Building A Non-Profit Industrial Revolution – In A Nutshell

In the course of talking with various family, friends, work associates, and potential future employees of Otaku Central, a plethora of questions are commonly asked about what our vision, purpose, and model is for what we’re hoping will be the next big thing in animation:

How does the financial structure work? What does it really mean that you’re a “non-profit animation streaming service”? Are you truly financially transparent, and what does that even mean in today’s world? How is your platform better than any of the others? How can you hope to find a place in a industry where there’s already several other major players that are much larger than you?

In a synopsis – Why and how is Otaku Central the anime revolution that it’s advertised to be?

This article aims to answer several key areas that questions have been most commonly raised in regard to, and is intended to be a “living” document. Admittedly, a lot of this information was verbally explained in distributor meetings and written a such, but hadn’t been converted to easy-to-follow verbiage that the general public would be able to quickly understand. That needed to change.

While what you’re about to read is going to be fairly detailed, it’s an unhindered view through the lens of how Otaku Central functions, runs, and the means behind everything. We’re going to essentially set OC on the medical table, and dissect everything from our business model, to the core mechanisms by which we have a place in the industry today.

This is going to be an exhaustively long read. If you’d like, split it up between a few evenings when you get to a good stopping point. Warm beverages, snacks, and good company are encouraged. Enjoy!

Starting From The Beginning – Goal & Purpose

The Otaku Central project aims to accomplish three shorter-term goals, with a more overarching goal set in the long-term.

Our primary mission is to help to equalize the financial disparity for the Japanese and Chinese animation industries in a global market. Based a large number of studies and testimonials, the animation industry in general is suffering from a ever-widening gap between the size of the global fanbase, and a disproportional amount of revenue coming in to the industry – basically, animation studios and creators are bringing home much less net money for the amount of work they do moreso than ever before in history. This has caused a number of perceivable effects to the end customer, from poor animation quality, cancelled projects, delayed release timelines, and a lot of corners being cut in production. On a behind-the-scenes level, it’s caused a poverty-level standard of living to be the “norm” for many workers in the anime industry in the Far East, with an almost inhuman amount of overtime being thrown into the mix.

We’d like to rectify that situation, and believe that equalizing the financial landscape for anime between exports/imports and making the “cut” that the licensor, distributor, or streaming service takes much more minimal as the answer to that problem.

Our secondary mission is to provide an animation streaming experience to the end customer that’s indisputably the best in the world. Many anime viewers have shared a rather vocal discontent with many of the current mainstream anime platforms in the market today, as many have inherent issues that detract from the overall anime experience. These issues include lack of selection, toxic user community, features stripped from the site to save money, and invasive mass marketing, to name a few. This discontent has been a primary factor in fueling the financial problem the animation industry faces, and more than a few “bootleg” anime streaming sites inhabit the Internet as a testament to the community’s effort to try and craft a better animation experience themselves.

It’s OC’s belief that there’s a lack of an animation streaming service that truly “covers all the bases”, and strives to encourage community interaction to steer a path towards what people really want in their anime platform. We aim to address this concern.

Our tertiary mission is to function as a force of inherent good in the world today for both humanitarian and environmentally-sustaining causes. Between our efforts towards renewable energy, commercial recycling solutions, environmental cleanup, community volunteering, and discerning aid in rescue causes, OC strives to encourage an understanding that we only have one planet to share, and it’s our responsibility to build it into something incredible – together.

Our overarching goal for the long-term might not make as much sense now, but will start to fit together more cohesively later on:

We want to prove that the framework of a true, financially-transparent, non-profit business organization can actually work to solve many economic and industrial challenges that the world today faces. The anime industry is ultimately our “test bed” for seeing if this framework can actually get off the ground, and in the event that it can, what other industries can ourselves or others apply it to? What kind of scale can this framework function on to provoke needed change in the world today?

In a nutshell, this is Otaku Central.

OC Was Supposed To Go Live In 2018 – What Changed?

For those that have known me for a while, you know that Otaku Central isn’t a new concept in my circle of contacts. The idea was originally conceived in 2015, then brought before a committee for the first time in 2016, and work began in November 2016 on the original framework for it. We’d originally set go-live dates for the site in 2017, and have ended up pushing back the release date three times.

So, what’s taking so long?

Simply put, the vision for OC in 2019 isn’t what it was in 2015. Back in the day, it wasn’t even called Otaku Central. What was intended to be a small anime community for a smaller group of friends to enjoy together turned into a site geared towards hundreds of users, then had a hard stare-down with legality and the financial state of the anime industry, and finally started to embrace a global scale of being a solution for the money crisis that anime was facing, to the tune of hundreds of thousands of users, maybe more.

To frame it as bluntly as possible, the goal of Otaku Central changed so radically because, well, the people who started it all had to change so radically.

If you’ve ever read an article I published some time ago called Investment Capital – How a “Dumb” Decision Turned Glorious, you may have gained a little insight into the road I personally came down in the process of getting to this point in life. I had to grow out of a mindset of wanting to do anime outside of legality, then dig myself out of an employment situation that was ripping me apart at the seams, and finally get to the position where I had the time to fully address OC in the capacity it needed. It took years. 

This turnaround time was reflected to an extent in others involved in our cause as well; the nature of what we do in our individual positions with the organization is so specific, and so exacting, that it takes time to custom-craft yourself into someone that can not only fill a single role well, but fill multiple roles in the organization. We’re a by-product of what we believe in, and that was a vision that we had to truly embrace.

So, to set the record straight for the final time, the version of the Otaku Central website that will be in production at the end of 2019 will more-or-less be the version that we take live. Enough of the server-side infrastructure will be in place to support an amount of concurrent user sessions in the thousands, and the programming will be either wrapped up or nearly wrapped up.

Nearly the only action item on the list for us in 2020 is to get our contracts instated, get a definitive go-live date for all of our animes legally set, and then turn everything on and begin marketing our anime revolution for the miracle it is. Additional server infrastructure will be purchased, but it will be sitting on constant standby until we need the resources, at which point it will be added in to our hosting environment and turned on.

Overall, we’re on a tight timetable, but we’re in a good spot. All the pieces are falling into place as they needed to, and we’re moving forward as expected. We just need a bit more time.

Why Efficiency Makes A Non-Profit Approach Competitive

If you’ve worked for at least one mega-scale corporation before in your career, what I’m about to say may come as less of a shock:

Corporations, by nature, harbor an incredible amount of inefficiencies and a large amount of unnecessary processes or personnel. With so many levels of management and funding, this is virtually an inevitability. Corporate bureaucracy tends to breed complacency and lack of innovation or introspection, especially if it’s “not in the budget”.

​For this reason, successful small businesses, although at a heavy disadvantage in the area of budgeting compared to large enterprises, tend to give their bigger cousins a run for their money in terms of process efficiency and the amount of steps needed to turn a product around. The smaller business is a more cutthroat environment in that there’s very little margin for error, and they’re forced to function more like a well-oiled machine in terms of building themselves from the ground up around the concept of doing something to a better process standard because they have the liberty to modify the process freely without jumping through multiple managerial tiers’ worth of semantics and corporate politics. What a small business lacks in “power”, it greatly compensates for in “agility”.

From a sheer business market perspective, consider for a moment that many of the “bootleg” anime streaming websites on the Web have far less staffing than the “Tier 1” animation streaming companies in America. While they likely don’t have a dedicated legal department or a human resources department as those companies would, for example, would the absence of those departments among their people account for the tens, if not hundreds, of staff count disparity? I highly doubt it. While I harbor the view that the “bootleg” anime streaming approach isn’t wholly the answer the industry needs, it does at least stand as a testament to the point of corporate inefficiency close to home.

Otaku Central has been designed from the ground up by staff who’ve been in the multi-billion dollar corporate microcosm, got out of that microcosm, and learned what not to do from it. For many areas, every possible ounce of performance and margin has been harnessed to provide an advantage in operations; to name but a few:

  • Otaku Central has only one anime streaming contract; that contract never changes, so there’s never a legal debacle that occurs from contract negotiation simply because the anime rightsholder, by default, gets all profits. There’s little need for debate when you’re getting everything.
  • Otaku Central has no full-time legal staff at present; assistance in this area is contracted as needed, mostly due to the simplistic unchanging nature of our contracts.
  • Otaku Central is small enough in terms of staff that we don’t require an HR department.
  • With the exception of the written description for animations, every other aspect of the push-live process for new animations is automated.
  • Due to the geographical distance our staff covers, while we do have a small head office, most of our employees work from home – greatly reducing the size and cost of our work space.
  • In contrast to every other dedicated animation streaming service in existence, we don’t outsource our server infrastructure. It’s designed by us, to exacting industry standards, and hosted in-house. This brings our monthly hosting cost at the time of go-live to roughly $7,000 – versus the $94,000 equivalent it would have cost had we built this environment through Amazon, for example.
  • In terms of merchandise, we heavily leverage data analytics to gauge exact specifics of which products are in demand, how many of them we can reasonably stock at a time, and what the expected turnaround time is per-item. This enables us to have a very small relative inventory footprint – saving us a five-figure cost in rollover each year.
  • Otaku Central is headquartered in a mid-size city in the Midwest United States. We’ve chosen not to exist in a mega-city as the cost of living (and subsequently of running a business) is inflated to accommodate, and that would then be forcibly reflected to our vendors and customers.

​All-in-all, this leaves OC functioning as an industry-leading engine in terms of what it actually takes for us to function, and turn anime around to you as the viewer. When you’re financially transparent, it becomes necessary to have your efficiency processes out in the open so that you can provide an assurance to vendors of where the resources are going. We strive to set the bar high in this area, and it shows.

Financial Transparency in a Non-Profit Environment

I stated earlier that OC’s contracts are almost all static, meaning that they don’t change at all from studio to studio, and give our suppliers everything after we’ve financially broken even for the month’s expenses. But, how much good does that actually do if it’s not clearly out in the open as to what those expenses are?

While most people don’t realize it, this is actually one of the most controversial topics that’s plagued anime licensors here in America. To get an idea of why this is the case, let’s consider the two more common types of licensing that animes go through for streaming abroad.

Firstly, there’s a Mechanical License – Per View. What this means is that the streaming company who’s paying for the license to use an anime makes a deal with the anime’s rights holder that they’ll give them dollars for each time an episode of their anime is viewed. The amount of typically paid up at the end of each month.

Secondly, there’s a Mechanical License – Block View. This is similar to the Per View license format except that the streaming company will buy a large “block” of view permissions, such as 50,000, for example. They’re then allowed to let viewers watch that animation up to the 50,000 limit that they’ve paid for, and when that limit is hit or exceeded, it then falls to them to order another “block” of views to ensure that they’re in legal compliance with their contract.

Maybe you’ve noted the problem with this model already – who’s actually keeping animation streaming companies accountable that they’re reporting their view numbers correctly? Unless you either paid a third-party auditing firm to determine that they were legally compliant, or conducted your own “rough numbers” audit for the company’s net profit versus the amount of your anime that they had, this wasn’t an easy thing to do. At the end of the day, it would nearly cost you more time and money than the effort was worth. Have anime streamers fudged numbers in this area before? Yes, on many occasions – one of the more prominent ones being 4Kids Entertainment misreporting their earnings and license numbers, to the tune of millions of dollars.

This makes the concept of a non-profit animation streaming organization much warmer to attorneys and legal departments, since our finances are completely out in the open for all to see. In my opinion, I’d argue that the industry almost needs to function this way to prevent foul play from creeping in the doors of the unsuspecting. It also saves thousands upon thousands of dollars for anime creators because they no longer need to pay audit costs for us as their distributor – we pay a private third party to conduct our annual audits already, and coupled with our existing transparency, there’s no margin to put an accusation in front of us.

​As it should be.

Redefining “Non-Profit”

A lot of people confuse the term “charity” with the term “non-profit”, and there’s a very clear difference between the two.

A charity is an organization that aims to specifically help people in need through direct giving, whether that giving comes in the form of material things or in social services or care. A non-profit is an organization that aims to further a social cause or advocate for a specific point of view, at no business profit to themselves.

Those are the definitions on paper, but how this is actually acted out gets somewhat blurry in today’s society. The National Football League, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Rifle Association, and many others are considered “non-profit” on paper and also by the IRS, even though seemingly their entire frame of operation is for-profit, or at least, that’s the way it’s portrayed to many.

This gets deeper into controversial territory when you look at some examples of spending on account of non-profit or charitable organizations today. I’ll present these as examples, and I want to stress – these are intended to provoke thought, not to be taken as accusations or insults:

  • A Christian church spends over five million dollars towards a new stage lighting setup for their main auditorium.
  • A non-profit hospital purchases a private limousine to be used to transport their President from site-to-site.
  • A national pet shelter chain chooses to rent a large building for their annual Christmas party, as well as paying just under six figures to bring in a big-name rock band for the night’s entertainment.
  • A mid-size social services agency allocates several million dollars towards a demographically-targeted marketing budget.

The term I’d use to describe these types of things is “blurry” – because there’s no clear-cut right or wrong standard to hold a non-profit organization to in these areas. I’ll be the first to admit that being a non-profit doesn’t mean that you’re going to have to live life as a “modern monk”, and I’d expect people to have social lives and personal interests that no doubt present themselves in their work environments. But, where do you draw the line?

We look at this landscape as a of matter not necessarily trying to avoid an invisible line, but rather striving to avoid controversy for ourselves outright.

You see, Otaku Central is a pretty big oddity when it comes to being a non-profit. According to IRS ordinance 501, there are 29 different categories that your organization can be defined within in order to legally qualify as a non-profit, and OC doesn’t fall into any of them! The closest we come is being classed as a “Social Welfare Non-Profit”, but even then, we don’t fit in to that bracket because we’re primarily helping workers abroad – not here in the United States. 

So, in legal terms, we “can’t” be a non-profit, even though financially, structurally, and in terms of purpose, we most certainly are. This has forced us to file ourselves from a tax standpoint as a Type ‘S’ Corporation, even though we function as a non-profit. The world’s certainly an odd place, at times.

The most controversial area of OC in terms of functioning as a non-profit is that we pay all of our staff (with myself being the core exception; I earn no pay from OC) a very competitive salary. It’s my personal conviction that if you don’t take good care of your people, they’ll just embitter themselves against you and leave you for someone else. We don’t want that – the world needs to change through OC, and that change needs to start with us.

In other areas, our entire marketing budget is personally subsidized by me – making it a non-issue for how we allocate money to our PR. We don’t accept one-time bonuses from organizations, we don’t sell “share” to anyone as we’re 100% privately-owned, and there isn’t an ounce of personal bias in how we conduct our business transactions. And, we’re financially transparent to top it all off.

Our aim is to indisputably, unconditionally, be a non-profit. And that’s who we are.

Studio Contracts – Business, With Arms Wide Open

Anime licensing has historically been a blood-stained battleground of suit-wearing salesmen fighting around a conference room table for how to pocket as much money as humanly possible for their cause. I’ve personally witnessed some of the residual effects of this mentality when sitting down with representatives from anime studios, explaining that OC is going to give them all of the profits, and having to reassure them for the next 30 minutes that this isn’t too good to be true, yes, this is a real thing, and yes, we’re here to help YOU​.

​The Otaku Central streaming contract is fairly to-the-point in what we’re looking for. We want video files, related files, and timesetting lists for animes, if possible. The contract outlines specifically what we can use animes for, and gives us minimal rights for marketing them. It goes into what regions we can use the animes in, then finally, it goes into financial kickback – which is all profits, broken down by percentages into affected parties and shareholders.

More interesting, perhaps, is what the Otaku Central contract does NOT entail:

  • We will never attempt to gain exclusive streaming rights to an anime, instead opting to leave this option open for studios for their own benefit.
  • We never claim intellectual rights to animes in any way/shape/form. This ensures that all rights remain with the content creators, and we’re merely the distributing middleman in connecting them with customers.
  • There is no provision in our contract for “sub-licensing”, and there never will be. Our aim isn’t to function as a rights ambassador of sorts on foreign soil for anime companies, as this choice needs to remain with them.
  • While there is a contract duration associated with the agreement, it’s one-way open-ended and can be terminated by the anime studio for any reason – as long as they give us 30 days’ notice. This provides assurance that we’re going to play fair, by the rules, or they’re completely free to leave us.
  • We will never dub an anime, instead believing that the most culturally-courteous method to portray animes is in their original language, as originally intended.

The OC contract is a rather strange creature in that it’s thrown legal representatives an eyebrow-raising curveball on more than one occasion. It’s fairly obvious in reading through it that we’re not trying to make money for ourselves, and are striving to give the anime rights holder the maximum benefit of the doubt in dealing with us. Truly, a strange concept in the world today.

The effect that this has on studios over time is that they tend to want to start “funneling” all their animes through Otaku Central exclusively, even though we’re not asking them to or forcing them to. The dollar amount differential between what we offer versus what our competitors bring to the table is so extreme that it simply isn’t advantageous as OC scales in size to put your product anywhere else.

Financial Kickback – The OC Engine In Motion

Financially, Otaku Central is absolutely terrifying. Why, you ask? Because net deliverable margins like ours have never before been remotely close to possible in the history of the anime industry.

​What do I mean by that? Well, let’s break down an abbreviated summary of how our financial structure works.

  • 15% of initial gross revenue is used by OC to offset our monthly operational costs. This percentage is scaled down once we’ve reached our budget goal for the month, in order to increase the percentage that goes to the anime producer.
  • 75% of initial gross revenue goes directly back to the firm that controls the rights to the anime in question. If this is more than one entity, income is divided on a percentage level between all of them proportional to percentage of ownership/shareholding. This percentage is scaled up once OC has reached our monthly budget goal, thus increasing the money the anime producer gets.
  • 3% of initial gross revenue goes back to the studio that designed the anime, if separate from the producer.
  • 3% of initial gross revenue goes towards the individual or group who created the manga/novel/game that the anime was based on, if applicable.
  • 2% of initial gross revenue goes to the organization that provided the voiceovers for the anime, if separate from the studio.
  • 1.5% of initial gross revenue goes to the organization that composed the anime’s OST, if separate from the studio.
  • 0.5% of initial gross revenue goes back to the music group(s) that recorded the anime’s opening and ending themes.

There’s pages upon pages of fine print on the breakdown, so take this with a real grain of salt if you have an unanswered question with how this works – it’s designed to be a VERY high-level overview of how we operate.

On average, the percentage amount of financial kickback that other players in the industry have offered was somewhere in the neighborhood of 15% to %30, depending on what the anime was, who licensed it,  and how high demand had become. When you compare this average to the 75% that goes directly back to the studio immediately through OC, and then 10% going to other associated creators of the anime, it’s a pretty jaw-dropping difference in dollar amount.

Since that 75% actually goes up once OC breaks even financially for the month, it can nearly scale into an event horizon due to the way our organization is structured and infrastructure is designed. To compare this to the current industry giant, Crunchyroll, if we were the same size as them, our financial kickback percentage would hover just above the 98% mark. Considering that the industry average is somewhere in the neighborhood of 22.5%, and that number needs to be understood as a gradient curve when compared to OC’s percentage, you begin to see the full picture of just how powerful a non-profit organization is in anime when it’s been crafted like this.

When Otaku Central fully goes live, and fully gets off the ground, my expectation is that it will completely encompass the anime industry in a matter of years. There’s no way that a for-profit enterprise can possibly compete with kickback margins like ours; there’s no means by which they even can come close. If they outsourced everything, if they tried to adopt our server farm mentality, and even if they downsized their organization substantially in terms of staff, they still can’t scratch the dollar amount differential that we’re bringing to the table.

Innovative Features Create An Innovative Product

Ultimately, regardless of the efficiency and financial standards that Otaku Central has, all of that design is really for naught if the front-facing product isn’t something viewers like. The streaming experience for OC has to be world-class, and address the concerns that many appreciators of anime have noted with current anime streaming services.

From the anime conventions that I’ve been to in the last several years, I’ve witnessed a couple of new anime “startups” trying to get off the ground for their region with expo marketing and sponsorship. For both of them, the question repeatedly asked by potential customers when looking at their company was:

“Oh, so you’re another anime streaming service?”

I think that statement really characterizes the mentality that most people have about the animation streaming industry today. There’s nothing really new; everybody’s more-or-less doing the same thing as everyone else, with the same set of features, and a nearly identical set of services. The only thing that really changes from company to company is the selection, and the merchandise they sell, to an extent.

The biggest complaint I’ve received about the animation streaming landscape today is the selection, by far. Apart from the price tag, this is probably the single largest factor in why “bootleg” anime streaming sites are so widespread today – they’re the only environment where an anime viewer can really get the full scoop in terms of selection. On the front side, this is the biggest issue that Otaku Central aims to address, and with the way our contracts work, I believe we’re pretty well-geared to tackle it head on.

The second field of complaints is mostly categorized by things that are stripped out of anime streaming services due to time or budget limitations. This includes everything from “the next video in the series doesn’t immediately start when the current episode ends” over to “I can’t easily find animes that I’d want to watch”, and even in to “I wish this service offered manga selections as well”.

A lot of this makes sense; the original group of friends who developed the idea for Otaku Central were all anime viewers (myself included), and we recognized a lot of these problems firsthand. I’ll admit that I came out of a “bootleg” anime streaming environment in the process of creating OC, and these topics frequented a lot of our “round-table” discussions.

So, how do you approach this situation?

Otaku Central as a concept, and subsequently as a design, was constructed over the course of nearly four years – the site and its services took a time investment on the part of our staff far beyond what we’d originally budgeted for. Why? Because we were trying to tackle a veritable mountain that seemingly no one else wanted to tackle, and we were intent on getting everything situated perfectly the first time. Because of the attention to detail we put into our featureset, we were able to build services that raised the bar substantially in terms of what viewers expected:

  • While there’s no way that we can initially offer all animes legally to viewers simply because of the amount of exclusive licenses that other streaming services have right now, we have the only long-term solution to that problem – building a contract and financial structure that causes studios to want to funnel animes through us, and end exclusive licenses with other providers as their terms come up for renewal.
  • Videos on our site in a series offer a full spectrum of resolutions, as well as automatically going to the next video in a series without any user interaction, and giving you the option to disable this feature if you so choose.
  • OC’s most-requested exclusive feature is a something we’ve termed ‘Anime Lite’. It gives you the option to toggle on or off the ability to skip the intro and ending themes for animes; something that many binge users for longer series’ have hailed as the greatest difference-maker we offer.
  • Viewers have the option to toggle between the default ‘Basic Search’ option for animes, and the Advanced Search. The Advanced Search feature, built on the same information set as our data archives engine, offers an incredibly granular search option for finding what you’re looking for. Searching under a specific studio on an anime they made in 2003 that had the action and adventure genres, but no ecchi? Oh – and it was based on a manga! Sure. Go for it.
  • Whereas most anime streaming services offer little by way of viewer community interaction beyond a forum, Otaku Central has partnered with Peepso to offer a very Facebook-esque approach to social interaction for members. While this feature is completely optional and users can opt out of it if they purely want anime and nothing else, it offers a friendly atmosphere for talking about your anime hobbies or passions outside of the eyes of potential employers or other judging parties.
  • Create an anime experience that’s truly gorgeous. While this may sound inconsequential to many, think about it for a moment. What kind of site layout do most other services provide? Well, mostly monocolor, with the same static layout type and picture headers that are too small, then topped off with some advertising even if you’re actually paying them a membership fee. It’s not intuitive, and it’s not eye-catching; and believe me, it makes a difference when that frame of mind isn’t ​the case.

The grand majority of feedback we’ve received thus far on the OC project has been favorable. Viewers have attested that this is a definitely a movement in the right direction, and it breaks the mold that many other services fell into and then never really grew past. While other reviews of OC were more critical, they helped to shape our site and vision over time into more of what the community was looking for in an anime service, and many suggestions contributed towards what OC is today.

Innovating change, in an ever-evolving landscape, for the benefit of everyone.

​That’s a tune we can all dance to.

Working At OC – An Employee Experience Unlike Anything Else

I have a couple of stories to tell, and they illustrate quite well a point in the way people work.

Years ago when I was a contractor for Google, I found myself in a magical environment unlike anything I’d ever been exposed to before. An in-house cafeteria with free meals, unlimited free beverages, really casual dress code, exercise facility, raise-able desks with treadmills under them…  it was wild. Google tends to pride themselves on presenting this atmosphere to job seekers and vendors as their approach to what the next-generation work environment should look like.

In light of this, and based in part on what I suspected human nature truly wanted, I conducted a private survey of a few dozen of my peers and asked them a fairly simple question:

Would you rather have all the amenities of Google’s work environment and company culture, or would you rather make 25% more pay than you make right now?

Interestingly, the response was completely unanimous: we’d prefer more pay.

​​For a similar job position that I held in the distant past, I worked as a second-tier IT technician for a large multinational corporation. Our department was very large, with several different layers of management and the associated office politics and bureaucracy that went with them. Due to the nature of how this corporation provided free training both online and in printed format for their employees, I was able to achieve six new IT certifications in the course of working for them for about a year a half.

In other words, from a technical standpoint, I was overqualified for my current position with the company and wanted to move to something higher. I wasn’t the only person on my team who’d gone down this personal development road and was looking to advance, either.

In discussing the situation with my boss, I was hit by two walls of corporate policy. Firstly, they wouldn’t normally allow you to advance to a new position in the company unless you’d held your current position for at least three years (unless your manager’s boss signed a statement, which she wouldn’t sign for me). Secondly, you normally couldn’t advance more than one technical level above your current job function, and I was attempting to jump two (unless a similar statement to the aforementioned one was signed).

We had a choice in front of us. Weather the job out for another 18 months then jump one level higher, or find a better job at a different company now. I think my employer at the time discerned this, as they refused to let us job shadow higher-level positions, wouldn’t let us take the technical assessments for high-level positions, and stopped paying for higher-level certifications for us.

I left the organization about three months later, and was closely followed by several of my peers who’d been placed in similar positions. We’d been subjected to a neo-classical corporate structure that wouldn’t let people grow faster than their company culture and policy would allow, and they let some talent overflow out as a result.

A lot of people can probably speak to similar terms in their careers, and it testifies to what people really want in an employment environment. Otaku Central’s employee structure, from the ground up, has been heavily shaped by previous job experiences of our founding staff and learning the hard way what not to do.

We hand-pick the majority of our staff, as we’re a pretty small, tight-knit group and we have to ensure we’re getting someone that meshes well with our team and has the work ethic we look for. Generally we network at universities, job fairs, job boards, and private gatherings for people, but will use other means as needed. Most of the time, we have a specific person or set of persons in mind before we ever have need for a new position.

A week or so before your first day at OC, you’re given a budget for your work setup. While there are some rules you have to play by, you have $2,500 to get yourself a computing workstation setup and desk work area, and then $500 to decorate your work area with, whether it’s in the office or working from home. If you want to build your own rig, that’s perfectly acceptable – same as if you’d like to buy art supplies for creating your own wall art for your desk. It’s our belief that people are most comfortable when they have control of what they’d like to work in.

For most positions in the organization, as long as you’re present in meetings and calls you’re required for, and as long as you’re getting 40 hours per week of your job function done, what time periods you work are up to you. While there will be situations that inevitably arise where you’d have to work set hours (such as for an expo event) or overtime (such as during a large-scale go-live), it’s been documented in every person’s job description that these situations can’t be forced on an employee. They have to be mutually-agreed upon beforehand by both parties, as well as the specific time interval they’re for. If a staff member can’t accommodate a situation, then OC will work around it as a whole through other means.

Pay structure is where OC truly becomes a different animal than the rest of the world. There’s four factors that weigh in to the amount of money a non-commissioned employee takes home each pay period, and the last two can be stacked virtually indefinitely:

  • Base pay rate, as noted in their job description.
  • Annual step increase; this is 4% of the base pay rate. Scales up to the 10-year mark.
  • Job-related certifications/degrees the employee gains; these net a pay increase from 2% (for entry-level) up to 6% (for architectural- or expert-level) of the base pay rate. This increase is also subject to an internal skills assessment test post-pass. 
  • Number of either primary or secondary SME roles an employee fills, individually multiplied by between 2% and 4% of their base pay rate depending on the complexity of the role, then added together. SME role in question must have a corresponding certification as a prerequisite.

Our environment is structured to provide a welcome home both for those who aren’t inclined towards being career-oriented, as well as providing a metaphorical adrenaline injection for others who’d like to push their industry expertise and career proficiency to incredible heights. What I’ve told people who we’re considering for employment before is that “I’m not going to ask you to put in effort beyond your abilities, and I won’t force you to become something that you’re not or don’t want to be, but there’s a very real sense in which you can choose how much money you want to make at OC.”

It’s very realistic to say that you could start at Otaku Central in a position making $45,000/year in terms of pay, and then scale that into six-figure territory in 5-10 years’ time without ever getting an actual job-title-changing promotion. It all depends on where you’re at in life, and what you want to get out of it. If one of our people wants to put in the effort to achieve incredible standards for themselves, it’s our belief that they should be actively rewarded for that effort – because it benefits both themselves, and the organization as a whole.

With us, life’s an open road with no real speed limit. How fast you go and how far you go, well…

     …that’s all up to you.

How Much Staff Will Otaku Central Have?

At present, Otaku Central consists of six people who are actually either working on the site directly or are supporting various aspects of the organization. Out of those six, two of them are considered direct staff members of OC, one of which being myself, and the other being Matt, who works on video encoding, site buildout, and is getting more into the servers/programming side. The remaining four are contracted for assistance with the site as needed, and work in the areas of marketing, legal, translation, and archives.

This figure doesn’t include the people who were involved in the development group for Otaku Central from Day 1, and chose to offer advice or feedback but declined to work on the site directly. It doesn’t include those who have provided financial support for us during the “early days” of buying the initial ‘Alpha Stage’ infrastructure for the site. It can’t hope to include the countless names who did beta testing, sat in on calls to brainstorm features, or simply came across the site in passing and expressed interest in learning more about who we are.

For all those who helped us on the road thus far to where we’re at, thank you.

​At the time we go live, our staff landscape is going to notedly change. We’re planning on hiring three translation personnel within the next year, and will convert our archivist to working for us full-time. The marketing aspect will also likely convert to a full-time position and change somewhat, although it’s unlikely the person currently in this role will be the one filling it, due to mutual agreement. We need to hire a dedicated programmer, and will need a systems engineer to serve as a failover for me down the road as I transition more to other areas within the organization.

In all, that puts us at a staff of ten people at the time we go live. Pretty incredible, considering that our leading competitor sported a staff of over 150, last I checked. It’s a testament to how effective the model we’re built on is, and how much sheer automation our infrastructure boasts.

Will that number change as demand increases, our userbase grows, and our server farm gets larger? Of course it will, and we’re already prepared for the day that happens.

The Biggest Dangers OC Faces

This is a subject that nobody really likes to discuss, right? I mean, what salesman in his right mind would openly set on the table what could actually shoot him and his company down? Stock prices would surely plummet the moment he opened a news release with “Well, a major problem for us would be…”, etc.

I guess it’s a good thing we’re a financially-transparent non-profit, or we’d be screwed.

My belief is that getting some of these things out in the open assists our vendors, business partners, employees, and even customers make the most educated decision about us that they can. It helps everyone understand what we’re actively facing, where we’re looking to go, and what we’re going to be up against in order to get there. A happy side-effect of this approach is that we can’t be verbally slammed with this information in press releases because we’ve already been open about it, and most people already know and understand. We’re only human, after all – we make the best decisions we can in light of the information we have at the time, and that’s a story everyone can relate to.

Otaku Central’s biggest challenges, in no particular order, are:

Because we’re providing our own server infrastructure in-house and not through a cloud hosting provider, apart from bandwidth, there’s a very real sense in which we can’t simply “click a button and buy more performance” if we need it. We have to spec out servers to add to our environment, then get them over to the datacenter to add into the cluster. There’s naturally a turnaround time involved in this, and if we’ve grown too quickly in too small a time span for us to keep up, it’s going to demonstrate itself as a performance hit to the anime viewer on our site. We actively stay on top of this with performance metrics and give ourselves a huge margin to grow, but there’s an ever-looming possibility that OC may grow in huge bursts at points where we can’t keep up with it.

Certain anime rightholders don’t like our business model. Specifically, they’ve designed their legality to be hard-coded around a specific licensing mentality, and they aren’t open to someone else doing things differently – if you’re “playing their games, you’re playing by their rules”. While we want to be as open as we can be to helping the anime industry financially, we don’t want to sacrifice who we are or the catalysts for the market advantage that we have. For us, this is presently in a state of flux, and it’s getting smoothed out slowly but surely; it just takes time.

​There’s a very delicate balancing act that occurs between what we can reasonably do as an organization versus what viewers want. The most heavily-debated topic in this area has always been that Otaku Central should offer manga in the same fashion that it offers anime. While I don’t disagree that this would be an incredible boon to the manga industry if we could apply our organization model to it, it’s beyond the scope of what OC is currently about at this time. In addition, some feature requests for OC were turned down as there simply wasn’t enough consumer demand for them, although there was a degree of demand – this naturally gives us a bit of a bad rep among some people since we couldn’t deliver on what they wanted. Some of this is going to be inevitable…   it’s just a constant balancing act.

I highly doubt that other players in the anime streaming industry are going to sit quietly on the sidelines while Otaku Central enters the fray; as I mentioned before, to a competitor, our net deliverables statistics are absolutely terrifying because no for-profit company in existence can compete with them. What will our competitors do in order to try and compete? I don’t know – and that scares me. Would they resort to legal means? Would they dissect us to try and find something we did wrong? Would one of them that holds a license that includes intellectual rights attempt a lawsuit based on some manner of infringement? Will we see “smear” marketing campaigns against us? I simply don’t know.

And, finally, the biggest concern in my mind as our go-live date draws ever nearer…

“Once we set the non-profit framework and business model by which we were able to achieve all of this on the table, others will be able to see it, copy it, and potentially use it in other industries, markets, societies, and economies as they see fit. For better or for worse, how much will the OC framework truly change our world?”

Causes We Support, & How We Support Them

There’s a pleasant list of charities and other non-profit organizations in the world whose purpose is shared by Otaku Central, as well as general societal good-based causes we’d like to put some momentum behind. Now, that’s a nice thing to say, but understand that it has to be counterbalanced with the fact that we’re non-profit and allocating “revenue” percentages towards charitable causes could become a very sticky slope for us very quickly.

On our ‘Causes We Support’ page on our site, the organizations in the list are present there because the OC staff has contributed funds out of our personal coffers, not the organizational budget, to support them. To use actual “OC money” to support these causes is simply too controversial.

Something we’ve been asked before is why we even bother listing charities that we personally support if we don’t support them as an organizational whole. We hold to doing things this way because, in my opinion, it conveys a more powerful message than blanket-statement-style allocating OC resources to causes like these. Each of us had to consciously want to support our causes, know that the money for doing so was coming out of our budgets, and then follow through accordingly. It demonstrates that OC is comprised of a team of individuals, who each have our own beliefs, have our own convictions, and independently have different movements in the world we’d like to see come to fruition.

We think it’s a pretty unique approach to supporting those who want to make the world a better place, and would ask others to consider doing the same.

On a more operational front, Otaku Central strives to hold itself to the ISO14001 standard of environmental sustainment, and to my knowledge, is the only anime organization in the Western hemisphere to do so. This has caused us to make positive distinctions on everything from the percentage of garbage that we need to recycle, to the cars that we use for our daily commutes (or in my case, I don’t even own a car!), on over to which datacenter providers we can use for our servers depending on how they use cooling and renewable energy to provide their resources to us.

If you’ve talked to one of our staff members at a convention, or caught one of us in private on various occasions, this topic tends to surface in many conversations we have. We aren’t being paid to think this way, and we aren’t earning any money by wanting to “go green” or be more environmentally friendly. It’s simply a cause that we wholeheartedly believe in, and would like to express that vision to those around OC, too.

“The smaller your footprint, the less of a trail you’ll leave.” With regards to our environment, it certainly holds true for us.

In Closing

Although long, I hope this has been an informative read for you, and perhaps offered you a more rounded perspective for what OC is and what we’re trying to accomplish as an organization.

As mentioned at the beginning, this is intended to be a “living” document. If I’ve missed key areas, or if there are questions you have that I wasn’t able to answer, feel free to reach out to me via my Contact page for this site, and I will update this article to add additional clarity as needed.

OC is a truly unique entity that’s trying to financially salvage an industry no one else bothered with, is a true non-profit, enjoys organization-wide financial transparency, can’t be categorized by the IRS, offers a monetary kickback level that nothing else in the anime industry can match, took years to craft due to innovation considerations, places its employees in a custom-crafted environment for success, and is involved in a number of environmental and charitable causes abroad.

The last few years have been a thrill ride for us, and we’re eagerly looking forward to the point where we can unveil the finished product to the world of what we’ve crafted for so long.

This is Otaku Central. This is the anime revolution.

Caleb Huggenberger is a 31 year-old systems engineer, old-school guitar and amplifier builder, and Eastern culture enthusiast. Outside of long work days, he enjoys electronics engineering, cast iron campfire cooking, and homesteading on his acreage in the Indiana countryside.

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