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Interview with Joshua Paul and Tony Katz, Aweli

We recently ran into Aweli (www.aweli.com), a startup based in Porter Ranch, which is preparing to launch its first product, targeted at helping small and mid sized businesses create video advertisements. The firm won "Best Investment Opportunity" at a Tech Coast Venture Network event last year, and is closing on a round of funding, so we thought we'd hear a bit more about its offerings, and how it hopes to serve the video advertising market. We spoke with Joshua Paul, the firm's CEO, and Tony Katz, COO of the firm. Josh and Tony spoke with socalTECH's Ben Kuo.

What's the idea behind your video advertisement technology?

Tony Katz: The basic concept of our service, called AdGrinder (www.adgrinder.com), is to let small and mid-sized businesses into the game of advertising via video. It's a complete web service, where you don't need to be knowledgeable about programming languages, and in 5 steps and 3 minutes a business can create a 15-second, video commercial, and then through the Adgrinder service can place the video on a video ad network like Podaddies, Google Adwords for Video, or Microsoft AdCenter. We create their video campaign, manage that ad campaign, and then we verify that ad campaign--to make sure they get true numbers on who has been looking at their ads. The service is based on the theory of not having a big technical background--anyone who can upload a photo to Shutterfly, or Flickr, or a Kodak share program fro the grandparents can use our service.

What's the story on why the company was founded?

Josh Paul: My background use to be in television production and post-production. In 2003, I looked around and saw that TV hadn't been hit by the Internet yet. Bookstores had, Wall Street had, and I looked around and saw that music had gotten smacked upside the head. I figured that it was a matter of time before the television industry went through what other industries went through now. I came up with this concept called verified viewing. That's a process of determining if a video was viewed, and if it was viewed in real time. The idea was behind syndication and residuals, the entire business model television has been built around. As we got into the marketplace earlier last year, we discovered that process and service--though desperately needed--was not needed right then. We started looking at the landscape of what was happening, and found a huge hole in the market, which is small and mid-sized businesses. They have no real way to create a video commercial efficiently, quickly, and cheaply.

Even if you want to produce your own commercial, it's thousands of dollars and takes weeks. The entire process is not Internet speed, and not scalable from a business standpoint. We looked, and saw the opportunity for advertisers to enter this new world of online video, and hopefully be able to take advantage of it. We are looking to create a video creation service that anybody can use. We're not creating an online video editor, it has got to be simple. The target user is my mom -- it's as simple as possible, that's the goal. You can create commercials visually with templates, and upload your own images and customize those templates and make them yours. We've got a text to speech engine, but you can also do your own voiceovers. We allow you to call a phone number, dial in a five digit code, and do your own voiceovers for your commercial. You can create your own, 15 second commercial to push out into the world.

How do these templates work?

Josh Paul: The templates are created by a number of programs -- for example, Apple Motion, Composer, Aftereffects. We take these templates and convert them into an underlying XML format that describes the templates in a computer based language, reads those templates at run time, select and determine what kind of text needs to be places, how many images, and colors. That's our underlying technology. We read in that template, see that you need 3 images, you upload those after selecting them off your hard drive, we see you have 5 slots for text, you type in that text and provide the voiceover. That is either text-to-speech, or you can go ahead and call in the voice over. Then, we render and finalize it, and show it to you, you approve or disapprove it, and we provide the video to you for distribution. We then push it to various ad networks, like Google Adwords, Podaddies, AdCenter, AdBrite, Microsoft, or whoever it might be. We also provide you a Flash, Quicktime, Windows Media, and 3GP version for your cell phone. You do whatever you want with it. It's really about letting the advertiser decide what they want to do.

Tony Katz: That's rare, you don't see that everyday. It's one of our most interesting differentiators from our competition. We've been involved in the video blogging community, and sharing a bit of the love is not a bad thing. They don't want to be told what to do, how it has to be done, they want it their way.

Can people use the service now, or when will it be available?

Josh Paul: We plan on entering a close beta, with about two dozen people, sometime next week. As we get feedback from them, we'll make whatever tweaks are necessary, hopefully just bug fixes, and scale out the system.

Tony Katz: In the restaurant business you'd call it a soft open. Our plan is to let people in the know let other people know, and start spreading that way. We want to make sure we do it right.

How is your company funded and backed?

Tony Katz: Right now, we're self funded to this point.

Thanks for the interview, and good luck!


 

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