Brad Jefferson & Animoto.com – The end of slideshows!

March 9, 2008

in digital, internet, interview, people, social networking, startup, web, web 2.0

(note: the italian version of this article is available on 7th Floor online magazine)

The web of the late 90’s was pretty different from what we are now living online. I recall that, at the startup I used to work for, new features were developed only taking into account the product (surely of high quality) and people were just a marginal aspect. The value proposition was centered in offering our customers the best contents of a certain type, and this should have been enough to be successful. Tom Friedman defines this as the capability of “downloading“, that is, to have access to the information. But always according to Friedman, the real internet revolution has begun when people had the opportunity of “uploading” their own contents to the web.
Today’s websites focus their energy on the uploading factor. Take Amazon.com as an example, they have made their mayor strength through their customer’s opinions. We are navigating in the river of new sites that have been called the Web 2.0, many of whom are just copies of each other.
I met Brad Jefferson, co-founder and CEO of Animoto.com, one of this new uploading sites that declares “the end of slideshows”.

Animoto was born a bit by chance (see the garage story) and with a very definite dream. Says Brad: “Our passion is automating the creative process for creating video content that has the type of production value you’d expect to see in film or television. Simply put, when users upload their images and music to Animoto our technology should be able to infer the best way to put it all together into a video – all with a click of a button. We want anyone to be able to make professional looking videos, not just super technical people who own and know sophisticated editing software“.

So the next time that you’ll come back from a trip (or other event) full of digital photos, why don’t you upload the best of them to flickr and then, with a song that reminds you of that experience, you make a video and share it with your friends? It won’t be just a normal video, check out this one:

garage story
Animoto was founded by four 30-year-old buddies which went together to high school and three of them to college too. Their common link has always been that they’re all incredibly passionate people who love to work hard and inspire each other. Brad specialized in enterprise software at company called Onyx Software, while the other three found themselves working in film, television and music.
The idea for Animoto came from Stevie Clifton, our CTO, while he was doing documentary work for ABC. As a motion graphics artist, Stevie was responsible for the special effects and motion design that was incorporated into various ABC documentaries. Yet, Stevie is also a software engineer so he was always inventing ways to make his motion graphics job easier by automating certain aspects of his daily grind. One night at a NY hole-in-the-wall sake bar Stevie started drawing up some of his job automation ideas on a dirty napkin for Jason Hsiao, our President. After hearing the idea Jason basically said, “Stevie, that’s great that you’ve come up with a way to automate your job but if we could implement this technology through the Internet so anyone could access it that would be something really special.” Jason shared the business idea with me and I was hooked. We then pulled in Stevie’s brother, Tom Clifton, our Creative Director, to round out our founding team”.

business model
Animoto is based on the freemium (free + premium) model. Registered users can create 30 second Animoto videos for free. Creating a full-length video costs $3 USD or $30 USD for an annual all-access pass that allows for the creation of unlimited full-length videos. “We’ve also been experimenting with opt-in advertising that we call ‘Distractions.’ We’ve found that there’s lots of commercial demand for our technology so expect to see some interesting developments on that front in 2008“.

funding
Brad explains their starting funding: “We bootstrapped our first six months to create the Animoto.com alpha release. We launched the alpha site to friends and family in March 2007 and the feedback was very positive (albeit, it was from our loved ones). While we were thrilled that our alpha testers were loving Animoto.com, our stomachs sank a bit as we started our budget number crunching“.

It takes a lot of processor power to render each unique video creation with a high quality production value, not to mention the bandwidth and storage needs.

If our site was to become as popular as we had hoped the cost to run the infrastructure was going to mean that we’d require a fairly substantial infusion of cash which is something we wanted to avoid in order to maintain our ownership. We spent a lot of time planning for success so instead of rushing to launch Animoto.com publicly we took a step back and decided to completely re-architect our technical infrastructure on Amazon Web Services (AWS)“.

They decided to sacrifice nearly four months to move Animoto.com to AWS, but they knew it was the right thing to do. During that period they continued to improve everything about the site and, more importantly, that extra time gave Brad enough time to find the right investors for Animoto. “With the new technical infrastructure our capital requirements were smaller. In fact, our capital requirements were so small that I was able to look no further than our family and friends to raise sufficient funds to complete our Series A private placement“.

the launch
The site was launched as a private alpha in March 2007 and the private beta in July 2007. “Once we felt the private beta was solid we picked August 14, 2007, as our public launch date and a couple weeks before launch we invited a bunch a tech bloggers to take a sneak peak“. Tech bloggers loved the service and wrote favorably about Animoto and August 14th was the D-day for the press release which made them public.

In hindsight, we probably should have focused less on the tech circles and more on mainstream audiences; that’s where our marketing focus is now“.

relationships
Animoto allows users to retrieve photos from sites like Picasa, Flickr, Facebook and SmugMug to create videos and during 2008 the team will concentrate in strengthening the links with these and other communities.

We see social platforms like OpenSocial and Facebook as great ways to get more people familiar with Animoto. The very nature – and brilliance – of a social platform, however, means that social networks like those from Google and Facebook can benefit from the value of apps like ours without needing to acquire companies like us“.

In any case, during the first months of Animoto’s life, several companies have expressed their interest in what these guys are cooking. “It was pretty cool to hear from Google and be invited to their campus to join their OpenSocial initiative just a few weeks after our public launch“.

advice for entrepreneurs

  • There’s nothing better than working with people you really trust, admire and are inspired by
  • Prove the feasibility of your idea as early as possible
  • Plan for success; failure means you simply move on to the next idea
  • Always take more investment than you think you need if it’s available


Animoto in brief
– birthdate: Aug 2006
– employees / age range: 7 full-time & 4 part-time / 23-32 yrs old
– target audience: anyone who has access to digital images
– pc, mac, linux or who cares as long as it does the job? “I use a PC for my business function but all of our engineers and designers use Macs. Our entire web infrastructure is on Linux“.
– success: in the first four months since launching, Animoto video creations have been viewed more than 10 million times.

We thought Animoto videos from MySpace bands would account for a large percentage of these views since Animoto is the perfect music video creator but it’s been amazing and inspiring to see the different types of videos our users are creating with Animoto: snowboarders touting their latest insanities, Facebook-fanatics crafting their latest “who-am-I” video profiles, football teams reliving their big Friday night win, animal-lovers that can’t stop sending us videos of their pets, online daters trying to score just one date with a normal person, DJ’s recreating that last night of Burning Man, models and actors working on their portfolio submissions, jazz quartets experimenting with live performance visuals, bikers bragging about the latest mountain they’ve conquered with evidence of bruises and blood, nature photographers showcasing their latest spread, real estate brokers looking to get top dollar for their listings, third-grade students surprising their teachers with their class presentations, illustrators discovering how to inject their art with even more life, conference speakers needing to kick-start their sleepy audiences, party organizers promoting the next hot bar scene, car enthusiasts boasting their new rims, brides creating the perfect wedding videos, aspiring film writers producing clever comedy shorts, memorabilia collectors showing off their collections, new parents proudly announcing the arrival of their new one, and even families keeping in touch with their sons and daughters serving in Iraq“.

On Brad

Brad is 32 years old, married with a daughter who was born January 13, 2008. He was born in California and grew up outside of Seattle. Attended Dartmouth College and played American football all four years (“we went 10-0 and won the Ivy League my Jr. year“).

His interests include anything that involves physical activity but favorites include football, mountain biking, running, skiing, snowboarding. His latest hobbies include photography and home improvement.

check out his LinkedIn profile: http://www.linkedin.com/in/bradjefferson

– Past experience that was useful for launching Animoto: “At Onyx Software, I managed various teams and was always involved in the selling and implementing of our software. I use my sales and management skills everyday at Animoto. Near the end of my tenure at Onyx I managed the team that provided a lot of the reports to our Board of Directors. At the time, Onyx was a publicly traded company on the NASDAQ. I’ve found the skills of being able to analyze a company from a top-down and bottom-up perspective essential“.

– What digital app/site/service has changed your working experience for good? “the iPhone

– Digital entrepreneurs you admire? “All who give back in an philanthropic way“.

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