Disney’s trouble with Oswald the Lucky Rabbit is a great lesson for startups in a crisis – The Next Web


Like most other companies, my tech- and design-startup has felt the impact of COVID-19. People taking more time with decisions. Growth is pretty much paused in some markets. Teams are working from home and creating new kinds of cultural habits in the textannotation”>organization.

We’ve grown from nothing to a company with customers in 130 countries in less than 12 months, and we hadn’t seen the coronavirus coming in any way — like most other startups. However, it’s become crystal clear to me that the way to handle a financial crisis like this is not just about remote work, cutting costs, and focusing as an owner, but also a whole lot about why, you do, what you do. What you want to change in the world. What you could name being an ‘author’ and not just an owner. 

Let me explain what I mean by telling you a story…

The story of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit

You might have never heard of Oswald The Lucky Rabbit, but in the late 1920’s he was more famous than Mickey Mouse.

Oswald’s story began when Walt Disney and Ubbe Iwerks — Disney’s star graphic artist — moved to California. Disney and Iwerks had made a name for themselves in Kansas making animated shorts, but when the cartoons proved to be less profitable than they expected, they decided to move west. In Tinseltown, the duo gave birth to Oswald, who became the new darling of the silver screen.

[Read: We asked 3 CEOs what tech trends will dominate post-COVID]

But Disney and Iwerks did not own their creation. Universal Studios owned Oswald, and its executives used this ownership to extort Disney after Oswald became a success. The executives threatened to poach Disney’s best animators if he did not cut down Oswald’s production costs.

Disney and Iwerks were deeply offended, but decided to avoid the legal battle — which they were likely to lose — and to focus on doing what authors do best. They created a new character in response to Oswald. That new character was Mickey Mouse.

Credit: Universal Pictures