April 25, 2015
The Delta Sigma Pi – Beta Kappa Chapter hosted a talk for business students on Thursday in the DSPeaks series featuring University of Texas alumnus Burnie Burns, co-founder and former CEO of Rooster Teeth Productions.
The event focused on Burns’ experience in starting and maintaining his own small business, and how chance and unexpected opportunities shaped the early days of Rooster Teeth Productions, a production company that specializes in video game-themed content. Rooster Teeth celebrated its thirteenth anniversary earlier this month, and according to DPS Vice President of Professional Activities Andrew Watts, is a company that has had a widespread influence online.
“The entire goal of DSPeaks is to bring in awesome speakers from companies students wouldn’t normally get to hear from,” Watts said. “With the massive growth Rooster Teeth had under his time as CEO of the company and now as Creative Director, [Burns] definitely knows what he’s talking about.”
Burns began by talking about his time at UT and how the sudden popularity of the Internet during his college career affected his career goals. Although he started out as a pre-med student, during his senior year Burns switched his major to computer science.
“As soon as I saw some of the early stuff on the web, I just instantly got it,” he said. “It’s almost a feeling of, I had been waiting for this, and I didn’t know I was waiting for it.”
While studying computer science, Burns became interested in filmmaking. After getting bored of sitting in on a few film theory classes, he got involved in Texas Student Television, a student-run television station at UT.
During this time, Burns also worked at a telemarketing company called teleNetwork, where he says he “learned everything I know about business.” With the growth of the Internet, Burns helped teleNetwork expand into a tech support center.
While working at teleNetwork, Burns and a number of his co-workers created a parody video for the Internet in 2002 that instantly got attention. The success of the video was a change from earlier failures in the independent film market.
“For us, that was like, all those walls fell down,” Burns said. “And then we thought, Why are we going to this independent film festival? Why don’t we go directly to the audience and use the Internet to do that?”
Soon after, in 2003, Burns and his colleagues created their first original series, “Red vs. Blue,” a machinima-style science-fiction story based on Microsoft’s Halo video game series. Surprisingly to Burns, the series instantly took off, with a quarter of a million hits on the series’ second week.
“I guess ‘Red vs Blue’ was almost like one of those classic overnight success stories that you hear about in American business,” he said. “It was like falling up a cliff.”
In the beginning, Rooster Teeth saw sites like YouTube and social media to be competitors, but eventually adapted to use YouTube as a tool to expand their audience. They quickly grew to become the fourth most-watched channel on YouTube.
“You have to stay adaptive as a company,” Burns said. “We stick to our fundamentals, but you can’t stick to your fundamentals the way you put blinders on.”
Burns credits his foresight and Rooster Teeth’s trend of innovative technology and storytelling for its success. He encourages young businesspeople to work to “stay ahead of the competition.”
“It’s always easy to connect the dots backwards,” he said. “But if you can make a projection of where the next dot is going to be, that’s a big part of business.”