Why Vidyard’s Michael Litt will always dream biggerJackie Gill - August 12, 2019
When Michael Litt co-founded Vidyard, he wasn’t just on a mission to create “YouTube for business.” He had something to prove.
A biodiesel business he launched with his brother failed in 2008 when the price of feedstock skyrocketed after that year’s market crash. He was so focused on the business that he failed an academic term at university, putting him behind his friends. While they took dream jobs at Google, Facebook and Apple, Litt was still plugging away at his degree.
“There was always that motivation of proving to those people that I was able to accomplish something that I originally set out to,” he says.
So what did he do after he graduated? He found a new problem to solve.
“I’ve always been really passionate about media,” he says. “We constantly see mediums delivered in different ways. Newspapers became blogs. Radio became podcasts. TV, VHS, DVDs became digital with things like YouTube.”
But in marketing, sales and service, there was a gap in that last part. Sure, businesses were using video, but not effectively, he says.
Vidyard aims to bridge that gap in a world where connectivity is ubiquitous and everyone has the technology to record good video on their desk or in their pocket.
Since launching in 2011, they’ve built a full suite of software and services to make good use of that connectivity, giving businesses new ways to talk with customers using interactive videos in personalized demos, quotes, walkthroughs and more – and track whether those videos are working – making communication faster, cheaper, more effective and more human.
And Litt’s motivation looks much different than it did all those years ago. It’s less about proving himself these days, now that he knows the scale of the opportunity. “Now it’s about the customers that we ultimately serve and the upside that we want to be able to see from their success long-term.”
Inventing a new category of video
If you were to sit down and watch every video uploaded over the last second on YouTube – no breaks for food, sleep or the bathroom – you’d be glued to your screen for the next two years.
On that platform alone, users upload more than 500 hours of video every minute and consume more than a billion hours of content every day. Broaden that out to every platform on the planet, and video will make up 82% of all internet traffic by 2020, predicts Cisco.
That’s a big market – and it’s one Litt and Vidyard co-founder Devon Galloway helped build.
“Obviously we believe in the power of video,” says Litt. “It’s visual. It’s communicative. It can create emotion in a way that other forms of content for business can’t.”
He knows because Vidyard uses it every day throughout their business – and that’s exactly the kind of ability they want their customers to have, too. But it requires a shift in thinking.
YouTube users upload more than 500 hours of video every minute, and watch more than a billion hours of content every day.
“A lot of companies are treating that sales process as this kind of faceless mechanical thing,” he says. “It’s based on data. And that’s important because you need that to scale. But why not use video to inject some personality and humanity to create those human connections?”
All a sales rep needs to do, for example, is fire up their phone or desktop webcam. “When they’re initially getting in touch, as the opportunity’s progressing, they’re sending a video. Potentially it’s a demonstration, a screen recording. And when we’re issuing a quote, we’ll walk the customer through the quote using video,” he explains.
When Vidyard started, no one else was doing that. Sure, there were screen recording and web camera products out there, but nothing built specifically for sales and support, and nothing that combined rich data analysis, hosting and SEO in the background, says Litt.
“I feel like we haven’t fully discovered the real opportunity of what means for businesses.”
– Michael Litt, co-founder of Vidyard
And they’re seeing great results with that combination.
“Video has a four times larger response rate than just the standard text-based email,” he says. “So from a click-to-activity or click-through rate perspective on marketing campaigns, we see thousands of percentage point lifts when a video is personalized and embedded in the email.”
A passion that started on the halfpipe
Litt didn’t just build a first-of-its-kind video platform. He spent his fair share of time behind the camera as well – specifically, on the slopes.
“I was an aspiring freestyle skier,” he says. “I was the worst at it in my group of friends and probably the biggest wimp. And so I often found myself behind the camera.”
What he lacked in skill on the halfpipe and terrain park, he made up for in shooting and editing. That was just for fun, though. His professional plan was to become a product manager, which is why he went to school for systems design engineering at the University of Waterloo.
But he discovered something else during his university co-op terms – something Vidyard co-founder Devon Galloway noticed, too. “We realized that every company we’d work for as co-ops had used video in some way,” he says, “and the companies that were producing the video weren’t necessarily very good at it.”
From that, Redwoods Media was born.
“Because we had technical backgrounds, we could actually produce video more effectively, understanding technical concepts and simplifying them.”
– Michael Litt
Litt and Galloway started with a bang in 2010, setting what Litt describes as an “audacious” revenue target of $50,000 by December 25 of that year. They called it Project Christmas. If they hit it, they’d continue on; if they didn’t, they’d find other jobs.
Spoiler alert: they hit the target. And as they started producing video, they noticed more and more customers struggling to track ROI and justify costs for those videos. “So we started building software based on this customer need,” he says, that would track how people consumed the content.
Eventually, it got to a point where the team of two couldn’t shoot video and build out the software service at the same time. They chose to focus just on the software.
That’s the project they took to Silicon Valley’s Y Combinator in 2011, where the co-founders graduated from a startup boot camp and started securing funding (their total today sits at about $60 million from a combination of investors, including YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim).
“That’s basically what we are today. with much more complexity and much more feature-rich software environment,” he says.
Litt’s work isn’t done yet
Does this mean Litt has accomplished his goals? Not quite, he says. There’s still work to do.
“I’m in a better position to solve that problem today than I was when we started the company. We have resources, we have customers, we have testimonials and stories, we’ve got all this gravity behind us,” he says.
“What’s left to do is continuous innovation, creativity, in both our product and our go-to-market strategies.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever feel that real sense of completion, but I’ll certainly try.”
- Name: Vidyard
- Solution: A video platform built for sales, service and marketing
- Owners: Michael Litt and Devon Galloway
- Headquarters: Kitchener, Ont.
- Founded: 2011
- Initial investment: $60 million
- Contact: [email protected]