Rico Andrade on the Rise of the Startup Video
This is the 10th interview in a series called the Startup Videos Interviews. Today we're bringing you an interview of Rico Andrade. Rico is the Narrative Guardian at Micro-Documentaries. He is the former Executive Producer at Transvideo Studios and one of the founders of the company’s creative and design division, Picturelab, which specializes in providing high-quality video and animation for tech companies in Silicon Valley. Follow him on Twitter @andrade_rico.
Let’s start with an introduction. What is your background and what do you do?
Transvideo is in the heart of Silicon Valley and has been around for over 30 years. In the late 80s/early 90s, tech companies of the time (like Apple) needed a way to record screenshots for various purposes, but the primary way it was done was by pointing a camera at a CRT monitor, which in the area before ClearScan technology, lead to the rolling scan lines on the screen.
Transvideo’s owner had seen a new technology at NASA called the “Scan Converter”, which allowed you to record high-quality CRT images without flicker and zoom into specific areas of the screen without losing (NTSC) resolution. He offered the technology to Transvideo’s tech clients, and a boom of demo videos was born, though mostly straight to VHS tape.
In late 2006, coinciding with Google’s purchase of Youtube, we started experimenting with Google on how to use these videos on the web products. We started with the launch of Google Earth 4.0, where we produced over 80 short videos to demonstrate the product in 8 languages, and the resulting A/B testing proved the videos had a huge impact in the conversion rate of the product. Soon after, once Youtube became a Google’s distribution platform, we tried it with the Google Talk Gadget, and finally, with the introduction of Street View.
The Street View launch was paramount, because it opened everyone’s eyes to the potential of video. It was at that point we realized that in certain situations, the video could explain the potential of the product better than the product could explain itself, that the video was easily embeddable by bloggers talking about the product (much more impactful than just describing the product), and that the product evangelists (or “influencers”) could just use the video to share with others. The video quickly jumped to 12 million views, and soon thereafter, video became an integral part of Google’s marketing strategy.
Over the course of the next two years, we produced over 5000 videos for Google, learning what worked and didn’t work, and getting a lot of data that shaped how the videos were produced.
In 2008, Google decided to do the majority of video work internally, and while we continued working for Google, our focus shifted towards taking what we learned about producing videos and apply it to tech companies. Tech companies weren’t spending too much time on these types of videos, so we had to slowly prove the product by providing the highest quality “overview” videos. One of these early videos, for Box, is still on theirhome page today.
We decided to have a division that focused on this kind of work, and in early 2009, Picturelab was born. And the rest, as they say, is history.
What about now? where do you work, what do you do?
After 13 years at Transvideo, I decided it was time to take a break, and after 6 months off as a full-time dad, I joined Micro-Documentaries, which was started by my good friend Ben Henretig. My primary role at the company is that of “Narrative Guardian” - I work with clients to figure out the story that needs to be told, and then work to make sure that narrative is maintained throughout the production process.
Microdocs is a very unique company. As the name implies, Micro-Documentaries focuses on providing affordable, high-quality 1-2 minute documentaries for companies and other organizations around the world. The company has a wonderful mission of providing access to documentary storytelling to any purposeful organization that needs it, and as a result, we work with a tremendous number of nonprofits and NGOs trying to change the world.
Because documentary storytelling is such a wonderful communication format, a large number of our clients are traditional corporate clients, especially clients in the valley. Documentaries are particularly good for messages that need to include actual humans, or that have a potential for an emotional connection, so it is particularly well-suited for vision statements, case studies, testimonials, recruiting videos, thought-leadership proposals, etc...
I’ve been honored and humbled to be part of this company, particularly when I get to work with organizations trying to solve some of the biggest problems in the world. It’s hard not to get emotional about some of the subject matter that we are dealing with, but it is so fulfilling to keep pressing on. And the results have been great. We have produced over 1000 Microdocs over the last few years.
You’ve been working in the “explainer videos” industry since before these videos were cool among startups. How do you explain the explosion of this type videos in the recent months?
The reasons are fairly simple to understand:
1) The videos work. They have an impact. There is a certain segment of the population that prefers to just click the “play” button and listen to what you have to say, and if you cater to that group, you’ll have move conversions to your product.
2) The infrastructure and technology to host the videos, and to produce them, have dropped precipitously in price over the last few years. Everyone has broadband, there are platforms such as Youtube, Vimeo, Wistia, Ooyala, and Brightcove that make it easy to host your own videos without worrying about performance or compression issues, and production equipment and software have made it possible to have one-person shops dedicated to this work at home.
3) The videos are ads for themselves. If a startup founder sees a video on a site they like, they are more likely to want to experiment with videos themselves.
4) The industry has validated them, particularly via two TechCrunch articles that resulted in a tremendous amount of interested in the use of videos for startups:
- Oh, So That's What Blippy Does by Michael Arrington
According to you, what are the trends for the next couple of years and what can we expect in terms of how video is used by startups in general?
I think the pendulum may swing a bit far in the direction of making the videos too cutesy, or putting a video up regardless of the quality, and as users and companies realize that you can’t put up a video for video’s sake (and be unconcerned with quality) without consequence to the product or brand, there will be a bit of backlash on that type of work.
However, I see the product being even more ubiquitous than it is today. Just as homepage “explainer” videos are incredibly common, I imagine every company will soon be expected to have a video on their “About Us” page explaining their vision for the company and product - thought leadership pieces that showcase how they are going to change the world. I hope to be part of that trend with MicroDocs.
What about for the creative agencies or studios making them?
Because of the commoditization of these videos, I think it’ll be harder to compete for the bottom of the barrel. So I think that in order to survive, the larger agencies need to focus on quality or other points of differentiation, because otherwise they will have a hard time competing with the skilled individual who has After Effects at home.
What is missing, or what would you like see in the industry right now?
I’d like to see more data on how these videos are used from a macro perspective. I think we’re only scratching the surface in terms of what we need to know about how video is used to promote a product.
What would be your advice for startups looking to get their own explainer video, what are the absolute “must have” and top 3 pitfalls to avoid.
I covered this my “Rise of the Explainer Video” TechCrunch guest post. Here is what I wrote:
1. Don’t make a “viral” video. While there are extremely successful and truly viral videos out there people don’t usually realize the time, effort, and experience required to create something people actually want to share. And even if they do, virality itself is unpredictable. Most companies would be better off leveraging the existing organic traffic on their site and focus on turning those users into customers, rather than spending resources they may not have trying to designing to get a mass audience to post their videos on their Facebook page. This doesn’t mean the video needs to be a PowerPoint pitch deck, or that it can’t be engaging, but that the top priority should be to explain how a product fits into a user’s life, and not shareability.
2. Don’t just make a product walkthrough. Product walkthroughs have their place, but they are only effective after the user understands what the product is about in the first place. Don’t just do a product demo, starting at the login screen, and walking through all the features. Answer the question, “How does this product fit into my life?”, or “Why should I use this?”, before answering “How does this work?”. You want to pique the user’s interest with the video, then let them figure how the product works on their own, by signing up and using it. Having said that…
3. Prioritize your message and keep it short. It is tempting to want to present every use case, every benefit, to as many different audiences as possible, as you might in a pitch deck. However, the sweet spot for these videos tend to be around 45-90 seconds. Shorter than 45 seconds feels sales-y and incomplete, and viewers don’t hang around videos that are longer than 90 seconds, so putting too much in there hurts you. That means that you should pick just a few messages to put in the video Are you targeting your dream user, or are you catering to early adopters (i.e.: “Normals” vs “TechCrunch Readers”)? Are you trying to differentiate yourselves from an established competitor? Are you solving a problem that hasn’t been tackled, or is it a new solution to an old problem? Is there information that all users must know about your product ahead of time to use it effectively? These are the types of questions that help determine what goes into a final video. Focus on the three most important things, and then let them move on from the video to your product.
In that Techcrunch article you saved the question “How much should we spend on video?” to a later time. Can you tell us more about what the kind of budget that startups should be devoting when making these videos?
That is a hard question to answer, because the market is still so much in flux right now, with so many companies focusing on this type of product. However, there are certainly things that may give you a starting heuristic of what the video is worth for you.
A lot of startups have an actual number they can point to for the value they give each user. Facebook, for example, might assign say that each new user is worth $1 to their business, and another enterprise-focused company, who is more interested in targeting a single large client or VC, might assign a value of a successful acquisition of that “user” in the millions of dollars.
So you can consider how many users are currently signing up for the company, and assume that a prominently-featured video will increase conversion rates between 15%-75%, and assume the video should last you between 1-2 years.
Similarly, though there’s little data to actually back this up, but it is reasonable to assume for guiding purposes that the increased likelihood of press coverage, and closing sales, is commensurate with the increase in conversion of new users from the home page. So you can make a determination on what these are worth to you (for example, in my personal experience, a TechCrunch post is probably good for an extra 10,000 eyeballs), and with a multiplier that accounts for any possible increase in the likelihood of coverage that would be attributable to the video.
And so on... it’s not perfect, but at least it is a starting point to get you in the ballpark of what it might be worth to you.
What are you favorite sources of inspiration?
My favorite sources of comes from Twitter or Facebook. While there’s lots of great stuff out there, there are certain friends whose eye for beauty and detail I admire, and when something comes across my feed from them, I know I’ll enjoy it.
You’ve helped many videos with Transvideo and Picturelab. What are your favorite projects you’ve worked on when over there?
I’ve worked on thousands of projects over the years, so this is a hard question to answer. But to recap:
- Street View, as this was our first truly viral hit and opened our eyes to the potential of the medium:
- Phanfare, because it was one of the first pieces that really helped redefine a company we were working with, and allowed us to hone in on our goals and processes for these types of videos:
- Blippy, because they came to us as a direct referral from Michael Arrington, and we were featured on TechCrunch:
- Trillion Dollars Visualized, because it wasn’t a traditional “explainer”:
- Mint, because it was the most influential video we made, nailing it for the product, and spawning dozens of copycats over the years:
- Nextdoor, because I loved the style we ended up with:
- I have a lot of favorite clients at Microdocs as well. I’m loving the “My Networked Life” series we are doing with Cisco around the world right now.
if you had to share one ultimate bit of wisdom that you’ve learnt throughout the years what would it be?
Don’t try too hard to entertain with the videos; getting the right message across is what’s most important. For most companies, consistently hitting the single will pay off much more over the long-run than aiming for the fences.