Relish the Uncertainty: How Two Babson Undergrads Built Their Startup
On the campus of Babson College lives E-Tower, a special interest entrepreneurial community that has fostered the birth and growth of numerous student-led projects and ventures. It also led to the birth of Vidvision, a video marketing platform developed by two Business Analytics students, Derek Tu (‘18) and Kyle Lawson (‘19).
One night late last year, Tu found himself in E-Tower’s common area. He was using IdeaPaint – a product that was co-created by Babson alumni Andrew Foley, who is also the founder of E-Tower. Tu was scribbling down various marketing ideas. Specifically, one of these ideas had to do with video marketing.
Tu noticed that every professional he came into contact with was hyping up video as a marketing tool. However, when it came to marketers actually pinpointing the ROI from a video campaign, “Everyone was scratching their head,” Tu said.
As Tu was writing on the walls, Lawson walked into the room. He saw what Tu was doing, and began parodying Tu’s ideas on an adjacent IdeaPaint wall. As they were joking around, the two started talking.
“There are all these financial advisors creating video content, but none of them have any idea how it’s resonating with viewers, or whether it’s helping them convert leads,” Lawson said.
Tu’s idea would be used to help marketers in different industries convert viewers into leads and, hopefully, customers. Furthermore, he came up with the idea to use YouTube as the mechanism to deliver the video marketing solution. Meanwhile, Lawson had recently learned how to code.
“I remember Derek coming to me one night and asking, ‘Is there any way to put something on top of a YouTube video?’ I was working with iframes, so it seemed pretty simple. It was just an iframe with an element on top of it. And so, that night, we just started throwing stuff together and seeing if it was actually possible to do. That’s when Vidvision was actually born,” Lawson said.
Vidvision Becomes Reality
There was still work to be done. Spring rolled around, and the team conducted interviews with roughly 40 marketers in order to get a sense of the product’s viability. After getting the validation they needed, Tu and Lawson applied to two accelerators. One was Babson’s Summer Venture Program, and the other was Valley Venture Mentors in Springfield, MA. They got into both.
During the first month of the Summer Venture Program, they managed to build the entire product and launch the beta.
The end result was an email capture form, placed on top of a (usually unlisted) YouTube video that asks the user for their email address before they can continue watching. The call-to-action that asks for the user’s email can be customized in various ways, including its text, color, placement in the video, and more. After the CTA is set up, Vidvision provides HTML code that can be embedded on a client’s website.
The platform also offers video analytics tools, so clients can analyze the performance of their YouTube video with various metrics.
Everything was going smoothly for a time, but at the end of that first month, the second accelerator began.
This led to a degree of chaos and overload, as Tu and Lawson had to split up in order to attend both. The latter accelerator was on the other side of Massachusetts, meaning that Lawson found himself driving three hours on a daily basis.
And when the Babson accelerator ended, this posed additional challenges, as the two could no longer stay in their dorms. Tu and Lawson were in danger of having nowhere to live for two-and-a-half weeks.
By a stroke of luck, one of their friends lived near the Springfield accelerator and offered up a small room in her parents’ house. The three of them crammed into that room with air mattresses for the rest of the summer.
Tu notes that building a startup is far different from the common, often-glorified vision of entrepreneurship.
“The picture of entrepreneurship is, ‘Let’s go out, raise some money, throw these launch parties, and it’s beautiful,’ right? Not quite. We were saving one Chipotle bowl for three meals because we wanted to be disciplined in where we put our money. We’d rather invest in the company and keep it up and running than spend it on other things that aren’t very essential to operations.”
“You have to spend everything you have to build this business. A lot of people end up in situations where they’re spending so much time on their business that they’re not even worried about where they’re going to live or what they’re going to eat. Cooking for three people was taking up more time than we had hoped,” Lawson added.
By the end of the summer, the team set a good pace for themselves, and are now working towards building out the product and getting it ready for launch. They find themselves excited for the future, despite all trials and tribulations.
“In school, I had a coach who told me to ‘relish the uncertainty.’ And I think as a senior building a startup, that is the mantra you’re living by. You’re starting something new. This is venture creation right here,” Tu said.
The Present and Future of Vidvision
Both Tu and Lawson operate as Co-Founders. Tu focuses on business development, marketing, and sales, while Lawson finds himself in more of a CTO-type role, focusing on technological development and company operations.
After they close the beta, Vidvision plans on launching the final product later this year. They estimate that they have more than 140 active users. Moreover, their conversions are seeing great returns.
According to Tu, the typical conversion rate for an email form is just under 2%. Meanwhile, Vidvision offers a 4.8% conversion rate with its email capture software.
“If you’re watching a video, you already have some sort of interest in the product or solution, so with a call-to-action, they’re more willing to bite,” Tu explains.
The team offered two use cases. One would be to gate a video tutorial or valuable webinar behind the email capture form. Another would be ecommerce; Vidvision clients can incentivize users of a product by offering a coupon code for their email address.
They see the email capture form as an entry point to a much larger marketing hub, maintaining that their main goal is to evolve Vidvision into a growing platform – one that will make users want to keep coming back.
Two features they’re rolling out to help achieve this are A/B testing and a progressive profiling tool, which allows Vidvision to serve different videos to different viewers based on user data.
Compared to their competition in the video marketing space, Tu says that Vidvision plans on coming in at a much more affordable price point for its SaaS play that “resonates better with small business owners.” Vidvision can keep costs low because they allow YouTube to host videos, rather than using their own proprietary service.
Closing the interview, both Tu and Lawson thanked everyone who got them there, including their mentors and accelerators. They gave special thanks to angel investor David Chang, who worked with the team at Babson’s Summer Showcase.
Images courtesy of Vidvision.
Alexander Culafi is a Staff Writer for VentureFizz. You can follow him on Twitter @culafia.