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 contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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