Life After Business School

I wrote my last blog post four months ago, and a lot has happened since then. This post will be a reflection on the last four months and an update on where life has taken me after business school.

Business School
In June, I graduated from Chicago Booth. My time in b-school brought with it many firsts. I lived in a new city. I traveled to six different countries I’d never been to. I started a company. I made new lifelong friends. I learned new skills that will make me a better worker and manager. And I eventually landed my dream job building drones in Silicon Valley.

Looking back on the whole experience, I feel like it went by way too fast. People often jokingly refer to business school as a two-year vacation. But for me, it was much more than that. It was my time of reflection and self-discovery. A time of figuring out what made me most happy, and what I really wanted to do with my life. I had a great finance job before school, but it didn’t fulfill me in the way I had hoped it would. I felt driven to create something useful that didn’t exist in the world, and I needed time to figure out what that something was.

Business school gave me that time. Given my passion for videography, it’s no coincidence that I started a company to help people create amazing videos. It’s also no coincidence that after school, I joined a company that builds flying robots designed to help people capture amazing videos. My two years at Booth gave me the time, network, and skills I needed to weave my passion into my career. For that, I am very thankful.

Some of you are probably asking, “What about Activid? Are you still working on it, or shutting it down?” It’s a good question, and I’ll try to answer it as best I can.

I launched Activid 18 months ago with the idea of connecting talented freelance editors with people who wanted their video edited. For most of my time at business school, I dedicated myself to creating this marketplace, hoping to one day help thousands of people create amazing highlight videos of their vacation, wedding, or other life event. Within the first three months, I recruited dozens of talented freelance editors, led a team of ten web developers from initial design to product launch, and started accepting paying customers. It became clear early on that finding talented editors (the supply) would be easy, while building a large user base (the demand) would prove much more difficult.

Activid grew quickly in the beginning, but did not experience the sustained, accelerated growth that every founder hopes for. The company was unable to find a solid product-market fit, and Activid’s growth rate did not support the personal and financial investment going into it. So when I received an offer at the end of school to join one of my favorite companies, 3D Robotics, I knew I couldn’t say no. The opportunity cost was just too high.

It’s for these reasons that I chose to shut down Activid and pursue new challenges. Even though Activid did not become the huge success I had imagined, I’m certain that a business like Activid will exist in the very near future. It could be another startup, or it could be a big company like GoPro, which has a vested interest in getting people to share their videos online. Either way, I hope someone builds this marketplace soon, because I will be their first customer!

3D Robotics
One of my biggest interests since college has been videography. I’ve said this many times before on my blog – I believe that video has the power to tell a story in a way that pictures simply can’t. Video taking and video editing is my form of art. And I almost always take video with a GoPro.

When the first DJI Phantom drone came out a few years ago, it became my ultimate GoPro accessory. Discovering totally new ways of capturing video led to my avid interest in drones. So when I thought about what companies I wanted to work for, 3D Robotics (the largest U.S. drone maker) was at the top of my list.

I joined the Operations team at 3DR three months ago and have loved every second of it. I’m building products that I love, growing and managing a global supply chain, and learning from some seriously talented people. So far, I’ve spent roughly half my time in Asia helping to develop the company’s supply chain from scratch. People in China do business very differently than they do in the U.S., and understanding how to work in this new environment has been a challenging but fun learning process for me.

Conor Jabil
(At our factory in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province.)

Like I said, a lot has happened to me in the last few months. A new job, a new city, and many new challenges. I’m extremely happy with where I ended up, and I’m excited to see where this next stage of my life will take me.

GoPro Should Create a Video Editing Marketplace

If you record video of a vacation or experience, it needs to be edited before it can be shared. Otherwise, your video will be boring and no one will want to watch it.

There are two ways to convert raw video into a shareable format: 1) edit it yourself, or 2) get someone to edit it for you. There are plenty of software tools to help you with the first option, including iMovie, GoPro Studio, Final Cut Pro, and Adobe Premier Pro. But many people find these programs difficult to use, or simply don’t have the time to edit video. As a result, DIY editing software is not a realistic option for a large portion of the population.

Which brings us to Option 2. Talented freelance editors exist all around the world, and if they were easily accessible, people would be willing to pay for their service. I’ve spent the past year building Activid in an effort to bring these two groups together. Activid gives customers access to high quality and affordable video editing, and gives freelancers access to more consistent and higher paid projects.

Now let’s think about a video editing marketplace in the context of GoPro. One of GoPro’s biggest brand marketing objectives is to getting more people to share their videos online. To encourage sharing, the company has invested heavily in GoPro Studio, it’s DIY editing software. But many GoPro users have neither the time nor the skills to do their own editing, which means a good chunk of GoPro video never sees the light of day.

The Punchline

This is why GoPro should create a branded online marketplace that connects GoPro users with talented freelance editors. I’ve always felt that GoPro should explore this, and have written about the idea before. Unlike Activid, GoPro already has a loyal following of users who would be thrilled to offload their video to a GoPro-certified editor.

Imagine the following scenario. You just took a bunch of GoPro video on your weekend ski trip. At the end of the trip, your video is automatically uploaded via Wifi to your GoPro cloud storage account. Using your phone, you create a new project called “My Awesome Ski Trip” on the GoPro Marketplace app. You select the weekend’s best videos, choose a 2-day turnaround, and hit “Complete”. An editor then downloads your footage, edits it, and sends you back a polished-looking video two days later. Pretty slick, right?

This could be a lucrative stream of revenue if GoPro decided to monetize it. The company could take a percentage of each edited video, or charge customers and editors a monthly subscription fee to join the platform. Or, they could choose not to charge anything and simply benefit from more people sharing GoPro video online. Either way, creating a video editing marketplace seems like a no-brainer for GoPro. I hope they start exploring this idea, if they haven’t done so already.

If you’re a GoPro fan, check out my HERO4 Black review.

My Summer Starting Activid – Part II (Business Development)

When I started Activid, I had to develop a business plan.  I asked myself, what is my value proposition?  Who is my target customer?  What is my go-to-market strategy?  I made a number of initial assumptions based on gut instinct, and over time, most of them proved to be wrong.

I started Activid because of a personal problem – it took way too long to edit my own GoPro videos.  I figured there were countless other people like me who film lots of GoPro video on their ski or surf trips, but never get around to editing and sharing them.  With that assumption in mind, establishing partnerships with sports equipment rental shops and adventure travel outfitters seemed like a perfect strategy.  (Just picture a group of friends who filmed a weekend ski trip and return their equipment to the local rental shop.  Or a family who took video during their Backroads trip to Hawaii).  In return for promoting Activid, these businesses would gain free marketing (their logo would appear in customers videos) and also receive a portion of each sale.  Not to mention, they’d be adding a service offering that many of their customers would find value in.

Over a three week period, I cold called hundreds of rental shops and dozens of adventure travel companies.  Some expressed interest, but most did not.  I couldn’t understand why they didn’t see value in offering a video editing service to their customers – it seemed like such a logical pairing.  Perhaps the free marketing and commission weren’t big enough pulls, or maybe they worried about the quality of our videos.  Both are valid concerns, and maybe they need to see more traction before committing to a partnership.  Either way, I think this could be an effective go-to-market strategy in the future, but not one that’s available to me right now.

After failing to establish any large partnerships, I refocused my efforts toward direct marketing.  But first, I needed to validate my belief that the GoPro and action sports market was indeed the right market.  To test this, I flew to Colorado for the GoPro Mountain Games, with the goaActivid Handout - Frontl of promoting Activid to thousands of attending GoPro users.  Approaching complete strangers to pitch them my service was a big challenge for me.  I felt like a sleazy sales guy that I myself would try to avoid.  But as each day passed, I gained confidence and got better at making my pitch more efficient, informative, and friendly.  That weekend, I talked to over 400 people and handed out more than 600 promo cards.

Upon returning to Chicago, I eagerly waited for new orders to pour in from all the people I talked to who expressed excitement about Activid.  But to my disappointment, only a handful of people that I spoke with actually submitted video.  I asked myself, “Why did so many people vow to use my service, but so few actually convert?”  A conversation with a fellow GoPro user shed light on this question.  He remarked:

“Most GoPro users record video with a specific goal in mind, such as creating a highlight compilation of their ski trip.  They’ve watched other GoPro videos on YouTube and believe they can edit their video themselves, even though most won’t.  The simple belief that they are capable of such editing reduces their willingness to pay for an outsourced editing service.  In contrast, a mother who films her four-year-old’s birthday party harbors no illusions of editing her own video.  Therefore, her willingness to pay is not reduced by the thought that she can do it herself.”

I had discovered that my primary target market believed they could and would take time to edit a great video themselves, and didn’t want to spend money on someone else do it for them.   This realization forced me to reevaluate who I should target, so I reviewed what types of projects had been submitted to Activid over the past month.  Many came from parents who recorded video during a family trip or event.  Several others came from small business owners (like an African safari company) who wanted a promo video for their website.  Activid solved a real need for these two customer groups, and it was clear that I should redirect my focus towards them.

Launching an early version of Activid allowed me to study which customers used the service, and how they used it.  If I had waited to launch a more robust version, I would likely still be focusing on the GoPro market.  Similarly, reaching out to rental shops and travel outfitters taught me that I first need to focus on direct marketing.  I’m sure that I’ll continue to learn more as new customers come in, but for now, I think I’m on the right track.

My Summer Starting Activid – Part I

This summer, I have been working full time on my video editing startup Activid.  It has been an unusual summer for me – for the first time, I’ve needed to set my own hours, make my own deadlines, and define my own objectives.  None of it has come easy, but each challenge has helped teach me something new.  I’ve learned just as much about myself and how I work as I have about starting a business.

It wasn’t the easiest decision to work full time on Activid this summer.  At business school, there is a very structured process in which students recruit for internships, work at a large company over the summer, and either accept a full-time offer or re-recruit the following year.  I watched all my friends go through traditional MBA recruiting while I sat on the sidelines, knowing I wanted to follow a different path.  At times, I even felt irresponsible not taking advantage of Booth’s Career Services, effectively foregoing the one resource students value most.  But then I would remind myself, that’s not why I came back to school.  My goal upon entering Booth was to learn some new skills, meet smart and interesting people, take advantage of Booth’s entrepreneurial resources, and use the summer to try my hand at starting a business.  Thus far, I’ve accomplished all four, so I feel like I’m off to a good start.

More than anything, this summer has taught me that it’s hard to work by yourself for 10 hours a day.  When you have no one else to share the burden of starting a company with, or even to bounce ideas off of, it can get lonely.  In the future, I’d like to find at least one other person to work with who shares my excitement in living through the ups and downs of entrepreneurship.

Of course, I learned a whole lot about starting a company, too.  My college friend Dru subletted one of our bedrooms this summer, and every night for the first two weeks, he asked me “What did you do today?”  He meant it as a half-joke, but he really did want to know.  In the next few posts, I’ll try to answer Dru’s question and describe my summer experience.  My plan is to break it into separate functions, including business strategy, product development, sales and marketing, employee management, and customer service.  Most importantly, I’ll show how all this work led to one of the greatest days of my life – the day Activid got its first real customer.