Helping Businesses Join the YouTube Era: How Pixability Found Its Groove

If you’re a disciple of the “lean startup” philosophy now in vogue among tech entrepreneurs, you know you’re supposed to “fail fast, fail cheap,” then “pivot to a new vision” before you’re “out of runway.” In ordinary English, the idea is to quickly scrap your product if it’s not flying with customers, and find one that does appeal while you still have some cash.

One lean local startup that has done exactly this, with apparent success, is Pixability. The Cambridge, MA-based company takes advantage of the latest entry-level videocam technology to help businesses make compelling videos for their websites at bargain prices. But that’s not at all the idea that founder and CEO Bettina Hein had in mind when she started out in the fall of 2008. And the story of how Hein “pivoted” to Pixability’s current business model offers some useful lessons to entrepreneurs on how to stay flexible and open-minded. You might even find, as Hein has, that you like your new idea better than the old one.

While millions of consumers own digital or tape-based video cameras and dutifully haul them out for every holiday, birthday party, or beach trip, nobody really wants to suffer through the unedited footage later. Hein’s original idea was to help people pare down these home videos to something more watchable, while adding titles, transitions, music, and other bits of Hollywood sparkle. “Pixability started out taking all that amateur video footage and really polishing it up with editing,” Hein explains.

Bettina HeinWhat made that idea plausible was the plummeting cost of video production and editing. “When Bill Warner started Avid Technology [in 1987], you had to pay $1 million for an editing suite, and he brought it down to maybe $100,000,” says Hein. “Now, for $1,000, you can get a PC and a camera and some decent editing software, so there has been another two-orders-of-magnitude drop.”

Unfortunately, late 2008 wasn’t a great time to be launching a new consumer-oriented service. Amidst the worst economic decline since the Great Depression, “discretionary income fell to almost zero for most consumers,” Hein notes. At the same time, she says, the startup was having trouble getting its message to click with potential customers: “Lots of people don’t understand the value of editing down your memories to something that somebody will actually watch.”

But Hein, a serial entrepreneur who had founded a Zurich-based speech software company called SVOX and then spent a couple of years doing a fellowship at MIT’s Sloan School of Management before deciding to start Pixability, was getting interesting feedback from … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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5 responses to “Helping Businesses Join the YouTube Era: How Pixability Found Its Groove”

  1. One of the key advantages of Pixability’s offer is the importance of having independent, objective eyes edit raw footage into a short coherent message. A professional editor sees themes and recognizes the “chaff” in a way that internal people simply cannot. We do the same thing at Daily Grommet….send Flip cameras out if a small business needs access to one to provide us with video content. It’s great, great content when it comes straight from the source, but it would be unwatchable without professional editing. Pixability is able to tap the huge talent freelance video talent in a special way.

  2. I accessed this article via the founder’s blog (as a patent & trademark attorney, and mom, owner of two dogs, etc., I enjoy the Grommets). Ms. Hein’s services fill an important niche. And, from my perspective (in my roles as small business owner, amateur-web designer and producer of home video projects, youth coach/team manager) having a rental camera delivered to my doorstep for use, then the end-product literally cut down to proper size is of great value! I know, first hand, the frustration of attempting to read/download, then produce an end product using different video and graphic file formats (having spent countless hours and too much cash on new video and audio editing software for the original works of my two sons). Think I’ll check Pixability out for home (school and sport event projects/nonprofit) as well as a possible resource for clients. Thanks for showcasing…

  3. Patrick Synnott says:

    Pixability rips off professional freelancers they hire – by paying them $200 for work. This includes all travel expenses and tape stock. Plus the professionals MUST have “Professional camera gear, tripod and wireless audio capabilities required.”

    And Pixability CLAIM they don’t charge their customers much more than $200 – which is why the pay is so low. Yet on their website they list $1495 for their ‘broadcast package’.

  4. Patrick,

    You are missing some key facts.

    Besides hundreds of customers who keep on coming back, we also have a very happy network of editors, motion graphics artists, animators, and camera technicians who fill up their downtime with our work. Some have done work for us during entire 3-year life of Pixability.

    Feedback we have received from the mentioned professionals has one common message – they prefer practicing their craft instead of having to look for customers, spending money on marketing themselves (major expense), project managing, pre-producing, managing scope, managing accounts receivable, doing collections, etc.

    P.S. Package you’ve mentioned actually included a lot more than just 2 hours of videographer. It also included logging of the footage, editing, certain elements in motion graphics, etc. etc. etc.

    Apolinaras “Apollo” Sinkevicius
    Director of Operations
    Pixability, Inc.