Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
I’m Eduard Stinga, founder of VideoPlasty, a platform for stock animation and GIF images.
After working video for almost 15 years and running an explainer animation studio for about 10 years, I figured there has to be a way to make animation easier and bring it to the masses with ready-to-use and affordable drag & drop solutions.
The problem to solve was making something that was:
- easy to use
I still love making custom videos for clients (anywhere between $2-$5k for a video), but it was clear that more people wanted to make animations and couldn’t afford a studio like ours. The alternative of doing it themselves meant spending hundreds of hours learning vector graphics, motion graphics, and character rigging.
So… I decided to make the world’s first (and only, still) platform where people can buy pre-made stock animation elements. Ready to use, pre-animated, all they have to do is drag & drop into their projects. And from that, it was an easy conversion to GIF images as well. COVID has helped accelerate our growth with more people working for homes and looking for DIY solutions.
Since we launched, more than 600,000 people have visited our platform over the years, with 2020 being our best year so far, the year we finally cleared the first legendary milestone for any startup, registering our first six-figure year with a little over $100k in revenue. And we’re just getting started!
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Funny enough the idea came from a business mentor who was in a similar space selling digital files as well.
At the time we were doing a lot of animated explainer videos, but scaling a service-based business is a massive headache compared to a digital products-based business. More clients mean more projects, a bigger team, and more headaches. With digital products, you can sell an infinite amount of copies automatically with no extra work, so it felt like a no-brainer.
For a long time while building this it wasn’t clear if this was something that was going to work, as literally, nobody else had done it before, so we were kinda navigating in uncharted territories, with nobody else to validate the idea.
Being an entrepreneur is a lonely road and not many people around you will get it. Your friends will be confused and won’t be able to relate, while your family might doubt you and tell you to get a real job.
It felt like inventing a sub-niche in the stock assets industry, specifically for stock animation. Later on, we also created another unique sub-niche for commercially licensed stock GIFs. They have both been validated since and we’re barely scratching the surface of what’s possible here.
The real “aha” moment came around 1-2 years in when it started to pick off and make a few sales and the first feedback started rolling in from customers using our stock animation products to build their animated videos with ease. That’s when I realized we’re on to something and this could work and get big.
This was a turning point, as for a very long time I kept financing and building this project with all my savings and income from making custom explainers, without knowing if VideoPlasty was going to work. It’s kind of a cliché, but I had my small office in my mom’s basement and lived at home for a few years to save up and put everything I had into this. $50,000 later, it thankfully paid off and now I have a funny story to tell.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Building the actual products was somewhat easy, as we were already working with animation, so we had all the skills and team for this. Of course, there was a lot of thought process behind creating a usable product and putting yourself in the customer's shoes.
The biggest challenge was setting up the e-commerce infrastructure to sell digital products with video previews. Sure, setting up a quick Shopify to sell some T-shirts is quite easy, but we needed something a bit more custom-tailored for our needs.
And with limited funds used to pay the team to produce the stock animation assets, it was up to me to learn how to code and set up our first platform, using the WooCommerce plugin on WordPress. A bit of PHP, some WordPress wizardry, and a lot of coffee later, it was up and running!
The first version actually looked surprisingly well, but had clear limitations from using a templated approach, instead of a fully custom solution built from the ground up. And when you’re trying to compete with giants such as ShutterStock, Pixabay, Pond5, and others, that’s hard to pull off.
From a legal point of view, setting up an LLC and all the other paperwork was a little bit confusing. Accountants can easily understand things when your company sells physical products like t-shirts, but when you’re selling a license for an intangible digital good, such as video files and GIF images, old-school accountants will look at you a bit odd trying to wrap their heads around it.
Then you’re looking at a ton of extra headaches of selling worldwide, handling taxes in different countries, and trying to understand legislation for digital files in various jurisdictions.
Thankfully we went with a great accounting firm, young and in touch with the latest trends, ready to take on this new challenge, so we were able to solve these issues eventually.
Describe the process of launching the business.
There was no big official launch, we just released the first version of the website and kept optimizing it ever since. To be honest, the first 12-24 months after that were a little odd as it was still mostly a side hustle and it took a while for the first customers to start hearing about VideoPlasty.
The business was also completely bootstrapped and self-funded, so that was especially hard and slow. But as with most progress, it happens in an S curve with a slow start, and then it starts picking up exponentially, so just keep going.
If you have the audacity to try and build a big business and get into the top 1% income bracket, you better be prepared to work harder than the other 99%.
Honestly, there wasn’t any clear plan in the beginning, as I had little to no experience running a startup like this. I probably naively imagined that you can build it and they will come, like in the web 1.0 days. And with no funds left to invest in any paid advertising or marketing campaigns, we had to rely on other ways to reach people. Our biggest boost came from YouTube where we made a few tutorials. It’s not that simple to grow on YouTube, but it’s free, and if you do it right, it’s organic and scalable traffic of people that are actively looking to solve a problem. In our case, how to make animated videos. And we just provided them with a simple and affordable solution.
A big lesson that I learned early on is that sure, it’s nice to own 100% of the company yourself as a Founder, but having a Co-Founder to help can be crucial. There are always a million things to do and so many success stories out there where one co-founder focused on building an amazing product, while the other focused on making sure people heard about it!
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
For us, having limited funds to spend on marketing, we had to look at free solutions. The two that you can do at scale to attract a lot of customers organically are social media and search engines.
The social media of choice will be different based on the type of business you’re in, but in our case, it had to be YouTube, which is the 2nd largest search engine in the world. People actively go there looking to solve their problems, so we made sure our tutorials pop up as a solution to their problems. Of course, our tutorials included products from our platform.
Especially now in 2021’s attention economy, becoming an influencer and gaining a social following on any social media platform can help bring a lot of brand awareness to your new company that nobody ever heard of yet. In our case, our YouTube tutorials have been doing insanely well, with a few videos around the 1M views mark and the overall channel at almost 45k subscribers.
These two tutorials alone have been critical in growing our platform. When people see you as the expert, they will look into what else you have to say or sell. Social proof works.
In terms of search engine optimization, it was a matter of making sure our website is technically on point, optimized for SEO, and loads at a fast speed. Nowadays you cannot get away with slow and long load times if you want that free organic traffic.
And with thousands of items on the platform, the benefit in what we do is getting a few clicks each on hundreds, maybe even thousands of long-tail keywords, instead of competing on high-volume keywords like “stock video” with companies 100X the size of ours.
The most important things for a successful SEO strategy are:
- good technical SEO on-site (h1, h2 tags, alt text, etc.)
- optimized load time (load fewer scripts, optimize image size, lazy loading, etc.)
- backlinks, backlinks, backlinks
Don’t try to game Google. Build the best content you can and Google will reward you as the thing they care about the most is showing the most relevant result for each search. If you don’t rank high, maybe your page is not good enough.
As for things that haven’t worked for us, the biggest one would be paid advertising. I see so many entrepreneurs around me just throwing this idea around: “Oh we’ll just do Facebook ads”, without actually having any experience doing it. Not that it doesn’t work, but to reach that critical mass and have the almighty Facebook Pixel so optimized that you break even, you will be spending a lot of money testing, tweaking, and most importantly, running ads at a loss, with your cost per acquisition way higher than your customer lifetime value. And especially in the beginning, with a bootstrapped company, that wasn’t the way to go for us.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Today we’re doing great and the company is cash-flow positive. As you can imagine, digital products don’t have many costs, so most of our expenses go on salaries and infrastructure. However, we’re in a growth phase so we’re reinvesting 100% of the income back into the company to grow it as fast as possible without external funding.
We know we have a solid product that people love, it’s just a matter of reaching more and more people, so we’re doubling down on what we know has been working for us: SEO and YouTube videos.
Currently, the entire website is going through a massive and complete revamp of our UI/UX with v3 about to launch at the end of Q4 or the start of Q1 2022, which we’re incredibly excited about!
Honestly, at this point the entire foundation and infrastructure are set, so we’re super excited to 10X our traffic over the next 12 months.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Gonna keep this simple, as there’s no point to overcomplicate it. Just execute. I used to overthink a lot of ideas and convince myself that they wouldn’t work.
Just try out a lot of different things. Throw things at the wall and see what sticks, then double down on it. I learned that great entrepreneurs don’t know it all, they go all-in on taking action and while many things will fail, some of the things they do will work.
Also, if you have the audacity to try and build a big business and get into the top 1% income bracket, you better be prepared to work harder than the other 99%. It’s not easy, but if you pull through, it will be worth it!
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Right now we’ve built our eCommerce platform with Spree Commerce, an open-source developer-first solution. All our web infrastructure is hosted at Amazon Web Services. I highly recommend you look into getting some startup credits for AWS, it definitely helps a lot in the beginning and they offer ±$1,000 for any startup and there are other programs as well where you can get up to $25,000 in credits.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Getting a mentor will help a lot if you can afford it. Otherwise, give yourself an education in business. But careful not to overdo it, there’s a lot more to be learned by taking action than by reading all the theory and getting paralyzed to do anything.
It’s a bit cliche, but I loved the book 10X by Grant Cardone and it inspired me to think bigger. At the moment I’m listening to the “How I Built This” podcast with Guy Raz which features stories similar to the ones on this website. Can be found on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Being an entrepreneur is a lonely road and not many people around you will get it. Your friends will be confused and won’t be able to relate, while your family might doubt you and tell you to get a real job. Get ready to sit at family or friend tables over dinner with people discussing their next holidays abroad while you’re trying to make ends meet and make sure everyone gets paid next month.
Surround yourself with like-minded individuals, preferably on the same journey as you or a little bit higher so that you are inspired. You are the sum average of the people you hang out with. Hang out with winners.
But be patient, it’s all worth it in the end. Also, if you have the audacity to want to achieve something that 99% of the people will never do, you better be ready to put in the hard work.
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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