5 Tips for Bootstrapping Your Startup’s Promotional Video

Posted January 21, 2013

It’s not easy for a young company to show off its personality. Founders typically don’t have a lot of visibility (most people aren’t huge dorks like me who have amassed thousands of twitter followers), and the company’s culture can’t always be expressed through the product itself. Of all the channels a startup can use to share the narrative of their mission and people, video has consistently emerged as a top contender for commanding interest. People prefer downloading information through video, not reading it (the ironic length of this blog post is noted). There are plenty of reasons why video works so well, and we’ve seen several examples of it working great for startups lately, here, here, here, and of course the brilliant bastards who came up with this one…here. And, we just created our own promotional video for CentUp: CentUp.org from Len Kendall on Vimeo. You’ll find lots of great advice on how to script a great marketing video and get it distributed, but one of the most important (and least talked about) elements of creating this marketing asset is how to produce it in a cost-effective way. Bootstrapping is not about not spending money—it's about only spending money where it matters. It is a fine line between the authenticity that comes from a low production video, and a low production video that's production value distracts the viewers attention. This can illustrate that the startup does not pay attention to details and lacks the quality a consumer can trust. 1.) Get access to good equipment through students and recent grads. If you get a quote from a video production crew that’s been around for a while, you’ll quickly learn everything it takes to produce a short movie. For most people who have never worked in that industry, you’ll have some sticker shock. It’s not cheap. Making great video is tedious and requires a specific set of technical experience. But a smart way to get really solid access to good equipment and people is to tap your local universities that have media programs. You’re not going to find Quentin Tarantino there, but you'll be able to lure up-and-coming college students with an above average understanding of visual storytelling. Also, think through buying vs. renting your equipment.  Obviously this decision all comes down to cash-flow, but high quality equipment is getting cheaper and cheaper. 2.) Sound. Sound. Sound. If you’re going to spend any money on a production crew or on post-production work, use it for sound. Although video is a visual medium, the sound is often what sets you apart from the millions of others people recording short films on their smartphones. Spend the time on picking the right music (make sure you have the rights to it), matching FX to the actions on screens, and above all else, making sure the narrator’s voice is at an appropriate volume. Much like the visuals, sound can too be “grainy.” 3.) Tap into local talent. Especially here in major cities, there’s a plethora of super-talented folks in the improv comedy scene that love opportunities to star in videos. There’s nothing wrong with starring in your own videos, but most of us entrepreneurs aren’t meant to be on screen; we’re the guys developing those screens. Huge networks like Second City and “IO” in Chicago are full of people looking for fun side projects to bolster their portfolio of work. Whether your video is comedic or not, you’ll find lots of interest among these groups. 4.) Massive Planning. Spend a lot of time planning, so you don’t have to pay other people to do it for you. When it comes to producing a video, you need to think through every single detail. And then think through it again. If you don’t, it means you’re going to waste time (and money) on the day of the shoot—or worse, have to shoot it again. Map out every prop, piece of wardrobe, and back-up plans if someone or something doesn’t work. Most importantly, make sure everyone shows up, and on time. 5.) Seal the story. Write several versions of a script and storyboard your idea (it doesn’t matter if you can’t draw well). Get feedback, then do it again. The most expensive mistake you can make when filming is to have to make dramatic script revisions on the fly, or create disorganized chaos while you have hourly workers waiting to capture your story. I’m a former graduate of the Second City writing program, and the biggest lesson I learned is that what you think is interesting or funny isn’t necessarily what your audience will respond to. The focus of improv is to improve content by refining a story based on your audiences reaction. Let people in your “target market” hear your script, see what they think, and re-calibrate if needed. In the end, you can make a really slick video for five to ten thousand dollars. If you’re scrappy, have friends willing to help, and are dedicated to putting in planning time, you’re going to be able to bootstrap a piece of content that sets you apart from the competition.