“My big hairy audacious goal: To build the most trusted of the top four family media brands within twenty years,”
So writes Phil Vischer, the founder of Big Idea Productions (creators of VeggieTales), an ambitious Walt Disney wanna-be. And he was off to a good start. Between 1996 and 1999 Big Idea’s revenue grew by 3,300 percent, from $1.3 million to $44 million. One in three households with children owns at least one VeggieTales video. Their first theatrical release, “Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie” was the highest-grossing Christian film in history until “Passion of the Christ”.
Yet less than a year after “Jonah” hit theaters, Big Idea filed for bankruptcy.
What went wrong? Vischer’s new book, “Me, Myself, & Bob” is a fascinating and surprisingly transparent account of the rise and fall of Big Idea. Part auto-biography, part business book, and laced with goofy humor, the book is a remarkably good read. My wife and I started reading chapters aloud to each other at night or in the car together, and we could barely put it down. One night we read four chapters back-to-back, and after my wife went to sleep I kept reading and finished the book.
I was a college student working at a Christian bookstore when VeggieTales exploded onto the scene. As an art student and an animation fan, I was thrilled to see Christian videos that were actually funny, entertaining, and thought-provoking. Someone was finally proving that Christian media didn’t have to be lame. Big Idea was giving hope to people like me who aspired to do something truly positive with mass-media. I began to dream about working at Big Idea (I actually applied for an opening once but didn’t get in).
So I was surprised as anyone to hear about Big Idea’s bankruptcy. The cruise ship full of happy vegetables had suddenly hit an iceberg. (The company was eventually purchased by Classic Media which continues to produce the videos.)
Ultimately Vischer takes all the blame for what went wrong at Big Idea. The buck stops with him, and he is open and honest about the many mistakes he made. Chapter 20, “Lessons”, is worth the price of the book as Vischer shares seven important lessons which any business or ministry leader would do well to heed. He describes how the whole experience has changed him for the better (hint: becoming the next Walt Disney is no longer Vischer’s goal), and warns that passion and ambition can create spiritual blind spots–even for successful ministry leaders. Vischer’s humility, humor, and honesty about his mistakes makes him a refreshing role model.
As an animation buff and business owner, “Me, Myself, & Bob” is now officially one of my favorite books. The last third of my copy is full of dog-eared pages and underlining. Vischer’s honesty and likeability will keep you turning pages. You could do a lot worse than to pick up a copy for yourself.