What Is a Startup Studio? An Inside Look at Wilbur Labs

What Is a Startup Studio? An Inside Look at Wilbur Labs

At Wilbur Labs, we are often asked, “what is a startup studio?” The short answer is that a startup studio is a company that builds other companies. When David and I prepared to launch Wilbur Labs in 2016, the startup studio model was still developing. There wasn’t a standard approach, and the business model was unproven.

We had to rethink how companies should be built. We knew that the vast majority of startups fail, and that money alone can’t build big businesses. As a result, we operate very differently from other investors, incubators, or accelerators in existence.

We believe that organizational knowledge, or what we call studio knowledge, is far more valuable than capital. Each time we research an idea, solve a problem, launch a company, and learn from our successes and failures, we build on our studio knowledge. Studio knowledge collects, compounds, and carries through to all current and future portfolio companies. This uniquely allows our portfolio companies to move faster and further than is possible when raising capital through traditional sources.

We also realized that while many investors claim to provide operational support, in reality, this support is mostly limited to high-level advice. When building a startup, execution is everything. We needed to be on the ground floor to effectively help our portfolio companies build and grow. Whether it’s setting up payroll, building a team, maintaining compliance, setting a product roadmap, or acquiring customers, our studio team of entrepreneurs has done this before, bringing battle-tested processes and learnings every step of the way. The end result is a better foundation for growth and fewer distractions for our portfolio company leadership teams, which can focus singularly on building great products for customers.

Three attributes differentiate Wilbur Labs from other investors or methods of building a company: our focus on building companies, providing shared resources across our portfolio to scale at an accelerated pace, and our operational involvement to help each business take off.

A Company That Builds Companies

Wilbur Labs focuses on turning bold ideas into market-leading companies. While we also invest and acquire existing companies, building from 0 to 1 is our core focus. Launching a startup is typically a one-time event, but at Wilbur Labs, generating startup ideas, then turning those ideas into a business, is a repeatable and standardized process.

We identify big customer pain points and build businesses to solve these problems. After an idea is validated in the Lab, we bring in industry leaders with domain expertise to manage and grow the company. Wilbur Labs continues to provide funding, shared resources, and operational support to ensure management is focused on solving problems that matter.

Shared Resources

We have shared resources that allow for more rapid development and faster progression through the idea, launch, and growth stage. From playbooks to shared teams, processes, and infrastructure, these resources allow our companies to move faster than traditional companies.

Distractions and lack of focus are responsible for killing many startups. At Wilbur Labs, we reduce time spent on non-core tasks by giving our companies access to shared resources, advisors, and domain experts. That way, the founding team can focus on solving core user and business problems.

Operational Involvement

Wilbur Labs is more operationally involved, especially early on, compared to accelerators or venture capital firms. We believe in “more wood behind fewer arrows,” meaning we build fewer companies with more resources behind each one. By leaning on the experience and repeatable processes of our studio team — which launches multiple companies every year — we’re able to reduce risk and expedite growth.

Over the years, as others have seen our companies grow at a rapid pace, we have commonly fielded the question, “what is your secret sauce?” The truth is that we focus on solving big problems better, and by doing so, our companies grow. No matter how far you dig into that question, you will never find a single secret sauce, piece of technology, strategy, playbook, tool, or person responsible for what we do best. Instead, digging further into that question will uncover our studio knowledge: 1,000+ processes, plans, decisions, people, playbooks, approaches, technologies, checklists, roadmaps, learnings, and values. Together, this studio knowledge allows us to solve bigger problems, faster, with reduced risk than would otherwise be possible.

We believe that dedicated, standalone teams are necessary to solve big problems over a long period of time. Our operational involvement is highest at the beginning and then drops as the company’s team and traction increases.

Whatʼs Next

With our focus on solving big problems using shared studio resources, operational support, and studio knowledge, we still consider this day one. Since 2016, we have built and invested in 21+ companies, including VacationRenter, Joblist, Barkbus, OpenMedicare, FinanceHQ, and more. Today, our portfolio companies help hundreds of millions of people travel the world, find a job, order everyday essentials, take care of their pets, and sign up for the right insurance plan — among other daily needs that make a positive impact on people’s lives. VacationRenter reached over $1 billion in gross bookings just two years after launch, making it the fastest-growing vacation rental search engine at the time. This level of growth and impact would not have been possible outside our studio model. We believe that continuously challenging the status quo to serve people better is the best way to build sustainable businesses over the long-term.

Our startup studio model is here to build for the next 100+ years — not just the next few quarters.

For more information on how we build companies, read our blueprints on how to come up with startup ideas or turn an idea into a business.

Want to work with us or have an idea? We are always looking for talented people to work with and exciting projects to partner on. Feel free to check out our available openings or contact us.

Wilbur Labs is a San Francisco-based startup studio. We turn bold ideas into market-leading companies.

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