For the inaugural blog in our entrepreneur series I met Emily Forbes, co-founder and CEO of Seenit, the video crowdsourcing app. The app is incredibly cool and we’re big fans of both Seenit and Emily.
Tell us about the journey you went through to launch Seenit
It started while I was in South Africa working in film production. I had a little camera and filmed a huge rhino protest that was going on. As soon as I got there I realised it wasn’t really working; I’d get one shot but then miss something on the other side of the protest. But I noticed that everyone else was filming on phones and cameras so I ran around and asked for their footage. These guys were clearly far more immersed in the subject than I was ever going to be –some were dressed up as rhinos with fake blood all over them. Some of them sent their footage in and introduced me to other people around South Africa. Vets, anti-poachers, lodge owners who also had a lot of their own footage.
As I was piecing it all together I realised that, having worked in production and done it all before, this was a completely new way to create a film and I was able to capture footage from all over the country sitting in my kitchen, for moments that, otherwise, a camera crew would have had to have been there 24/7 and cost a fortune. Whereas I did it in my kitchen at basically no cost.
“I realised that… this was a completely new way to create a film.”
I came back to London, set up a production company having a go at crowdsourcing video for brands manually.
So email, WeTransfer… I’d go to events and festivals with cables out of my pockets, I’d run up to people filming on their phones and try to get their footage with a release form. Sorting the footage and converting it to one format was a nightmare; a lot of the time, the event had passed and there was so much stuff – footage etc – I didn’t have.
The brands were there, they were paying for it and wanted it – but I didn’t have a quick turnaround time, it was costing me the same amount I could charge them in time and resource. It was because of the pains of trying to do it this way that I looked to build a toolkit to help me to create my films.
It was while I was building this that I went to talk to more production companies and agencies who, it turned out, were having the same problems that I was and were saying “When you build it can we use it?” I quickly put some slides together, met Max my co-founder, applied for an accelerator (Collider) at the end of 2013, was accepted, founded the company and started the accelerator in January last year (2014).
What challenges did you face? What was the biggest obstacle?
Tech. For me. It’s something I don’t know. My background is traditional film, “when you want to make a film you pick up camera and organise people to go and shoot it”. So to suddenly turn that into a product I had in my head… I couldn’t cope. If something went wrong I couldn’t quickly work out what went wrong and fix it. Having Max teach me how it works, what is and isn’t possible and getting the right talent is unbelievably hard. Max is amazing so he can talk to people and bring on the right talent but some of the contractors we’ve had… everyone says yes, that’s what I’ve learnt! With some developers a lot of it is “Yep, sure, I can do it” then two months goes by and they say “Well actually… no”. It’s an expensive mistake to make.
“If you do get it wrong, you have to learn fast, quickly cut it and do it a different way.”
You just spend so much money otherwise. You definitely hit obstacles with tech and development and what we thought was going to possible but turned out to not be or is just going to cost a hell of a lot more than we thought. But we’ve managed to get through that when we can, calling in a favour or contracting for a week. The CTO is now on, so Max and him can brainstorm together and it’s much better now we’re bringing on more people.
Initially finding a co-founder… the person I set up the production company with and I ended up going in different directions, doing different things and wanting to push the company in different ways. We separated and then I was talking to Max who I ended up meeting through recruitment – we recruited him to develop an app for the production company. That’s the other obstacle: if you’re not technical, meeting technical people is really hard; going up to them and saying “Hey, does anyone code?” won’t get you far! So finding the right person was really hard.
What does a typical day for you look like?
We’ve just closed a funding round so for the last 6 months most of my time has been meeting investors, making slides, changing slides over and over again! Now, it’s a lot more on marketing and sales although we’re looking to raise again later this year so I’ve got to start that process a lot earlier than I did last time. That was the mistake I made last time, I didn’t give it enough prep.
A typical day is probably a mix between, now, sales meetings and talking to people who’ve done Series A rounds and what they learnt from them. I also try to do as many pitch events as I can. I hate them, I get the worst stage fright but I try and push myself to do them. Any startup competitions, pitch nights, or even just presenting to agencies.
Where did you go for funding?
Series A. If anyone wants to chat to me about that, that’d be awesome!
Our seed round was through angels; I was introduced to people in the industry, I networked and tried to talk to other startups and the angels they went to. There are lots of really good angel networks in London. We went to one called Wild Blue Cohort – we actually met our lead investor through them. The angel networking nights are the best. We’ve also built a really exciting board.
So we raised with Hambro Perks and Rupert Hambro is sitting on the board, which I’m very excited about. There’s also Steve Parish sitting on the board as well, from Crystal Palace, which is incredible for us because it means that he can help us with sport, getting into football, what they look for and what they don’t. Going down to Crystal Palace was really fun. Then a number of other angels as well.
How do you make the most of your time?
My New Year’s resolution is lists. I was kind of all over the place and find it very easy to be completely chaotic when there was so much going on last year. So my new small thing is trying to get a seat on the tube and writing my list for the day. It makes a huge difference. We’re going to get a lot better with the management system that we’re going to use in house. We’re using Slack, a team communication tool because the team is growing and we need to make sure everyone is getting the most of their time.
What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs and startups
Talk to people (and listen)! I talked to loads of people in my first year but I didn’t take on what they were saying as much as I should have done. People said “Get out there, network, talk to people three months before you start raising” and I said “Yeah yeah ok”, then I got really hectic, I was concentrating on sales and I didn’t do it. Now I wish I had taken that on.
I’ve got a lot of incredible feedback from people I’ve talked to, brands, other startups, other CEOs.
“The lessons they’ve learnt are probably ones either you’ve learnt so it’s nice to have that understanding, or they’re experiencing something you’re about to and they can give you some feedback and tips on it.”
Going through the accelerator was one of the best things I did, there’s no way the company would be where it is now without it. I had never set up a company before, really, definitely not a tech startup, and so to have had the support where I could ask the stupid questions and be in a community of other people doing the same thing as me was incredibly valuable.The accelerator mentors are fantastic as well – you really can pick up the phone to people you’d never have the contact with otherwise.
So my advice is definitely an accelerator if you’re thinking about starting a business and keep talking to as many people as possible. Somebody said “If you ask for money you’ll get advice and if you ask for advice you’ll get money.” The same applies to pitching: if you go to an agency and ask how they do video, they’re going to be a lot more open compared to if you go in with “This is my shiny product, buy it.”
Loves: Travel and scuba diving.
Dislikes: Cold tea. When I microwave my cold tea!
App I can’t live without: Flipboard.
Currently reading: The Mom Test. I recommend it for anyone who wants to start up a business and is going to be doing the sales part of it.
Favourite book: My Family and Other Animals.
Favourite place in London: Billingsgate Fish Market.
How do you relax: Cinema. Especially during award season.
Hero: Lawrence Blair.
Motto: “Say yes and work it out later.” Depending on the context or unless it’s an obvious no.
Guilty pleasure: A lot of popcorn. Salty not sweet. It’s the nicest comfort food. A couple of times I’ve gone to the cinema, bought a huge box of popcorn and driven home again! Or eating loads of popcorn in a dark cinema where no one can see you stuffing your face!