Lessons to Learn from Disney’s 100 Years of Success (With Examples)

October 16th, 2023, will mark 100 years of Disney.

This means the company will complete ten decades and a whole century on the said date. That’s no easy feat to achieve, especially considering Disney’s foundation was laid when running your own business was a massive challenge.

However, the studio made the seemingly impossible possible.

But how exactly did it happen?

And more importantly, how can you, a business owner, replicate the same recipe of success?

Truth be told, there wasn’t just one factor that helped Disney become the household name that it is today; there were plenty. While we can’t write down all in one sitting, we’ve mentioned the core reasons in today’s blog.

And the intention of sharing them isn’t so you can pass the time reading this article – it’s so you can incorporate these strategies into your business.

Editor’s Note: This blog talks about all companies Disney owns, including Walt Disney Studios, Pixar Animation Studios, Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, and others.

1.   Treat Customers Like They’re the Only Thing That Matters to Your Business

To say that Disney puts customers first would be like saying the water is wet. At this point, it has become so obvious that the real question should be, “When does Disney NOT prioritize their customers’ needs?”

Although there are countless examples of the company’s unwavering dedication to its customers, the theme parks are an entirely different experience. And we mean that literally and figuratively.

The moment you enter one of their resorts, it’ll be like you’ve stepped inside a different world. And everything has been personalized for you.

For instance, a few years ago, a heartwarming video went viral of a boy with autism and his interaction with many Disney princesses, including Tiana, Snow White, and Rapunzel.

While the staff in the costumes at Disneyland are generally friendly and patient, going a mile above to make kids included is simply wonderful.

2.   Remain Consistent with Your Efforts Until You See the Desired Results

Photo Courtesy: United Artists/Photofest

Today, when an average person looks at Disney, all they see is its huge $100 billion net worth. But dig a little deeper, and you’ll see that things weren’t always easy.

And for this point, we can learn from none other than the pioneer of the animation industry himself, Walt Disney. Rejection was pretty common for the man.

In fact, some suggest that over 300 financiers and bankers rejected Disney’s theme park. The same was the case with his first cartoon business – Laugh-O-Gram – which he established with his older brother Roy in Kansas City. It went bankrupt not more than three years later.

Afterward, Disney traveled from Kansas City to California to become an actor, which was another disappointment for the guy. There, however, he noticed the lack of animation studios and convinced his brother to set up a business and gained success with Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.

And the rest, well, is history.

3.   Pay Attention to Every Little Thing You Are Offering to the World

Picture Courtesy: Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Pictures

The importance of paying attention to details can’t be emphasized enough for entrepreneurs. The more detail-oriented you are, the better you can manage your business operations.

And what better example of this than the countless DisneyPixar films you grew up watching? Most feature blink-and-you-miss-it details that one can only notice upon multiple viewings, which we did.

Let’s start with the simplest one. In Finding Nemo, Bruce, a shark, starts crying when Marlin, a clownfish, talks about his son Nemo. Bruce claims he never knew his father.

This is not a simple touching moment but one with a deep meaning. Male sharks, after mating with female sharks, abandon their family, which explains why Bruce never met his dad.

Similarly, in The Incredibles, one of the superhero kids, Dash, has the power to run really fast. To keep up with this power, Brad Bird, the director of the movie, made the voice actor, Spencer Fox, run laps around the Pixar studio until he got tired so that he could sound out of breath in the film.

These two are a few of the many examples showing why Disney holds the top spot.

4.   Solve the Problem Instead of Letting It Become a Roadblock

Picture Courtesy: Walt Disney Pictures

We’d be here all day if we started listing all the processes, software, and tools Disney specifically developed to animate a certain scene. However, there is one that deserves special mention.

Those who’ve seen the photorealistic computer-animated film The Lion King (2019) must’ve wondered how it was brought to life. The studio developed a new filmmaking technique from scratch (no surprises here) called ‘virtual production.’

Here’s how it worked:

  • The filmmakers developed the film’s characters and landscapes in a virtual world
  • The team wore (yes, wore) VR tech to immerse themselves in the virtual world
  • The creators filmed each scene of The Lion King while inside the virtual world

For any other company, creating a live-action film of its super successful animated movie would’ve been a massive challenge. But Disney worked its way around the problem and made The Lion King, which was hailed for its groundbreaking technology.

5.   Take Risks Instead of Sticking to What Works for Your Company

Picture Courtesy: Marvel Studios and Walt Disney Motion Pictures

Entrepreneurs fear the word ‘risk’ the most, which is ironic considering the very idea of starting a business itself is a risk. Nonetheless, whether it’s hiring a new employee or experimenting with a new product, they prefer playing safe.

Marvel Studios, a subsidiary of Walt Disney Studios, showed everyone what can happen if you think outside the box.

In 2012, the studio announced they’d be making a film on Guardians of the Galaxy. The only problem was that no one had heard of these guys, and many fans and industry experts showed skepticism.

In fact, the ambiguity surrounding the project was so high that one of Hollywood’s A-lister actresses, Amanda Seyfried, declined the lead role in the film.

According to Seyfried, no one would want to see a film ‘with a talking raccoon and tree.’ The role ultimately went to Zoe Saldana, who became a fan-favorite character.

As for the film Guardians of the Galaxy, made on a budget of $200 million+, it went on to earn almost $800 million. Additionally, two sequels were released, both of which grossed over $800 million.

This proves that you shouldn’t be afraid to take chances, as weird as they seem.

Wrapping It Up

From blockbuster franchises to family-friendly films, Disney is practically everywhere. And we won’t be surprised if they started making smartphones with a little Mickey Mouse imprinted on their back.

Jokes aside, Disney went through a lot to reach where it is currently.

You can also take a page – or multiple – out of their book to pave the way for success for your company.