1. How I created a professional product video for $146.55


    I met with
    Brian Ma on a sunny afternoon at a cafe in San Francisco’s SOMA neighborhood. He is the co-founder of the professional networking app called Weave. I had been using the app for several months and was really finding it useful. I replied to one of the emails he had sent to all users, and we set up a meeting.

    Going into the meeting I knew I wanted to do something to help Brian and his new product Weave. I wanted to do something of higher value than just giving him some personal customer feedback. I was considering writing a blog post, acquiring some users for Weave, or even creating a product video.

    Brian’s energy and excitement towards Weave and building products in general was clear within the first few minutes of the meeting. It was this enthusiasm towards creating products that made me want to add as much value as I could to his current project.

    At the time I had already met up with 5-6 professionals on Weave. So Brian asked me a few customer development type questions, which I was happy answer. At the end of the meeting I asked him if I could make a product video for him. And of course he was fine with it. Little did I know what I had gotten myself into.

    The Shoot

    I figured it would not be terribly difficult to create a 30 second product video. I have a good friend who works on the creative team at Lyft and he would be happy to help me out at a cheap price or in exchange for some booze. The plan was for him to shoot the video and then I would do all the editing and post production work.

    However, he has a pretty grueling schedule, between traveling around the country for Lyft and his freelance photography work. It became apparent that finding a time where he, myself, and another actor where available for a couple hours to shoot was damn near impossible. So I decided to shoot it myself.

    However, I did not have a camera or have any experience working with a quality video camera. The last camera I used was an old Sony Handycam, which I’m pretty sure shot in about 240p. I ended up renting an awesome Cannon T5i from Costco. And no Costco doesn’t do rentals. But you can return any electronics you buy from Costco within 90 days of purchase, no questions asked. So that’s what I did.

    Luckily, I was able to sit down with my photographer buddy to get a crash course on using the camera and setting up shots.

    The concept for the video was pretty simple. Two professionals connect via the Weave app, then they meet up at a coffee shop. The tricky part was showing the functionality of the app on camera. Directly filming the phone screen really was not an option for a couple reasons. Filming any screen phone/computer etc. just doesn’t look that great. And if there was any delay in loading time in the app,  it would really throw off the flow of the video. Secondly, using the footage directly from the screen really limits you in terms of what you can show in the video. For example if they decided to change the design or functionality of the app, you would be stuck with whatever version you filmed at that time. So I decided I would have to replace the filmed screen with my own animations/ re-creation of the app. I was confident I could make this happen with my Photoshop skills and my minimal experience with Adobe After Effects.

    After watching a few product videos for apps, I realized there was a particular shot I wanted that made the apps look amazing. Like the one below:

    image

    As you can see the phone and hand are in focus and the dynamic background is all out of focus. However, this shot is not as easy to capture as you may think. Fortunately, I came across this post about how these guys did it, (How we made a $225.56 product video). It just so happened a few years earlier I had met the guy who wrote the post (Kyle Banuelos). In the post they reveal how they were able to get the shot using a custom built rig to stabilize the phone to the camera. I basically followed the model to the T and even emailed Kyle about how they built the custom attachment to hold the phone. I went to a camera shop that rented out rigs, and I showed them pictures of the rig Kyle had built. They said they could do it, and told me what I needed to attach my custom phone holder. After a couple trips to the hardware store I had my custom phone holder, which consisted of a couple suction cups, a bolt, a couple washers and a small mounting bracket.

     image

    Full rig setup:


    image

    Finally, the last piece of the puzzle for the shoot was finding some actors. I convinced two buddies of mine to act in the video in exchange for lunch and beers.

    The shoot was only 3 scenes and it went pretty smoothly. The first scene was on the muni/metro. This was pretty easy. We just selected a train going a direction we felt would be pretty uncrowded and went for it. The second scene was at my buddies office. Again, no real moving parts, so this was an easy scene to shoot. The final scene took place at one of my favorite coffee shops (Flywheel Coffee Roasters). Of course, I set this up with the owner prior to the day of the shoot. This shot was a little more tricky just because we did not want to interrupt business too much. So we chose a low traffic spot of the shop and got in and out quickly.

    Editing & Post Production

    Editing and post production work was a bit of a process. The most time consuming part was the app animations used for the screen replacement. It took me about 2 hours to piece together all the basic clips and it took me bout 2 weeks to produce all the screen replacement shots. I knew it was gonna be a process, since I had really only used After Effects once before.

    First step was to create all the static graphics in Photoshop. I was recreating the app’s graphics piece by piece, so that each element could move around for the animations. This took some time, but overall it was a straightforward process, as I am very familiar with Photoshop

    The second step was creating the app animations. For this part I used After Effects. I had used the program once before, so I knew the basics of creating animations. However, there were a few effects I wanted to create that were completely new to me. For these techniques I watched a few “how to” Youtube videos and they did the trick. I opened the video footage of the phone in After Effects, and then imported my static graphics from Photoshop. Each shot of the app consisted of 3 layers: original phone shot, re-created app screen, and the cut out finger interacting with the phone. The most challenging part was cutting out the moving finger as it interacts with the phone. The roto brush tool worked really well for this part. However, to get a super clean cut I had to adjust the roto brush selections frame by frame. Of course this was time consuming and a tedious process.

    And finally I edited the rest of the clips and combined those with my phone animations. I cut most of the clips in iMovie and then combined those with my animations in After Effects. I added some final touches and rendered the final product from After Effects.

    Cost Breakdown

    Camera rig rental: $100
    Lunch & Beer for my actors:$30
    Coffee from the coffee shop scene: $9
    Custom phone attachment: $7.55
    Costco camera purchase: $1,000
    Costco camera return: + $1,000

    Total video cost: $146.55

    Final product:

     

     


  2. Creating Serendipity

    How a random coffee Meetup turned into drinks with Drew Houston

    I went to a Lean Coffee Meetup one morning in downtown San Francisco. This was my first time attending the small meetup of about 6 people. Everyone introduced themselves, and what projects they were working on. Then we went around the room trying to brainstorm solutions to issues and problems arising with these projects. It was pretty cool. One girl was in the early stages of developing a coffee shop + shared workspace concept (similar to Workshop Cafe). I knew I had to talk with her more. At the time I was spending an average of 9 hours per day between coffee shops and my buddy’s shared workspace (that I would sneak into). I knew I could provide her with some useful feedback on her idea.

    This girl was Gesche Haas, a passionate entrepreneur who was visiting SF for the week from NYC. I found out later that she is one of the most connected (and welcoming) tech people around. Fortunately, after the meetup I chatted her up about her idea and my experiences at coffee shops in SF. I told her about my go to coffeeshops, and I even walked her to one of my favorite spots, Capital One 360 Cafe. We exchanged contact info and parted ways.

    The following day we happened to both be attending another startup Meetup. We enjoyed some free lunch there and chatted a bit more. Then she invited me to a party that her friend was throwing at the CrowdTilt office. So my buddy and I met up with her and some friends at the party. They had an awesome office, and the party was great. We met a bunch of cool people, drank a lot of beer, chatted with some wasted investors, and played some cornhole.

    The following night Gesche suggested meeting up with her and some friends at this place called The Battery (I had no idea what The Battery was at the time). She told me it was a members only place, but that she could probably get me in if I came alone. This did not sound too promising, and I was tired from working 10 hours that day. However, she was insistent, so I reluctantly cruised over to The Battery straight from work.

    I got in no problem. Had a drink or two downstairs, then she took us all upstairs. The upper levels of The Battery look like a mix between a 5 star hotel and an office building. She pounds on one of the locked doors, which clearly had noise emanating from it. We are let in to a small room with a lounge vibe and a full bar. We grab drinks and Gesche turns to me and says, “Do you want to say hi to Drew Houston?” I look over and there he is standing at the bar with a glass of cabernet. She tells me that they had met a few years back. She introduces us and we chat a bit. I remember discussing our favorite karaoke spots in the city. Then that was it.

    I was hesitant to write this post, for fear it would come off as super douchey. But I wanted share it to show that serendipity happens if you put in effort and are receptive to it. If I had not been so helpful to Gesche with her coffee shop idea, she would not have invited me to the Crowdtilt party or to The Battery. And of course if I had just played it safe and went to bed after my 10 hours at work, then clinking glasses with the founder of Dropbox would have never happened.

    Creating serendipity is about getting out of the building, making the effort to meet new people, finding ways to add value to them, and staying open to spontaneous adventures.

     


    2 ways to stay fueled & focused as an entrepreneur

    Whether you are a struggling entrepreneur or an independent musician trying to scrape by. The journey can be lonely and sometimes seem bleak. It can be difficult to push forward without seeing major results from your time spent, hard work, and sacrifices made.

    About 6 weeks ago I began this video interview series, where I talk with artists/musicians about how they have found success in the music industry. In some recent interviews, my guests gave me two great pieces of advice on helping entrepreneurs and independent artists to stay motivated and focus on the path ahead.

    Stay inspired by others 
    In my interview with a rapper named Anilyst, he told me his best advice to young rappers is to stay inspired. He said that looking for inspiration from other artists and their music has kept him focused on moving his own career forward. This is great advice and is something I have applied to my own carrier without even realizing it. For a while now I have sought inspiration from other successful entrepreneurs. Not only do I observe the success of their companies, but I also watch their interviews and try to gain any insight I can into who they are as people and what helped fuel their success. Whenever I am down, watching one of my favorite interviews with investor Chris Sacca really helps me re-focus on my goals.

    Celebrate small wins
    In my interview with rapper Dizzy Wright, he told me one of the keys to his success was being incredibly grateful. He continued to say that everything that happened from day one was a small win. Celebrating small wins can help get you to the next milestone on your journey. Once you get a taste of victory, you hunger for more. Now when I say celebrate small wins I do not mean popping bottles every time you get a new Twitter follower. Celebrating small wins is more about not taking your progress for granted and being appreciative that people are taking interest in what you are putting out into the world. I remember celebrating our first paying customer with one of my previous projects, it definitely kept us going for a while. Currently, my interview series has hit 20 subscribers and about 2,000 views, you better believe I am stoked. These numbers are tiny, but to me they are awesome, because 6 weeks ago both of those numbers where 0.

     

     


    What restaurant managers can teach us about running a startup

    image

    I work at a restaurant that has been around since 1969. One big reason for the restaurant’s longevity is our top notch management. Here are a couple things I have noticed about how our restaurant is run, which you should apply to your startup.


    Bus Tables

    At our restaurant when a table needs to be cleaned, someone cleans it, period.  Even if it is a manager. Our managers and staff are not “above” any tasks. After all, the only reason we have these tasks delegated and distributed between different people is for efficiency. So if it does not interfere with your delegated tasks, then just do it.

    At your startup you need to get down in the trenches and work with your team when you can. This is not always possible, but at a small startup it definitely is most of the time. Take a few sales calls, knockout a few customer support tickets. You may view this as minor or distracting, however it sends a powerful message to your team. It shows them the work they are doing is important, and that you are all in this together. I did field marketing for a startup recently. Any time we went out into the field with management they would never get their hands dirty. It created a clear division between the field marketers and our managers.


    Speak Spanish to the Kitchen
     
    About 99% of our kitchen staff are native Spanish speakers. Our managers put in the effort to chat with them in Spanish even if it is barely understandable. Most of the time it is just hello and goodbye.

    In your startup, making the effort  to understand and speak differently to different teams/individuals is important. For example, if you are non-technical and speaking with your dev team, it is important to make the effort to understand as much of the dev terminology as you can. Don’t just brush of the terms and conversation as stuff you will never grasp. Putting in the effort is vital to improving yourself, but more importantly it shows your team you care and take this very seriously. People appreciate it when you make the effort to understand them and what they do more deeply.

    Give Shift Drinks 

    After every shift we get a free “shift drink”. And by “shift drink” I mean alcoholic beverage. In addition to discounted food, this is a nice little perk our staff enjoys. Our staff enjoys it is because most of our staff is young and like to go out and have drinks.

    Giving your employees awesome perks is nothing new in the startup world. But make sure you are giving them perks they want. Talk to them and figure out what they really want. When you are a small startup, matching the perks of the big guys is not possible, so be selective and creative.

     


    Secret is helping create a more transparent world

    This is a response to Mark Suster’s post: How do I Really Feel About Anonymous Apps Like Secret?

    Secret has created a platform for thoughts/ideas/feelings/concerns that can now be shared with the world that had previously stayed offline. I believe any platform that facilitates the sharing of information online that would have otherwise been shared exclusively offline or unshared all together, plays a role in creating a more transparent world. Anonymity has enabled this sharing of information, however it has also created problems for the platform.

    Looking at the platform as one “used to so openly bully others” as Mark Suster states in his blog post , seems to be a very narrow view of the product. Is bullying an issue the Secret team has to address? Absolutely! But I don’t believe the issue should invalidate or diminish the value the app is bringing to people and has the potential to bring to people in the future.

    My experience with Secret has been much different than Mark’s, thus probably why our opinions of the platform as a whole are different. He said that “at least 25% of all posts where misogynistic 25% where homophobic or ironically openly gay, sexual and crass.” And that another 10% were “hateful things about Dave Morin”. I would say only about 5% of the posts I have seen fit into the misogynistic, bullying, or sexual category. A current evaluation of my secret feed has 25 posts with 1 falling into the sexual category. I did not see a single post that was misogynistic, homophobic, or bullying (I did not read all the comments).

    I really have not witnessed much bullying on the platform. Again, my view of bullying may be slightly different than Mark’s. He flagged the post below for bullying.

    I totally understand Mark’s feelings about the post. As he said “nobody wants to read that about oneself – I am human after all.” However, maybe I’m just insensitive, but I don’t consider this bullying. Telling people about an unfavorable experience with a well known professional in your industry sounds like what Secret is built for.
    (I’m not commenting on the validity of the secret, simply the type of secret. I have been a huge of Mark’s blog over the years and though I have never met him, based on the value he constantly puts out on his blog I would like to think the secret above is not fact based.)

    Secret should not be written of as a complete negative force in the world. It is a young platform which people are still trying to figure out (both users and creators of the platform). Alexia Tsotsis put it best, stating that the Secret team needs to adjust the product to “provide maximum objective good with the least amount of bad.” They may have their work cut out for them, and they may very well fail. Whether it is Secret or another platform, I believe there will be a place online that uses anonymity to facilitate the sharing of information previously kept offline.

     


    Review of Sprig: Lunch & Dinner on Demand

    Last week I ordered Sprig for dinner 3 nights in row, here is how my experience went.

    Delivery:

    image

    From the time I ordered my dinner through the app until my doorbell rang was 11:43 (night one), 11:25 (night two), 28:20 (night three). Every night the server was super friendly.

    My only issue with delivery was the third night. Upon placing my order I received this message:

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    If I had known it would be such a long wait, I would have re-thought my meal plans. However, I decided to wait it out and of course my meal was delivered much sooner than the initial estimation.

    Food:

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    Night one: Low Country Curried Chicken, complete with chicken breasts coated with curry, grilled and cooked with onions, celery, bell peppers, tomatoes, and currants

    Night two: Slow cooked turkey thigh, with english peas and artichoke hearts, and herb polenta

    Night three: Cauliflower Asparagus frittata with salsa verde served with roasted fingerling potatoes and swiss chard with tomatoes

    I really don’t have anything negative to say about the food quality, for me it hit all the marks. All three nights the food was hot, delicious, healthy, and just the right amount.

    App UI/UX:

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    The app is super easy to use and overall a great experience. It is a beautifully designed app, which allows you to order food in just 2 clicks (after credit card & address setup). The only thing missing is showing the estimated delivery time before you confirm your order. It tells you via text after you confirm, which is of course too late to cancel.

    Price: $12 including delivery, tax, and tip (Lunch is $9). A great value for the convenience and food quality.

    Conclusion: I will definitely continue to use Sprig. It is a great option for me when I don’t have time to cook or I’m just feeling lazy, and still want to eat healthy.

     

     


    Documentaries are bullshit - But I guess I’m ok with that

    I feel like I just found out that Santa isn’t real. I was recently at a shoot for a documentary series my buddy is being featured in. I was brought in for a single scene. I thought they wanted me to be included since I played a major role in my buddy’s story. Nope not at all. I was simply brought in to play a fictional character.

    The character I played was conceivably a real person. And actually not too far from the person I really am. However, my story and the lines I was fed were 90% untrue. Yes, I was fed lines the entire time. They would give me a topic to speak on and the first part would actually be my opinion. Then they would say “ok now say that you have done this or you struggle with this situation.” In every case the personal or first hand accounts were completely untrue. I remember at one point saying “so this happened to me? not a friend?” I was just clarifying that the director wanted me to blatantly lie. Confirmed.

    We also brought along another buddy who played an even more ridiculous fictional character. He is a 26-year-old dude who works in sales. He played a 42-year-old veteran of an industry he is not in, or even solidly understands. His character was 100% untrue. His lines were even more scripted than mine (like word-for-word scripted). And since my buddy does not look like he is 42 they are going to blur his face for the final product, and say he wished to remain anonymous.

    So the two of us were brought in to play minor roles, and we may have made up a few stories and fibbed a bit about our current situations. But you would think my buddy who was actually being featured would tell a more truth-based story? Well not exactly. His story (from what I understand) is about 50% true. It is based on a factual story but many of the details, timeline and events are either embellished or completely untrue.

    Finding out that the stories depicted in documentaries are not necessarily true, has not ruined documentaries for me though. Instead, it has changed my perspective on the genre. Maybe I was ignorant to think documentaries were closer to raw reality. What I have learned is that documentaries are not simply a point on the fiction to non-fiction spectrum. They are instead a style of storytelling.

    I realize now that documentaries do not need to be 100% true in order to accomplish their real purpose. While documentaries are meant to bring light to a cause or injustice, to reveal a hidden truth or to simply entertain, they should not be looked at as genuine, factual resources. Instead, documentaries should be viewed as the starting points for larger societal discussions and further research.

     


    Bringing efficiency to professional networking

    People are finally beginning to realize that effective networking is about building deep relationships, not accumulating shallow acquaintances. This is clear with the emergence of several applications that help facilitate building these deeper relationships, through 1 on 1 professional networking.

    Conferences, meetups, and mixers are great, but they often cater to shallow interactions. It is almost impossible to have a 20 minute uninterrupted chat with someone at one of these events. Plus, the people at these events often have calculated ADD and will bounce out of a conversation as soon as they lose the slight bit of interest. Yes, these events are great ways to prospect people you may want to connect with deeper at a later time. However, this is a time consuming strategy. Why not prospect people with the information that is already available at your finger tips.

    Enter a handful of applications which will help you network effectively and on your schedule:

    Let’s AppWeave (my favorite), TreatingsCoffeeMeCoffee List

    All of these applications operate on the same basic premise. Evaluate prospects online via their LinkedIn, Angellist or other professional info. Then decide which people you would like to connect with. If both parties are interested, then chat is activated and you can setup a 1 on 1 meeting. Yes, this is basically Tinder for professional networking.

    These applications take your networking game to the next level in two ways. First, these applications facilitate deeper interactions. All the people using these platforms are looking to dedicate 30-60 minutes of their time to have a 1 on 1 chat with you. Second, these applications let you network on your time. Prospect professionals you want to meet passively and at your leisure. Then set up meetings that fit conveniently into your schedule.

    Skip that meetup this week. Hop on one of these apps (or all of them), pick your favorite coffee shop, and start doing some next level professional networking.


    If you are in SF and want to meet for coffee let me know: dan.polaske@gmail.com

     


    How to never fail

    Having a failed app, project, or company, does not make you a failed entrepreneur. The only way to fail as an entrepreneur is if you stop making things.

    After a couple nights of drinking way too much, I was down. Not only feeling like shit physically but mentally too. I felt disappointed in my current progress towards my entrepreneurial goals. Then I realized the only way I will stop progressing towards my goals is if I stop making. Making is what I like to do. Bringing things into the world that others use and see value in. Certainly my goal is to bring something into the world that is a big hit. Something millions of people love and use everyday. I’m convinced the only way I will reach that point is by constantly making. Weather I’m making software, physical products, or content. The only way I can fail is if I stop making.

     


    What I learned working at a failing startup

    • Never ask an employee to do something you are capable of doing, but haven’t done yourself. This of course does not apply to highly technical tasks for which you can’t do. At this startup we were asked to do sales in a channel the founders had clearly not explored themselves. Therefore they were unable to supply a starting point or provide much guidance. This hurt our performance because once we hit walls or roadblocks we did not have anywhere to turn for support. Additionally, it seemed to be in the founders best interest to have an understanding of what we were doing and what metrics to use to measure our performance.

    • For non-technical/unskilled labor positions provide more structure in the beginning rather than less. Along the same lines as the first lesson, we were thrust into a sales channel for which we really didn’t have a solid foundation or starting point. This resulted in poor performance in the beginning and wasted money. I would rather find at least a base strategy for what works before scaling up my sales team.

    • Don’t scale your sales team before proving the product. The company had really not spent the time to prove the product before they hired us. I can think of a handful of ways they could have proven the need for the product before scaling up the sales team, but they didn’t do it. Don’t get me wrong paying for users can definitely result in proving your product, however it is not cost effective.

    • Work alongside your team. Sit with the sales guys and take a few calls. Sit with the customer service team and knock out a few tickets. I know this is not always possible, but most of the time it is. This is not so much of a productivity thing. It’s more symbolic to me. As an employee we would meet with the founders in the field and we would be hustling trying to get users, and they were just sitting back and chilling. If they had spend a least 5-10 minutes of their time going around and working alongside us, it would have sent a profound message to the team that I think would have been massively beneficial. I’m a fan of leading by example.

    • A product that relies entirely on the community to add value is fuckin’ hard to get off the ground. Many successful products that provide a ton of value because of their massive communities started by adding value to a single person with no community. The best example I can think of is Instagram. The filters on Instagram provided instant value to any user regardless of how many friends they had or how large the community was.

    • Hire people who will succeed in the channel you are pursuing. Without going into too much detail about what we were doing, I will say that our female marketers performed way better than the male marketers. Knowing who your audience is and how they will respond to the salesperson is great to know before you scale your sales team.