Keep your eyes on the future: Be aware of the second and third horizon opportunities that your company will be able to scale into so you have goals to work towards.
As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alex Collmer.
Alex Collmer is the Founder and CEO of VidMob, the world’s leading platform for data-driven human creativity. Since founding the company in 2015, Alex has raised more than 95M dollars and led initiatives that earned VidMob official marketing partner badges from Facebook, Instagram, Google/YouTube, Snapchat, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn, and recognition by Apple as one of the Best Apps of the Year. An engineer by background, he has made a career living at the intersection of technology, design, and consumer entertainment. Prior to VidMob, Alex was co-founder and CEO of Autumn Games, a game publisher that developed successful global franchises with partners such as Jimmie Johnson, the 7-time NASCAR champion, Def Jam, the leading urban culture brand, as well as the award-winning fighting game franchise, Skullgirls. Alex has an engineering degree from Cornell University and is a frequent speaker at universities and conferences on entrepreneurship and media.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I started my entrepreneurial journey after my software year in college, but not necessarily by choice. I wasn’t taking college seriously and was scraping by with C’s. I agreed with my parents that it wasn’t a fair way to use their hard-earned money and that I should pay my own way. So, at 19 I found myself with a need to save up a lot of money and not much in the way of marketable skills. I ended up running a number of businesses on Cornell’s campus, and over the course of a year, saving up the money needed to go back. This ended up being a great experience for me on multiple levels. First, I learned about responsibility. Second, it taught me to take my studies more seriously, and I had a very different academic experience for the 2nd half of college. But most importantly, it got me addicted to entrepreneurship. In many ways, all three of those lessons have stuck with me for the rest of my life.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
It wasn’t so much an Aha Moment, as a building of factors. I had been interested in the transition of the internet from a static medium (text and images) to a video network for years. I’d sat on the Board of an online film school, made games that utilized the video cameras in motion sensors, and was generally curious about how challenging that transition would be creatively. At the same time, I was very focused on building a purpose-driven company as my next endeavor. So I guess the Aha Moment was when I connected the dots between these two thoughts and realized that if creative friction was going to be a defining characteristic of communications for decades to come, then a lot of high-quality jobs could be created if someone built a platform to connect talented individuals with each of those micro-friction points.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
One of the best things that have ever happened to me professionally, is that I have experienced many hard times over the years. This has helped me cultivate an ability to flatten out the emotional amplitude of entrepreneurship. My co-founder Jason and I experienced incredibly hard times at points during our company before VidMob. So when VidMob went through the inevitable early struggles of any pre product market fit start-up, I was well trained to deal with the low points unemotionally, take comfort in the fact that we had an incredible team working on figuring it out, and simply follow the path that we were on knowing that eventually, we would figure it out. And we did.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
I couldn’t be more pleased with where we are today. This isn’t to say that we have everything figured out. Far from it. But I am 100% sure that we have one of the best teams ever assembled, and we’re going about building a business the right way. Yes, we’re massively ambitious and trying to build a company that positively impacts a large industry, but we are equally focused on the journey itself, and in our opportunity to help pave the road for what a stakeholder-driven company can look like, versus a purely shareholder-driven company.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
That’s a good question. We’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way. But the funniest might have been the time we went to a small business convention in Boston a few months after launching the initial creator marketplace. We decided that we needed some sort of branded tchotchke to get people to come by our booth, so we made a bunch of really cheap tripods to hold phones in place for filming. Unfortunately, everyone thought that this 50 cent thing WAS VidMob. So we spent 2 days, morning until night, trying to talk people who were excited about the tripod into understanding that we were actually a software company — something that they were decidedly less excited about.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I’m certainly biased here, but I think VidMob stands out for a number of reasons. First, I think our mission orientation has attracted a certain type of person, and so VidMob has earned a reputation for being a fundamentally kind company. But we’re also building a great business — in a unique way. We were not the only company to recognize the opportunity that would result from the transition of the internet from a static platform to a video network. But we were one of the only companies to believe that this couldn’t — and shouldn’t — be solved with a pure technology response. We believed that creativity was inherently a human skill and that we should be aiming to build software to help make that human creativity more scalable, more efficient, and ultimately, more data-informed. This idea of building an “And company”, combining data and human creativity, ended up being a very unique approach, and as the whole industry increasingly moves towards Intelligent Creative, I believe we were right.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
My first piece of advice is very COVID-related. I would strongly recommend that everyone try to get back into offices and be around co-workers at least part of the time. I know the draw of remote work is strong, but I expect more and more studies will come out in time showing how much more rapidly we burn out in those solitary times away from the camaraderie of social experiences with colleagues. Second, I would encourage any business to find a way to weave purpose into everything you do. Simply hitting new, larger quarterly goals over and over is not sustainable. But if there is a reason that a business is trying to grow, then it becomes infinitely easier to sustain motivation.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
There are so many people who have played a role in my growth. But the people who have been unquestionably the most important in my growth are my parents and my wife. My parents had the strength to tell me that simply getting by in college was not enough. Their challenge to me changed the course of my life, and I will always be grateful to them for having the strength to risk our relationship for something that they knew was right. But once my career started, it would have been impossible for me to get going without my wife, Nina. We were not wealthy — she was a teacher, and I was an entrepreneur. Many other people would have been dissatisfied with the risks from that choice or the inability to enjoy many of the material pleasures that other people our age were experiencing. Her unwavering belief in me helped get me through the darkest periods and ultimately mature into the leader that I am today.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Approximately how many users or subscribers does your app or software currently have? Can you share with our readers three of the main steps you’ve taken to build such a large community?
It’s worth taking a step back to think about who we serve. Our customers are brands, agencies, platform partners (e.g. Facebook, Snapchat, Google, Amazon, TikTok and many others), and above all else, creators. So when you think about VidMob’s users, since the whole point of our software platform is connecting creativity and data across all of the traditionally disconnected user-types, we sort of have to talk about all of the different user types that make it work. We’re partnered with and integrated into essentially every major modern ad platform. We work with nearly every agency holding company and a growing number of exciting independents. We work with three-quarters of the world’s top 20 marketers. And work with creators in over 80 countries, giving VidMob’s platform the ability to help any marketer on a truly global basis.
What is your monetization model? How do you monetize your community of users? Have you considered other monetization options? Why did you not use those?
VidMob’s clients pay for access to our Intelligent Creative platform. This monitors all of their organic and paid creative on every channel, learning how different creative decisions impact performance positively or negatively. It also scores all creative for adherence to continuously updated platform best practices and their own custom brand mandatories. As part of this subscription fee, they receive creative credits to use towards platform-specific, data-informed creative.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful app or a SaaS? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Purpose orientation: Know your “why”. Why are you building this business and why will you want to show up every day?
- Market familiarity: Determine what opportunities are currently available and take those into consideration when determining if this venture will be worth your effort.
- Clear growth path: You can’t haphazardly run a handful of Facebook ads and expect notable growth. You need a way to ensure that your impact is larger than what you can just do individually.
- Differentiation: Identify what makes your app or product unique so that others can’t easily replicate it. If your business can be easily commoditized, it will lose its value quickly.
- Keep your eyes on the future: Be aware of the second and third horizon opportunities that your company will be able to scale into so you have goals to work towards.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I don’t know that I’m a person of great influence. I have a hard time influencing my kids to finish their dinner. But I am cognizant of the fact that VidMob is growing, and as it does, its ability to influence other businesses is increasing. We feel a great sense of responsibility that comes from being in the lucky position of getting to help build a great company, and with that comes a commitment to use our developing platform to try to positively impact our whole stakeholder constituency — not just our shareholders, but also our clients, partners, employees, the people in the communities we live in, and the broader creator community we serve. I think this would be the movement that I would hope to help accelerate — that more companies pivot to being truly stakeholder-driven, as opposed to just the hollow focus on shareholders alone.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!