Matthew: Hi, this is Matthew Wise with FounderLY.com. We empower entrepreneurs to have a voice and share their story with the world, enabling others to learn about building products and starting companies.
I’m here today with Nader Ghaffari. Nader is a good friend of mine. He’s also the founder and CEO of ShortForm. ShortForm is a new entertainment medium delivering continuous channels of the best videos from anywhere on the web curated by its community of VJs. ShortForm VJs curate continuous channels of their favorite videos and share them with their friends, family and viewers.
With that said, Nader, please introduce yourself so our audience can know who you are.
Nader: Thanks, Matt. You just gave my elevator pitch, so you spared me that. It’s a pleasure to see you, Matt. We overlapped at Berkeley together while I was in business school and you were in law school. We were involved in the entrepreneurial program over there at Berkeley. I agreed to do new things with old friends
As Matt said, I’m Nader Ghaffari, co-founder and CEO of ShortForm. I’m a Bay area native. I grew up in the Bay area and I’ve been immersed in this Silicon Valley ecosystem my entire life. I grew up always knowing that I wanted to start a company. I went to undergrad at UC Berkeley and spent the early part of my career mainly at Intel in about eight different jobs, getting the full breadth and exposure to all the facets of a corporation, from technology planning to development, and ending up at Intel Capital.
From there I decided I knew enough and it was time to go start new things and be involved with companies that I could grow to become the scale of Intel-like companies. I attended Haas Business School for a couple of years, which is where we met. I joined a firm called NetService Ventures Group from there, which is a really special organization. It’s a firm that really works on creating the future. NetService Ventures Group either invests in early-stage companies or works with entrepreneurs to start companies and spin them out.
I spent a couple of years there fully immersed with entrepreneurs, getting companies incubated, seed financing companies, thinking about the future, which is where the idea of ShortForm came to exist. I saw the calling. We started it a year and a half later and here we are as a separate entity in San Francisco and rolling.
Matthew: What is ShortForm? Who is it for and why are you so passionate about it?
Nader: ShortForm came to exist because of this explosion in online video that we’ve seen. When we first started the company there was four years of online video being uploaded every day. Today there’s about eight years of online video being uploaded every day, so more and more online video.
We sought to deliver a new entertainment medium that made sense of all this noise. We saw an analogy that existed with online video to what came to exist with radio for music. Radio came to exist by organizing music into radio stations, and we saw this explosion of online video needing a new entertainment medium.
We created ShortForm as this new medium to deliver continuous channels of the best videos from anywhere on the web, curated today by our community of VJs. We turn anyone into a VJ who has got some story to tell and they can curate an ongoing channel of videos and share it with the world.
Matthew: Given your domain expertise, what are some of the technology and market trends that currently exist, and where do you see things developing for the future of online video?
Nader: The online video space is probably one of the most exciting spaces of the Internet today. If you look at where the web has gone, the first wave was a destruction of print, the second wave was a destruction of music, and this wave is sort of a destruction of visual entertainment, online video.
Where I see things going is everything is going to be over the top. With the ad dollar shifting from television to over-the-top content in online video, you’ve got about $70 billion in television ad dollars that are going to get reconfigured and delivered to new forms of entertainment like ShortForm.
It’s an open field. A good chunk of it is going to be taken by the old studios and the old guard that will readjust themselves to this new world of everything being over the top, but a sizeable chunk of it is going to go to companies like ShortForm and companies that are redefining entertainment and are delivering new experiences for the consumer.
Matthew: Now that we’ve covered your background and an overview of ShortForm, we’d like to dig into the details of your story. Can you tell us what inspired you to start ShortForm? Was it an ‘a-ha’ moment or was it a bunch of marketing research that led you to the opportunity. What’s the story behind it?
Nader: That’s a good question. It was something that actually sort of evolved up to an ‘a-ha’ moment, Matt. We were looking at the online video space very thoroughly at NetService Ventures Group. When I first arrived there, my whole mission was to identify the company that I was going to co-found and involve myself with and build. The online video space was something I started to get very passionate about. We learned more and more about it over there.
The founding the team was sitting around the table and one of my co-founders, Matt Melmon, who had done a startup in the past that was trying to deliver radio content to the Internet, sort of a ‘pre-Pandora Pandora’, if you will, said, “Look, there’s a big thing coming. We’ve got to do for online video what radio did for music.” The more we kicked it around, the more it made sense.
We were looking at the trends, and online video wasn’t getting monetized well. People were looking at these things one clip at a time in two-minute settings, not long enough to effectively monetize. Online video was a sub-billion dollar business from an ad dollar perspective.
We saw both a consumer opportunity and an advertising monetization business model opportunity. On the consumer side, we said, “Look, it’s hard for consumers to find this stuff. Beautiful content is being created by content creators and it goes into these black holes where no one can find it. No one can find these nuggets of gold.” We said the way to do that is to organize the best of that content into continuous channels and let people find channels that resonate with them, either created by people in their social graph or created around subjects that they’re interested in, and watch it continuously.
On the other side, the other opportunity from a business model perspective is that we now lock people into these continuous streams, and the longer you lock them in, the more opportunities you have to monetize. We can solve this ad dollar problem with online video by delivering contextually relevant ads inside these channels to the consumers, where they’ll get ads that are relevant to them, they’ll enjoy watching them, and more ad dollars shift from television into content like Short form.
Matthew: Excellent. From idea to actual product launch, how long did that take and when did you actually launch?
Nader: We started kicking around the idea in the spring of 2009. We’re now at the spring of 2011. In the spring of 2009 we just started kicking this thing around. It was whiteboards, and in the summer of 2009 we created a Facebook app that delivered one continuous stream of videos around comedy. We launched that and we got data.
We kicked it around and kicked it around and looked at it and talked about it and we decided to formally spin this into a company at the start of 2010. We incorporated in February of 2010 and raised our seed capital in March of 2010. It’s the one year anniversary right now. Between kicking it around and doing a proof of concept, it took a little while to formalize it, and then we solidified it and we’ve been at it for about a year as a formal concern.
Matthew: Are there any unique metrics, statistics or social proof about ShortForm that you’d like to share with our audience?
Nader: Things are going incredibly well and we’re very stoked. A little background; we launched the beta product in June of 2010. The first iteration of the product was that we would short form through a machine learning, through our algorithms, we would curate all this content and package it up into channels for consumers to consume.
We launched that product and we learned a lot during the beta period. One of the things we learned through an advisor of mine, Stuart Bond, who ended up joining the founding team as the VP of Product, who’s got an incredible background in digital entertainment at EA and beyond, was that visual entertainment is not necessarily all about algorithms; it’s also about expression. The real way to get this thing to the broader world is to open it up to the world and let them express themselves by becoming VJs and curating channels and finding an audience for those channels.
And so we took [inaudible 10:32] in the fall and relaunched the company in November of 2010, a few short months ago. The whole idea was that we were going to bring about these continuous channels through a growing community of VJs who were going to curate channels around their favorite videos or around specific subjects, like surfing. There was a channel around the Egypt uprising, there was a channel around the unfortunate earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Channels around either people’s favorite videos or around specific subjects that people wanted to build channels against.
We launched that product, and in November we had 30,000 visitors. In December we had 60,000 visitors to ShortForm.com. January we had 100,000 visitors, and we ended February with 350,000 visitors to ShortForm.com. 1000% increase in visitors in four short months. March is turning out to be a very beautiful month as well. We’re halfway through it. I don’t have the full stats yet so I can’t communicate that, but it has been phenomenal.
We have evolved our product. We now have a distributable embeddable widget where channels can be taken to the broader web. From there, we’re going to get even more social with this product, allow VJs to have more and more capabilities to tell their stories, and then get these channels on the mobile and on the television.
The endgame here, Matt, is when you’re kicking back on your couch watching a continuous channel curated by one of your buddies and it’s on your TV screen, or around a subject that you’re interested in. That’s the path we’re going down. It will be on all the screens and it’ll be ubiquitous in nature.