Think Big, Act Small Interview: What’s Your (SeeMail) Story?
Today’s “Think Big, Act Small” interview is a story within a story. A startup marketer’s story about how storytelling has evolved from firesides to cave murals, to books and newspapers, to magazines and billboards, printed postcards and television commercials to mobile apps that we hold in the palm of our hand. See, speak, share. Get your story on.
Interviewer: Michelle Fitzgerald
Interviewee: Kent Speakman
SeeMail is your most recent prodigy child, the (first) iPhone app for photo sharing with voice-over. Why Seemail? Why an app that “tells stories”?
Storytelling is the center of all human interaction, from the beginning of time. No one knows when the first story was told, but it was likely an epic adventure of capturing food told around a fire, or scratched out in a cave.
Today, stories are shared through books, music, movies, religion, paintings, and urban legends. Stories define brands, individuals, companies as well as form our beliefs, values and aspirations. The heartbeat of all communication is the story itself. The story is what creates the magnetic force behind all social objects, and the quality of that story is what creates the gravity that object will have.
SeeMail captures a specific moment in time – though the photograph – and allows users to tell their story about that moment in their own voice. The photo sharing space is huge right now, but no one has provided a simple, fun and intimate way to share the stories that go along with these photographs.
The inspiration for SeeMail came from the old photograph, the one that you would turn over and see a story handwritten on the back that encapsulated that moment in time, that small piece of history. That is why we created SeeMail.
From the perspective of another digital marketer, SeeMail appears to lend itself as more than just another fun, consumer friendly app; but also as a potential (and literal) voice of a business to help promote products and services. Is this your intention? Is there value in attracting both use cases?
Assuming not everyone has SeeMail yet, SeeMail is a free download in the iTunes App Store. Users can send SeeMails to three people with an 11 second recording time. We also provide a 99 cent upgrade to send up to nine people to record 33 seconds of their voice. It is also our commitment to provide users with an unobtrusive and ad free experience.
From a business use-case scenario, SeeMail is being used by more industry verticals than we ever imagined. Some of the most popular are the hospitality, real estate, landscaping, auto repair and sales, and the fashion industry. This has happened organically through the real estate agent or the restaurateur downloading the app and telling their friends, followed by sharing the stories of a great home, a delicious featured food item from the chef, or an exciting event.
From a digital marketing standpoint, SeeMail is positioned to be a powerful tool for organizations, non-profits, brands, and products to communicate their stories and engage with people who want to hear about them. As an example, we are currently having discussions with charities and NGO’s with great content and a vibrant community of supporters. We are also exploring how to allow our users to receive select SeeMails from organizations they wish to support.
What advise can you give other startups and small business owners about chasing business ventures that solve real problems? It would seem you’ve discovered “holes worth filling” that have propelled into a wide array of successful business ventures. Is it luck, careful research, or both?
That’s a great question. Creating value is all about finding holes in the market, and developing a product or service to fill those gaps.
ENGAGEIA was formed when I saw a gap between large agencies who were struggling with integrating digital, and thousands of college grads with “Social Media Expert” titles. The grads lacked the strategic thinking, agency and brand experience, and the large agencies had not figured out how to offer this service.
First, it made sense to jump in from a research standpoint as I had been working on a related model to roll out at the agency I was working for. Second, the same agency also happened to lose 80% of their revenue at the downturn of the economy and replaced the executive team – perhaps luck on my part, or the universe providing one door opening as another closed.
SeeMail has been a product in waiting for 15 years. My business partner Ward Chandler registered SeeMail.com in 1998 – mobile technology and the app ecosystem were far from ready then, Google did not even exist.
Since then, it’s been a long time of waiting followed by the last two years of planning, research and development to provide a simple and easy-to-use product.
Market research would tell you getting into the mobile photo sharing space is hot right now. Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook are all over the news right now. The next big wave where hundreds of millions of dollars are going is into mobile video apps. The industry is now making a big leap of faith.
Yet, I don’t recall the last time I shared a mobile video, or have I ever taken a video of my food, pet or the waves coming in on the beach. I have, however, taken hundreds of photos of those things. Now with SeeMail I can share the photo, and the story in my own voice without the potential for a miscommunication or misread emotion that can come through on a text-only message. That’s the beauty of adding the human voice – you get the emotion too.
The gap we identified is that people are not always ready to move from sharing photos to sharing videos, nor will video always be the right medium. SeeMail sits right between those consumer preferences and with our patent pending Audio T.ag, we’re in a great place to fill it.
Is there luck in this? Sortof. It’s about timing. We may also be lucky that Facebook just got a $100 BN valuation and Instagram another $1BN.
You’re passionate about the subject of building brand – as individuals, as organizations. Based on what you’ve observed through past and current experiences (e.g. co-founder of ENGAGEIA, VP of a leading interactive agency) what do you see as next gen solutions for distributing brand personality? Is it SeeMail? Is it others?
There will be a variety of new technologies that will help create brand personality solutions. Things are changing quickly and the area that also excites me a lot is connected TV, yet another medium for consumer engagement. There are a lot of great companies providing second screen and television interactive and immersive experiences. We are just starting to see the tip of the iceberg in North America.
Branded content companion apps are also continuing to break new ground. I have been an advisor for MoboVivo who is doing some interesting things in the space, such as Adrian Greniers Reckless App. Celebrities and their brand affiliations are getting closer together, as well as their causes, which is very cool.
SeeMail is a utility and innovative marketing platform that will continue to bring brand relationships closer together with end stakeholders. I would expect to see future agreements that bring exclusive content and celebrities from the music industry onto SeeMail. A well-respected individual in the music industry had a brilliant observation – SeeMail for musicians is the new “Fan Club”. The old school fan club would send postcards from the band, autographs, etc. to let people have a deeper connection with that band. A feeling that they were behind the velvet ropes so to speak, with the medium of the time – US Mail & printed postcards.
SeeMail is doing the same thing, but the postcards are SeeMail and the stories are told in the voice of the sender. This was really cool for me to hear as it fits perfectly with our brand – the retro mailbox and vinyl record voice capture couldn’t have been tailored to be more on point.
Get Scrappy is managed on the premise of delivering smart, scalable marketing solutions that even early stage start-ups can leverage to achieve brand and revenue momentum. How do you apply those principles to new business efforts? SeeMail or otherwise?
It all comes back to the story. The stories we tell in 140 characters, the stories we tell in $100M Hollywood films, Superbowl ads or an individual SeeMail.
All startups should start by creating great stories that people can rally behind. The story of your company will attract great talent, the story will bring customers, and the story will be what you take to market. The scale can and will come – small startup or multinational brand.
To start using SeeMail, please visit here.
Kent Speakman is the Co-Founder of SeeMail and a Managing Partner of ENGAGEIA. He was recently honored as one of the iMedia Top 10 Hottest Digital Marketers of 2011, and his company ENGAGEIA was a finalist for the Best Social Media Agency of 2011 at the iMedia Agency Awards.
Kent has a wide and influential network having orchestrated a variety of film & technology deals spanning Canada, USA, UK, China and India. He leverages his connections to unite organizations with the right partners, connecting the dots to take projects from concept to completion. He is an award-winning digital marketing strategist, social media authority, speaker and internationally published writer.
Kent also has a track record of helping start ups, big brands and fast-growing companies effectively navigate the world of online media, websites, blogs, communities, social networks, branded entertainment, virtual worlds and video games.
He’s involved in VC & M&A arenas, working closely with successful client partners that have proven disruptive technologies and sits as an Advisory Board Director for iKaptial, a leading technology, film distribution & media micro-venture capital corporation with head offices in London England, Princeton New Jersey & Chennai India. Speakman has won-over studios, networks and big brands for his innovative entertainment & digital marketing strategy. He has been acknowledged & quoted in best selling books on management, sale & business relationships. He presents at International film festivals & digital conferences on the future of TV, Apps, Mobile, Social & Digital Media. Kent is co-authoring a book that will be coming out in ’12. Website | Twitter | LinkedIn