From Idea to Product in 2 months

I’m not a marketing guy, and have never received related training. My background is engineering and science, so I have a strong bias and what I know about marketing techniques come from casual observation and corporate exposure.

What I’ll explain here is as much about marketing as about pursuing a business idea:
I’m exploring opening a movie repair service. Often something goes wrong with a video capture or a hard disk or a memory card, and you loose precious data. For a fixed fee, I would repair the data and retrieve as much footage as possible.

Businesses usually get born out of an idea. I came up with the movie repair idea because I know enough about video encoding and movie formats to be able to repair them by hand. So the idea itself comes from a technological “can do”.

Rule #1: It’s not because you can do it that they will need it.

It is important to do basic checks before building anything. Movie repair sounds like a great idea, like most ideas (in particular when it’s YOUR idea), but will people shell out one hundred bucks for it?

A Google search on “Movie Repair Service“, “Corrupt movie” or similar terms doesn’t bring significant results. You find people asking in forums if someone can help them repair their movies, or if some software actually does it. But nobody is advertising a solution (except data recovery, which is a different business).

With over one billion people recording video and a few hundred thousand people seeking business opportunities, it’s hard to think that I’m the first to have this idea. No contender on the market is definitively a bad sign.

Rule #2: First player on a market = void market?

Let’s find a few possible reasons why there’s nobody doing it:

  • No practical way to do it at an interesting cost for customers.
  • No guarantee of  success can be provided upfront.
  • Every case is different, no standard method/process.
  • People don’t want to pay before seeing the repaired movie.
  • Data transfer of several gigabytes is not practical over the Internet.

But also a few possible reasons to be optimistic:

  • Nobody bothers for such a small market (Great! As an entrepreneurial hobbyist, this is just what I’m looking for! Right Focus + Internet = You can reach any market, no matter how small, at virtually no cost)
  • People have probably tried, but with the wrong approach (Software instead of Service, Wrong target, Wrong pricing, …)

You really need to spend a lot of effort to understand your potential customers. This is when marketing enters into the game.

Rule #3: Marketing = Help customers choose your product

As I said before, I’m not a marketing guy, but what guides me is thinking of marketing in terms of the service that I provide to my customers:
The first service I provide is pristine information. A good product, well presented, speaks to the customer. They immediately understand whether it fits their needs, how it works, and what they can expect. I don’t want to misspend their time with vague information, uncertainty or irrelevant “features”.

Marketing homework is well done when the product’s value is self-evident, and it makes sense to them. Doing this is very hard, because this goes against one’s intuition. You might think that more features means more sales, But instead, a simple pristine approach targeted to the specific needs of a customer is far more effective.

Therefore, I decided to go after potential customers and learn by providing a “free service” for a few weeks. With good Google ranking on relevant keywords, you will get a flow of spontaneous customers coming. For free.

In two months, I was contacted by around 20 persons, and discovered a surprising diversity:

First of all, many false positives: Movies that don’t need to be repaired. Either they don’t work because a codec is missing or they need some editing to remove bad frames. I also found movies that contain no data at all or full of zeros, and thus cannot be repaired.
Lesson learned: I need to detect those cases very early, maybe an automated test hosted on the Internet can perform this.

Then, there are two main movie corruption causes: Live capture problem and Storage problem (Hard disk, Memory card). Every repair is different and it’s very unlikely that an algorithm can be effective for every situation. Manual video hacking is required, thus pricing cannot be cheap.

Another important factor is volume of data. At over a few hundreds megabytes, data transfer over the internet becomes impractical; therefore I need to work on a sample of the whole movie. In this case, I will develop customized software that repairs the movie and then ask the customer to run it on their computer. I call it remote repair. And obviously it’s more expensive because several iterations may be required to get it to work.

Finally, I’ve identified three groups of customers: Hobbyists (Kids footage, home videos), Video Professionals (Producer, Technician), and Detectives (Yes, investigating trashed files).

After repairing their movies for free, I invited those customers to take a survey to provide me more specific information. This was time well spent, because I could take the defining decisions that will eventually, I hope, make this business successful.

Rule #4: Choose your battlefield
Rule #5: Reduce your target niche until you fully understand it

First decision: Only target Video Professionals.

It’s always counter-intuitive to limit oneself to a fraction of a market, but most of the time it’s the right decision.
Let me explain the rationale:

Hobbyists have a limited budget, but repairing their movies is not easier. Time invested in repairing a hobbyist’s movie will often have a higher cost than what their willing to pay. The volume is here, but not the sweet spot.

Video professionals will be more demanding in terms of quality of repair and deadline, but have a good reason to pay for your service: Their footage cannot be re-shot, and they need to deliver their product to their customers.

Detectives don’t need good quality (lost frames, frames with artifacts, and scratching audio is still ok), but they will only pay for results that support their investigation. Furthermore, I don’t really like the idea of having incriminating evidence on my hard disk, even less to send it over the Internet.

So it’s clear that Video Professionals are the customers I want to target first. They may represent only a few percent of total customers, but this is where my business is.

The advantage of a smaller target is homogeneity: These people know each other, they use the same tools, workflows and formats, have the same skills. This is what you want when marketing a service or product: Homogeneity. It will make everything easier, from communication to delivery.

Later, if you want to grow, you can always widen your target to adjacent segments. But not the other way around: If you start too big, your service will be a jack-of-all-trades that sucks for everybody.

Once you’ve decided, you must do a reality check. Advertising a free service can dangerously distort the feedback. This is why I applied rule #6 even before launching the service.

Rule #6: Start charging your customers as soon as you deliver a decent service.

Several customers have already paid and enjoyed the service. This is a good proof point and I can now continue working on this service with relative confidence.
I’ll launch it soon, and I’ll keep you posted.

2 Comments

se7enJuly 20th, 2007 at 9:52 pm

I have been a SimpleMovie user for quite a while now, and I am simply amazed of how far it has come. Fantastic development. I remember the days when a crash was quite often, whereas now, to be honest, I don’t think I’ve had a crash in months.

I use SimpleMovie to do all my censoring of R-rated movies. I’ve become so good and fast at it, that I have friends and family grabbing my edited movies on a daily basis. If it were legal, I would start a company, and ’simply’ use SimpleMovieX.

The power of SimpleMovieX is best demonstrated when I edited The Departed. I was editing a 2 GB mp4 file (.avi is always a disaster waiting to happen), and I quickly took out 256 f-words, and a hundred or so more inappropriate terms.
It took many hours, but SimpleMovieX was reliable, stable, and easy to use.

Thank you and keep up the good work!

[...] first months, it started as an experiment. At that moment, I did not really care about making money (but charging for the service was a [...]