Video Storytelling in Silicon Valley: An Interview with Sylvia Gorajek
April 24, 2019
With a passion for making a big impact at an early age, Sylvia Gorajek made it her mission to tell compelling stories throughout her entire career. A native Polish entrepreneur, content strategist, and owner of a video production agency, Sylvia believes in the power of video for business, which is why we were so excited to chat with her and hear her story.
Sylvia graduated with a Master’s degree in Social Psychology in Marketing and Advertisement from a top psychology university in Europe. After college, she joined the founding team of a production company in Warsaw, Poland where she worked with brands like Mercedes, T-Mobile, and IKEA before moving to San Francisco with her husband to build a video production agency where she’s the Executive Producer.
From diving into the Silicon Valley startup ecosystem to creating her own interview-style video series, "Valley Talks," her journey has been a whirlwind to say the least. Read all about her experience with video storytelling, inspiring other startups, running her own production agency, and much more from our interview with her below!
Wistia: How did your passion for video storytelling form?
Sylvia: I’ve always been passionate about making a big impact and I knew storytelling through video is the best way to do so. Storytelling is super trendy right now, but brands have always been using video to create cohesive, compelling messages that stimulate many of our senses at once. Video ads, in particular, are one of the most powerful ways of making such a big impact and evoking emotions. It took me a while to get where I am today, but I knew from an early age that I really wanted to work in this field.
“Video ads, in particular, are one of the most powerful ways of making such a big impact and evoking emotions.”
Wistia: What was your journey to building your own video production agency like?
Sylvia: Video production is a really exciting and interesting business to be in. I love it so much because it’s creative and everything moves so fast. I started out at a boutique production company in Warsaw, Poland and learned a lot about how to work with different clients who all have different goals for what they want to accomplish with video. Then, I moved to San Francisco with my husband to grow our video production agency, Denim Video. While working in Silicon Valley, I quickly got inspired to dive into the startup ecosystem, and eventually raised funding to launch a location-based messaging platform. After two years of working on that startup, I had to make the tough decision to leave it behind, but it was a great experience to have and inspired the work I do on my show, “Valley Talks,” and at Denim Video as a whole. The break also allowed me to work on some truly fascinating projects at Apple and Netflix.
Wistia: Was it difficult finding clients when you first moved to the San Francisco Bay Area?
Sylvia: I was afraid it might be difficult because I didn’t have a network here in the beginning, but I think I got quite lucky that I first dove into building my own startup here as I just mentioned. I was very driven to do so, and that helped me gain experience and an understanding of how startups really work in Silicon Valley, while also expanding my network. Once everyone knew that I was not only a tech founder but also a video storyteller and content producer, they asked me to work on developing their stories and creating their content. It was a lot of work, but in the end, it paid off as I eventually started working with bigger companies like Uber and Samsung.
Wistia: What are some questions you like to ask clients before you start planning the production of their video?
Sylvia: The number one question that I always, always, ask is what’s their main goal because it’s not only about creating high-quality material. All I really care about is helping them meet their goals. It may be building trust among their audience, growing brand awareness, increasing sales or differentiating themselves in a saturated market, which is very common for tech. I always advise to prioritize one goal in order to nail it, and the rest will follow.
I also typically ask if there are any marketing messages that have worked well for them in the past so I can understand what resonates best with their audience. We’ll go over the key messages they want their audience to remember from the video as well so that we make sure to convey this really well and ideally early on in the video.
Wistia: What advice would you give to someone wanting to start their own video production agency?
Sylvia: The most important thing is to find the best people to work with because it’s not possible to do it all on your own. You need talented copywriters, directors, videographers, crew members, editors, and more. Surround yourself with the best network of people out there and aim to deliver the biggest value. Building up that network might take some time, but it’s worth it in order to become a high-quality resource for clients. Then, focus on your client’s goals as opposed to delivering beautiful content that may not convert into the desired behaviors of their audience.
“Surround yourself with the best network of people out there and aim to deliver the biggest value. Building up that network might take some time, but it’s worth it in order to become a high-quality resource for clients.”
Wistia: In addition to running Denim Video, you also have your own show called “Valley Talks” that you produce and host. What inspired you to create that series?
Sylvia: When working on my own startup, I learned so much every day. I thought it was unique to us that we were going through all of these challenges, but I quickly found that many other startups were going through the exact same thing. From there, I thought it would be great to have other startups share their own stories about what it’s like to go through this process.
What struck me was that there weren’t many stories like this being shared — in the media, most of the news is about closing huge venture funding rounds or making acquisitions — but there weren’t many real-life stories about founders growing a startup being shared. I thought there was a niche here, especially in a video format, and was excited to just go for it. I started interviewing a few people from my network first, and after releasing the first episode, was flooded with inquiries from other incredible founders who also wanted to tell their story. So far, we’ve produced over 50 talks with founders, experts, and current and ex-employees of Apple, Facebook, Google, Salesforce, and more.
Wistia: Is “Valley Talks ”part of Denim Video’s video overall marketing strategy?
Sylvia: Actually, “Valley Talks” wasn’t created consciously to be a part of Denim Video’s marketing strategy, but eventually it helped my agency provide more credibility to clients while also adding a lot of practical value. Many of my clients now come through the door having watched “Valley Talks” and learning about me as a video storyteller. They both work really well together because of my authentic passion for storytelling and producing video. And overall, it works really well to support Denim Video!
Wistia: Can you talk a little bit about what goes into producing the “Valley Talks” shows?
Sylvia: During the pre-production part of the process, it’s most important for me to understand my guest’s story — I do a ton of research to really understand them well before we meet. I try to come up with questions that will bring the most value to our audience, who are made up of mostly early-stage startup founders and employees who work at startups.
“During the pre-production part of the process, it’s most important for me to understand my guest’s story — I do a ton of research to really understand them well before we meet.”
Then, I have to figure out where to shoot the videos. Recently, I’ve partnered with a few standing locations in San Francisco, including DocuSign’s office where I filmed all of last season’s videos. We schedule time a few weeks in advance, and then when it’s time to shoot, we get set up with a few different camera angles and make sure the set is exciting for the viewer.
Once we have all the footage, I work closely with the video editor to make sure we’re telling the right story after cutting it down. In the post-production phase, we do audio engineering as well to level things up and make sure all the pieces fit together nicely. Once everything’s ready to go, we share it out on all of our social media channels and on ValleyTalks.com.
Wistia: Have you seen success with each season of “Valley Talks”?
Sylvia: Valley Talks is like my baby and I’m so proud of each season! Each episode has about 10,000–30,000 viewers globally. Pretty early on in producing the series, I was approached by media outlets from all over the world, including places like Israel, Korea, Canada, Germany, Greece, and my home country Poland to share the “Valley Talks” episodes on some of their own startup platforms. They wanted to bring value to their own viewers, and I was happy to have them do that! As for helping Denim Video grow, as I mentioned before, it’s definitely helped broaden my network. Many of my clients actually come to me after watching “Valley Talks” show first. It’s a lot of work — many, many sleepless nights — but when you love what you do, it’s much easier to stay dedicated no matter what.
Whether you’re a startup in Silicon Valley or a small tech company on the east coast, we hope you’re as inspired as we were by Sylvia’s story. Have you invested in the power of video storytelling to grow your business? We’d love to hear all about your journey in the comments below!