After Chaotic Three-Year Journey, Zipline’s Video-Editing App is Live

When Zipline CEO Aaron Peabody was a student at Indiana Wesleyan University, he decided it would be fun to create an app. He was sitting in his dorm room one night a few years ago when he had a flash of inspiration, so Peabody called Keven Tillman, a buddy who lived on the same floor, down to hear his pitch.

“Keven was sitting there in his bathrobe, and I told him, ‘I want to make an app that encapsulates the human experience,’” Peabody recalls. “To my surprise, he said, ‘OK, let’s do it.’ I had no idea what I was doing—I didn’t have any experience in programming or design or business.”

That might sound like an inauspicious start, and for someone without Peabody’s immense charisma—evident even over the phone—it likely would be. Instead, it was the beginning of a three-year odyssey that culminated with the launch of Marion, IN-based Zipline, a free iOS app that allows users to capture, edit, and share up to 60-second videos called “zips.” Users can then edit their zips using filters, fast and slow motion, clipping, music, fade-in and fade-out, and audio adjustments.

“It’s similar to Vine, but our seamless mobile video editing tools are the secret sauce,” Peabody adds.

Peabody says he chose video as the favored medium to “encapsulate the human experience” because he feels a bit shorted by his own childhood.

“My mom took a lot of videos of me as a kid, but she lacked technical expertise,” Peabody says. “I wanted to make something where technical skills weren’t necessary. Video transcends space and time, and it can capture so much emotion.”

Peabody and Tillman spent 2013, the startup’s first year, developing the concept. In 2014, they brought in Jesse Good, a fellow dorm resident at the Marion-based university who had been honing his Internet marketing skills since age 15. “For the first month, I don’t think he even knew what Zipline was,” Peabody says.

The next co-founder to join the team was Kramer Caswell, a fellow Wesleyan student and video pro who had experience shooting the Kentucky Derby and FCA Motocross camps. Zipline’s four co-founders got the app’s basic design down on paper in December 2014, “but we still had no idea what we were doing,” Peabody says.

Then, Zipline found the final piece of its creation puzzle in Andrew Denski, a Wesleyan alum with programming experience who wanted to help a student-led startup get off the ground. Denski took over as lead developer in early 2015, Peabody says, and translated the team’s ideas and partially built app into a working product. It took seven months, and once it was finished and Denski’s work was implemented, it caused parts of the app that were built earlier to break. The whole thing had to be re-done, Peabody says.

During the summer of 2015, in the midst of that process, Zipline gave up a small piece of equity—Peabody declined to specify how much—to rent a house in Fishers, IN, ostensibly to finish building the app. “It was a bunch of college guys in a house—it was crazy and we couldn’t get anything done,” Peabody says. “So Jesse found Launch Fishers.”

Launch Fishers is a co-working space outside of Indianapolis that Zipline believed was open to anyone at no cost. After the Zipline team worked there amid awkward stares for three weeks, Peabody says John Wechsler, the founder of Launch Fishers, finally asked who they were.

“Jesse told John that he came in and some guy said that anyone could work there for free,” Peabody says. “John looked at us and said, ‘I’ve never heard of that guy.’ But he said he admired what we’re doing so he’d talk to the members, and they ended up letting us work there for the summer.”

From there, they connected with The Refinery co-working space in Marion, where the Zipline team spent another nine months developing their app. The beta version was released in July and finally went live to the public in late November. Peabody says Zipline will worry about how it makes money once the app has gained a solid user base.

So far, Peabody says, 8 percent of Zipline’s users visit every day and 78 percent come back for multiple visits, with the average session lasting five minutes. He’s also surprised by the way many users are engaging with the app.

“A lot of people just use it for the social media aspect,” he says. “We thought people would want editing tools more than social media, but it was the opposite.”

Zipline users are also sharing raw, unedited videos more than he thought they would, such as the user who recently filmed Thanksgiving dinner. “It’s fascinating—here’s a mundane experience and an authentic video of what happens, but it’s not temporary like Snapchat,” he says.

The seven-member Zipline team has so far not taken a paycheck, but Peabody says they will need to raise $250,000 soon to stay alive. He’s hesitant to predict the company’s future because, he says, he’s been wrong about it so many times in the past.

“This is an unlikely story—as John [Wechsler] said, it’s kind of a miracle we got off the ground at all,” Peabody adds. “We know this is the ride of our lives, and we’re going to work to keep it going. We’re incredibly blessed to have this opportunity.”

Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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