EP #508: How Directr is bringing video production to the mobile masses – with Founder Eli Schleifer

The disruptive force that is mobile has done two things to traditional industry: It has either completely destroyed it or it has completely democratized it. Take the fact that mobile has completely eradicated camera film – and Kodak in the process – while sending lower quality point and shoot cameras into oblivion. Destruction. Democratization has happened as mobile emerged as a new normal and companies started to understand its power. It has affected broad concepts around global entrepreneurship, retail, commerce, health and entertainment. In these, mobile has augmented or created new opportunities – for some.

Right in line with this democratization is the process of taking and sharing photos and, now, taking, editing and sharing high-quality, well-produced video. Once the domain of expensive people and sets, mobile is in the process of bringing this down to the average person and this episode focuses on one such company.

Eli Schleifer founded Directr to make it easier for all of us to make great videos. They have built it from a mobile mindset – instead of mimicking a standard desktop interface (which, incidentally, never works) – and have created a product that helps build high-quality video from a mobile device (with computing help from the cloud) easily and quickly.

This is the story of a company looking to do to video what the smartphone has done to the camera: Disrupt, destroy and augment.

Enjoy!



Key takeaways from this episode. Click on the link and the video will take you to that clip

1. Describe Directr 2:10
2. Why take on the video creation challenge on mobile? 3:35
3. When did the idea to build a business version of Directr? 6:10
4. What was the impact of being a top AppStore app for 2013? 8:15
5. Why video now? 10:00
6. How did you know what storyboards to build first? 12:30
7. Product walkthru: What is the typical experience? 14:20
8. How has the mobile device altered the film-making experience? 16:40
9. How does Directr use the cloud for video production? 18:43
10. What were the challenges in making the “average Joe” a filmmaker from a smartphone? 19:30
11. How Directr iterated over 2 years 21:00
12. Why hold off on multi-platform development? 22:40
13. Advice for content creation from a mobile device 24:50
14. What impact will Directr have on the movie-making industry? 28:50
15. What is the Directr revenue model beyond software licensing? 30:20
16. What were some of the technology challenges building Directr? 34:10
17. What is your favourite app experience today? 37:25

Raw Transcript

[music]

Rob: Hi, guys! Welcome to onto Untether.tv, your single source for deciphering the mobile experience. How do you like that? I’m here today with Eli Schleifer, the co-founder of a company called Dictr. He’s based out of Boston, in the United States. He’ll be in a minute but before I actually bring him on, I would like to talk about Patreon.com/Untether.

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Now, onto the show. I’m bringing in Eli here. He’s going to be coming right now. Eli is the co-founder of a company called Directr. That’s Directr.co. These guys are dedicated to making movie making as easy as taking a picture. Something they call “point and shoot” movie making.

As I said, he’s in Boston and we’re going to be talking about how they came up with this idea, how they’ve been building this business and how mobile has really, really helped them innovate and disrupt the movie making business.

Eli, thank you so much for coming on and sharing your story with Untether.tv.

Eli: Pleasure to be here. I’m excited to talk about it.

Rob: Let’s talk about it. You guys say this has been something on your mind for a couple of years. Your first version of the consumer product came out 14 months ago and you’ve just recently released a business version.

First, in your own words, describe this great, great app. I’ve downloaded it. I’ve played with it. I love it, so describe it, please.

Eli: Directr is really a story board based movie making app and what we do is we help… originally; consumers and now businesses make video that matters easily for anybody. What we’re trying to do is democratize film- making for the planet. Right?

In the past, you had to be a professional filmmaker, or you needed to dig into the non-linear editor, the iMovies, the averts of the world. That just takes what we call, time, tool and talent. Right? You need to have all of those three things then you can go and make a great movie. Most people don’t have any of those three things.

Rob: We’re looking at one guy here who has none of those.

Eli: Well, maybe Tom.

Rob: Yeah. No tools, no talent. Sorry. Continue.

Eli: Our goal is basically to democratize film-making so anyone can make something that is a professional looking movie without the traditional hurdles that you would have to jump over.

Rob: This is an incredible undertaking. Right? Because for photos, it’s a little bit easier. Right? Because all you have to do is be able to take a photo and it’s native to the app and everybody knows how to do that or maybe native to the phone and add a couple of filters, a little play/stop loaded, a little socializing around it, a couple of hearts and you’ve got this social network around photos. But why take on this task of movie making?

Eli: I can step back and talk about the background of the app.

Rob: Sure.

Eli: My background is actually in photography, video and programming. I studied film and I’ve always been making movies my whole life. About two years ago, I had our first child, Mia was born. I’m shooting her in the bathtub and I had this moment of realization that there’s this beautiful movie to be made about your daughter taking her first bath.

I’m shooting all this footage and I literally haven’t slept in three months. I’m like, when am I ever going to have the time to edit this together to make something beautiful? Because I don’t want to just take a clip and throw it up on the Internet and have everyone say, “Lovely.”

I want to make a memory. I want to make something beautiful. I realize, I’m not the only person who has this problem, but there’s a professional filmmaker out there who could have just made this particular movie for his baby’s first bath.

I could just film the shots, like a coloring book and add the same effect as if I just went in and edited it myself. As a software developer, I was like, “I should go make that.” Because that’s what engineers do. We solve problems with code.

That’s kind of the genesis. There’s literally a eureka moment, since it happened in a bathtub, and then Directr was born from that concept.

Rob: When you preached this idea down to people, like you leaned over to your wife and you said, “I’ve got this great idea!” Then you took it to other parents or other people in your circles, what was their reaction to that?

Eli: Everyone was really interested in the idea, because everyone has this tension, knowing it’s really hard to make movies. It’s the classic blank canvas syndrome. So you’re looking at this. “I’ve got to make a movie. I have to know where to start, where’s the middle, where’s the end. How am I going to edit it? How am I going to get the footage together?”

There’s just this giant problem that no one wants to dig into, and anyone who’s ever owned a VHS camera or 8mm camera or a super eight knows they can do the first part, getting a lot of footage, but actually turning that into something that someone would want to watch is a lot harder.

Rob: Trust me. I know that pain.

Eli: Yeah.

Rob: And I have two kids as well. I have twins. They were born at the same time, hence the twins part, but I have hours of the same footage, right? Ridiculous, unsteady cams and it’s sitting there on a computer up in the cloud not being touched, not being edited, because I know the pain that is involved in doing that. So I’m with you on this. You struck a nerve.

Eli: Yeah. Exactly. So we knew that we were onto something. We launched the app. We had some amazing coverage by the App Store. Last year Directr for Consumers was named one of the best apps of the year by Apple and what we discovered is that literally by the thousands businesses started to use Directr, literally hacking our storyboard approach to making movies for their businesses.

So they were making ads, they were making product tutorials with storyboards that were intended for birthday parties and for family vacations. And we said this really isn’t the right… Obviously, this is actually a great tool for businesses. They have to make movies all the time. They should be making videos all the time of products, tutorials, lectures, all that stuff, and they needed something that was tailored to their needs.

So we decided in October to build a product that would be specific for businesses, Directr for Business, and we just launched that January 9th and it’s the same underlying engine of movie making in the simplest form, but on top of that we have storyboards that are tailored toward businesses, as well as some features that are specific to businesses, like enhanced hosting, voice-over support, and a litany of other features.

Rob: That’s really interesting and I want to come back to that around your business model, because I love the idea of these auxiliary services that you can offer and maybe take a piece of that as a referral fee. So let’s talk about that in a second, but it only took you a couple of months to reshape what you had done for the consumer, for the business? That’s what I got? To create the templates, basically?

Eli: Yeah. Literally, we built the business app from October to January. That was the entire launch plan. As a small company, anyone can tell you, the smaller you are, the faster you can move. The DNA underlying the actual engine is about 95% the same. So it’s about building storyboards and building some additional features around the business offering, and then we made sure our web engineer didn’t sleep for three months while he was building it, because this website completely tailored to all that market.

Rob: [laughs] Because that ultimately that has to be very, very, very robust. Where the consumers maybe there’s a little bit of understanding of a lag, businesses don’t.

Eli: Right. Paying customers must have the best support.

Rob: So what was the impact of being featured as one of the top apps in the App Store? That obviously had a huge impact on your visibility of the application.

Eli: Absolutely. It’s just tremendous to be looked at favorably by the Apple editorial team at the App Store. Obviously, it drives a tremendous amount of traffic and awareness about your product.

Rob: It’s interesting because you got great coverage in a lot of the technology magazines, journals online, Tech Crunch and those guys. Did that come before recognition from Apple or did that come after recognition from Apple?

Eli: A lot of it was simultaneous, actually. So we had coverage in the press and also coverage from Apple.

Rob: Did you have a PR agent or was this just you guys out there hustling?

Eli: It was just hustling.

Rob: Really? That’s great. That’s great. Obviously, it’s a unique enough product. This is what I love about the mobile industry. It takes something that at one point was a very big challenge, like even just getting your camera and getting out and getting the right shot, and you as the photographer know that, and I’m not saying these devices replace a great camera. I’m not saying that. People always say that the best camera is the one you have in your hand, at the right moment, at the right time, taking the right photo.

So it really has brought picture-taking to an extreme level and it’s destroyed the entire camera industry for processed film and all that kind of stuff, so you must have looked at this as this is the perfect moment where not a lot of people are attacking video. You’ve got maybe Vine, doing seven-second or six-second videos and you have Instagram doing 15-second videos and a cap on Facebook for uploads, so was this just the perfect mix? Mobile and the time was right and people’s acceptance of these devices has ways of capturing their lives?

Eli: Yeah it was really like a confluence of events that came together to make something like Directr possible. In your hands you have a high definition camera that is connected to a high speed network so you can actually move the footage off the phone and then you have powerful enough processors, that you can write software, that you can interact with all these things in real time.

Everyone knows video editing is high CPU-intensive everyone knows that video takes up a lot of space once you have LTE networks with high-def cameras, you solve most of those problems. So it was really an opportunity that only came about just now as the hardware is really capable and the software is really capable of supporting this kind of solution.

Rob: So for you guys, why, in your mind, why, is video so important? We’re looking at these small screens now for the most part, so why video?

Eli: If you look at any of the analytics or any of the data out there, everyone knows that video… They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, a video is worth a million words. You can literally tell a story from beginning to end with video. We are used to seeing those stories.

Everyone has grown up watching television, watching movies, it’s like the language of our generation and many generations prior. It’s the easiest way to tell something. And when it comes down to showing a customer how to walk through something, when it comes down to putting a face to a product, introducing a new feature on something, video is the best way to do that.

If I type something like three pages of text, no one is ever going to read it. If I make a video that’s 60 seconds long that said “Hey, we’re launching this new feature, here’s how you do it. Check it out. Give us a call if you have a question,” people are going to watch that. Literally, people will click through that 2X more often than anything else.

Rob: It’s the exact same reason why I do video for this. There as a great quote that I saw it was “I love white papers!” and its a quote that you’d never heard, ever, right? I think that if you can do it with something like this but it’s always been intimidating and I think that’s where this process comes in. You have these great templates, you have not only templates for what the outcome of the video is whether it’s a birthday party or a product demo or a support video. You also have these verticals, so, “Is this for your Youtube channel? Is this for an email news letter? Is this for your social network? Is this for a direct email to customers?” How’d you come up with and segment all of these and be able to understand the intricacies for each one of these separate verticals for delivering video?

Eli: We went out when we were starting to direct the business product. We went out to local business and started surveying our existing customers who were using it for business purposes and said “What are you interested in making? What are the videos and stories that you want to tell with Directr?” And that’s how we built our original library with real customers telling their real stories with what they were trying to make. And right now, I believe the library is around 50 storyboards.

Obviously, we continue to scale those and in the future open up a marketplace for other filmmakers to make movies that could be remade through our same tool. So the possibility to adjust all of these verticals is gigantic. Every single day we have customers coming online from parts of industry that we never even thought of. We have, at the baseline, professional services, accounting firms, law firms, small business. There is someone who owns a laundromat.

But then we also have manufacturing firms that are saying “We pump out all these different… we want to show what’s being made. We also want to get customer testimonials from our customers”. And that’s another whole space. Were just starting to look at specific verticals like real estate, manufacturing, healthcare. And the list goes on. there’s not an industry that doesn’t need to make videos.

Every one of these places, even if they have a professional crew on board to make movies all the time They also have content marketers now who need to tell a story every single day. We need to be reactive to what’s happening on the ground, and if you have a professional crew that’s busy on a five-day shoot, making a commercial. They’re not going to be able to turn around with some small group and give them a video in two hours, but with Directr, you can take it into your hands and your power to make something.

Rob: Explain how it works. So walk through the typical scenario where you download the application and you start. So you start with an idea in mind of what it is that you are trying to produce and walk from there.

Eli: So if you have an idea of what you’re trying to make. If you know you want to do an interview with a customer, you would fire up the app, you’d hit the plus button, type in interview or that particular category and you are going to see there are storyboards, which is a list of all the shots you need to collect. We like to think of this as literally like a coloring book. You can capture all of the shots piece by piece you can follow it perfectly and draw within the line or you can take creative freedom and add additional shots, draw title lines a little bit, change what’s being what’s being told. What we were giving is, at the least, a skeleton for you to hang your footage on top of. We want people to know what they should capture and we do a lot of work in actually building around a script. As soon as you start a movie, we’re going to send you script for that movie. What we find is sometimes it helps a lot to think about what you’re going to say. You’re going to say to the person, “OK, I’m going to make this movie. I’m going to ask you this question.” To be honest, before we started this interview, you were like, “Here’s what we’re going to go through. Think about those things so you’re ready to answer them.”

We find the same thing, obviously, when we’re making movies. You need to tell your subject, “Hey, here’s what I’m going to ask you about.” They can form some thoughts and it’ll be better on the first and second take instead of the 20th take. A big part about digital video and Directrs is that every single shot, you can have as many takes as you want. The first time, someone’s going to crack, something’s not going to work out right No problem, just take another shot. We try to make people just feel really comfortable that there’s no gotchas and nothing’s live. It’s not live streaming. When you’re making a video, you can go back and edit it.

Rob: That’s the important thing. There’s got to be some structure. Most of these people don’t know how to do this.

Eli: That’s right. It’s completely daunting. In the past, you had to throw it into a non linear editor which is supporting 50 different layers. You can super impose these things and worry your cuts and your transitions. We take care of all that stuff for you We try to give you enough glue that’s going to hold together and you’ll know, “Oh, this should be seven shots. I shouldn’t have any shot that’s running for 80 seconds. That’s going to bore my viewer.”

Rob: Try 35 minutes at least. I’m just joking. Do you think that the devices that we’re carrying these days are now powerful enough to create commercial-grade videos.

Eli: We’ve already seen many film makers adopt the iPhone as their platform for production, or another Smart Phone. We’ve seen commercials that have aired on television shot with those phones. The camera is getting there. If you’re in daylight, you can shoot anything, no problem. It’s going to look beautiful. If it’s night time and you don’t have any assistance with lighting, it’s not going to look great. You have to know the limitations of your hardware at the time.

The other thing that we definitely recommend to people who are doing a lot of interview style work is microphones. We have a blog where we cover all different types of hardware attachments for the iPhone and for use with Directr. We talk about, “Here’s a great tripod to get if you’re shooting a lot of stuff of yourself. Here’s a great microphone that can plug right into the jack on your phone and it’ll turn your video from semi pro to pro in the audio spectrum.” As soon as you get a lab mic on and everything’s really crisp, it changes the game.

Rob: Changes everything.

Eli: Exactly.

Rob: I subscribed to that as well. For this kind of interview, video can come in and come out but as long as the audio quality is high, that’s the most important piece for me, is the audio quality.

Eli: We do a lot of work now actually to do with intelligent dynamic mixing when videos are being produced. Even if you shot without a microphone attached and you’re just using the mic from the phone and you’re talking to a subject that’s across the room, we’ll balance that audio and try to bring into proper levels.

If a professional sound engineer was sitting down, he’s going to do it ten. Our goal is to get it to seven, so that when your viewers are watching the video, they can hear the subject talking, and everything’s coming out clear. The background and audio is properly ducted so that you can come through cleanly when there’s music playing in the background.

Rob: Don’t you find it amazing that you can do that on these devices now?

Eli: We actually do all that in the Cloud. Directr’s actually a Cloud rendering platform. The phone is used for collecting footage, for managing the movie, for putting it all together, and when you hit print, all of your footage is ready in the Cloud and we’re stitching it together and processing it in the Cloud. What that enables us to do is you don’t have to keep your phone on, you don’t need to wait ten minutes for it to process.

If you ever tried to export a video in Final Cut, you’ll know that if you’re putting out a 1080P video on a four-core box, it’s still going to take 30 minutes for it render. You don’t want to sit for 30 minutes with your phone trying to do that. It’s not going to work. Then you have to upload a high-def footage to the Cloud again. Every time you make an edit, more uploads. What we do is, we have all the footage in the Cloud. You want to go back in later, edit a particular shot, trim it up, no problem. You go do that from the phone and we render in the Cloud again.

Rob: What kind of experimentation did it take to be able to do this in a seamless way? I’m talking, not only about understanding the template, understanding the process to be able to create a short movie, a film or an ad or an interview but also the user experience, the user interface, the things that you had to build into this in order to make the average Joe a filmmaker.

Eli: Honestly, it was a tremendous effort on all fronts, both on the UX design and the technology side. We worked at this thing going on two years now. We spent that first ten months with an original thought of how we should present this to users, of a lot of user testing and just building the groundwork for the technology. Then we take it out, put it in people’s hands, see how they reacted to it.

What Directr looks like today is completely different from what we launched. We learned a lot from iterating and using the product and then trying to move really quickly. It’s why, up to this point, we’ve always been just iOS, because we wanted to focus on making sure we had the UX right before we went and replicated it to multiple platforms.

Now we’re actually at the point where we are starting to pursue Android development because we have something stable that is really easy to use, is award-winning and we know it’s functional for a normal person to pick up and use. Once my mom was able to pick up the product and make a video, I knew we were on to something.

Rob: You know, you brought up so many great points there. One of them is around the iterative process of this industry. So, as you said, I don’t think the idea has changed in the two years since you had that epiphany, but the way that you’ve implemented that idea has gradually changed and morphed based on user experience and understanding and interviewing customers. Right. Like that’s an important process.

Eli: Yeah. Absolutely. It’s the most important part of building something. You know. If you think you’re going to get it right out of the gate, well, you’ve never done anything before.

Rob: Yeah. Just don’t get out of the gate.

Eli: You’re going to be extremely lucky. Right. You need to put out what we always talk about, is minimal viable products and put it into people’s hands. And if you are not embarrassed by your first product out the door, then you’ve spent too much time putting your first product out the door. Or you’re too heavily financed. Like your base $30,000,000.

Rob: You’re lazy.

Eli: Yeah. So we believe we know. We put out something that, as soon as it came out the door, it was, like, wow, there are like a million things that we’d like to change about this product. And we begin to get feedback. And our original product was heavily constrained. We tried to have as few knobs as possible, and we realized early on, okay, that’s too much constraint.

We were so trying to not invent another nonlinear editor that we went too far to the other side of the spectrum. And we started adding in additional features and options so that people could make something without feeling like they were in a straitjacket.

We don’t want them to feel like they’re in a straitjacket. We just want them to feel like they’re almost on rails so that they can get on and drive down the road.

Rob: Yeah. That’s an important thing to understand is that the evolution that you’ve taken here. I mean the consumer version of the product was out 14 months ago. And you are still just on one platform moving into a second platform. So I know companies that I’ve worked with, and that I’ve run, and that I’ve started in the mobile space that there’s so much pressure to be on all platforms at launch. Right. How did you push that back, and then how did you know when you’re ready for the next platform?

Eli: I think that we pushed it back because we told all our team and our potential customers and our investor pool, we said, “Listen, we’re going to go after this on this one vertical right now. It represents 30% of the US market. We know that it also represents people who are interested in aesthetics who buy it on average, and who take a lot of photos, take a lot of video.”

Let’s start right there because we know we can build it on a stable platform. At the time, even two years ago, if you were trying to build a video app on Android, you’re going to run into such a large skew of hardware and different supportive platforms, we would be chasing our tails endlessly around small bugs that were related to hardware. We’d have to go buy 50 different devices to test against.

Rob: Yeah.

Eli: So just in terms of being practical, it was, like, okay, we have a tiny engineering team. Let’s see what we can do well. Let’s execute it well on one platform and then get going.

Rob: Do you get nervous about moving, switching platforms? You know the small intricacies or the difference in the user experience and expectations on those platforms?

Eli: I think we have, at this point, really locked down what we like argued these are designed to be around. Do you like the user experience of the app. And our engineering team is capable of doing anything.

Rob: That’s the greatest thing about software, isn’t it?

Eli: I am not in any way afraid of moving on to another platform now.

Rob: If you were looking at this problem today, say, you came with this epiphany today, would you have built for Android first or iOS, do you think? Can you answer that?

Eli: That’s a great question. I don’t know. I’d probably have to think about it a little bit.

Rob: Yeah. Well, I’ll give you some time to think about it. Maybe I’ll bring that up at the end of the, it’s interesting, because a lot of people, they talk about this migration Android and Android first. But a lot of the developers that I talk to still thinking, look, iOS because it’s a closed platform. You know it used to be one screen size and the processing capabilities are amazing.

And you have a, I guess it comes down to that closed platform that everybody likes. So I’ll give you some time. If you want to answer that, you can. What about some tactics here? You know there’s two sides to this. One of them is creation on a mobile device.

Everybody talked about these devices as being consumption. Right. And I think that we’re realizing very quickly, and I think a lot of people knew this. You did two years ago, a lot of people do, that it’s also a creation device and you’re demonstrating that with a great combination of the power of the device, the computing power in the cloud.

So, there’s two sides; there’s the creation on the device but there’s also the consumption on the device. But you’re at the middle of both of those.

So, do you have any advice for people who are building videos, even if they’re going download Directr right after this show. What are some of the tips and tactics that you’ve seen that work really well when they’re building on the device and then consuming on the device?

Eli: You mean, in terms of actually making product, in terms of coding.

Rob: I’m talking about content creator. So, there out there building the content, or creating videos or episodes from Directr. Is there any advice you can give them on how to shoot effectively and then how to distribute this effectively and then how to distribute this effectively?

Eli: Yeah, absolutely. On the content creation side I think it’s about look at the type of content you like to watch and try to emulate that. That’s what we try to do around the storyboards but i think it’s really important to pay attention when you’re watching something. if you’re trying to create a commercial, go look at any commercial that’s made today on Hulu or it’s on your broadcast network, or it’s on the web, it’s going to be cutting every two or three seconds.

If you’re taking a video about a conference for example, and people aren’t talking, you’re basically getting a lot of B-roll showing what’s happening. If you’re not cutting every two seconds, you’re going to bore your viewers. And I think what we’ve done in this latest version, or in this last release is that we’ve totally revamped our trimmer, for example.

Because we understood that the traditional trimmer, if you think about it, is these two handlebars and you grab then right one, grab the left one, you move them back and forth. And this was built around – it’s just a direct copy of the desktop model where you have a mouse, it’s really fine precision, you can move it back and forth. And what we discovered is that completely doesn’t work or translate well into the mobile space. Where If I have a three minute piece of footage and I want to grab three seconds out of that, as I shrink those handlebars really close together, I can’t even pick that three second window out of there.

So, we built from the ground up a completely new trimmer and design. I think it’s the best in class in mobile today and you basically have this really fine precision, using touch gestures that we’re really familiar with with mobile to shrink your window and move it around and it allows you to have great control, which is what you need, to do. So, what I would say if you’re going to make a video, make sure you’re editing it. Because if you’re going to take a lot of footage, then you really want to tighten it up.

Rob: And then for distribution of that video. We’re consuming everything. We’re opening up email. the majority of the email that we open right now is on the mobile device. We’re very responsive to MMS and SMS and in-app notifications and certainly there’s this, finally, an understanding that a mobile version of a website is necessary not only for search results but also for the sanity of your customers that are looking in on a smaller screen. Any recommendations about displaying that video.

Eli: Absolutely. With Directr you can create embed codes built into the product that you can then drop on your blogs, drop inside emails, drop inside everywhere. And I would say the more videos you can get out there, the better it will be for, your business. Because video is what converts best, it’s what helps people understand the story or whatever you’re doing best. And you should blanket the world with as much video as you can.

Rob: There’s a company that can help you do that. I want to shift a little bit, a little bit about forward thinking around what you guys are doing. And you are, I think that mobile has disrupted a lot of industries and what you are doing is enabling that disruption around complicated comprehensive editing suites. And I’m not saying that it replaces those, but it democratizes, as you say.

So, how do you think what you are doing with these devices and the software will impact movie making going forward? Do you think that forward? Do you think that the way that Instagram added photos to everybody’s thinking that as a social network. You guys, do you think that what you’re doing with the video side will have that kind of impact? Do you hope?

Eli: I think that there’s an existing whole space of film and television production that is not going to be touched by this at all. And I think that in general there’s going to be a lot of – all of those businesses will continue to exist. What I think we’re doing is we’re going to grab on to this giant long tail of untapped marketing potential of people who have never considered making a video before because it’s too expensive.

Honestly, if you went to a professional, or semi pro or even semi-semi-pro company to create a piece of video, there’ going to charge you $2000 a minute and most businesses don’t have $2000 to spend for a minuet of video without knowing what they’re going to get for it. With Directr, we can offer all of those businesses the opportunity to make video to tell there stories and to turn out content really quickly, that looks beautiful.

Rob: So you fit that really great niche, which is in that spot and it could be transient right? They could use you as a stepping stone into the greater site and I think that has lot to do with maybe there’s a future revenue module. So, your consumer version is free, am I right?

Eli: That’s right.

Rob: And then you’ve got a business version which is obvious where you’re gong to make the money. But we talked about this early on which was the services that layer on top of that – is that part of your future as well? Is it the audio guy and the video guy and you start to create a little network of services around Directr.

Eli: Absolutely. In the long term we hope to be the beginning and end for all content marketing, video production for businesses So if you want to start out, you want to know what kind of hardware to get, once you finished your video, you want to have post-production graphics added on top of it, animation graphics, we can set that up for you. you need leaders and outros that are built-in for you that are splashy.

All these things can come together inside a single platform so that it’s all accessible to you. You can have a professional, perhaps, look at your video after it’s done, and for some fixed fee have it edited for you additionally. We do that already on some of our more expensive subscription plans, we have professional feedback on a certain number per month.

So, you make a video, and we’ve done this already with many customers, they send us a video, they’re like, “We’d love you to take a look at it.” Often it’s just, you know, it’s taking a professional look at it and say, “This shot, I know why you ran it for four seconds but really in two seconds, the story is told.” And we can move on. And if we pull that video down from fifty seconds to thirty seconds, we’re generally making something that’s much better. If you think, “Maybe it’s too long,” it always is too long.

Rob: No comments from the peanut gallery about this being too long this video, okay please? This is about learning, this is about getting as much out of these conversations as we can, 30 seconds doesn’t cut it.

Eli: No, we couldn’t’ have this discussion in 30 seconds. This is a conversation, this is not an advertisement.

Rob: Exactly, exactly. You brought something up that’s very fascinating is that what I see quite a bit is that you guys are not just focusing on a single revenue model, you are focusing on multiple ways of generating income. Was that always a plan?

Eli: We’ve decided from the beginning that first we had to build a product which was worth someone spending money on. It took a long time to get to that point, we were a small team and we were experimenting with an entirely new space.

We had this idea, if we gave people story boards to help them make something beautiful, would it help them to make something more attractive, more professional looking. And very early on, the people said, “Yes.” We were very impressed with the stuff that everybody, from 12 year-olds to 50 year-olds, were making.

And once we had that we were like, “Okay, how do we refine the product to the point that we can start generating revenue from it?” And just recently we started having paid downloads for your finished video, and consumer products, so we actually, started bringing back in some revenue opportunities there. But we as a company didn’t feel right to take people’s money until we could stand behind the product and say, “This is a great product, worth paying for.”

Rob: So, that was the decision making point? A lot of guys think that there’s a point where it changes, right? Where you look at each other in a room after a lunch and you look around and you think this is the natural transition from free to paid. Is that what happened with you guys?

Eli: I think we always were planning of having a real business out of it. We were not trying to build a rocket ship that someone else would purchase. We were trying to build something that would be lasting and matter. And we were always planning on having revenue, it was just an issue of, “When is a product good enough to start charging for it?

Rob: Yeah, and then that just happened?

Eli: That just happened?

Rob: It’s a great philosophy that you don’t force putting payments on something or charging for something until you know there’s a pull. I think that that’s ultimately what happened. But I love the idea that you could be generating revenue from an entire marketplace of multiple sources of income as a result of this. You get the audience, you bring all these people in, you create value for them, it creates value for you.

Were there any technical challenges, big technical challenges that stuck out for you over the last couple of years that you thought, “This could be a business breaker,” if you don’t solve these?

Eli: With software, you’re being hit by technology hurdles left and right or else you’re not doing something interesting. Honestly, video is extremely complicated, on the phone capture, just on a single platform, is extremely complicated so getting video capture done right on the phone was extremely challenging. Making sure it’s reliably being transferred into our servers and that we’re not losing any video files, we’re never losing footage.

Losing footage is like losing your negative, it’s terrible. So, these were giant challenges. And then on top of the pure technology challenges, integrating all that complexity of hiding it from the user behind a beautiful user experience, that was really the hardest piece of it.

Now, how much do we expose? How do we hide this from the user? How do we make sure that they understand what’s going on? When do they need to understand that this is related to data connectivity, this is related to battery life, whatever it is?

Rob: Did you expect it to be that the user interface would be the biggest challenge?

Eli: I didn’t expect any of the complexities that came up with this product. When you look at video, you’re like, “Oh, it’s so simple.” But when you actually start to break it down, there’s the moving picture part, there’s the audio part, there’s the text, there’s the motion graphics, there’s the mix, there’s how all of this stuff comes together, and then, on top of that, you have frame rates, bit rates, conversion issues, and the list goes on.

Rob: It’s a massive undertaking but I think these undertakings, and I don’t want to be right here, if they were simple that everybody would be able to do these and I think that you see, your staring to percolate this industry around how important video is going to be in all of our lives for capturing these specific moments and 15 seconds is fine, seven seconds or six seconds is fine, but to your point at the beginning of this, the experience that you want to create is something that you want to cherish forever and after my kids first birthday, for my kids first birthday, I took every video and I went through it for hours, and you probably did the same thing.

I distilled it down and I made this seven-minute video out of an entire year, and it took me three weeks to put together and clip and do it all, and I’m like that is just not going to happen again. I love my kids but let me spend three weeks with them and not editing them.

I think this is a perfect example of capturing things that you need to capture whether it’s in business or in personal and getting something of good quality out there. Not shaky, not crappy, but just absolutely perfect when it comes to structuring it so they you get the message across in a short amount of time. Is that a good way to describe what you guys are doing?

Eli: Yeah, I think that’s a great way to describe what we’re doing. I think that we’re trying to break down a really hard problem that everyone has been confronted with since the dawn of the video age. I think we’ve really cracked the code now and it’s about getting out the word and helping people understand that they don’t need to be afraid of making video anymore.

Rob: That’s right. And you don’t even have to be behind it, you can take great video.

Eli: That’s right.

Rob: Alright, my last question here, it has nothing to do with your business, it has nothing to do with anything, doesn’t even have anything to do with Boston. I’m interested in what fascinates you. Do you have an app that you’ve been using that’s inspiring or a service that you use that’s inspiring or a book that you’ve read that has inspired you?

Eli: I think the apps that inspire me most are the ones that are displacing traditional pain points in my life. My biggest turn to app right now is Uber because I am constantly traveling around the city or moving around and I want to get from point A to point B and the traditional model there was terrible. I actually had to take a traditional cab the other day because I couldn’t get Uber up and running and the experience was just completely off. I was like why do I have to do this whole transaction? Why are you being so surly?

Rob: Exactly. What’s that odor? What’s that smell?

Eli: Yeah, there’s something about that process, I’m just like, pick up my phone, pick me up here, I can review you, I know who you are, and if I need to complain, I should know there’s a company that’s going to stand behind it whereas the traditional process of complaining to a taxi and limousine commission means I end up calling the people on the day and it was a holiday and they were closed. I was like, “How can you be closed? I just had a service from you.” You know what? Uber never closes. Businesses that are displacing major pain points and making them sane for my life, I love those.

Rob: You’ve got two different things, you’ve got a consumer version, you’ve got a business version. What should we do? Where should we send people? We want people to pay for things but we also want people to use your product.

Eli: I would say to start out, you can just go on the web, Directr.co, D I R E C T R dot C O, you can see that will take you directly to the business portal, you can signup there online for a free account, get started that way, or if you’re ready to just jump in, sign up for a paid account right off the bat. We say to people the purple build is for consumers, the blue build is for businesses. If you’ve got the blue build, then you’re swimming where the business is.

Rob: Then you’ve got this great resource in your blog where you’re putting up best practices and you’ve also got great case studies and how do you, I mean you’ve got all of these things on the blog, is that where we should also direct them to.

Eli: Yeah. So the blog, if you’re interested in hardware equipment, if you’re looking for tips and tutorials, blog.directr.co will take you to that and there also are links from our webpage.

Rob: Amazing. Well, this has been something that is eyeopening for me as I’ve tried to do this. I’ve taken my phone with me and when I do live, I use an iPad Mini, an iPhone, a HD Logitech cam and an external microphone and that is my setup now and the whole thing costs less than $1,000, right?

Eli: Right. You’ve got a studio in a small bag.

Rob: It’s amazing. I look forward to this moment where I can actually use this on the road I’ll be doing that in the coming months. I will let you know how that goes.

Eli: Fantastic. If you have an issues, any feedback, always send them to Help@Directr.co. Always happy to answer email and help people out whether they are trying to figure out how to make a movie or they have some technical problems they are trying to solve.

Rob: There you go. If you guys are out there listening or watching this, if you created a movie with Direct, I would love to see it. Send me a link, you can reach out to me at Robin@Untether.tv [SP] or you can just Tweet it at me at @RobWoodridge [SP]. I think it would be fascinating to see and I know that, hopefully you guys are collecting these great videos as well. Is there on that stuck out for you that’s been like, “Oh my god, they made that with our software.”

Eli: I mean honestly, it’s like at least every couple days, there will be something where we’re just amazed that somebody has turned this around and both the consumer and the business space, seeing how people use it and it’s mostly just a surprise at how many different businesses are out there. It’s kind of inspiring the breadth of business that exists in this country and globally, it’s just remarkable. If you think of anything, there’s probably businesses trying to support that and they should probably be making video with Directr to tell their story.

Rob: Perfect. Elliot, thank you so much for doing this. I really appreciate it. You guys who are listening, I do four of these a month, these episodes, maybe a couple more, was that worth 25 cents? Cause if it was man, you have to go to Patrion.com/Untether and just click sponsor for a buck. One dollar. If that was worth 25 cents, think about what else I can bring to you. I appreciate it. I love your support. Thank you Elliot for doing this. I really appreciate you for doing this, spending sometime with us on Untether.tv. We’ll see you guys next time.

Eli: My pleasure.

[music]

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About Eli Schleifer
Eli Schleifer DirectrI started my career at Microsoft. I have worked on nearly every interesting product at the company from the early days of Windows Mobile when everybody had a PocketPC, to early work on the Azure Cloud and Xbox One. After nine years at Microsoft I decided to start something from scratch.

In the last two years I have built with my small engineering team every line of code and pixel of artwork in the directr product. It has been the most incredible, exhausting and rewarding job that I have ever undertaken. My passion has always been in harnessing raw computing power to enable new experiences in the analog world. When not working on Directr, I can be found cycling around Boston, climbing anywhere there is vertical rock, running in circles, and spending time with my daughter Mia and wife, Jess.

About the author

Rob Woodbridge

I'm Rob, the founder of UNTETHER.tv and I've spent 14 years immersed in the mobile and pervasive computing world. During this great time I've helped some of the most innovative companies grow their business through mobile. If you are in need of a mobile business advisor or coach, connect with me here to get things rolling.

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