Friday, November 30, 2007
Interview with Jeff Gorman, Vidigreet
There has been a lot of talk about the convergence between the technology industry and Hollywood, but not a huge number of startups resulting from that convergence. However, in recent months we've been seeing more and more companies with their roots in Hollywood, which are leveraging technology to create new businesses and business models. One of those companies is Vidigreet (www.vidigreet.com), a company which is using what is now widely available digital video technology to enable the firm's video greeting service. Vidigreet combines the world of professionally created content with the world of online video, and allows users to send funny video snippets -- for birthdays, special occasions, or just for fun--to their friends. The company is headed by Jeff Gorman, who created Michael Jordan's first Nike TV commercial, and produced one of Bud Light's award winning Superbowl Commercials. Gorman is CEO of the company, and told us a little bit about the company and how it started. Gorman spoke with socalTECH's Ben Kuo.
What's the idea behind the service?
Jeff Gorman: The idea has sort of evolved over the years -- in fact, I had the idea 30 years ago. I grew up in Kansas City, home of Hallmark, and my mother always encouraged me to get into the greeting card business. She thought I had the right sense of humor. I had this idea that paper cards were wasted, and thought it would be great if you could have these little movies, basically achieving the same sort of thing. Of course, there was no technology in place at the time, and my first notion was that you would put them on VHS cassettes and go into the mall, preview them on a kiosk, and send a half inch tape to your friends. I'm sure you can see how practical that would have been. I put that to rest, then the Internet happened, and ultimately high speed broadband.
Up until now it was just a dream, now the reality is that it could happen. The notion was to come up with something that involved actors, motion, and sound and takes full advantage of what a greeting can actually be; then, present it and take advantage of social connectivity. You don't want to wait for a special occasion, you can send one every day. It's a funny little moment for your business or personal day. We have different occasions--birthdays, holidays, what have you, but really Vidigreets are designed that every day can be an occasion for sending a greeting card.
What is your background, and how did you get into this?
Jeff Gorman: Once they released me from the insane asylum... Actually, I was a copywriter in an advertising agency, and a creative director. My last agency was Chiat/Day, where I created Nike's first consumer campaign for the 1984 Olympics held here in L.A. I basically started the idea of the painted building type of thing, which at this time I think is not such a good idea--I'm somewhat to blame for that. I also used the I Love L.A. music video as a commercial, and did some pretty powerful, impactful advertising for Nike. That was Nike's first brush with consumer advertising, up until that time they were only in vertical magazines, such as running magazines. I started directing commercials, and for the last twenty years I have been directing humor, but also car commercials -- me and my partner also did the first Lexus stuff when I came to this country, and we have done tons and tons of funny commercials. That includes Superbowl stuff -- one of my spots, for Bud Light, won number one in the USA Today poll a few years ago. I have been doing that somewhat recently, but have been devoting most of my time shooting and writing Vidigreets. We just did four days of shooting for Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and New Years. We're now editing that it will be up in a week to ten days.
We often see Hollywood folks how have a difficulty making the transition to online -- was it difficult to get the technical side of the business running?
Jeff Gorman: It wasn't that difficult. I have a good friend in New York, who has actually worked for me and my company for a billion years -- since she was a baby. As a favor to me, she designed the web site, coding, and technical stuff -- all that I'm not savvy about. I've also got a valuable left/right hand person and development folks who keep the site up and running.
What's the business model behind the site, and do you charge for the service?
Jeff Gorman: Yes, we're a membership/subscription based model. If you look at electronic greeting companies like American Greetings, and Jacquie Lawson out of Britain, they are quite popular. They're all subscription based. That's the model we adopted going out of the shoot with. I had a couple of theories, one was you needed to have a one-off ability--so you could send one card if you wanted. But, that evolved into a one-day pass. For $3.99 you could buy a day, and send unlimited Vidigreets, pepper your friends with as many as you want, to get a feel fro the site, and see what response you could get. Then, you could pony up for the year. It's not exorbitant, $15.99 works out to what you would download a CD off of iTunes for. It's almost a movie ticket--it's not a huge investment--because I'm aiming this at a broad demographic -- younger, the 14 to 29 year old core demographic, and anybody else with the sense of humor of that 14 year old guy, so it can go to someone 99 years old with a cool sense of humor. I also wanted to go out--and having been in advertising, this might sound hypocritical--I wanted to go out advertising free, to keep it pure. We may ultimately entertain advertising, but out of the box, we're going with a non-advertising model.
How would you compare creating content for the Internet versus creating it for a Superbowl commercial? I imagine it's very different?
Jeff Gorman: Just a little. In advertising, there are now so many options for advertisers, the budgets are getting increasingly small. It's not as small as we produce Vidigreets for--obviously we have to keep our costs of production down. It's not the way I'd do a Superbowl commercial, it's not my regular film crew, instead I use guys who are a couple years out of college--professionals, but pretty guerilla style. I'm the director, P.A., script supervisor, and part producer. Ann Melby is producing these for me, and is also my assistant, and casting coordinator. It's a really lean and mean way of operating, but it's lots of fun. We have a great time doing it, and no one is sitting over our shoulders teeling us to do it this way or that way. We shoot between 8 to 10 clips a day, when we do it. We just shot 28 over a four day period. The actors we're using are non union, or if they are union, they're able to work for nonunion rates. We do a buyout on them, otherwise the talent costs would be exorbitant. Our editor and sound designer is also director on the shoots. We all wear a lot of different hats and keep on booking.
So you think you have a model which works for this kind of business?
Jeff Gorman: I think so. Time will tell. We've only been up for a month, and are still in beta. We've got lots of traffic to the site, without doing too much to move it to the site. Our marketing approach has been to put out some subscriptions to early adopters and other influential people. That's pretty much been our marketing push so far. We haven't really launched so far, it's been a soft launch and public beta mode right now.
This is kind of the moment for video on the web. The timing is really fortuitous for us. Obviously, YouTube has been a humongous influence on the world today. I like to think--not to repeat myself--that this is a way to really tap into the social connectivity of the MySpace, Facebook, and Youtube types of communities--and stay in touch with that community. They may think of you in one way, but you can send them a Vidigreet which really exposes you for who you really are, so they can see your sense of humor, which may be different than what they thought it was. This way, every day you can ping a Vidigreet to someone--it's not unlike someone who emails those jokes around. It's sort of a more formalized, cool, produced way of staying connected.