Thursday, August 23, 2007
Interview with Keri DeWitt, Teresis Media Management
In our ongoing profiles of local, high tech companies, we thought it would be interesting to catch up with Keri DeWitt, President and CEO of Teresis Media Management (www.teresis.com). Teresis is angel funded by the Pasadena Angels and Tech Coast Angels, and has been around for a few years--Keri updates us on how the company started, how things have been going, and where it is now. Keri spoke to Ben Kuo.
For those who aren't familiar with your product, how is it used?
Keri DeWitt: Teresis has been around for four years, we were the first to launch a browser-based digital product management system, which includes tape encoding, file encoding, automated upload to the asset management, and other features for production of content. Our target market has obviously been the television market. Our system is used for tape ingest and production, and both pre and post can access material and tools to do their respective jobs. In addition to that, we have a video on demand module, which can in turn make that video available for sales or licensing for other purposes, and allows producers to repurpose the assets they have.
What's your background, and how did you get into this business?
Keri DeWitt: My background was in technology integration and development. In the 90's, I was a consultant for Icon Technology in Orange County, and was recruited to the Bay Area by NetObjects. They had a WYSWIG product for web development, were setting up for an IPO, and brought me in to set up a professional services group. I was there for two years, went through the IPO, until they burned through their initial cash and sold off their enterprise division. I took on product management for their small business project, which was sold, and went to Verisign. That was different from what I had been doing, and I was Director of Product Management for their International division. I was responsible for creating new products for international markets.
How did you start your company?
Keri DeWitt: In the summer of 2001, just before 9/11, I was on Eco-Challenge, the adventure race. Mark Burnett was the creator of that series before he became famous for Survivor. It was much more an athletic event than a television event, so I went to New Zealand, and was selected as the focus team. I spent 10 days traipsing across the island of new Zealand, and was interacting with the production staff of the show. They did not have tools to do their job with. Believe it or not, they were shooting with a digital camera, but still making VHS tape dubs, so that they could type out word for word everything on the VHS tape--thousands of hours of footage. There were several people involved in just management of tape and the volume of tape being generated by a show like this. In the fall of 2001, right after 9/11, I was still working at Verisign, but saw a huge opportunity in the television industry, similar to before computers took off in corporate America in the late 80's and early 90's. That was the period of time where corporate America realized that they could incorporate the computer to make things faster and cheaper. Seeing that, I left Verisign so I could get involved in the entertainment industry.
In the spring of 2002, I was let go when there was a huge layoff at Verisign. I took my unemployment, and came back to Los Angeles, went to the LA Film School, and instead of a thesis I convinced the school to let me work on a show at Fox. I worked on Classmates TV, a Fox reality show, and there I was a lowly production assistant--walking the dog, getting coffee, working for 24-year olds--which was kind of an adjustment. Every executive should do that, it was very sobering. I realized that working on that show, the problem was that there was no way to control costs in TV shows. Production companies had no systems or processes.
At Classmates, there were 300 tapes for every hour that broadcast. And, they had to get twelve shows in the can. There was no way 6 production assistants could keep up with logging all that material. For example, we had to enter time codes by hand--type in 08, colon, 15, colon, and then the frame number, every single time we did an entry. It took three or four hours to log a single tape. There wasn't any time until they were hundreds of tapes behind schedule. I went to the executive in charge of production, and told them I needed to go to Fry's. I bought a system to convert the tapes into MP3s. I had a friend who had a transcription business in India, and I asked them if the could transcribe this MP3, and send it back. On Thursday, we sent the MP3 files that I saved and the production assistants saved over the weekend, and on Tuesday morning we had the entire show back caught up and current in production. We saved them from going black on the air. One executive on the team said to me that I should take it and make it a business. Another executive offered me a $50 a week raise, which didn't cover the pizza we ate over the weekend. I took the opportunity and left the show, while they were using that kludgy process, and became a vendor. I called up all of my other unemployed friends and started developing Teresis. Fall of that year, we had our first prototype, and by the spring of 2003, we had shows doing beta testing, and I had exhausted my own personal resources--I hadn't knocked it out of the park with the IPO, because I hadn't vested enough. So I started raising capital, and raised $750K in the Fall of 2004.
Where is the firm now in terms of funding and stage?
Keri DeWitt: We are profitable, and in the last year have completely turned the company around. We've grown tenfold since January of 2006. We're not looking to raise money at this time, we believe we can grow based on revenues, and kind of want to continue to do that. We really want to substantiate a stronger valuation. We have some very solid companies, some I can mention and other's I can't because we're under NDA. In addition, we started out solving some problems in production, but our timing is relevant with things like Google Video. We pre-dated Google Video, pre-dated YouTube, iTunes, iPod, and all that, and they have really come as we have hit our stride. We're finding people are looking for our technology, not necessarily for reality TV, but for anything being produced. There are many out there looking to repurpose content--news material, old films, independently produced content. It's been stored but never had life. There's new life if there's a way to encode it, and to quickly make it searchable and distributable. It's a whole new market to explore for Teresis. Our timing is perfect, we've come to maturity in our product, and we have a really solid customer base and good revenues, allowing us to run forward.
Tell me a bit about your shift into an online version of your software--I believe you had been offering this as a system before, what drove that decision?
Keri DeWitt: We've always been a web-based, intranet/portal application. With our initial product, customers rented hardware and all that was required at their location was a fixed IP address and a firewall. We provided all the hardware to run that system, including the database application, web server, and obviously the storage and an encoder. The price point for that was a hit to us as a company, because for every sale there was a pretty significant hardware outlay. Also, our clients aren't equipped with an IT staff, especially in Hollywood. They don't understand computers, networks, and firewalls, which is all intimidating to have in house. It was a natural progression--we were already web based, and we were moving toward the software-as-a-service model. More businesses are taking their model that way, and it makes obvious sense in the industry we're in. It's a smaller hurdle to get over, and you have the convenience of subscribing to the application when you're under a deadline. You can login to Teresis and provision your site, and you're up and running next day.
I seem to recall that you had moved your transcription from India to the midwest US, that seems very interesting, what can you tell me about that?
Keri DeWitt: Obviously, the Indian model did not work, and for that reason, I'd never offshore that kind of work again. There are too many colloquialisms in the US, and they've got their own work ethic. For that reason, we brought the transcriptions back to the U.S. I thought, if we can take this to India, why not the Midwest, where jobs have left. Use the Internet as the Great Railway like late 1800. Now, the Internet reopens opportunities in Midwest regions which are not as busy, and rural areas. We have around 100 people through our sister company transcribing for Teresis. They are stay-at-home moms, transcribing for reality television. For some of these women, this is huge for them. It's how they are keeping their house, caring for an ailing parent--because opportunities in the Midwest have really dried up. Your options are Walmart, teaching school, or waiting tables. That's the extent of it. This allows them to work from home, make better than minimum wage, and if you're the primary caregiver, really huge.