Chris Savage is one of the original Founders and current CEO of Wistia; an online platform that hosts, shares and tracks videos. Read his full interview here and find out how he’s taking Wistia to the next level.
Richard: Wistia is a relatively new company, even so, there’s been some pretty monumental changes. You’ve obviously been able to adapt and embrace these along the way. Please tell us the history behind Wistia and how you’ve been able to use your knowledge to push your company in the right direction?
Chris: When we started in the summer of 2006 our initial plan was to host filmmaking competitions. 8 months in and we weren’t making any money or getting any traction. We realized that our plan was not as great as the spreadsheets had indicated. We started looking for other applications of our technology. Fortunately, a medical device company reached out to us looking for a private way to share video in clinical trials. A week later we had our first paying customer and had built and launched the first iteration of Wistia.
Our epiphany became clear. Help companies whose core competencies are not video. Fast forward 3 years and we’re still executing on that same vision. Ever since that first pivot, we make a point to mine potential features from customer feedback long before writing any code. There’s no better way to learn than to listen to customers.
Richard: Wistia is becoming quite the success. You obviously know what it takes to build and maintain a winning business. As you continue to develop your company do you worry about scalability? How are you positioning yourself for continued future growth, both in terms of customer acquisition and profits?
Chris: Scalability is a concern, but probably not in the way you’d expect. From a technical perspective we’ve already tackled and bested a number of significant issues. What is a concern is making sure we keep customer happiness high as we scale. We practice what we call “All Hands Support,” which means that everyone sees support tickets and cycles through answering the phone. As we grow, I’m sure that managing inquiries and handoffs will become more of a challenge with a larger team. I guess we’ll just have to build a solution. 🙂
We get a lot of referrals and word of mouth from the customer base, so the best thing we can do to position ourselves for future growth is to keep focusing on customer happiness.
Richard: Congratulations on securing your most recent set of angel funding. Could you explain to all your fellow entrepreneurs out there exactly what the process has been like for you? What lessons did you learn along the way?
Chris: Traction is the greatest asset you can have when raising money. The first time we raised money it took us about 4 months of finding, convincing, and negotiating with angels to get them to sign on. We had about 5 customers, but we had some big names that were willing to trust us while we were still just two people working out of an apartment.
The most recent round was quite a bit different. This time all our investors wanted to participate again and they knew others that wanted a piece of the action too. In fact, one investor was so excited to help that he brought out the private jet so that he could introduce us to a 15 investors across the east coast in 2 days.
There were two major differences between the first time and second time: traction and time. Our investors had seen us get real traction and we had done so over 18 months.
My advice is to claw your way to traction and meet investors early. The best investors won’t mind meeting you early and they’ll follow your progress. If and when you do want to raise money they can see what you’ve delivered and that you do what you say you do.
Richard: In terms of a competitive landscape, what’s Wistia doing that your competitors are not? How do business owners effectively distinguish their businesses from the rest of the competitive landscape especially in a high tech environment?
Chris: The key to distinguishing yourself from the competition is a deep understanding of their business models. Our competition is a combination of free services, do-it-yourself solutions, and professional services. In each case, each option is optimizing for different things. In our case, we focus on providing a solution that saves time, quickly adds values, and we focuses on businesses using video for their marketing, training, and sales.
Some of our competitors, like YouTube, make their money with ads. The way they handle VideoSEO, quality of video content, featured videos, and even analytics are all optimizing for ad revenue.
True differentiation comes from finding a great and unique approach to the market. One of my favorite examples of this is Netflix. They applied an entirely new business model to movie rentals. 13 years after starting, their business model continues to be disruptive partly because it’s been so difficult for the entrenched players to switch models.
Richard: As the CEO, when it comes to your leadership approach, how would you describe the way you work and manage your team? What’s the main advantages to this approach?
Chris: We do things very collaboratively at Wistia. Everyone in the company has ownership over their own realm and the autonomy to solve issues the way they think is best. This simple process allows for faster decision-making and allows for better insight into the different areas of the business.
Once a week we all get together and go through what each of us wants to accomplish. We prioritize tasks based on what we think we can get done in a week and what will have the biggest impact on the business. Then we get the tasks onto the wall so everyone can see what we’ve done and we start banging stuff out. The goal is to get everything done every week. Planning for much more than a week in a startup can be problematic because priorities can change so quickly.
Richard: Wistia calls Boston home. What are the benefits of setting-up shop right here in Boston. Are there any disadvantages you’ve seen along your travels?
Chris: Boston is great because it’s easy to become a part of the community but still impossible to know everyone. I’m always an intro away from the right person and because the community is not huge, everyone tends to be quite helpful. When we were first getting started this extra level of help was invaluable. The community here really wants everyone to be successful, which creates an infectious and motivating energy.
The major disadvantage I’ve seen in Boston is the inferiority complex to the valley. There are a lot of concerned startupers opining about why valley companies get more press, publicity, and traction than Boston companies. I find this complex to be a complete distraction. If we just focus on building great companies, we’ll be fine.
Read the full line-up and entrepreneurial interviews here: We Love Boston Entrepreneurs