Cinematic wonder

Wipster was launched in Texas, picked up by Microsoft and honed in Israel. Johan Chang talks to founder Rollo Wenlock

Wipster is a cloud-based video collaboration platform headed by a guy who wants to manipulate your online life, a minute at a time. Seems that’s a popular idea: in the five months since Wipster’s global launch in March, the company has been picked for the internationally sought-after Microsoft BizSpark Programme, and founder Rollo Wenlock has won a trip to Tel Aviv, a hot-bed of start-up innovation.

So what makes this Kiwi guy different? “I don’t think we’ve ever had an ‘oh shit!’ moment,” muses Wenlock, “Not something that went so drastically wrong we had to backtrack.” Just moments earlier, there was cheerful mention of traversing a fabled “Chasm of Death” that had brought many great start-ups to their knees.

He’s talking about the hiccup all start-ups experience – the transition from early adopter customers, who don’t generally have much money but are happy to use your software, to the loaded big cats that expect your product to wow. And Wenlock’s video collaboration project, Wipster, has so far wowed, with companies like NBC, Xero, and Visa all being clients, producing ads or collaborating on internal video projects. In just over a year since it first started in New Zealand, Wenlock has created a service that is used by around 1100 in-house video producers from all over the globe. It’s like Soundcloud for video, with the ability to stick comments like post-it notes from a bunch of people that are all working on a unique video project. It means real-time feedback from collaborators, as well being able to work with people on the other side of the globe, against time-zone differences.

Yet it’s his personal charm that’s driving the show. He’s calm, confident, and speaks clearly about what he wants. There’s a level of succinctness in him; you get the feeling he wouldn’t be out of place if he stood side-by-side with the likes of Mark Zuckerberg.

CreativeHQ’s Stefan Korn, an entrepreneur and the man responsible for Lightning Lab – the start-up accelerator Wipster went through – believes personality is one of the key factors which landed Wenlock the trip to Tel Aviv. His natural charisma and leadership ability won the judges over.

The competition was about the person as an entrepreneur and, according to Korn, Wenlock is a man with the power to convince and inspire others, binding them into his vision. However, it wasn’t always smooth sailing for him.

“He had a stutter when was younger,” Korn says. "He has trained himself to do a lot better than he was able to do in the past.” Part of Wenlock’s success can be found by asking him about his personal mantra. “You’re alive, right now, for a very short period of time. And then you’re going to be gone forever. So don’t piss about! ... Best asset for a start-up is focus,” he says. “Focus comes from vision, and vision comes from clarity.”

It’s that clarity that allowed Wipster to be released at SXSW – an annual music, film, and interactive conference in Austin, Texas – in March. The project has even attracted the attention of note-taking software giant Evernote, which is looking to find ways to roll out Wipster features to their paying users, integrating video collaboration into their note-sharing functions.

The technical success of Wipster comes from Wenlock’s background as a video director and motion graphics artist. The problems he encountered trying to collaborate with companies and clients all over the world meant he was able to get the nitty-gritty of what his current customer base wanted – he was one of them, after all.

Major software companies like Adobe had tried similar video collaboration projects, but failed, Wenlock says. “The guys at Adobe were trying to intellectualize an answer, not based on experience but based on the concept of people needing to work together... It just didn’t work.” But the six-man team at Wipster has provided a platform that seems to be getting people excited, Wenlock says. The advent of Facebook and Twitter has companies expecting enterprise-level platforms that are easy to use, he says, and Wipster came to existence and the right time. Its mantra of “Do less, better” (stolen off Twitter, Wenlock says) drives its design philosophy.

Part of that is reflected in the minimalistic ethic of the user interface, allowing easy navigation. “It means we make the product work as smoothly and simply as possible to create the amount of value that somebody needs out of it, and nothing else.”

But the biggest surprise comes when you talk to Wenlock about his views on video content. For him, producing a video means controlling how an audience consumes a period of time. In a minute-long video, what people see, what they hear, and how they feel are all manipulated according to the experiences you have allowed them to experience for that single minute, he says. You become the dictator of their world for that minute. And according to him, Wipster is going to help you produce that minute. ×