Entrepreneur Inspiration: Business-Building Advice From ‘Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog’

Joss Whedon

Firefly came out of this being. All must pay their respects.

We’re a Whedon-friendly family over here at QLP, with plenty of Browncoats proudly counted among our ranks. Sadly, our blogs cannot be pop culture fiestas 24/7, and we need to occasionally tie things into marketing, business, and/or promotional products. So today’s scem to write whatever we want well-researched and informative post is about Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, Joss Whedon’s pet project created during the 2007 Writers Guild of America (WGA) writers’ strike.

Just for a little bit of background, the screenwriters in WGA went on strike because the studios were making money by distributing movies online without giving the writers a cut of the profits. The studio executives argued that it wasn’t in the contract and that they weren’t sure if they could even make money using the internet to distribute; the writers countered that the technology at the time didn’t exist, so it couldn’t have been in the contracts and that the studio heads were telling investors that using the internet was going to be a huge financial opportunity.

Basically, the writers were pissed and took to the streets with inordinately cleverly-written strike signs. Since the strike rules dictated that the writers couldn’t work on their regular projects, Joss Whedon decided to create a little something special of his own: a three-part musical comedy/drama to be released online for free.

For an initial investment of around $200,000, this “little” project generated $2.5 million from the sale of the digital, DVD, and Blu-Ray versions. That’s some moolah.

Although Whedon’s success was certainly supported by having a strong fanbase, there are still plenty of lessons entrepreneurs can snag from his venture.

I love you.

1. Provide products and services to your existing supporters.

You may not have millions of nerds at your beck and call, but you do have family and friends. They’re the ones you hit up for Girl Scout cookies or Boy Scout popcorn (and if they bought Boy Scout popcorn, you know they really loved you – that stuff SUCKED) when you were a kid. Avon saleswomen hit up their girlfriends first and then build a base from there.

A great example of that is Kylee Lane, a woman who has made a name for herself by making handmade vegan organic soap and fragrances through her own company, Luxury Lane Soap. My personal favorite is the Alliance Soap Bar, but the Han Solo in Carbonite is what really put her on the map.

Kylee started her business from making custom soap for her son. She started making soap at the request of friends and as soon as she hopped on Twitter, where her business exploded!

Nathan Fillion

2. Do favors for others (so you can call them in later).

I’ve talked in previous posts about how important it is to call in favors from friends. In interviews, Whedon mentions more than once that he called in every favor he had to get his project off the ground. The actors even performed their roles for free (with a secondary contract drawn up if the crazy adventure actually made money – which it did).

Before Dr. Horrible, Whedon had cast Nathan Fillion first as a recurring character in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and then later as the lead, Captain Malcolm Reynolds, in Firefly. His brothers and sister-in-law helped write and compose and even appeared in the production.

Having strong relationships with friends and family isn’t only good for your social life and mental well-being, but it’s also a fantastic way to help you get your business moving.

QLP Logo

3. Use on-hand materials.

Although Whedon had some access to costumes, actors like Felicia Day (who has her own impressive independent web series called The Guild) admit to using their own clothing for the shoot. There are plenty of people who waste tons of start-up capital on buying office equipment or renting space specifically for the company. Business purchases do come with certain tax benefits, but you can really cut down on costs by using what you already have when you’re just starting out.

Instead of paying for someone to develop an invoice template for you, use a default one from Microsoft Word. Work out of your home until you’re too big to sustain production at your location. That’s how Quality Logo Products started! Almost all of the early team members are still here, too – myself included – in one capacity or another, because we really felt strongly about the company from day one. We’d never have gotten off the ground if we hadn’t started small with what we had and continued to grow.

What do Dr. Horrible and Whedon’s business model teach you? How did you start your small business? Any other tips for those looking to become entrepreneurs? Sound off in the comments below!

Until next time, keep expanding your brand!


Nathan Fillion Image Credit
Han in Carbonite Image Credit

Jana Quinn

An old ‘G’ that’s been working for QLP since it was in Bret’s basement – Jana has been writing since she made up a story about a Jana-Tiger that liked rocky road ice cream and got straight A’s. She enjoys writing about marketing and pop culture, posting a ‘Die Hard’ article as often as she’s allowed. She is inspired by the articles at Cracked and frequently wears a Snuggie in the office. You can also connect with Jana on Google+.


  1. Mandy Kilinskis

    Any day that we can talk about Dr. Horrible is a good day. Or a Brand New Day, if you wish.

    In all seriousness, though, what a great post! There are some great tips for entrepreneurs. I’ve been a bad Whedon fan and while I knew that Dr. Horrible was made on the cheap, I didn’t think that the price tag was that low! Talk about an insane amount of profit! (Also, I didn’t know that making-of paperback existed, so they’re about to get some more of my money. and while I’m at it, I might as well tack on the Dr. Horrible and Firefly comics to reach the $25 free shipping…)

    I digress again. I really liked tip 3 about using what you have. It might not be flashing, but it will save you money for more important things!

    • Jana Quinn

      Of course, this post makes it all seem so easy, but #1 was easy for Joss Whedon, as he had fanboys and fangirls aplenty ready to watch/buy/ download/obsess over anything he released.

      Most people won’t have a fanbase that large to start with, but once you’ve satisfied your first tier of friends and family, word of mouth tends to spread…

  2. Jill Tooley

    Joss Whedon, you’re my hero…

    It’s a brilliant idea to use on-hand materials, especially when the budget is tight. Sure, it would be nice to drop thousands on new equipment and costumes and the like, but would it really be necessary? When you make use of things you already have, then you can stretch those dollars even more. And you’re right about Joss being the master of recruiting friends and calling in favors – any entrepreneur could heed this advice and build potentially indestructible relationships!

    I’ve been skeptical of Dr. Horrible because Neil Patrick Harris isn’t exactly my cup of tea, but it would be a terrible shame not to support one of Whedon’s endeavors. Thanks for the tip, I’ll check it out one of these days (maybe when I actually get internet access at my house again). 🙂

    • Jana Quinn

      It’s a pretty awesome little web series with catchy tunes to boot.

      Getting free things off Craigslist, borrowing from friends, and repurposing your own stuff all contribute toward a lower start-up cost and greater capital available for investing in other aspects of the business.

      • Jill Tooley is worth checking out, too! It’s a wonderful means to give away unwanted items and receive free stuff that community members no longer need.

  3. Joseph Giorgi

    Excellent advice here, Jana! People tend to forget about #2. It’s always a good idea to have a few favors in queue to call in at a later date. And pinching pennies when you’re starting out is a solid tip too. Being economical with your expenses will pay off as your company expands.

    I’ve never seen Dr. Horrible, but this post is inspiring me to check it out! 🙂 Is it available to watch online for free, or will I have to purchase the DVD?

  4. Amanda

    Nice post Jana. =) I think some good advice for a new business owner is to do something that you’re passionate about, and then work super hard at it.

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