This Startup CEO is a One-Person Video Team
March 9, 2016
Swami Kumaresan is the CEO at Databox, a software company that enables marketers to consolidate metrics from all of their important tools (including Wistia!) and keep “the KPIs that really matter” front and center — on smartphones, desktops, and overhead displays.
Today, Databox has a collection of marketing videos produced by Swami himself. But it wasn’t always that way.
Six months ago, Swami had no experience creating video without the help of an agency. It took him less than two weeks to go from nothing to a completed first video (with live action footage). Naturally, we were eager to hear more about his impressive video journey.
“I do everything myself because there’s only 20 of us, and I’m the only one who knows how right now.”
Constraints of a startup
Coming from a much larger company, Swami’s previous experience with video marketing involved working with large ad agencies to produce expensive advertisements for both web and TV. “At my old company, we paid $650k for a TV commercial, so paying $15k for a small video wasn’t a huge deal, but now it’s not a possibility,” he explained. “At Databox, we have to be very careful about how we spend a tight marketing budget.” This past fall, Swami began to realize a real need for scalable video at Databox. “We wanted to convey how different our product really is, and demonstrate what it actually does for people. I also knew that if we could engage people through different dimensions and senses, we’d be better off,” he explained.
“We have the same need for video that companies of any size have.”
After seeing a presentation by Wistia’s video team at the Business of Software conference, Swami’s wheels started turning. “I had a realization that I could probably do it,” he explained. “I went back to my team and convinced them of the idea.” “It’s daunting,” said Swami. “I think most people wonder how and where to start.” After reading some guides in the Wistia Library and watching a one-hour Premiere tutorial on Lynda.com, he was ready to begin his video journey.
Swami estimates that he spent less than $3,500 on video-related gear. Here’s the rundown of what he purchased:
From teaching himself video editing to becoming more comfortable on camera, Swami has done it all and successfully made it through the business video gauntlet.
For most beginners, video editing seems like a daunting technical hurdle. Luckily, there are so many useful resources that you can lean on to get up and running. “It’s remarkable how easy it is to use Premiere, given the power that’s in it. I probably use 5–10% of the features right now,” he explained. In order to shave some time off of the editing process, Swami has invested in learning some useful keyboard shortcuts. “I make a lot of mistakes, so I use C (the razor tool) to cut stuff up a lot.”
Getting comfortable on camera
“I actually really hate being on camera, but I have to get over it,” Swami joked. "My director of marketing doesn’t mind it, so she’s been jumping in as the subject. We intersplice that footage with some ScreenFlow clips, and make our videos." Swami told us that he usually turns the volume way down when he’s editing footage of himself talking. He recognizes that everyone is their own worst critic, but it’s always awkward to see and hear yourself in a video. No matter what.
Every time Swami shoots and edits a new video, he learns something new. “On my last shoot, I experimented with two cameras,” he told us. “Cutting between the two cameras seemed like a great idea until I realized that the people looked green in the footage from one camera and a completely different color in the other. I went into Premiere, turned some dials, and it worked well enough to pass.” “If you’re really serious about video production and a real craftsman, it’s probably worth sweating the details, but for us right now, when it’s just quick and dirty, we send it out, see if people respond, and go from there,” Swami explained.
“The quality of my video is not up to Databox’s standard. If you look at our product, you’ll see we have world-class visual designers. I’m not one of them! But I’m the only one who can do the videos right now, and who’s really interested, so I figure out how to fit it in.”
As the CEO, leading a team of talented developers, designers, and marketers, Swami sees video as an opportunity to dig in and get something done. “At this stage in the company’s life cycle, the CEO title is kind of glorified, but the reality is that we need to get the business to a point where we can actually scale,” he explained. The following is a video Swami produced to kick off Databox’s Early Access Program for growth marketers.
“As much as you might love leading and managing teams — which I do love — I think most of us relish being able to roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty creating something from time to time. I started my career as a software developer, but I can’t write code anymore — our engineers are a thousand times better than I could have ever been. I can’t do visual design — I really think we have some of the best design talent in the world. Video is one area where I can really make an individual contribution that’s good enough to be valuable right now.”
Scheduling production time
“My investors would probably freak out if they knew how much time I had spent on that first video,” Swami joked.
Instead of managing his time based on hours in the day, Swami manages his time according to his energy. “I ask myself, ’What do I have the energy for right now?’ The reality of running a startup is that you have highs and lows,” he said. “Some days when I don’t have the energy to contribute in other ways, I can go hide in Premiere, and produce something that we need right now. ”
“It lets me contribute as an individual in ways that are sometimes hard to do when you’re running a company.”
The future of video at Databox
While Swami is eager to keep learning and improving, he’s also excited by the prospect of hiring a real producer. “Video will be a long-term part of our marketing strategy,” he explained. “Eventually, I’d like to hire someone who’s really good at this. It’d be fun to be involved, but I’d love to let a craftsman come in and be a craftsman.”