Vsnap Building Business on Vision of “Ubiquitous” Video Messaging

1/31/12Follow @xconomy

The blow from getting a higher-than-expected bill from someone like your lawyer could be softened it if came attached to a 60-second video message explaining the special things he or she actually did in detail.

At least, that’s what Dave McLaughlin thinks—and he’s building his new startup Vsnap around the idea.

McLaughlin has been around the block before as an entrepreneur. He co-founded the mobile payments startup Fig Card, which was acquired by eBay last spring. Coincidentally, the 2011 application deadline for MassChallenge fell on the day that acquisition closed, so McLaughlin hurriedly finished the paperwork for the startup accelerator—and nabbed a spot. He’s also joined at Vsnap by chief technical officer Claudia Santoro, former vice president of engineering for the restaurant-focused software startup Exit41.

Vsnap didn’t take home one of the MassChallenge checks in October, but it’s now pulling in early customers—like Suffolk University and Schering Plough’s alumni association—to test out its alpha product and is readying itself to introduce its beta product sometime in February.

Here’s how it’s supposed to work: Users log into the Vsnap interface, record a 60-second video using their phone or computer camera, add descriptions, and can add attachments such as PDF files or Web URLs. Vsnap sends the package out through e-mail. Users can also record a video “signature” about themselves that will accompany all the messages they send. Currently the technology can be accessed via a Web browser, but Vsnap is developing iPhone and Android apps as part of the beta release.

The customer target for Vsnap is “any industry that has a low conversion rate but a higher price point,” says Joe Nigro, business development manager at the startup. That’s because lower priced products and services typically e-mail and communicate thousands of customers at once, and video messaging that many recipients could land you in a spam folder pretty quickly.

Vsnap was first thought up to fulfill a personal need, says McLaughlin. His cousin, Jim Joyce, lives in Ireland and is from the U.S., while his wife’s family lives in Italy. He started shooting video snapshots of his kids to send to his family in different time zones. When Fig Card sold, McLaughlin decided to join his cousin on this new idea rather than move on to PayPal, he says. Vsnap still offers a free consumer service, but business messaging has become its focus.

Vsnap is currently developing its pricing model, which will vary depending on the number of Vsnaps a user sends and their access to Vsnap analytics. The analytics can measure things like if and when the recipients viewed the video and how they interacted with the attachments. Currently, recipients of the video message have to view the video message in a separate link, but Vsnap is working with PowerInbox, another local startup, to build out the capabilities for video viewing right in the e-mail inbox.

Vsnap recently nabbed a $40,000 investment from the Massachusetts Technology Development Corp. MTDC had previously said it would select five of the 26 MassChallenge finalists for its FastTrack program, and provide seed investments to two of those five. McLaughlin says he’s in the process of raising a bigger seed round for the company.

Skype is the name in live video chatting, but as far as the asynchronous stuff goes, why not just e-mail or point someone to a YouTube clip?

“I think this idea of the attachments,” is what sets Vsnap apart, says McLaughlin. “Being able to use a short video and a really easy interface to provide context for the attachment personalizes it.”

This could come in handy for someone like a wedding vendor who sends out a bid and price rate to prospective customers and explains the nuances of the services or product they’re offering at that price, he says.

And the neatly packaged product and 60-second limit makes for a tighter presentation than directing someone to your business’ YouTube channel, says McLaughlin.

Vsnap certainly isn’t the only company thinking of new ways to deliver short, easy-to-produce web videos for customers. Another Mass Challenge 2011 contestant, 1Minute40Seconds, is working on it as well. That company going about it a bit differently, allowing users to input text, voice, and video content, and using its back-end technology to pop out a more produced video message.

McLaughlin is making it his aim to be the go-to technology in what he sees as a booming field. “We think that video messaging is going to be a common behavior in 24 months, and ubiquitous in 48 months,” he says McLaughlin. “Our goal is to make Vsnap the verb of that ubiquitous behavior.

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