Invisible Boundaries – How to establish a health business relationship? Learn from Netflix’s #OITNB

_69017485_464_cubiclescoworkingOrange is the New Black is a rising start of Netflix with million followers and fans around the world. Nurturing the audience and being ‘liked’ by the fans is essential on their business. So how to deal with a fan trespassing the set? #OITNB’s response can shade a light on establishing business’s health boundaries.

My take on ‘Invisible boundaries’

Let me get you back to 2004. I had just started my first job on a 10-floor building near Avenida Paulista, a traditional business area in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Everything and everyone had a place. The departments had their own acronyms and their own office partitions that look like forts (at least for me that couldn’t see inside from my 5 ft height). For years, I got myself stopping on the entrance and mumbling ‘excuse me’ as I entered on others’ spaces.

I’d found more subtle boundaries too. Asking for data that ‘belonged’ to another department was a big challenge. It involved having permission from different managers, having emails as proof and negotiating deadlines and priorities. I could by-pass all that and access the company’s database myself (as I had access and had permission from my manager), but sometimes the legitimacy of my work would be lost if I didn’t pass through all the gatekeepers.

Fast forward to 2014. I am sitting in open office of 1,300 sq ft office in Nottingham city centre, UK. While an entrepreneur was providing a training course via Skype to clients in America; a small team of designers were working to get a new e-commerce site ready to launch on that day; in another corner, a coach was supporting a startup from Bangladesh to negotiate with a client in Denmark. On a given day, over 20 people would pass by that office, representing diverse business and clients, many of which would be contractors or consultants with their own businesses.

Can you see where I’m getting into? A decade ago, you could literally see the boundaries even inside a company; nowadays, this is basically impossible. This is what I meant with ‘invisible boundaries’.

I’m a startup. Why are boundaries important?

A startup is made of a good idea and loads of potential – but very fragile settings.  At the beginning, you are (or should be) learning about the market, about your customers, trying to find the right niche market that make your model feasible. Your edge is most based on info and knowledge you got via a meetings or talking to people.

Exchange information is key. So how do you protect people from disclosing your plans when it is not convenient for you? Or alerting the market or competitors about what your actions before you’re ready?

Corporations can afford lawyers; even better, full legal departments. Yes, they provide caution and formal mechanisms that might prevent some trouble in the future. Yes, they also slow down some process and negotiations.  But can a startup afford this solution? Can you afford to reduce the speed?

Lawyer up??

As a startup, your product is most likely to be incomplete or only a prototype. Patents and IP protection cost a lot of money and most likely are not viable options at early stage. On most cases, IP protection is even impossible if it is just an incremental innovation or tweak on application (which most apps and digital products are).

Non-disclosure agreements are often used on negotiations and B2B relationships. And it is reasonable cheap with free standard templates even easy to find online. But on the case of a breach, can you afford a lawyer or the legal costs of protecting your rights? Although, a NDA or any other contract or term sheet can give a bit more legitimacy for your talk, it is a not flawless solution.

So, how a startup establishes boundaries for its business? My suggestion: look at #OITNB

Illegal trespassing or fan co-creation?

Orange is the New Black is a big Netflix hit with over 7 million followers only on social media – on Twitter, Facebook  and Instagram. Their marketing department (and budget) is terrific. Promotion on Times Square, video teasers, hashtags, interviews and frequent press releases are performed all over the year. Information about the show is all out there.

Last July, a teen from New York heard on radio (how ironic for 21st century, right?) that #OITNB’s set was few miles away from her house. Copying cat the modus operandi of another fan, she took those pictures where you place the scene with the location and made a 3-min video. The buzz started after those were publish online.

#OITNB’s producers had to take action. Would that represent a threat or an opportunity? Why not both!

Finding the balance

Samantha was hit, twice.

First, the harsh but professional email came from the show’s legal department. On the best shit-sandwich style, the Senior Vice President of Legal Affair wrote that the set was a private property, and asking for no more trespassing in the future. Although private, Samantha decide to post it on Twitter.


Second, a cheek play on show’s prison thematic. She got a ‘shot’, a written warning of misconduct for inmates and even signed by one of the characters.

Both answers went viral and #OITNB got some attention for couple of days more.

The formality of the legal shot gave the serious tone of how they had understood the act. There were no trespassing signs and the teen violated that. They also prevent Samantha any other copycats to attempt the same (at least) soon. The playful tone of the shot was addressed to Samantha and all other fans she represented.

It was kind of bitter sweet, reflecting the show’s own identity of mixing controversial themes with a comedy tone. And it worked. No more trespassers were identified so far; with no backlash or disapproval among the fans. They found a good balance between harsh and playful, between formal and viral content.

And they needed both. Without the check ‘shot’, the openness tone with fans could be jeopardise; without the VP legal email, the risk of having new problems with their property was too high.

Finding your own balance

There is no single right answers when we’re talking about statups and new business. It is too complex setting, with too many variables to have just one ‘good’ alternative. It is about your identity. And how you act upon your space and relationship on the market.

When comes to boundaries, new business need to find their own balance and tone. Think about all alternatives you have, formal and informal ones. But always take action.


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About the author: nprieto