#Asia The Y Combinator video adtech startup that accidentally nabbed success in Japan


Photo credit: Victor Bezrukov.

There are plenty of stories about entrepreneurs from North America or Europe targeting – or “pivoting” to – Asian markets. For Michael Litt, co-founder and CEO of Vidyard, his startup kind of slipped and fell into Asia when he discovered 5 percent of its enterprise users were in Japan.

His startup kind of slipped and fell into Asia.

“We have 50,000 users,” he tells Tech in Asia. “16.3 percent of them are in APAC.” At that point, he realized that he perhaps needed to have people on the ground in the continent, particularly Japan. His Y Combinator (summer 2011) business, an email video marketing system, is currently growing at 5 percent per day.

2016 has brought a flurry of activity and learning experiences for the Canadian who developed his business in Waterloo, Ontario – near the US border and part of Canada’s “Technology Triangle.” He’s been making trips to Hong Kong and Japan this year, and speaks to me from a conference room in Tokyo.

A Salesforce portfolio company, Vidyard has raised US$60 million to date.

Making email relevant again

Michael Litt, co-founder and CEO of Vidyard. Photo credit: Vidyard.

“Email is the victim of its own success,” Michael says. Think of the number of times you’ve really read every single message in your inbox. Then consider the number of times you’ve actually clicked through to the links in the email. It’s gotten to the point where companies celebrate 1 percent openings and/or click-throughs of their email blasts.

In an age where more and more things are becoming automated, people are going to crave personalization, he says. Videos, especially when a single person talks to an email recipient, can help. At the same time, videos are becoming more and more important – the plethora of short videos on your Facebook feed and video marketing campaigns makes that clear. But people are unsure how to make them.

Michael and his team, in the process of trying to understand video for customer sales and customer service, realized that video production and creation are still problems for a lot of people. Sure, plenty of people have smartphones in their pockets with recording capabilities, but one faces the burden of making the resulting video look good. Also, sending someone a video you’ve taken on your phone isn’t as easy as sending a text.

That’s why Michael and the crew created ViewedIt. The tool allows for the recording of quick messages – including screenshares – that can then be emailed. The software will track who opens the email and how long they spend viewing the video message.

People aren’t buying what you do but why you do it.

To demonstrate, he takes a quick screenshare of him scrolling through the Tech in Asia website. I get the video in an email, and as I watch him scroll through an article, he speaks to me from a recorded video in the corner, telling me that, as I’m watching the video, he’s getting a notification saying that I’ve seen it.

On the recorder’s side, it looks like this – record a video, get a share link, put that share link into an email composer, and generate a thumbnail. The user doesn’t need to know coding to operate the system and can crosspost to a number of channels, including YouTube. A dashboard helps track video performance in different locations and allows for mass actions – such as deleting all the videos.

It doesn’t require a lot of localization into a different language to work for businesses around the world.

Skiing to Y Combinator

Michael got the idea back when he was an aspiring freestyle skier. “To get sponsors, we would record ourselves doing dumb shit on skis, and we would create individual players and send that individual player to sponsors,” he says. If the view count went from zero to one, he and his friends would know to follow up. That would be the start of the team’s focus on video metrics.

After graduating in Waterloo, he and his friends found that video contracts were huge, but the quality of videos produced wasn’t up to par. Michael and co-founder Devon Galloway, who had prior video production experience, figured they could start a video production business and make “better stories with better video.” They founded Redwoods Media in 2010 before switching gears to Vidyard.

Designed primarily for one-on-one communication, ViewedIt is available for free. If companies want to allocate licenses to users, they pay a US$50 fee. Vidyard’s 1,000 customers – including LinkedIn and Citigroup – pay between US$6,000 to millions a year for personalized versions.

Price doesn’t always mean good video, he’s quick to stress – a misconception he refers to as “Super Bowl syndrome.”

“Japan spent half a million on a video that’s 15 seconds long and spent more on distributing to primetime,” he says. The final price tag turned out to be a whopping US$2.5 million on a single video. “Video doesn’t need to be that way, because in today’s age, people aren’t buying what you do but why you do it.”

It’s not about super high production value – it’s more about the occasional short message from a CEO to customers that makes the difference.

This post The Y Combinator video adtech startup that accidentally nabbed success in Japan appeared first on Tech in Asia.

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