Starting up is tough…
Re-starting up is tougher…
Re-starting up with no money is tougher square (if not toughest).
After shutting down my first venture – CvBhejo.com. I was dejected (a startup to which I gave my everything and the only purpose of my life for 2.5+ years, suddenly vanished), angry (I thought I gave up too early, I could have persisted for some time more) but more than anything else, clueless – what to do next?
Going back to a typical job was not something I wanted to do and somewhere in my heart, I wanted to start something again.
The question was – WHAT?
Read my startup failure story here – Yes, I failed
This was April 2014. I started doing 3 things
I enjoyed all these 3 activities and it was indeed a very calm and composed period of my life.
During that time, I saw many people making content for YouTube. So I thought of making a short film myself. The idea was to make a short film (of about 20 minutes) on almost zero budget and learn filmmaking.
I had already built a team (from the theatre) and for other things (locations, costume, camera, props, etc.), we did a lot of jugaads (hacks)
The short film we made did not turn out that good but while making it, I realized that filmmaking is very much like an entrepreneurial activity and there are many filmmakers who are trying to make a career in it.
These filmmakers’ stories and struggles should essentially be told to a wider audience. So, I decided to start a blog – Stagephod.org to showcase their passion, their work and give them much-needed visibility.
Again, it was an agenda-less and not for any sort of profit activity, hence the domain – .org
I always wanted to combine films/videos, entrepreneurship, and technology but never knew how. When I started the blog, my main focus was to feature aspiring filmmakers.
I approached them through Facebook groups. Filmmakers liked the idea and happily agreed to share their stories. I interviewed 200+ upcoming filmmakers in a period of around 6 months.
While talking to a lot of filmmakers I learned that they all have a common problem – not getting enough work opportunities to monetize their talent.
On the other hand, while interacting with my startup friends, I came to know that many founders/ startups were looking to create videos but were looking for good video creators.
My entrepreneurial bug started popping out again and I instantly saw a problem that could be solved by creating a marketplace where video makers can be connected to companies.
I did a quick research and found there are a few platforms solving the same problem. So, the problem got validated and Stagephod.com – A marketplace (like Uber to find video creators) was born in April 2015.
Once I understood the need for a marketplace, we quickly put together a website. Now the next challenge was to bring in requirements from the businesses.
We were like a small shop in this big Internet world with no money for marketing/ promotion. Also, from my erstwhile experience as a bootstrapped startup, I knew that the traditional methods (like typical business development) of acquiring clients would not work for us.
So we decided to do things that demanded less money but could give us more results.
As we all know content is the core of digital marketing, we decided to generate good quality content which is relatable and can be shared.
We did that. People read about Stagephod, liked the idea, and started referring other startups and within just 5 months we got our first few clients
Earlier, our focus was to find the best video maker for a business.
But while helping the initial clients, we realized that an organization is not just looking for a video maker but a creative video that should fulfill a certain business objective.
Now, this requires creativity + business/ marketing knowledge + video creation skills.
We as a team thought that we could also do a good job when it comes to “creativity + business/ marketing knowledge” and hence we started proposing scripts to Organizations
As we all know, thinking does not require any effort but execution does. Coming up with concepts without any advertising background for a variety of businesses catering to different and varied target segments is not that easy task by any means.
But then glory lies in overcoming difficult challenges.
To prepare ourselves for this, we started watching ads, lots of ads and by that, we literally mean a lot. We started watching TV/ Youtube for ads and not for the content.
Yes, we were not skipping ads on Youtube in 5 seconds as well 🙂
The thought paid off and we created our first TV commercial for MySmartPrice.
As we experiment, we face more failures than successes and Stagephod was no exception. While we could get some traction on our way, most of our experiments failed as well. Some of the experiments which failed are:
Social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube gave birth to new kinds of celebrities better known as social media influencers.
With a good amount of followers, they can influence sharing of digital content and can drive engagement/ sales. We thought of accumulating all these influencers in one place (like we did with video creators) and planned to create a marketplace to hire their services.
Very shortly after starting this, we found that this is a very shallow offering and just a fad. So we quickly dropped the idea and shifted our focus back on our core offering
There are 2 ways to grow your company – One is to continuously improve the existing product/ service. The second is to diversify the product/ service offering. We started working on both.
We tried to develop an understanding of complete video creation by video creation agencies and worked on services related to the domain in which we thought clients would be interested.
We tried to ‘productify’ the ‘video service’ by creating some template videos which can be used directly by adding a company branding. The idea was to save time and money for businesses by creating a video based on a certain emotion.
For ex – Any company that will offer a massive discount on their product would want to create a video on “shock/ awe”. So we created a situation to depict the situation which would invoke that emotion. Consider it to be a readymade shirt rather than a customized shirt that can be bought over the counter and hence the name ‘Readymade Videos’.
To start with we created 9 videos. We launched them and got good traffic with people appreciating the concept but unfortunately, not a single piece got sold.
Maybe it required more dedicated promotion or maybe 9 videos were a small pool size to choose from or maybe video creation can not be productized in this way.
By this time (May 2018), we hit a roadblock in terms of learning and growth.
So I had 2 options –
Becoming an agency was never my thing. The second option is much more challenging and entrepreneurial.
I chose the 2nd option!
We went back to basics and wrote down the problems of the users
Generic marketplaces (like Upwork) consider Video Creation the same as other freelance services.
But Video production is more of a project where multiple people with different skill sets come together.
So the solution has to be different and specific.
As a starting point, we thought about how can we create a specific solution for videos keeping the Upwork model in mind.
We added features like
So the process was that the Organizations would float the project, video creators would bid and then Organization would select the most relevant one.
We got a good response from the creators. Organizations also came and floated the projects but they did not find anything extra than Upwork so did not stick with the platform.
Somehow this problem is not as simple as it looks on the surface
Somehow creating a marketplace is not just bringing both parties to a single place
Somehow a marketplace around a complex service like video creation needs a different approach.
This is September 2019. Almost 4.5 years have passed since I started working on this problem.
I tried 3 models and still could not figure out the perfect solution.
Also, the video creation industry has evolved during this time.
More freelance creators, more competitive pricing, more difficult to acquire clients, and overall more chaos in the market.
And for the first time on this journey, I was completely clueless!
As I did not know what to do, I took a break and tried to figure out – how video production is different from other services?
So, I started analyzing our activities when we were running the agency. At the same time, I studied other agencies as well.
And came to the conclusion that, agencies basically do 3 major activities
Now in order to replicate the video agency model online, we need to do these 3 things.
We again started accepting projects. The only thing different was we started approaching overseas clients as well.
We again started generating some revenue and then came March 2020 – The Covid and Lockdown.
For the next few months, our phone stopped ringing.
Covid disrupted many businesses and flourished some. We were in between.
There were some negatives like – the live shoot was completely stopped, travel stopped and most marketing budget shrank.
There were some positives as well. Video calls became normal and in-person meetings became thing of the past. It became easier to acquire clients from any part of the world.
With work from home, now we could build a pan-India team. In fact, we hired 1 teammate from Srilanka as well.
Regarding business, we realized we need to standardize the offering. The market has changed drastically and just “the top quality at best price’ value proposition is no longer working.
We started looking at other things and found the scope of standardization in following
With this standardized offering, we started approaching global startups and within 12 months, we acquired clients from 16 countries (USA, UK, Australia, Canada, Singapore, UAE, Kuwait, Malaysia, Indonesia, France, India, Nepal, Portugal, Norway,
While we got traction by standardizing the offering and we could see the growth, somehow it was not growing as it should have.
That means Solution Market fit has not been achieved yet. There is something we are not doing great.
We again went back to to basics. How video is different?
Video is a combination of Technology and creativity. Storytelling is an important part of a video.
We defined it in earlier but somehow interpreted it wrong. Here are 3 activities that agencies do
So a 2-way marketplace is not enough. We need a 3rd element – Storytellers also on the platform.
And we need to do away with the account management through the ‘tech platform’
With this we pivoted again in March 2022.
Now ,we are building an online platform to connect 3 main stakeholders – Organizations, Video creators, and Storytellers to create videos.
We will retain the same effectiveness for the video production by replacing agency copywriters with vetted freelance storytellers
But make it cost-effective by replacing Account management with an Online platform & Tech tools (like feedback collaboration)
So, by bringing all 3 stakeholders across the globe together with the help of technology, we will make enterprise video creation cost-effective, simple, and faster.
So this is my startup story.
My main learning during my entrepreneurial journey is that entrepreneurship is more about personal growth. The product of entrepreneurship is the entrepreneur himself/ herself.
Every 2-3 years, an entrepreneur has to reinvent oneself first then reinvent the startup/ solution/ offering.
One thing which is certain while you take the road less traveled is – “learning”. The beauty of entrepreneurship is that it makes entrepreneurs realize many of their hidden or unexplored talents/strengths.
Its been a proper roller-coaster ride for last 7 years. Many people ask me, why I am stuck with this.
My answer is – I saw a problem. And if there is a problem, there has to be an solution. It is just taking longer than usual for me to find the right solution.
I do not have any regrets. I own all my mistakes, failures and decisions.
It has been an amazing learning journey for me so far and I like to assume that the journey has just begun.
If you have any feedback/ inputs/ comments regarding my journey, please write to me at ntayal(at)vidsaga(dot)com
or send a connection request on LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/nikhileshtayal/
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