Friday, July 9, 2010
Interview with Greg Siegel, VidMe
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
Last month, Glendale-based VidMe (www.vidme.com) announced that it had launched a private, video sharing service with backing from Applied Minds and Will Hearst, one of the partners at Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers. Applied Minds is the stealthy research and development outfit backed by Kleiner Perkins and also based in Glendale. To understand what opportunity the firm sees in the market, we chatted with Greg Siegel, the firm's founder and CEO.
Greg, thanks for the time today. What's the story behind the company?
Greg Siegel: The issue of privacy is something I've been an advocate for awhile. When I say privacy, what I mean is the ability to better control your content online. A lot of us have been in situations where we've shared various things with people--and usually, innocently, have them forward it around, reposted it, and done a lot of things you wish they hadn't done. Once you kind of share your content openly with people, whatever that content is, you sort of lose track of what's happening with it. The sense that I've had for awhile, is that just because you are using these great services out there, you shouldn't have to completely give up your ability to have greater control over how that that media is shared. So that's the background on where the interest in privacy came from.
When you look at personal media and the trends in memory capture or moment capture, there are more and more people who have cell phones with video cameras on them. It goes without saying, that it is only increasing. However, the reality is that when you take a piece of video--as opposed to a photo--it's much more revealing. It's a lot more contextual, and something as innocent as making a comment that you're not happy with your job at the moment can be an issue. With a photo, that wouldn't be as revealing as a video completely does. So, the ability to control who has access to those videos is something that is a lot more important to people than other forms of personal media. What we went about creating was the best way to most easily control how your personal videos are shared online.
How did you connect with Applied Minds and start the firm?
Greg Siegel: I had most recently been representing actors as an entertainment agent at Endeavor Agency, but I had started out in the Internet world way back in the nascent days of the Internet. So, when I left the agency, I was eager to get into something more creative, and more related to production, as it related to building something. I had connected with Applied Minds, and we had been discussing a number of ideas that had been percolating around the area. They were eager to get behind it, incubate it, so we were able to draw on their engineering base, go through how best to put this together, and it was a great partnership. When we started ramping up the business, and needed capital, they were great following on, as was Will Hearst, who came on board personally.
There are a lot of video sharing sites out there, like YouTube, etc., with some ability to share who can see your videos. Is there a need for a dedicated private video sharing site?
Greg Siegel: There is a lot of need for it, frankly. I think most video sharing sites, focused on video, are really built for broadcast. If you put up a video, you really want it seen by the most number of people possible. And those sites have done a great job for that. But, when you look at having the ability, at a granular level, to control who has access to each of your videos, who you want to share videos with, and how to protect how those videos are shared--there is nothing that focuses on that as a core value proposition. As you k now, when you are able to focus on something as your core value proposition, with a razor focus, you tend to develop a user interface which is much easier to use for a consumer. We're delivering on that single value, which is allowing you to control your video. Where the other sites may offer some level of privacy, it's buried under seventeen levels of options. For every video, you have to reset permissions, do this, and do that, to ultimately have any restriction on how it is share. It's not that those sites are bad, it's just not built for this type of use. So, from my perspective, there's absolutely a need for that. Plus, even if you look at the other sites which might offer some level of privacy, none of them have the level of individual control or ease of use we offer.
On every video, you have a clear indication of who you shared it with. We've also addressed the tracking problem, which is one issue when you share a video with a bunch of people. If you send out a URL to people on most sites, you have no idea who they then shared it with. On our site, there's a clear indication of every person you've shared it with, and from that, you can add or delete individual access, so if you decide you don't want one of your friends to have access, you can delete that person's name. Also, the process of somebody wanting to reshare that with someone else is also within the context of your control. If I share a video with you, instead of you just forwarding it along, you instead click on suggesting a new recipient, which you have the ability to add or not. All of these things are absolutely at the top level of your experience, and none of this requires clicking through to settings.
Talking a bit more about your background, what were you doing before this?
Greg Siegel: Back before my actor representation days, I had set up the first, record industry website, American Recording, while I was at Stanford. This was kind of the pre-days of the Internet, back when Mosaic was the browser of choice, and it wasn't even referred to as the Internet--people just knew it as Mosaic. I created one of the first branded, entertainment properties online, produced one of the first celebrity chatshows, Vima, which was an alternative music chat show, where we booked guests for the show. I was actually running that business while I was in my senior year at Stanford, and was coming down to LA once a week. On one of those trips, I met Ari Emmanuel, who created Endeavor, and I started the New Media division for them. As that got going, I switched into the actor business, and represented actors for the next eleven years. I was really focused on taking young clients through the process of building their careers. The other thing I really enjoyed, was my entrepreneurial clients, who were not just actors, but also out building a business for themselves. An example is Ashton Kutcher, who really is the king of digital media right now, and was involved in building his production company. I'm not saying that to take credit, but just to give an example of the client I really enjoyed. I also helped a number of my clients create production companies in other areas, and not just representing them as actors.
How has that transition from entertainment to the Internet gone for you?
Greg Siegel: It's been a relatively seamless transition to me. Clearly, there is a learning curve in any new industry, but it's something I've always kept pace of when I was an agent. I stayed abreast of what was going on in technology and social media, and frankly, social media is so important now to entertainment, if you're not plugged in, you're not doing part of your job. Any good talent agent stays on top of that marketing aspect for their clients. So, when you're talking about use of technology, we're not as untapped in as some people think entertainment guys are.
So what's the next big goal for your firm?
Greg Siegel: We're trying to deliver the best experience as possible for our customers. We've got a really exciting roadmap, are executing, and are basically committed to delivering the best experience around controlled content distribution online. We see lots of exciting things happening, and one of the core propositions we have and element of what we do is have fun. There's a sense out there that privacy denotes "no fun," and if you're sharing something privately it's boring. We believe you can have just as much fun, albeit with a community you want to share your video with, as opposed to having all the world see what you're posting. It's what I call a threaded conversation--you can share your video, and people can leave a webcam recording as a video response--so you keep things within people on the list. We're committed to developing a great experience, and also want to make it a fun, positive, and enjoyable experience.