Getting to Know Maker Studios

A year ago I invested, along with Dana Settle at Greycroft Partners, in a startup company called Maker Studios.

What excited me was that they had an immensely talented team that understood how to produce & distribute low-cost videos, initially via YouTube. It was founded by Danny Zappin, Lisa Donovan & Ben Donovan (along with several creative talent like Shaycarl, KassemG and others).

They know this model of YouTube production & distribution better than anybody else that I’ve met in my 5 years in Los Angeles.

And anybody who follows this blog knows that I believe television disruption has already begun and it is more likely to resemble Internet content than streaming long-form content to our living rooms.

As I talked about this model with several friends in Silicon Valley I always heard the same refrain, “we don’t invest in content business – they are ‘hits driven’.”

I had to laugh a bit at at the irony of this. For one, the consumer-driven startup world has become immensely hits driven. You need star power of entrepreneurs surrounded by star power angels & VCs who in turn get tons of press from adoring journalists who are insiders amongst this crowd of tech cognoscenti.

And this is at the same time that content has become more predictable. Sure, you need to start with talent. But when you produce on Internet you can test your content in the same way that Silicon Valley firms test early versions of their software.

You can get feedback from your audience and adjust based on their feedback. You can get subscribers who receive every version of your content that you release. You can monetize via Google Ad Sales before you have enough revenue to build your own sales team.

Sound familiar?

Maker Studios is the ultimate “lean startup.”

And then you can build email lists and market video content to your fans in the same way Gilt Groupe markets its clothes to its end consumers, making it an insanely scalable business.

In the era of the Internet video is not a one-way medium. Content producers can have direct relationships with end viewers that serve as feedback loops & direct marketing vehicles.

And nobody knows how to do this better on the Internet than Maker Studios. They are now the largest independent network who produce in-house videos and distribute them.

Maker Studios is dedicated to working with “talent” in the same way that Silicon Valley is dedicated to working with engineers. Our talent includes writers, directors, actors, singers, post-production professionals, costume designers, lighting professionals, sound mixers, show runners and so on.

This kind of business will not easily be replicated in Silicon Valley precisely because the skills are different.

We are now attracting serious management talent, having recently brought in the venerable Courtney Holt as the COO. And I’m excited to say that we’ve poached a major technologist from Silicon Valley who will move down to Los Angeles join as CTO in January. More on this soon.

But I really couldn’t do an overview of Maker Studios justice. I’ll leave that to Carson Daly who interviews Danny, Lise & Ben for Last Call in this great piece that describes what they do and why I’m privileged to watch them continue to build out their vision.

And if you happen to be “talent” (including tech engineers!) make sure to reach out to team Maker. There isn’t a more talent-friendly Internet video network out there.

(Cross-posted @ Both Sides of the Table)

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2x startup Founder & CEO who has gone to the Dark Side of VC. His first company, BuildOnline was sold in 2005, his second, Koral was acquired by Salesforce.com and became known as Salesforce Content, while Mark served as VP Product Management. In 2007 Mark joined GRP Partners in 2007 as a General Partner.  He focuses on early-stage technology companies, usually looking at Series A investment, and blogs at the aptly titled Both Sides of the Table.