Steve Callanan is the CEO and co-founder at wireWAX. wireWAX is the first and only taggable video tool which allows users to add intuitive tracking tags to people and objects in video. So whilst watching a video, you can basically stop, click on anything that might interest you, something you want more information on or perhaps want to purchase - a two click process to the store.
I recently caught up with Steve as we took a trip down memory lane, talking about his background, earlier entrepreneurial ventures and how the idea for wireWAX came about.
Hi Steve, How are you doing, great to have you on YHP?
Thanks Joseph, I’m great, thank you. It’s an honour to be here.
Could you quickly give us some background information about yourself?
Sure, my background is a strange combination of different visions. I’m a Bristol boy and studied an Electronic Engineering degree at Cardiff Uni. In my final year I set up my own TV production company and made a documentary series about first year students for ITV, not engineering related at all. This was followed by a another six-part series about graduates in limbo. I was the youngest TV producer in the UK at the time and I moved to London and continued producing TV content for the next 10 years.
During that time my company also produced commercial online video for brands and publishers and became the production house for all short-form video content for major digital publishers such at National Magazines and Hearst Digital. During that time it became acutely apparent that there was an obvious lack of interactivity in video; the brands whose products we featured grew frustrated by the failure to exploit obvious commercial opportunities. It was at this point that the concept for wireWAX was borne.
How did you get involved in entrepreneurship? Were you exposed to entrepreneurship as a child?
I wasn’t exposed in the sense that neither of my parents were entrepreneurs but I guess I was always interested in building things and creating something from nothing and they always encouraged that. I suppose in many ways, that’s what entrepreneurship is all about - if you have enough desire to create something unique, you enjoy the challenge of making it work - no matter what - and you get a buzz from seeing others use something you’ve created; you have the makings of a budding entrepreneur.
I was lucky enough to have free rein of my dad’s garage - which was my ‘sweet shop’ - I would spend hours, days sometimes, building something useless. A good example was my first ‘business’ making long-boards for the local skate shop during the summer break - I spent all my time building them and by the time it came to selling them, summer was over. I sold nothing and it was a few years later I turned them all into free-standing bookshelves and gave them away, one of which we still have in the office. Not the best use of my time but a valuable lesson learnt nonetheless.
So tell me about wireWAX and how the idea came about?
Typical of any technology making ripples, wireWAX was a classic case of borne of necessity. Producing short-form video content for brands and publishers it was obvious there was a trick being missed. The products in the video were impossible to buy unless you heard a mention or could see a product name enough to search for that product yourself.
A huge ask for viewers and unless they were determined the opportunity to purchase on impulse is lost. For the first 6 months, wireWAX was a crude prototype being engineered in evenings and weekends but a eureka moment changed everything and we changed focus from production to creating what wireWAX is today. I’m very glad to say I have no plans to go back, production is hard work and I absolutely love what I’m doing now.
What is wireWAX and how does it work?
wireWAX is the first and only taggable video tool. What does this mean? Well, anyone with a video, whether on a desktop, tablet or mobile device can upload it - just like YouTube or Vimeo - but this time faces are automatically detected. Key to wireWAX is our motion-tracking engine which mean those faces are automatically tagged with clickable hotspots or ‘tags’ that lock onto those faces and stay with them as the move around.
You can even add your own tags to other people and objects by simply drawing a box around them. What you then do with that tag is also up to you - link to profiles, text, images, video or other web pages. You can also use any of our wireWAX apps; Amazon (for linking products), Facebook (display a friend’s profile), YouTube/Vimeo (play another video right there in your video), Instagram, Flickr, Qwiki, iTunes, etc., etc. - instantly creating an interactive experience for your viewers.
Just adding one tag makes your video infinitely more interactive and engaging. There is no reason why all video shouldn’t be ‘wireWAXed’. The experience it creates is undeniably powerful.
What is your business model?
Our business model is simple - we have two user types, anyone interested in recording and sharing interactive video with friends and; production companies, brands, publishers, broadcasters or movie studios who want to do something a bit special. We cater for both by offering a free service to everyone and when you want to do more, you pay for those ‘add-ons’.
How did you initially attract users to wireWAX , and how do you do it now?
We’ve not yet done any commercial marketing, every wireWAX video displays a subtle logo at the top right which marks the experience as ours - this is by far the biggest market driver and the start of how people discover us. We also invest a lot of time connecting to fans and, for want of a better term, ‘reaching out’ to potential users on a personal level.
Our first big project was with EMI, I managed to get a foot in the door and a ten minute presentation to the digital team. A week later we’d created an interactive promo for the Kooks where fans could click on the band and enter a competition. We gathered 3000 email address in a week and drove a tenfold increase in traffic to the fanpage - something, we were told, would normally take up to a year.
This was really the start for us, from there other record companies and brands started to show interest. It was the fashion houses such as Tommy Hilfiger, Nike, Rip Curl, Oki-Ni and SSENSE that embraced wireWAX the quickest. The fashion industry has always been nurturing innovative and artistic promo methods and was one of the first sectors to discover that online video needs to be as polished as the products they represent.
So, having produced a beautifully crafted, well-executed and expensive video - where’s the return? Where are the results? Where are the sales? wireWAX has an obvious presence in this space - high-end video production, models wearing products, big online appeal and - until now - no method of engaging customers and exploiting commercial opportunities.
We really believe that everyone could benefit from wireWAX and with video playing such a major part in a connected world we feel that people just need to know about it. Therefore over the next few months we’re dramatically increasing our through-the-line marketing - we have a discrete strategy as well as national and international PR plans. Making the tool free to all will help push the technology out to a wider audience too.
What makes wireWAX different from any service out there? What problem does it solve?
wireWAX is the first and only tool for taggable video. And that is the key difference, while there are lots of companies that provide a service (you send them your video and their own backroom guys manually add basic, rarely moving, hotspots and return the video in a few days), we’ve always set out to make wireWAX a simple, self-provisioning and personal experience.
That last point is also what makes us standout. Users can choose there own tag type and most importantly create their own pop-up (what happens when a viewer interacts), in a style of their choosing and relate it to their project, campaign or brand aesthetic - not a fixed and restrictive template. Putting the power into the hands of the users not only means things are infinitely scalable for us but allow users to be more creative with their own interactive experiences.
wireWAX solves a very difficult problem, very easily. Video is the last of the digital assets to be interactive, a computer knows nothing of the content, just pixels. Adding tags and adding a digital reference point to people and objects instantly means that dumb, passive medium is now rich with metadata. All the other content relating to that person or object elsewhere in the web can now be linked to it.
What are the most crucial things you have done to grow your business?
SEO, clarity and smart pricing are essential to attracting visitors. Keeping interest and then converting them into active users. We work hard at our SEO and do everything we can to let people searching for a tool like wireWAX know we exist. That traffic is essential to our business. Over the next couple of weeks we’re releasing our new ‘front of house’ - our website and most importantly our homepage - the first thing visitors see and make millisecond decisions on whether to pursue or not. We’re also making it much, much easier for users to get started with simple user procedural changes with clear and big calls-to-action.
We trialed a tiered-price subscription model for users based on a very similar model to Brightcove’s. We assumed our client base would be users familiar with video hosting and therefore familiar with a similar pricing strategy. We were wrong, while some appreciated it, a licencing option was just not right for the vast majority of users.
We underestimated how many people would want to experiment before signing-up to a subscription, wireWAX is a brand new technology not a well-understood video-hosting solution where it’s easy to quantify what your money will get you in return. Users look to create one-off solutions in the first instance where they can experiment, distribute and analyse results before committing to something more tiein. We’ve abandoned subscriptions altogether for a free solution with paid-for add-ons. We’re confident it’s a better way to go and we know our users will feel more comfortable and willing to do more.
What was the most challenging part of starting the business?
Staying determined, long hours, difficult clients, difficult employees and technology failure all play a part in everyday struggles but without money, it never would’ve happened. Sourcing that finance was by far the the most difficult thing and in the early days we took ‘bootstrapping’ to the extreme.
Would you say the business has changed from the first initial idea?
The idea was always to create something big, accessible and game-changing but the product is so much better than I would have ever imagined and the business is growing much faster than I expected. If someone had told me a couple of years ago that our product would be used by global power brands such as Nike, Tommy Hilfiger and Rip Curl; and broadcasters such as ITV and Channel 4, I don’t think I would’ve believed them.
Who are your competitors?
We have the privilege of being a world first which means our nearest competitors have either changed tack and focused elsewhere or abandoned the concept altogether. We used to be compared to companies such as VideoClix or Clikthrough but they both provide serviced solutions rather than a self-provisioning tagging tool so their business and customer base is very different. Some newcomers are showing some interesting tagging and recognition features such as Veenome but we’re yet to see a working demo and our tech is more advanced.
While we are in a great position, we never take that for granted and constantly strive to improve and evolve everyday. We have just completed a 9-month rebuild of our original tech and back-end infrastructure to make it so much easier for the technology to stay fresh and always adaptable.
What were you doing before you founded wireWAX ?
I ran Wiseguy Pictures for over 10 years producing a diverse range of TV programmes such as Freshers, Housemates, A Year at Kew and Paparazzi as well as hundreds of hours of online video - mainly fashion and beauty - for some of the biggest digital publishers. We also produced movie trailers and lots of motion graphics - the latter of which gave me a very good grounding for vision techniques and user-interface.
It was working with those brands and publishers that spawned the initial need to develop an interactive video tool.
How have you been able to fund the business?
As wireWAX started as an experiment while running the production company, I was able inject a lot of personal finance and channel production revenue to research and development. It grew increasingly obvious that wireWAX was bigger than production and required more time, people and resources; so reducing the amount of personal time on production and looking for investment was the first major step to taking things further. In June 2011 we received earlyround investment from Passion Capital, headed-up by Eileen Burbidge, Stefan Glaenzer and Robert Dighero.
Between ramping down production and successfully closing that early-round, I’d by lying if I said things were easy. Yes, I could redirect production profits but as my personal involvement in that business diminished so did those profits and there was increasing pressure on me to fund things personally and embark on a very hard period of ‘beg, borrow and steal’. I never doubting that wireWAX was worth the pain and when the tech was in good shape and people were paying to use it, there was an overwhelming sense of vindication and it all felt worthwhile.
We started door-knocking investors at the beginning of 2011 and having the opportunity to present at Mike Butcher’s GeeknRolla certainly allowed us to hit a lot of people at the same time and open doors. We were invited to Seedcamp Berlin and a few weeks later we were sat around a table with Eileen, Stefan and Robert from Passion bashing out the details.
What can we be expecting from your company in 2012?
2012 is a very exciting year for wireWAX. The investment from Passion came with a road-map to develop wireWAX to what it is now. A major overhaul of infrastructure, a complete rebuild of communications, a vast simplification revision of user-interface and user experience; and the start of the biggest commercial application of computer vision in Europe.
Our aim is to make wireWAX the first and only solution to make all video, everywhere, interactive. Doing that means we need the systems in place to cope and the automated functions to reduce almost all user effort.
We launched the first part of this earlier in the year and the new website and user management studio to be launched by the end of April. We’ll always be adding new automated features and improving the technology but as of next week you’ll start to see some incredible stuff, amazing things with video no one has done before.
What three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
I wouldn’t say that I was a successful entrepreneur by any stretch and I can only pass on a few things that have worked for me so far...
1. Persevere. If you really believe in your idea and you believe that it has a genuine use for more than 10 people, work hard and work long - whatever it takes to get it working.
Whatever it takes to get it to your audience. Sometimes your designs or your code won’t work and it’ll feel like you’re killing yourself for a silly idea that never will, but stick at it. There is no substitute and no easy route. Be prepared to sacrifice to make it succeed, but be aware not everyone around you will like you for it.
2. Lists. This is probably an obvious one but make a list, no matter how big and silly it looks and never quit working through it, ignore anyone or anything that tells you to skip tasks or lose enthusiasm. Stay determined at all costs, set yourself a target and get there no matter what. The trick is to never be overwhelmed by the mountain left to climb, set yourself small goals and cross off achievements as you go. You’ll feel good as you work through it and keeping all your tasks in one place will free your mind of clutter and keep you creative. It’ll also ensure you get a good night’s sleep.
3. People. Surround yourself with very, very good people. People who you can rely on and who genuinely share your vision to make your idea happen. Get rid of those who don’t, fast - it may not be immediately obvious but they’ll drag you and the team down. There’s nothing better than coming to work, building something with guys who love it as much as you and having a proper giggle along the way