’t invested the time or effort to understand how angel investment or VC investment works. They don’t know basic terminology. They are unfamiliar with the perspective or lens through which a given investor is considering a pitch.
Great investors love entrepreneurs. They believe in entrepreneurs and want to be a part of your success. However, they also have obligations to their stakeholders and their investors. Understanding the perspective and priorities of investors, as well as who they are as individuals, is a first step toward discovering alignment.
4. Find Your Tribe— In A Suit
We creatives – like dentists and taxi drivers – have our tribe. But sometimes there are people in our tribe who don’t look like “creatives.”
The early investors in Meow Wolf wore suits but were creatives – somewhere in their background or personal life they had deep connections to the art world and were passionate about making a difference in Santa Fe.
Once Meow Wolf found these people and were able to speak enough Fundraising Land language to connect and discover alignment around financial returns, fundraising became easier and easier.
5. Time It Just Right
Meow Wolf officially started doing projects around 2007-2008. It took a very long time for the timing to be just right. One of the founders once told me they were ready to disband and throw in the towel, when the next week someone suggested they apply to Creative Startups. A few weeks later they connected with George RR Martin and pretty soon it was off to the races.
Many entrepreneurs fail because they have launched something that is truly ahead of its time. But cash flow dwindles while one is waiting for the right time to arrive. I don’t have any great advice on this except to say it rarely works to “educate customers” about what they need or want. Instead, it may be that you’re better off parking that brilliant new experience on a shelf until a time when the market is ready, the investors are biting, and you have a team around you that can take it across the finish line.
In the meantime, check out the first ever Creative Experience Santa Fe festival, meet creatives hiding in suits, email me for feedback on your concept or pitch, and take a minute to give fellow creatives some love.
To get more insights from experts in the Experience Economy, check out WXO and apply to join their community now!