Coming home and binging oun our favorite TV series has become the new American pastime. Gone are the days of channel surfing and wandering aimlessly looking for something to watch. Today, we have many platforms at our disposal to relax in front of our TV, laptop or Chromecast.
Today, I want to share with you the story of Ajay Kishore and Stareable. A self confessed TV nerd, Ajay created Stareable in 2015, as a community focused on independent web series and gathering creators and fans in one place. They also strive to build connections between content creators looking for collaborative work and industry experts looking for the next gem.
While working on the financial sector, Ajay got his venture started with two partners and the support of the Founder Institute. He credits the institute for giving him the tools and skills he needed to put Stareable on the track to success. And with over 3000 web series featured on the site, I can say that the best is yet to come!
Check out his story below and, if you’re hooked on any of the series featured on Stareable, comment below with your recommendations. Even hard-working 10%-ers need to relax every once in a while!
1. What inspired you to launch your company? What makes it a good idea?
I’m a television nerd who’s driven to help amazing shows get discovered and filmmakers get the credit they deserve. I’m also an engineer that wants to create structure around an increasingly opaque and fragmented ecosystem. As content shifts online, traditional Hollywood needs to evolve with it, and so far it hasn’t. We are providing the structure to help creators make that leap.
2. You were a 10%-er and then moved on to a full time gig with Stareable? What was your day job and how did you balance both?
I was working in finance, primarily looking at investing in small public technology companies. I would get out of work each day, go home and mentally switch modes and then work on the startup until late at night. Weekends were also dedicated to Stareable and the team would meet on weekend mornings and work through the day. I didn’t leave the city for anything other than work for over a year because I was so heads-down focused on the company.
3. What motivated you to become an entrepreneur?
I didn’t set out to be an entrepreneur. I had this idea and couldn’t let get of it. As I started to ask friends and peers about the concept of Stareable, I realized that it had potential and it was worth putting it together. Then, I started to build a team around it and it took on its own momentum where we were building something real and useful and are driven to grow and improve it.
4. How did you get in touch with Founder Institute? What are the most important things you learned from that experience?
The best thing about the Founder Institute has been the network it continues to provide me. I met you that way, for example. Coming from outside the startup world, you realize very early that you need to get plugged in fast so you can start getting advice and feedback from people who have gone through it themselves and built thriving businesses.
5. Tell us on how the business has done so far
We had 25,000 uniques on our consumer site last month and that number has grown 20% m/m since launch. We have 3,000 web series creators in our community, which has grown 40% m/m since launch. We also have partnerships with fourteen web series festivals worldwide, Tribeca Film Festival and Seed&Spark. We sit on the jury for digital content at Series Fest and Cynopsis Short Form Video Festival, I’ve spoken at half a dozen festivals, IFP Film Week, and Austin Film Festival, and we were featured in an article on Time.com
6. What have you invested in your company?
Time-wise, I’ve invested about 1 year of part-time work and 1 year of full-time (if you want to call 7 day work weeks full-time). Money-wise, we’ve invested a little over $100,000. We’ve accomplished an incredible amount with an incredibly lean team.
7. In what ways does this business play to your strengths – i.e. past business or education experience or network of contacts?
I am tenacious and competitive but also incredibly realistic. In finance, when something isn’t working or you spot a better opportunity, you need to be decisive and realistic about shifting your thinking. I’ve brought that same approach to running an early-stage startup where you are constantly searching for traction and product-market fit.
8. Do you have any partners? What do they bring to the table that you do not?
Bri, my teammate, is an award-winning web series creator. She helps us build our community of creators because she is very much their peer. The fact that she’s a filmmaker acts as a north star for the company, making sure we stay on the right path. John, my co-founder, is a brilliant technologist and has been instrumental in helping us create a platform that can scale for everything we want to do.
9. What has been the biggest challenge and how have you overcome it?
In early-stage, there are lots of challenges. Building a product with limited resources and limited information is definitely the big one. I found teammates who believed in the idea and were willing to work part-time for equity so we could get the company going before we raised money. We built whatever we could and only paid for what we absolutely had to. And we learned how to grow entirely organically, rather than rely on paid marketing. It was much harder but these are good skills to pick up early because they instill discipline.
10. What books and blogs have you read and that have been helpful to you?
The 10% Entrepreneur, of course. Nir Eyal’s Hooked is invaluable for product design. Andy Grove’s High Output Management for forming my management philosophies. Brad Feld’s Venture Deals got me up to speed on the industry. Fred Wilson’s blog is a real-time vantage point into the thinking of one of the most successful venture investors alive. Jason Hirschhorn’s Media ReDef completely changed how I think about media and platforms.
11. What do you see happening in the future?
We are building relationships with mainstream television platforms so we can level up the careers of talented filmmakers and continue to centralize our position in the online television ecosystem. And we’re launching a festival for mid 2018 to take all of our community-building efforts and translate them into a real-life event.
12. Anything funny, crazy, particularly memorable you haven’t mentioned?
I’m an Eagle Scout, I climbed Kilimanjaro for my thirtieth birthday, and I will eat a weird amount of pineapple if given the opportunity.