“The internet has caused massive disruption and the studios to a large extent are still playing catch up.”

benjohnson jameshobbis
Ben Johnson and James Hobbis

Interview by Kevin Ohashi of KevinOhashi.com

This is part of our Startup BootCamp (SBC) 2010 Coverage.  We will be profiling many of the teams that have recently completed this seed funding program in Copenhagen, Denmark.  You can also read our interview with the founder of Startup BootCamp, Alex Farcet.  The format is slightly different from our regular format.  Each interview will begin with a set of questions about the experience of going through SBC and follow up with questions about the specific startup.

Disclosure: I know many of these teams personally and have worked with some of them informally to varying degrees.  However, I do not have equity in any of these companies nor have I received any type of compensation from them (other than a couple beers!).

Ben Johnson and James Hobbis are the founders of Gruvi.  Ben and James are both from the UK and living in Copenhagen, Denmark.  Ben has an MBA in Technology Management from The Open University and has many years of experience working with the film industry.  His previous job was at Preview Networks (formerly Play Networks) where he was in charge of international business development and worked with clients such as Sony, Universal and Paramount.  James is an engineer by training with a background in Aeronautical and Mechanical engineering.  He also has an MBA from The Cass Business School.  James is an  E-Commerce expert with experience working as the head of E-Commerce at Fidelity.  He also worked at Saxo Bank as a project manager on an integrated SEM (Search Engine Marketing) toolkit.  Together, Ben and James founded Gruvi.

Gruvi is a film community built on top of the Facebook platform.  The application’s primary purpose is to create value for consumers of movies and movie advertisers.  Consumers of movies join the community and get access to trailers, schedules and planning tools.  Gruvi allows movie consumers to find, discuss, plan and buy a movie going experience socially with their friends.  It helps movie advertisers by identifying who is most likely to go to and enjoy their movies.  This pool of movie fans gets told about upcoming movies that would interest them and movie advertisers get a cheaper distribution model.

Where did you hear about Startup Bootcamp (SBC) and what made you decide to apply?

I attended Start Up Weekend organised by Alex Farcet and Klint in April. I pitched the rough concept for Gruvi and it didn’t get accepted. I then joined another team called Memolane which then went onto win and it received funding recently to the tune of roughly 2 million dollars.  James and I met at this weekend and we got talking, he liked the idea so we decided to apply.

Founders of Gruvi

After going through the SBC program, what did you find added the most value to your startup?

Honing the pitch and accessing a network of mentors and VCs.

What sort of progress did you make while in the SBC program?

We launched a version of Gruvi that is 60% of the way there, check out: http://apps.facebook.com/gruviapp/

We’ll be presenting Gruvi at the Danish Film Institute Lancerings Dagen in November 22nd – and we are planning to bootstrap from then on. Struck a deal with Fox and SF on two films that we are hoping to start working on soon. Founded a great team of highly motivated people

Looking back, what could be improved upon for seed funding initiatives like SBC?

I think the mentors could have been brought in at a later stage of the first month once the business models, etc are clearer. SBC could really improve the companies chances of success if it had 3 ‘SUPER’ mentors that focused on the teams for an intensive 3 week period on sorting out the:
Business model – using the tools that SBC provided but having focused workshop
Pitching – developed a clean two minute pitch on what the team is attempting to accomplish
User Experience – A UX consultant to be on standby and talk about the user experience and potentially help out with this important aspect of the development

If these areas are sorted and squared away at the beginning everything becomes much much easier as SBC progresses, its too easy to get distracted right at the beginning and not work on these important elements.

Any other thoughts about the SBC program?

There should also be more intensive work on how to negotiate with VCs, including roleplay, strategies and introduction to the legalities, clauses, etc.

What was the most exciting day for your startup at SBC?  The most stressful?

There were too many exciting and wonderful days to mention – it was a great experience all round.  Stressful – One week away from pitch day and our pitch and business model was still meandering, it took our combined effort to make the delivery perfect.

You two got to know one another at a Startup Weekend event.  You applied to SBC, and then you put together quite a sizable team in a short period of time.  I know first hand that it’s quite a remarkable team, could you tell us about everyone and how you got each one on board?

SBC network helped us find Nina Jansen (backend) and Julio Santos (frontend).  Otherwise we would have been progammerless (if there is a such an adjective) by the time we started. Alex sent James a CV and low and behold we got Julio. Nina came from a mentor contact who recommended her. We all sat down together for the first time 2 days before SBC started.

It’s a team of really strong personalities, we’re all rebels in one way or another. There has been a lot of creative tension, and a great deal of soul searching during this project to try and come up with a product plan that is different from just another film portal. The pressing need to make money and the mission to build something cool for our community is a tough balance.

What makes movie marketing on Facebook difficult right now?

Film studios take a film by film approach to marketing their movies on FB. FB is essentially a brand building tool, what they need to do is promote their brand and set up page with all their films. Klubmoviematch.dk is a good example of this in Denmark. The reason that holds studios back from doing things like this is the way the rights for movies are negotiated. What often happens, even with the bigger titles, is that production companies negotiate with several distributors across multiple regions for both the film and dvd rights. Fox may be working with a title in the UK but not once it passes to DVD, another company may have those rights. In which case Fox cannot continue to market the product once the transition has occurred.

What is the most interesting thing you’ve realized about movie marketing while working on Gruvi? 

How completely utterly unfocused the movie distribution business is on the needs of the consumer.  The internet has caused massive disruption and the studios to a large extent are still playing catch up. For example, people have an expectation to be able to watch content on demand. VOD services are not quite there yet, so when you have a popular movie released in the US that then takes several months to premier in Europe you can be guaranteed that the way that film rights are currently negotiated encourages people to go and find alternative ways of getting to watch that movie. That effectively drains the size of the potential audience willing to see a film when it eventually screens in their country.

Why don’t film companies build something like Gruvi themselves? What advantages do you have over them in building this application?

I think eventually you will see greater collaboration between studios, it happened with Hulu.com. However a major movie studio wouldn’t be seen dead marketing another companies product – currently there is very little collaboration between the studios, and very few companies are taking a platform approach to marketing. The very nature of the industry prevents it from taking advantage of the huge benefits a company like Gruvi can access. Gruvi is studio agnostic, we work with everyone and therefore take the platform approach. We are also user focused we have spent a long time researching what make a movie goer tick, and we are tweaking the application to tap into these behaviours. Movie distribution by its very nature is focused on B2B: they work on title by title brief, negotiating the ad spend with their media and creative agencies and booking the cinemas that will eventually show the film. They very often don’t have the resources to focus on building the community and managing it through the transitions of each of the new brands/fils they work on.

What is happening with Gruvi now (the next couple weeks-months)?  What are your long-term plans for Gruvi?

Right now we are focused on developing a partner strategy to get people into the community. That involves teaming up with the distributors and providing them with tools that help them convert users while also gaining users for Gruvi. check out http://gruvi.olufn.com/gruvi-for-marketers/ for a video example.

The bigger picture: when Gruvi works the expertise and technology can scale to other content and events.  We are standing on the threshold of huge potential by being able to efficiently drive ‘likes’ to any fan page and claim some of the estimated 10 billion dollars that will be spent on Facebook advertising by 2015. Techcrunch team also seem excited by this potential market, to quote, ”Five years from now, billions of dollars of advertising will be spent to direct consumers from one part of Facebook . . . to another part of Facebook”.

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