Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello! My name is Marco Gatti, an entrepreneur from Milan (Italy) and the founder of Whiteboard.ee. The company deals with video marketing and, in particular, doodle whiteboard animation: that's why I chose the name for this digital project. We are in fact specialized in personalized animated videos that develop one after the other, just as if a hand made the drawings live on a whiteboard.
I officially started the company in February 2018, and currently invoices about $10,000 per month. We started from the Italian market, where we managed to carve out our share of the market and win the trust of many entrepreneurs and professionals. Now we are expanding internationally, already reaping the first results.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I've always been a salesperson within the family company. A need I often felt in my relationships with customers, was the wish to communicate in a more attractive, engaging and persuasive way. I wanted to win them over and make sure they remembered my messages.
So I started looking for a powerful and innovative way to convey my communications. All this until I stumbled upon something that really caught my attention: the animated video that Robert Cialdini, a Psychology and Marketing professor at Stanford University, had used to promote his books “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion”. I liked it instantly: I found it immediate, engaging and easy to remember. And then I thought: of course if such a great mentor of the laws of persuasion has relied on this tool of communication, it must mean something!
At that moment I decided to use the power of video animations to increase the effectiveness of my business relationships with customers. But there was a problem: the existing services had exorbitant costs, about 10,000 dollars per minute, far too much for a company like ours. So I tried and made a video for my family's company myself. The first results were really not professional: I did everything, from the script to the animation including the audio, with my voice. I even recorded it in a small room, putting a sock on the microphone to reduce the reverb effect!
I often wished I could communicate in a more attractive, engaging and persuasive way with my customers
And yet my clients appreciated the first animations so much that they asked me who they could contact to realize that kind of thing. A great idea popped into my mind, why not offer that service by myself? I didn't do it because I needed it: the family business was fine, just like it was the financial aspect. I did it for the pure pleasure of daring, and believing in my entrepreneurial instinct: I took up the challenge and I created the video animation company.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
The more video animations I created, the more I felt the need to raise the bar. My goal was to offer the highest quality at a cost that would be reasonable for any entrepreneur like me. So I decided to involve other professionals figures:
- cartoonists who would create the images
- animators who would animate the images
- scriptwriters to produce effective text
- professional actors and speakers to have an exciting voice and without dialectal inflections
- technicians who would make the sound clearer and cleaner
- commercials who would do sales work
Finding the right professionals was difficult, but now behind Whiteboard.ee there is a high professional work team: this was the turning point that took us to where we are today, and that allows us to create animations of great quality.
In order to gain new customers, in the beginning, I was charging very little for our videos. I made them under the cost. After I set up the team, however, the costs increased and, as a result, I had to review the business plan.
What hasn't changed and is still a milestone for Whiteboard.ee is the object of this project: helping our customers to better communicate their value and to increase their sales, even more than increasing our turnover.
I am ashamed of the first videos I created, but they are the ones that made my business come to life
Another issue I had to deal with during the startup phase, was the legal and bureaucratic aspects. In Italy, it was difficult to qualify my product because, at the time, there was no adequate regulation in this regard.
I remembered what I was hearing in a couple of podcasts for digital nomads. About the possibility to open a remote company in Estonia, through the e-residency program.
I did some more research and I found, in Estonian regulations, great elasticity, clarity and administrative simplicity.
The company has been set up and the business has been created as liquid as possible, managing entirely remotely and without direct employees. So essentiality and simple procedures are essential elements for the success of the entire business project.
How was the process of registering a company in Estonia? The country is known for being advanced on the digital administrative transactions and its friendliness with digital businesses
It allows digital entrepreneurs to manage a business from anywhere, entirely online.
In Estonia, in fact, opening a company (especially if digital) is really easy, and so I decided to base my registered office in Tallinn. First of all, I had to apply to the e-residency program. It costs 100 EUR, which is about 110 USD. When my application was approved I had to go to the Estonian Embassy to get the e-residency card. The company can be opened online. The minimum share capital is 2,500 EUR (2,800 USD) but the payment can be deferred before you make any dividend payments.
I had to subscribe to some software and make a trip to Tallin in Estonia to open a bank account. It took around $1,200 and a little bureaucracy.
I could arrange to do everything by myself. The process is very easy and frictionless.
E-residency is not only for European people, but people from all over the world can apply. As of April 2019, over 53,000 people from over 175 countries have applied for e-Residency.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Since at the beginning I was mainly addressing the Italian market, the first step was to give life to presentationanimata.it, which was making a different type of video animation. Not only whiteboards but also 2D cartoons and motion graphics. Afterward, I also created the English site yourvideoscribe.com and finally I am focusing on doodle whiteboard animation and I created Whiteboard.ee, with the purpose of expanding the target to future new clients.
On a financial level, the company has been in bootstrapping since it was born: I personally invested my funds, which I had available through other activities.
The initial launch has never really ended: this type of company requires a continuous cycle of launches and relaunches. Video animations are in fact a "one-shot business": usually, customers need only one video, so it is necessary to look for and acquire new ones.
Among other things, one of the lessons I learned from dealing with customers was that creativity is a relative concept that can sometimes lead to divergent discussions and opinions. Selling a defined physical product is, in a way, very simple. My animations, on the other hand, are not something static and objective, but arise from the customer's needs and interaction with him.
This means that the process for defining the product is long and full of potentially endless comparisons with customers. But I have to be honest, it’s also my “fault” because I give my clients unlimited reviews. It was, in any case, a very important tactical choice: for me, customer complete satisfaction is fundamental.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Attracting customers has never been easy because there is no specific term in Italian to identify video animations. This has made it very difficult to work with ads on Google: I'm forced to use keywords like "animated videos", finding myself competing with Disney and Pixar which are huge cartoon producers. The situation is a bit easier on Facebook and Instagram, where ads work better and can bring me more leads.
One decision that helped me to improve my business was to eliminate the low-cost package, eliminating clients with a tiny budget
Another channel of acquisition is the website, always updated with the publishing of articles on the blog. In reality, even the SEO brings with it some difficulties related to the sector: the keywords on which I build content are all very long-tailed and with a very low search volume, at least as far as Italian is concerned. Hence, the desire to aim at the international market of English and Spanish language: if, on the one hand, it is true that the competition is greater if nothing else, the keywords related to video animations are very precise.
In any case, the leads acquired through these channels are inserted into a long and articulated nurturing sequence. A lot of people contact me due to their curiosity about the product, but most of them don't need a video immediately. The conversion from lead to the customer can occur even after six months or a year: for this reason nurturing is crucial.
I have made several attempts to get customers that have not worked out, two in particular I think have been really significant.
I tried to sell my product on Amazon, but I couldn't. I created an ebook sold for €0.99 with the sole purpose of attracting traffic, but it was unsuccessful. If any reader knows how to use this channel to promote animated videos I accept suggestions!
The second attempt was to create video reviews of books for entrepreneurs. I made them with the idea that looking for a book and finding the video review, someone would contact me. I was wrong. Of course, the articles were very well positioned, but for the keywords related to the books and their authors, not for those of my interest, related to the world of videos.
It's okay anyway: if I hadn't tried, I would have been left with the doubt about the effectiveness of the strategy.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
At the moment, the balance sheet of whiteboard.ee is in surplus. We invoice around $10,000 a month and earn a 25% margin. Another 25% is spent on ads, while 50% represents the cost of the collaborators.
In view of the expansion to the English and Spanish markets, I will certainly increase the investment in terms of advertising. My goal is to reach $300,000 a year in three years, which is about three times the current turnover.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
One of the most important lessons I've learned is due, as often happens, to a mistake. With my video animation company, I took part as a sponsor in two marketing events, convinced that they would be useful to establish new contacts. I spent more on those two events than in one year of online advertising, and the results were much less. Lesson learned: I will no longer take part in such situations as a sponsor.
One decision that helped me to improve my business was to eliminate the low-cost package, which involved the client providing the script and we just develop the animation. Instead, I added a high-end service to reposition the product on the market, and this led to a natural customer profiling, eliminating those with a tiny budget. In my personal experience, I have noticed that customers with low spending possibilities are the most problematic and difficult to satisfy when making the video. And this is the reason why I consciously chose not to turn to them anymore.
In general, working with video animations, I have realized more than ever how much I like challenges. I love dedicating myself to complex projects because they encourage me to improve the service I offer also through the search for more and more experienced collaborators. The process of growth has been continuous: the difference in quality between the videos of a year ago and the current ones is clear.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Given the nature of my business, the tools we use are mainly related to video animation. The main one is definitely Adobe's After Effects, but sometimes we choose others based on the type of animation requested by the client, such as Vyond or Videoscribe.
Asana is the tool we use to manage the team, which is all outsourced. There we share both the information about the projects and the division of tasks between the various professionals of the team.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
One book that inspired me is "Will it fly?" by Pat Flynn. From that book, I received the impetus to start the adventure, without big business plans and investments but slowly testing various solutions and changing them based on customer feedback.
As far as podcasts are concerned, the one that influenced me the most is with no doubt "Diary of two digital entrepreneurs", which I keep together with Daniele Besana (founder of WP-OK). In this podcast, we tell our stories and the ups and downs of the life of two digital entrepreneurs.
In addition, every two weeks we self-assign ourselves a challenge to be completed in the next two weeks. This has been and still is a very strong stimulus, which has led me and my business to grow quickly. In every episode, I need to find something new to develop my business, so that I can tell the listeners. It really forces me to move forward and improve continuously.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
My advice to entrepreneurs who have a project in their drawer starts with a sentence from Reid Hoffman (founder of Linkedin): "If you launch your product and you don't feel embarrassed, it means you launched it too late.” I am ashamed of the first videos I created, but they are the ones that made my business come to life.
It often happens that the entrepreneur wants to make his startup perfect before launching it on the market. In doing so, however, the risk is to slow down, lose motivation and maybe be beaten on time by some competitors. My suggestion then is simply: go for it! Launch your product, even if it's not perfect. Test it and fix it, without being afraid to make mistakes. Mistakes, made and recognized, are the best source of learning. I believe that the only real mistake that an entrepreneur can make is not to act for fear of making mistakes. Instead, act: you will achieve perfection over time, step by step.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
To improve the quality of the videos created, Whiteboard.ee is always looking for new and experienced collaborators, especially animators and salespeople.
Since I want to open up to the English and Spanish markets soon, I am also open to the candidacy of scriptwriters and speakers who work in these two languages.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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