PHDs, Freddie Mercury, and a Do or Die Moment: How Vantageous Stole DreamIt New York's Demo Day
"You know, they call it a demo day, but there weren't really a lot of demos," Vantageous CEO Tim Novikoff said, as DreamIt New York's demo day started to wind down. Novikoff demoed Vantageous' video capture and editing tool just an hour earlier in a do-or-die moment that nearly ended in disaster.
Vantageous, an iPhone and Web app slated to be released this fall, allows users to shoot and edit video feeds from multiple sources at once. Novikoff and company planned to demonstrate the app by shooting some footage of the event before he took the stage, but one iPhone failed to connect. The team managed to get the app working just before Novikoff left the stage and the demo garnered shouts, applause, and a single "Well, that was risky" from the back of the room.
The company was practically built on showmanship. Novikoff, who was about to enter Cornell's 3-Day Company challenge, initially planned on building an app to monitor skin cancer by tracking a mole's growth. The plan changed during a Halloween party where Novikoff and his PhD-carrying friends dressed up like Queen (Novikoff was dressed as Freddie Mercury), and he realized that shooting a video with multiple angles was harder than it should be. (Conclusions about Queen's responsibility for convincing a man to build a video app instead of a way to monitor skin cancer may be best left unsaid.)
Editing a video with Vantageous looks and feels like playing a game. Each of the iPhones record their own video, which then syncs back to Vantageous where the video is prepped for editing. Each of the videos – there can be as many as four – plays in the top left corner of the screen, and choosing which video should be displayed takes one click. Once the video is finished the user can choose to pay $5 for a download or allow Vantageous to place a watermark in the video's corner. "Either they're paying to download the video or they're making a commercial for us," Novikoff said on stage.
By requiring multiple phones before a user can use the service, Vantageous has simultaneously shot itself in the foot and built the first "social" video app that actually requires contact with other human beings. Sure, a person with multiple phones can rig the system, but for "normals" Vantageous will only be useful when more than one person decides to take a video of something. Novikoff cites weddings as a prime example, saying that many people can't afford a professional videographer but would be able to convince their smartphone-wielding guests to shoot a video of the occasion.
Unfortunately the app is limited by the current state of mobile networks, which is plagued by a move to shared data plans, higher fees, and a general sense of nickel-and-diming, so right now Vantageous limits its videos to low-resolution and short-length clips. "The further along mobile networks come," Novikoff says, "The more becomes possible."
The proliferation of WiFi has allowed Vantageous to operate in more situations, but the areas that only have access to cellular data are handicapped by connection speeds and carriers' ever-tightening grasp on data packages. Vantageous may add options for longer, higher quality videos before launch, but it's going to be difficult to leverage consumer expectations – "Oh, I can shoot my wedding? Cool, I want footage of the whole night!" – with data connection economics.
As I mentioned in our wrap-up of DreamIt New York's demo day, Vantageous is currently looking to raise $500,000. Novikoff says that after his demo a number of investors expressed interest in the company, impressed by the product and the team's willingness to risk catastrophic failure during the company's pivotal moment.