Episode 181: Brad Jefferson, Animoto Holiday Show

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Save a tree and help an entrepreneur!

Ever seen those really beautiful video animations from Animoto?

Well, they have a new trio of Holiday templates you can use as scenery to display your photos and videos.

Great for making virtual holiday movies/cards, Brad joins me to talk about the last four years building Animoto, their new features, the business model as it's evolved, some tips for marketers and how to create your personal holiday card too.

Go take some snaps of your office, your employees, your products and turn it into a video you can share across email and the web to spread love and good cheer.

Transcript

Susan Bratton: Welcome to DishyMix. I’m your host, Susan Bratton, and I have a Christmas holiday special show for you. Jing a ling a ling. I decided this year that I’m not going to mail out cards, which I have a very rich tradition of doing. And instead I’m going to try something new, which is to assemble a really neat animated video from my still images of the year into something called an Animoto Video, and I’m going to send that to you, I hope you. And then I thought, “Well I love Animoto and I’ve never talked to Brad Jefferson, the CEO and I should have him on DishyMix because he has an awesome, awesome company and technology and consumer web service”, and I thought it might be really good for you at a personal level and potentially also for you to send out to your customers. So lets get Brad on the show and welcome him. Hey Brad.

Brad Jefferson: Hey Susan, how are you?

Susan Bratton: I am very good. Thank you so much for being available. I know that tomorrow is your big day to launch a lot of your holiday stuff on Animoto. So before we talk specifically about that, why don’t you just give me a description of Animoto and share with everybody exactly what it is.

Brad Jefferson: Yeah. Animoto is a video creation service. So the idea is instead of sending out a slideshow of your photos and video clips – ‘cause we handle video clips as well – you use the Animoto and it takes the same number of clips to share, but what you create is actually a highly produced video. And the passion of what we’ve been doing from the very beginning, we’ve been at it for four years now, is we know that people and marketers and businesses and professional photographers, they want to be able to create and some pieces sell and some pieces just share or market, ways to make their business look good visually. And so the team that I co-founded and we’ve grown from comes from the film and TV industry, and so the whole aim was how do you allow anyone with no technical expertise to create something that looks like it belongs on TV, like that kind of good production quality.

Susan Bratton: I have to say Brad that it’s true. I felt the first time that I made Animoto video I felt like it was really kind of that MTV quality. But literally just uploaded some photos, picked a good song, made a music bed and your stuff automatically turned it inot a rocking video.

Brad Jefferson: Yeah, what’s funny, you’ve obviously been a long time customer…

Susan Bratton: I have.

Brad Jefferson: ‘cause originally Animoto was very, very targeted towards the MTV generation, and we were really trying to be a service for MySpace to allow artists to create music videos…

Susan Bratton: Oh interesting. Okay, that was your heritage. That makes sense.

Brad Jefferson: Yeah, and one of my co-founders actually was working at MTV. And so, but what we’ve realized is after we got through the first year – we actually launched the service in August of ’07 – about a year in we had a lot of people knocking on the door via email and flooding the inboxes about “Hey, I’m a business” or “I’m a marketer, and I want to be able to use this but here are the limitations of your service right now, so if you can fix those I would love to use the service.” And so we actually did those things. And so the summer of ’08 we launched our pro service and that’s what businesses and marketers and professional photographers to use to create the Animoto videos.

Susan Bratton: Tell us the difference between the consumer and the pro service. Just give us a sense of the business model, and talk to us like we’re a potential customer. Explain what our options are.

Brad Jefferson: Yeah, yeah. So one of the things we realized from the beginning though is you have to figure out how to give away something like this. You have to give people a taste and it has to be a very meaningful taste, and we take that challenge very seriously. So when you go to the site you can create a free 30 second video, which is about ten of your photographs. And what we found is people that go in and try it, about 10%, or actually greater than 10%, then go on and pay for one our products. And so the products that we sell, for consumers we have a $30 what we call All Access Pass, and that allows you to create as many full length videos – and full length by definition is the length of a song or when your photos run out – but that service has Animoto branding in it, those songs are not licensed for commercial use. And so the professional service, we actually give you more styles to choose from. So whereas the consumer service has, it’s still kind of anchored in some of the kind of MTV kind of stuff. It’s getting better to address more demographics. On the pro side, there’s a very robust selection of all kinds of different styles. Some are even, you know, very, very simple transition kinds of things for people that want that. But yeah, the music is actually licensed commercially, so a business can create a holiday greeting or any sort of a promotional greeting, put it on their website or their Facebook page, Tweet out about it, and we cover all the licensing for music and everything to do that.

Susan Bratton: Yeah, that’s very important. And how much is the pro service on an annual basis?

Brad Jefferson: On annual lease it’s $249 or you can do one month for $39 and both allow you to create as many videos as you want during that period. One of the other important features of the pro service is we actually allow you to turn all your videos into DVD quality as part of the package, whereas that costs consumers $5 each time.

Susan Bratton: So if you want to rip it to a DVD.

Brad Jefferson: Exactly.

Susan Bratton: Uh huh.

Brad Jefferson: It’d make it real easy to do that too. In fact, some of the cool ways in which actually businesses use Animoto, one is like a wine tasting room. I’m actually here in Northern California, so Napa Valley’s nearby, is actually taking photos of the harvest and the wine making process and also some video clips and then putting together a video that then is played on a loop within the tasting room. So there’s actually this great story, our CTO was invited to speak at this conference in Israel, and he gets to the hotel, they’re totally disconnected from the conference and they had three television screens by three television screens, so it’s nine screens that they got, a big screen, and they were actually playing a series of Animoto videos to promote the city and the hotel. And then a lot of companies and businesses will just use them to post a Facebook to give people a better more intimate look of what their establishment is all about. And in our aim, it’s perfectly in line with the value proposition because we want to make a person or a business or a service look like, you know, millions of dollars. We want it to look like a rock star. And if we’re doing our job right, that’s what happens when you use Animoto.

Susan Bratton: So in the creation, my experience in the past has been that I upload photos and/or video clips or a combination of those things, I pick a music bed or upload my own music, and Animoto makes me this video that I can then share.

Brad Jefferson: Mm hmm.

Susan Bratton: Are there any steps that you think I missed in the retelling of that that are important.

Brad Jefferson: No, I mean it’s really that simple.

Susan Bratton: It is that simple, I know. That’s what’s great about it…

Brad Jefferson: Yeah, so like on the Pro offering, we do give users a little bit more control. So like if you want to speed up or slow down the production, you can do some of those things, but the key is what we realized from the very beginning is everyone wants this kind of production quality, you want you photos to be presented in the best possible light, or your video clips or your business or yourself, but a small fraction of people actually want to understand the tools to make that happen. And when you’re talking about really high-end production quality, these tools are thousands of dollars to buy for software and take hours upon hours to actually create, and that’s what we’re mimicking or that’s what we’re emulating with our technology. And it takes just a few minutes once you click ‘create’.

Susan Bratton: And it’s true. He’s not lying. It’s really that easy. So you’ve talked a little bit about Facebook, sharing on Facebook; talk to us about all the sharing tools and if we’re thinking with a marketers hat on how many places can we distribute this, you know, fantastic video of how great our company is or all the people in our company or our holiday things or whatever, tell us about the sharing and give us the inside scoop on that.

Brad Jefferson: Right. So once you create a video it has to be at least as easy to share it. And so we give you hooks into all of the social networks and sites, and so to be specific when you create your video you can click on the ‘email’ button. We actually allow you to import your contacts if you want and blast out to your entire email list…

Susan Bratton: How many people can you import?

Brad Jefferson: I believe you can do your entire address book, thousands. I don’t think there’s a limit on that.

Susan Bratton: Okay. That would be good to know because a lot of companies have really big lists.

Brad Jefferson: Good point, yeah. So I think for a company that’s going to send it out to say multiple thousands of people, the other way to do it is just to take the URL link, so the link at the top of the browser of your video, and put that into the body of an email, if that makes sense…

Susan Bratton: Yeah, totally makes sense.

Brad Jefferson: And actually just copy that out and put it into the body of an email amongst the greeting. And I see that using our email feature is that we actually will take the first image of your video and we’ll make an email that actually looks pretty cool and professional.

Susan Bratton: It has a thumbnail of the video.

Brad Jefferson: Exactly, yeah. And then the other sharing methods are you can post it to Facebook. So when you click on that button all you have to do is put in your Facebook credentials and that will post it to your wall. With Twitter, similar kind of functionality. We also have hooked in the YouTube API, and so if you want to post it to YouTube – which I imagine most businesses would want to – you just plug in your credentials there and it sends it over to YouTube. Similarly you can just download, you can actually download it to your desktop, both PC or Mac, and so we give you – this might get a little technical – but we give the Mpeg 4 file and H264 so you can play it an iPad or an iPhone, you can play it on a laptop. It’s DVD quality, so you can project it onto a large screen or play it off of a television. We also give you the DVD burn file, so it’s called an ISO file and that’s the disc image, so if you want to burn it right to a disc, a DVD, and actually give it as a Christmas present for instance, you can do that.

Susan Bratton: Nice. So there’s plenty of ways to distribute it.

Brad Jefferson: Yeah, I think we cover every possible way.

Susan Bratton: Yeah, I think you do too. And now tell us about the holiday. You always have a really nice kind of holiday push. Tell us what that includes this year and how you’ve maybe updated it or what’s new.

Brad Jefferson: Yeah, it’s been really fun. I mean we naturally see seasonality over the holidays and it’s great. So sort of the trend that we play into is everyone or most of the people you know are going to send out some sort of a holiday greeting, whether it’s just an email to a lot of people or a physical card that’s sent or a photo card or something. And what we realize is Animoto’s a great way to actually get a little bit deeper and tell a deeper, communicate a deeper or more rich narrative and give a little bit more insight with, you know, photos and of course set to music it just brings out the natural emotions of the photos. And so what we’ve done is we have three unique styles that we just launched, and they’re just really fun and playful and holiday centric and festive. And the process to create a video is just the same, and the model’s the same too so we don’t charge any extra for it. You can create them for free if you want, if you only want 30 seconds. If you want to create a longer one then you buy into one of our subscription services. And so you pick the style, you upload your photos or retrieve them from any of the sites, pick your song or upload, and that’s it. And then you have your video and you can share it in the ways that we described. So I would highly recommend, you know, to plug the actually URL and maybe you can put this on your blog as well, but animoto.com/holidays. Or you can just go to animoto.com, but animoto.com/holidays actually shows the featured cards and all the different things that you can do with it and why they’re good for saving the environment and your own time and money and etcetera, etcetera.

Susan Bratton: Exactly. Okay good, thank you. I like the snowflakes and the hot cocoa and you’ve got some nice things that are also good and that they’re not good and they’re not Christmas, which is important.

Brad Jefferson: Yeah, yeah. One of the ones that’s really fun, we tried something new this year is when you think of Animoto, we actually kind of, even though we’re an internet company we also view ourselves as a production company. And so we have all these super talented motion graphic artists that come right from all the TV and movie production houses, and so we just kind of say, “Hey, lets figure out something cool and different and something that’s no one has ever seen and when people receive these holiday greetings they’re just going to be blown away and question ‘How the heck did you do that?’” One of the ones that we did is this like stop motion design template.

Susan Bratton: Oh I love those. What’s that one? I didn’t see it.

Brad Jefferson: Yeah, it’s the one that start with a snowflake. If you go to animoto.com/holidays, it’s the left one, the one that’s on the left side there…

Susan Bratton: Uh huh.

Brad Jefferson: And so we actually set up the little studio and did the painstaking process of cutting out all the different snowflakes and everything. And then the way stop motion works is you take a photo and then you move something slightly and take another photo, and so you’ve actually created an animation through physical objects. It’s not just using, you know, after effects or (unintelligible) to create this stuff. Yeah, so that one was, we were really pleased with how it turned out and we kind of do something fun at the very end of that, is you can actually see one of the hands like go in and move the, I think it’s the Y on the Happy Holidays and then the lights turn out. So it gives you a little flavor of what’s really going on.

Susan Bratton: Yeah, that is cute. I like it. All right, good. Well a couple of other questions, just more like Brad Jefferson questions I guess. You started this with some friends, right? Four years ago you and some friends started Animoto, yes?

Brad Jefferson: That’s right, yeah.

Susan Bratton: And so how has your business been as far as like what you expected it to be versus what it is now? I would love to know that.

Brad Jefferson: Yeah, jeez. I’d have to go back and like look at some of my early notes or journal entries. We had very, very big aspirations for this. I mean this was a big leap to quit our jobs and put some money into this and figure it all out. And so I think if we could see ourselves, you know, three years ago if we could look ahead and see where we are today I think we’d be very pleased. But I don’t think we’d be surprised if we were even, you know, if it was already bigger than it already is, because we’re very passionate about this vision, which is just such a simple idea and web services allowed this to happen, but how do you get very sophisticated tools to people but hide the sophistication so it’s very simple and anyone can access it? I think it’s a very, that principle I think there’s a lot of analogies to it online of services that are just doing very, very well. And yeah, so I think we’d be very proud but we know we have a long way to go and that’s what keeps us motivated and that’s why all four of us were over 30 employees, now that all four of us are still very excited about where the future goes and there’s a lot more we want to do, lets put it that way.

Susan Bratton: What are you going to do in 2011 specifically? What’s your big audacious goal?

Brad Jefferson: Yeah, good question. So we’re pretty tight lipped about that. I think in terms of just some themes, the accessibility to Animoto and the ability to access it through other websites is really important to us. So a couple of the partnerships that we have done recently, one was Bon Jovi. So if you go to Bonjovi.com you can actually create an Animoto video with Bon Jovi music by going to Bonjovi.com first. And so those kinds of relationships are really interesting. We also have a partnership with photoshop.com, one of the Adobe products. And so on adobeshop.com – and actually we have a similar relationship with Smug Mug, which is another photo sharing site – when you’re on your album of photos you can just click a button and you’re brought right into the video creation process. So, you know, part of it is just the accessibility to Animoto, just making it really, really painless to start the process, because even though we’ve made the process easy, the starting of the process, you know, we sense that there’s still creative anxiety around that and we just want to obviate that completely. Yeah, and then I think just the, I guess from the video production quality and the speed that it takes to get the videos back, we’re going to improve those things quite a bit too. We like to say if Animoto, if the vision of Animoto was like going to grade school, middle school, high school, college, PhD, all that, we’re probably now at about a 4th grade level of where we want to be with the vision. And so there’s just the intelligence that’s involved with putting together these videos, there’s a ton of exciting things that we can do, and I think just to give your listeners just a little bit more clarity on some of those principles, you know, the way that Animoto thinks, the way that we’ve written our algorithms is there’s no human intervention, it’s all algorithm based. And so what we do is we’re actually analyzing your photos and video clips and music, and then based on principles made familiar by film and TV production, we try to mimic the process that a real director and producer and editor do with your photos, but where they’ll do it in a matter of minutes. And so what we’d like to say is it’s like handing your photo SD card or your album that’s on your computer or iPhone with photos to one of the best directors in the world and giving that person several hours to figure out the story to tell with that story of photos and then to hand it back, but Animoto actually does it in a few minutes versus hours. Yeah, so there’s just a lot of filmmaking principles that we’ll continue to introduce that are going to make the storytelling and the narrative arc that’s presented through Animoto videos much richer. And that’s a huge passion for us.

Susan Bratton: That makes a lot of sense. You can really see the level of focus and intention you put on the quality of the creative output, way more than any normal lame individual could ever do with all the best tools in the world.

Brad Jefferson: Yeah. And it’s, I mean the cool thing for us is that, ‘cause we’ve done – actually this is sort of timely comment I suppose with this that we’re doing right now – is we’ve done things in the past where we create these cool styles and the styles actually sometimes can, they can interfere with the story that you’re trying to tell through your photos and they can even interfere with your photos. And so it’s this fine balance of creating the right landscape or backdrop within the style, but our job is really to accentuate your photos and the natural emotion that’s in your photos to the best ability that we can. And so Animoto should kind of just be the backdrop to really evoke these powerful emotions that are natural through your personal photos or what you’re trying to convey as a business or what have you.

Susan Bratton: So the last question that I have for you is one that is a bit about creative. Are there any particular kinds, how does it look when you mix photos and video? This is a kind of creative and stylistic question for you. How does it look when you combine those things? Should you keep them separate? What are the best photos to use? And I’m specifically talking now about holiday cards, either personal or for your business. Are there any kind of creative, is there creative advice that you could give us about what looks good and what doesn’t look good, kind of bonehead things we can prevent?

Brad Jefferson: Yeah, yeah. In fact I, this would be a good blog post. We’ll have to do a blog post like this ‘cause…

Susan Bratton: Yeah.

Brad Jefferson: it’s a great question. So for businesses, you know, the idea of presenting a video is, you know, one to make your establishment just look good or your services look good and professional. And it allows someone to look a little bit under the covers that there’s actually people behind this, and that’s sort of the thing with Happy Holidays is a lot of the cards that we see through businesses near the end will have the whole company, you know, all the people and it could be a video clip of people waving or it could just be a photo where they’re all together by a tree, like a Christmas tree…

Susan Bratton: Yeah, kind of gathered and standing, uh huh. A group shot.

Brad Jefferson: Yeah, exactly. And I think – and this applies both to personal use and professional use – but Animoto, we’re doing a lot behind the scenes but users still pick the order in which their photos and video clips are presented, so the order, you know, we don’t touch the order because we assume that there’s an importance to that order, and of course you can move it around if you want once you get to our site. But people naturally start to think like filmmakers or documentary makers, which is really exciting to us. So there’s usually some sort of a set up. Like think about a narrative arc, is there some sort of a set up? So for instance – what’s a good example? So for a business it could be like a little video clip, even with your flip camera, where you can, you have one shot of the storefront and then you have a shot of opening the door and being greeted by the people in it and that could be a photo or a video clip. And then it kind of gets into the message, and then at the end there’s some sort of a resolution, which is either everyone waving or perhaps it’s closing the door and leaving, but it’s kind of that storytelling. I guess at the end of the day what we’re really trying to do is help emphasize the story that you’re trying to tell. So for personal use, what we see is – ‘cause of course I create Animoto holiday greetings and I kind of have an unfair advantage because I actually have two cute little children, one turns 1 on Saturday and one turns 3 in January, so I usually just put a lot of my children in the video, but I kind of think of it in chapters. Last year the one I did I said, the first chapter was kind of us before we had our second child and then I had something about different smiles of our daughter that she would do and had a chapter about all the fun sort of adventure things she did like going down the slide or running down the sidewalk. I did about eating, like all the new experiences that she thought. So I kind of just viewed it as different chapters, and the trend that we find ourselves in a very good position for is just the onslaught of video, is with the flip camera, with iPhone 3GS, with iPhone 4, the ability to take little video snippets, even in high resolution like HD, is just so accessible now, but you can’t print it out on a printer, you can’t put it in a photo book and so what do you do with it? Well Animoto’s what you do with it. Animoto allows you to sort of edit it into a bigger production to help tell the story behind it in a very simple manner. Yeah, so there’s a few pointers.

Susan Bratton: Yeah, that’s really good. I didn’t even think about all that iPhone video we’re all taking. Brilliant. That’s really good. Well Brad, thank you so much for coming on DishyMix. I really appreciate having you. I’m so pleased that you’re four years into your business. I really want to encourage our listeners to save a tree and support a Silicon Valley entrepreneur.

Brad Jefferson: Thank you.

Susan Bratton: Two great things right?

Brad Jefferson: That’s right.

Susan Bratton: And I hope that you have a fabulous holiday season and I hope that a few more people come and learn how to make awesome videos at Animoto.

Brad Jefferson: Thanks Susan. Thanks for having me on.

Susan Bratton: It was my pleasure Brad. It’s been really good to talk to you, and good luck in getting into your PhD with your business.

Brad Jefferson: Thanks.

Susan Bratton: All right, well I’m your host, Susan Bratton. Hey, thank you so much for joining me today. I hope that you’ll go check out Animoto and that you’ll enjoy it. And if you do let me know about it by sending me your Animoto video or pasting it on the DishyMix Facebook fan page. All right, I’ll talk to you next week. Have a great day and happy holidays.