Open Air Cinema built on perseverance – Urs Bauer

Apple has been at the top of the “Most Admired Companies” list by Forbes, for six consecutive years now. In all honesty, not many of us can confidently say that achieving success on that scale is within our reach. But a company never just appears. It starts with an idea, and is built into tangibility. In the process of Apple being shaped into the giant it is today, numerous mistakes were made. It took years of determination before Apple became relatively successful. Steve Jobs himself is quoted as having said, “I’m convinced that about half of what separated the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.”

Urs and Denise Bauer are highly qualified in perseverance, as they have demonstrated when starting Open-Air Cinema Limited.

“I’m convinced that about half of what separated the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.”

Urs Bauer is a man of many talents who recognizes opportunities when he sees it. Before 2003, Urs was employed by global companies in communications, whilst working as a journalist for several newspapers. Being a passionate sailor, Urs was writing for the Swiss Sports Agency about the America’s Cup. It was at one of the events during the cup, a CCR revival concert in the Auckland area, that the idea for Openair Cinema was first planted. While waiting for the sun to set and the music to begin in the city of sails, Urs’ wife Denise whispered to him, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have an outdoor cinema here?”

Founding Open-Air Cinema Ltd. required a lot of investment in equipment, education on proper use of the equipment, and licensing. Although Urs hired the equipment to start with and sold tickets to screenings to cover costs, he eventually bought his own equipment and started doing free events. In search for the ever-so-scarce capital that we as entrepreneurs live and breath to see, Urs and Denise decided that bootstrapping the operation would be the most advantageous option.

“We’ve invested ourselves in it and had support from family,” said Urs.




“It’s probably even harder as immigrants to find capital or sponsors, because there’s no network, no ‘old boys’ club to rely on. We would have had this support where we grew up, went to school, Uni etc. so this was probably the hardest about it. After the first season, my accountant said to me, ‘you rather file for bankruptcy,’ [sic] but this was no option for us. We didn’t wanted to leave people suffering and loosing money through us, so we dug in and almost had to sell our house, but managed to get through. It was a hard time, but it was well worth it.”

“It wasn’t easy to convince the council to get things approved, but we managed to roll out our first season basically one year after having the idea with 34 nights of movies and a 2000 seat cinema. We reduced the seating to 1500 and bought our own gear in the second year and started to be mobile in the 3rd when I first went to the Queenstown Winter Festival doing a ‘Drive-In Cinema’”. OpenAir cinemas reached break-even on their third year of being operational. But new problems had arisen. Other cinemas in the area were not pleased that business was being drawn away from their premises. “Business was always hard with ‘Cinemas on Queen Street’ not happy with what we were doing and a lack of sponsorship. So we changed our business strategy.”

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Instead of competing for the same customers, the decision was made to capitalize on the differentiating factor OpenAir possessed: mobility. OpenAir started to offer the ‘Hire-A-Cinema’ service, “which really took off with the start of the ‘Movies by Moonlight’ series for North Shore City and the ‘Movies in Parks’ for Auckland City. These were free events for the public initiated by the councils and financially supported by sponsors. The Bauers were bringing people together in a relaxed and pleasant environment, and creating a lasting memory that stayed with those who participated.

“It’s not only the film, it’s the whole package [that] makes it such a special undertaking, and sometimes it’s even an adventure. People enjoy the build up, the sunset, the social aspect of meeting other people in a park, relaxing with a picnic bringing their own seating (sometimes they carry sofas along) – it’s kind of the kiwi way.”

Recently, the Bauers have come across some hard times. ‘Movies in Parks’ was axed by the council because of an overnight budget exercise and some personal changes in the management. It had also had to do with the change of structure of the Super City Council.

“There was never a question about the benefit of the event series to the public and the communities. That’s why it survived thanks to some local boards, which came up with a whole lot of money to keep them alive in their area. The axing in the first place obviously made sponsors pull out, so it was even harder to get things going, but I think we delivered still a good program last year and hopefully are back in full force this season. I don’t think it has to do with the economic environment, as councils still get the rates (even more of them if the house prices are going up) so it’s about the priorities where they spend that money. And giving back money to the community through events is one way of making life in a city more attractive. Such big events wouldn’t [normally] be affordable for little suburbs, but thanks to the economics of quantity they are. And this makes it interesting for sponsors, which makes it financially more affordable for councils in return.”

Do you think 2013 is a good year to be an entrepreneur in New Zealand?

Every year is a good year for entrepreneurs – you just need to find your niche in the market and make sure the quality of your product is as good as possible. Think positive and try to improve your business every day – eat, drink and sleep that stuff and stay open for new opportunities, keep thinking outside the box.

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