Thursday, October 30, 2008
Interview with Sunil Rajaraman, Scripped
We're always interested in how technology is influencing the business of Hollywood, and recently ran across Los Angeles-based Scripped. Scripped (www.scripped.com) is applying the world of Web 2.0 to the business of script writing, and is looking to combine a free online tool for writing scripts with matching those scripts with content producers. We spoke with Sunil Rajaraman, CEO and co-founder of the firm, about the company.
Sunil Rajaraman: We provide free, web-based screenwriting software to aspiring writers and professionals in the community. A large portion of our users are students. Over 150 educational institutions are using our free screenwriting software, and we've attracted writers to our community by providing a free, web-based alternative to expensive screenwriting tools like Final Draft and Movie Magic, which charge $200 to $250 for their tools. By offering that software for free, we've attracted over 10,000 writers to our site. What we've done, is we attract those writers to our site, and have a revenue model based on the content. There's a couple of different ways we do that. One is that any producer of a short video on the web, or any producer of any content, can use out to find their desired content. For example, we had a client who paid us to find a short script for them--what we did is we let our users know that so-and-so wanted a short script on this subject, and from those 10,000 writers they received multiple submissions. It's basically a "wisdom-of-the-crowds" way to get content.
Is this something that studios use, or what kinds of content producers use you?
Sunil Rajaraman: We are initially targeting anyone producing a short video of any sort. That target market is huge, and includes sites like YouTube, you also have Revision3, and other sites doing short videos. There are also others who are doing advertisements with short video. We're targeting any company producing any short form video. Eventually, what we will do is provide a filter. We're in talks with a couple of agencies where we will provide an independent rating system, where they will go through the content, and we'll pay them to do that as part of our funding, and rate each script. Producers can then search the database, and look for a 5 star script that is a drama, for example, they'll be able to see some amount of details, and we'll put them in touch with the writer to broker part of the deal. For now, we're focused on short form content. If you are a content provider and want content for a short form video, we have 120 million existing words on Scripped or you can have a custom solution, where we will send your needs to 10,000 writers and get something for you.
You mentioned funding--you're raising a round?
Sunil Rajaraman: We've basically bootstrapped, and have raised a short convertible round. We've done everything very much on the cheap, and have been very, very efficient on getting everything out there. We're now scaling up to the next stage, where we have that filter as we described, so that we can have an agency independently review content and allow producers to browse that content. The funding is a requirement to get to the next step.
What's the background of your founders, and how did the company come about?
Sunil Rajaraman: Zak, Ryan, and I were the co-founders. Zak and I went to Claremont McKenna together, and have been friends for a long, long time. I went to UCLA Business School, and just graduated this past June. Zak went to the Peter Stark Program at the USC Film School, which is a very prestigious program. Zak had an idea for a screen writing magazine, and was trying to make it as a screenwriter, and found out there was a lack of good resources for people trying to scrap and get to the top. I had worked with Ryan, who is now a student at MIT/Harvard, as we both worked on strategy consulting at Navigant Consulting in Los Angeles. We'd always talked about starting a company together. He was independently working on a collaboration platform for writers, and eventually we all got on a phone together, and it clicked. We put together the screenwriting resources ideas and collaboration platform, and the two combined to become Scripped.
What's the business model behind the site--everything is free?
Sunil Rajaraman: The screenwriting software has been, and always will be, free. That is the way to attract writers. We're picking up 30 to 40 writers a day, with a budget of zero marketing dollars. We have spent nothing on marketing, but have grown thanks to search optimization. The software will always be free, but we will sell the content. We are a content business. If you want content, Scripped will provide content on anything you want. We've got writers who can make it for you, and who are willing to sell the existing stuff they have.
It looks like you do have some other paid features, however?
Sunil Rajaraman: We are generating revenue. Using this content model, we've made two sales. Previous to that, we wanted to build critical mass of writers, which was 10,000 in our mind. We actually have a couple of other revenue related services--Scripped Registration, a service for writers who want some registration so they're legally protected. It's not a copyright, but it's similar to what the WGA provides for protection. That's a revenue generating service, and it's been up for a couple of months. Another service that we offer is Scripped Coverage, which is like that filter we mention but very different. Basically we've partnered with a coverage house, which provides independent reviews on screenplays. We're working with them on a referral business and taking a cut of that. So it's coverage, registration, and selling content.
Are you targeting Hollywood and existing script writing software?
Sunil Rajaraman: That's a good question. The idea, initially, is not to go after the Hollywood market. We're not advertising ourselves to replace the process of creating feature length films, We are starting with the short video market, and establishing demand for our products in the short video market. We have Ed Burns on our board of advisors--Ed is one of the stars of Saving Private Ryan. He won Sundance at 25 years old, on a film he produced that cost $25,000. He's been in a number of other things, 27 Dresses with Katherine Heigl and lots of other films. We see Ed as a way to break that barrier and get into traditional methods, eventually. Maybe, five years down the line, when things change drastically in Hollywood, we do eventually want to provide a filter and enough value that people might consider finding feature length films off the site. And, we think we'll eventually reduce the cost associated with the development departments at the studios.
How has your experience been with going the low-cost, web-based model?
Sunil Rajaraman: We often got asked when we were initially pitching this idea--what's the total available market for screenwriters? It's not a number that is easily answered. Some people predicted--it's just a couple of thousand people here and there. One thing I've learned by providing a free, web-based tool is we realize the market is quite large, for something you wouldn't expect. Inside of ten months, we had 10,000 writers, without a marketing budget. I never would have guessed that. I think the perspective on web-based tools, and especially free ones, is they open up a market that you thought never would have existed. That's very evident with the early success that we've had. We've got lots of people from Bulgaria using our service--did you even know there were screenwriters in Bulgaria? The number of users from Denmark is also amazing.