Recently we got to catch up with Kieran Farr, founder of VidCaster. During our interview he introduces us to VidCaster and shares with us some lessons from the early stages of starting their company. VidCaster is a 500 Startups, an early stage seed fund and incubator program located in Mountain View, CA.
Tell us what your company is all about.
VidCaster is a video marketing automation platform. Our cloud-based software allows customers such as VMware, MIT, Airbnb and thousands of others to create video sales and elearning portals.
We know that thousands of businesses use video as a core part of their marketing strategy, but many struggle with proving the effectiveness of that content in driving their sales goals and automating the time consuming process involved with online video publishing. VidCaster helps businesses automate video publishing across multiple platforms and prove ROI through our suite of best of breed VidCaster tools.
Core to VidCaster is its powerful site-building platform which enables marketing and other non-technical teams to create engaging video sites and video landing pages to drive lead generation and goal conversion from their video content. Using our simple template editor, marketers can create custom branded video experiences while front-end developers can dig deeper by leveraging VidCaster’s powerful development tools to create cutting edge interactive video experiences using our open APIs and easy to learn template language.
– BRAND: VidCaster gives marketers the ability to brand and control the viewer experience with its unique video site building tool and a custom branded video player, creating a unified experience across web properties.
- STREAM: VidCaster hosts, manages, and streams and optimizes video content for playback anywhere on the web including mobile devices and tablets.
- MEASURE: VidCaster provides a combination of onboard reporting and integrated connectors with the most powerful tools, including Google Analytics, KISS Metrics, Mixpanel and a variety of business intelligence systems.
- CONVERT and MONETIZE: VidCaster has engineered a suite of tools that give marketers the ability to convert viewers into paying subscribers and engage-able sales opportunities for their organization. Gate video content for lead generation or charge subscriptions to view video content.
VidCaster’s clients range from well-known technology companies and universities to independent filmmakers, small businesses and entrepreneurs.
How did you come up with the idea for your company?
I have always had a strong passion for video production and software development since a very young age — as early as elementary school I was programming on our Commodore 64 and started learning TV production shortly after in high school. In college as an undergraduate at Indiana University I raised $500k to create a fully student-run TV station on campus, a significant achievement which remains today as a leading campus organization giving students real world production experience. So in many ways it was inevitable for me to land up creating a video software startup!
After graduation I moved to San Francisco to work in advertising as an online media buyer, a great experience to learn the ins and outs of the money in advertising, however I was still tempted to return to the world of video. In 2008 I started a company called VidSF along with co-founder Steve Cochrane. The VidSF concept was simple — we wanted to create an online local TV station. We were fed up with how trashy local TV news is these days — almost nobody we know watches it as it seems to be filled with violence, car crashes, and petty politics — and thought we could crowdsource a better version of local TV news.
The initial year of VidSF was spent creating the support structure in order to prove out the concept. We partnered with local newspapers and blogs such as SFAppeal, SFist and the San Francisco Chronicle, and recruited a network of videographers to pair with blog and newspaper reporters in order to produce video versions of text articles. We soon realized that we had an infrastructure problem — we needed a solution for these videographers to be able to quickly and easily upload this content, automatically apply branding, insert advertisements, distribute to multiple blog and newspaper partner websites and social networks/YouTube, and then evaluate the viewership of these videos across the various devices, services and websites where
views accessed them. Surely there must be a solution to help create an “online TV station”? But despite our search, we could only find partial solutions, such as online video players, but nothing that would help with the complicated process from start to finish — so we created our own software which soon became VidCaster.
While VidSF was in many ways a success — our network of Bay Area videographers created hundreds of videos for millions of viewers across half a dozen partner publishers — it was still a struggle to make ends meet with local video advertising alone. Further, while working on the VidSF platform we were receiving multiple inquiries from companies and videographers who were curious how they could use our video distribution software for their own projects. We realized we had created an extremely valuable video tool and decided to pivot in 2010 to sell VidCaster as a standalone offering.
After setting out to create a local TV station we ended up with a killer business video distribution platform. We’re excited to have followed this path, but there’s no way we could have guessed this was the direction it would take!
Can you walk us through some of the early stages of starting VidCaster? (Ex. Inception, Validating demand, MVP, User insight)
We had created the VidCaster platform as a side project while working on VidSF, a local online video TV station serving the San Francisco Bay Area.
We were very lucky that customers began to approach us about using this software for their own purposes. We hadn’t considered making VidCaster available externally — this took us by considerable surprise that other folks would want to use our internal tool for their own projects. This was our first lesson in listening to customer input to validate the product and drive further improvements. Before taking the plunge and pivoting away from local TV, we reached out to our personal network of friends working in startups, small businesses and larger organizations such as universities to get anecdotal input on the usefulness of such a solution. We didn’t perform traditional market research, but we did buy our friends beers to get input on the problems they had with online video distribution and how to measurably drive sales goals through video marketing.
After this input from prospective customers and our “market research” with our personal network, we decided to fully pivot in 2010 to offer VidCaster as a standalone solution for businesses to distribute and measure video content marketing. We were lucky enough to be able to work with Airbnb and Indiana University as our initial beta customers. They served as both our initial clients and a sounding board for iterating the feature sets that would be valuable for them and for exploring pricing options.
In 2011 we began to actively market and sell VidCaster to startups and technology companies in the Bay Area such as Zendesk, Twilio and Microsoft. This helped us get a feel for pricing, use cases, and how to pitch this to a wider market. We also began to see the potential size of this opportunity — we learned that almost every business struggles with their video marketing strategy, especially proving the ROI or effectiveness of those efforts. This began to light our fire to start raising funding, which is what led us to join the 500 Startups accelerator in Mountain View. More on that in a second…
You’re part of 500 Startups, how have they helped you? Why 500 Startups?
Joining the 500 Startups team was crucial to VidCaster’s evolution to become the company it is today. VidCaster joined 500 Startups in 2011 as part of their second batch of companies to participate in their accelerator program in Mountain View. Before joining 500 we had been fundraising for a traditional seed round, so when we heard that 500 was interested we were a bit hesitant at the concept of joining an incubator. But, after spending the summer with the 500 crew and other portfolio companies in their Mountain View office we soon reversed our tune.
The most valuable aspect of the 500 Startups program was orienting our team to build a true company around our already strong foundation of technology and core product. Our team is composed of great technologists with deep experience with online video infrastructure, but we had gaps in our sales and marketing experience. Through the 500 Startups program benefits including expert mentoring, on-site seminars and frequent one-on-one time with their experienced staff, we were able to build the proper sales and marketing infrastructure around the VidCaster product which has led to quick adoption across the tech company sector to drive measurable video marketing.
One of my favorite components of the 500 Startups Accelerator is that they require that participating startups all come to their Mountain View office for the 3-month program. This experience was excellent as most of the other startups were in similar stages plus or minus a year or so. This meant that most of the other startups in the program were going through similar pain points or had experienced them before, and this organic knowledge transfer was some of the most valuable learnings we experienced.
What advice would you give to an entrepreneur looking to get their company into 500 Startups?
HUSTLE — no matter how high the bar raises as the 500 Startups program becomes more competitive, if you have the hustle needed to make your company a success, regardless of what obstacles come your way, you will have a good chance at joining the 500 program. Through hustle you’ll start to knock off the required elements — traction, a great team, a great product — and you’ll find loads of opportunity. In my opinion, there is no greater sign that your company has traction than showing customer growth and tangible revenue. Focus on this and the rest will come.
What progress do you hope to make in the next year?
The VidCaster team is extremely excited about 2013! Our big focus this year is helping our customers show a solid return on their video marketing efforts and we’re already delivering on this mission — we announced in late January a connector to Salesforce.com CRM to allow our customers to drive lead generation and conversion directly from their video library into their Salesforce account.
Our customers tell us that video marketing is the #1 objective for B2B content marketing efforts this year, and specifically their goals are to generate leads and potential sales opportunities for their sales team. We’re helping drive those goals in a measurable way by connecting video marketing across social networks like Facebook and Twitter, video sharing platforms like YouTube and Vimeo, and your first-party video site powered by VidCaster to both drive viewership lead conversion and help marketers with comprehensive reporting to prove the ROI back to their management.
Video marketing is an extremely effective content marketing technique but has suffered from massive complexity and difficulty of proving ROI to upper management, until now. VidCaster is positioned to be one of the most effective tools in measuring online video marketing effectiveness and we’re excited to keep improving these tools as our customers grow their businesses as well.
What advice would you like to give to an entrepreneur thinking about writing their first business plan?
SALES — this is one of the toughest lessons I’ve learned over the past few years. Regardless of your product, market, target customers, etc., you will absolutely need to master the sales process and understand the core value you offer to customers and prove their willingness to pay. Everything else — product design, technology, team, equity, etc. — is a distraction until you can prove that there is a core demand for the product or service you’ve proposed.
If I could start my career over again I would have started first with an entry-level sales role in an organization or industry that I love (online video, for example). I speak from time to time on alumni panels about my startup experience and give this same advice to students preparing to graduate. They are always surprised at my suggestion to get a sales job out of college — “Are you sure? I just want to start my own thing!” Unless you live in a vacuum your “own thing” will necessarily require customers and will exist in a marketplace with competing interests. Even if you’re doing your “own thing” sales is an absolutely critical element, without which everything else is for naught.
A massive thank you to Kieran for taking the time out of his busy schedule to put down some awesome answers to our questions. We look forward to catching back up with VidCaster next year to see how things are going. You can also follow them on twitter!
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