By Roger Jackson Previously: Diary of a Film Start-Up Part 3: The Producer's Dilemma
Before I write about seeking money and investors, here’s what’s been happening in the past week. We’ve had -- as of writing -- 18 films submitted for our private beta launch. Films come in every day and we will never tire of clicking on the trailer link and getting a glimpse into a new world. I mean that. We know what it takes to make a feature film or documentary, and the reason we’re building KinoNation is to serve the creators of films like these. Keep them coming, the Private Beta is still open, we’re looking for lots more great films. It’s really fun to watch a group of compelling and disparate trailers, then delve into the IMDb pages for each movie, and in some case have discussions with the filmmakers. A couple of examples this week. Greek director Stathis Athanasiou submitted his stunning fantasy-romance DOS. Our reaction was pretty much “wow!” Then Roseanne Liang submitted her delightful 2005 documentary Banana in a Nutshell. (which spawned her theatrical release My Wedding and Other Secrets.) Films like this that performed (or are performing) well on the festival circuit, but struggling to find video-on-demand distribution, are exactly what Klaus and I had in mind when we conceived KinoNation.
OK, so the subject of this post is finding investors. I always assumed it would be the most painful part of building KinoNation. The fun part is meeting filmmakers, doing deals with partners, and speaking at festivals, right? Well, yes, but in fact the nitty-gritty of diving into business models, creating powerpoint slides, and grappling with financial projections has been an interesting surprise. I actually like it. And believe me, I’m no Stanford MBA type. Anyway, the bottom line is that we have to raise capital to really accelerate the trajectory of KinoNation. Bootstrapping it -- what we’re doing right now -- is fine while we’re proving the concept. But pretty soon we’ll need the financial jet-fuel that only investors can provide.
Milestones and Traction
Klaus and I set ourselves 4 clear milestones for these first bootstrapped months. Reality check-points that prove KinoNation is not just a good idea but a viable, sustainable business with potential for rapid growth. We know investors will demand this, and we demand it also -- there’s little point in pouring time, energy and passion into a venture that has no future.
These are the 4 milestones:
1. prove that filmmakers will embrace and use a platform like Kinonation.
2. prove that video-on-demand platforms will accept and program films from KinoNation.
3. prove that we can execute on the technology promise -- a platform for filmmakers to upload massive movie files and then automatically transcode those files and deliver them at superb quality to dozens of VoD platforms, worldwide.
4. prove that these films will actually find a paying audience to rent or buy them, and therefore create a revenue stream to filmmakers and to KinoNation
So far we’ve proved #1 and #2, I think. We have films coming in. And plenty of affirmation that there’s a huge demand on the supply side. And we already have VoD platforms who want to work with us. We have software engineers working night and day -- literally -- on milestone #3, and only yesterday Klaus and I were awed by a demo of a breakthrough application written by David, our fantastic nocturnal coder. So we’re pretty confident about hitting the technology goals. Proving milestone #4 is tougher of course -- we have to put hundreds of films through the system and on to VoD platforms -- and then mix in our (still secret) marketing magic. The Private Beta is the first step to proving this. And we’re assembling a ton of data on how indie and foreign films perform across the myriad US and international VoD platforms.
Meaning documents, not documentaries. There are a handful of mission critical docs needed to get investors to even consider parting with their cash. They vary a bit, but for us it starts with a 10 page business plan laying out the problem we’re solving for filmmakers, how we’re solving it, and how we’ll make money solving it. Plus financial projections for how much the first 3 years will cost (relatively easy to predict.) And how much money we’ll bring in (tougher, but must be based on a bunch of reasonable -- not wild-assed -- assumptions.) Finally a 15 slide PowerPoint that wraps it all in a package that will convince investors we have a great idea, a huge market, a viable plan, a profitable future and a team that can execute on all that promise.
Pitching and Catching
So we’re almost ready to pitch KinoNation to potential investors. But aside from pitching, what’s equally important right now is catching. By which I mean listening. Actually, it’s more than listening. It’s the process of seeking advice from lots of smart people -- and making it clear that we want objective, critical feedback. Not so different from the filmmaking process, right? So, to wrap up this post, we invite your films, and we value your feedback, in public comments on this post or privately via email. Because KinoNation only succeeds by helping filmmakers succeed.
Roger Jackson is a producer and co-founder of film distribution start-up KinoNation. He was Vice President, Content for digital film pioneer iFilm.com and has produced short films in LA, documentaries in Darfur, Palestine and Bangladesh, a reality series for VH1 and one rather bad movie for FuelTV. He is executive producer at Midnight Swim Productions.