Rollo Wenlock is a firm believer in the power of the moving image – and the failure of too many companies to make effective use of it. As CEO of the Wellington start-up Wipster, Wenlock is the man behind a collaboration tool that helps simplify and speed up the process of making videos, and he believes there is a large potential market for other ways of putting the medium to better use.
Wenlock had spent 15 years as a videomaker, producing commercials and films of various kinds, before hatching the initial Wipster idea at the end of 2012. He was sharing an edit of a television commercial through the usual process of uploading to a cloud storage service and exchanging emails when he decided there had to be a better, more precise way to give and receive feedback. “I thought, ‘Why don’t we just write comments directly on the work?’”
After pitching the idea to every video maker he knew and getting an overwhelmingly positive response, he developed it with a technically-minded co-founder. The platform they created allows invited collaborators to comment directly onto a video, with frame-accurate timing. “Everyone can be creative and come up with ideas and as the edit goes forward, everybody keeps getting invited until the point where they all agree that it’s fantastic,” explains Wenlock. “It essentially speeds up the process of making a good video by about 10 times.”
The concept received a major boost in 2013 when he pitched it at BNZ’s “Start-up Alley” competition (part of Wellington’s annual Webstock event) and won a $10,000 prize plus travel to The Kiwi Landing Pad in San Francisco, America. The contest also put Wenlock in contact with Xero founder and tech entrepreneur Rod Drury, who was a judge, and who took an ongoing interest in Wipster’s progress. Xero itself became a major early customer.
Having BNZ associated with the event added to the win’s impact as a calling card with investors, says Wenlock, as did Drury’s involvement. “It put us on a certain pedestal, which was useful. That meant more people talked to us.”
Soon after, Wipster won a place in the Lightning Lab business accelerator, an intensive three month programme that put the company in touch with more valuable business contacts. Though it had only a few customers, Angel investors provided $600,000 to get the company on its feet, with a couple of staff. Today, with a growing customer base – particularly in America – a total of $1.5 million has been invested and the Wellington team now numbers in double figures.
Wenlock has aspirations for Wipster that go beyond that initial collaboration platform. “This is our entry point in software to help companies succeed with video,” he says. Wipster can also provide tools that help them decide what type of video they need to reach their objectives and, after production, to track whether a video is meeting those goals. “We’ve discovered that businesses of all types have massive problems figuring out what to do with video,” Wenlock says. Because they are generally more expensive to produce than other media, failure to target them properly can be costly. “It can often be an enormous waste of money.”
While the biggest companies often profit from use of video – most obviously driving sales through commercials – he believes the next tier of firms is missing out on the medium’s marketing power and its ability to reinvest business with a personal element too often lost in dull corporate websites and communications. “They don’t use videos as much as they could.”
Of course, Wenlock doesn’t personally make as many videos or films as he used to, although he still produces them for Wipster itself. But he believes being a video maker wasn’t bad training for his new life as an entrepreneur at the head of a company he believes is close to moving from its startup phase into major growth. Directing a film meant getting people to understand and believe in a project. Steering a new company is similar, he says. “You just have to convince everyone.”
_The BNZ Start-up Alley competition is an opportunity to help start-ups take their business to the next level. Held annually at the Webstock tech conference, the Dragon’s Den-style competition gives small businesses the opportunity to win great cash prizes, a return trip for two to San Francisco, a place in the Kiwi Landing Pad, access to Icehouse programmes, and assistance from BNZ’s Small Business team to help _them nurture and grow their business.
This article was originally published in Kia Ora magazine.