Interview with Andres Espineira, Pixorial

Earlier this month, Denver-based Pixorial ( launched its website for helping people collaborate and create videos. We caught up with founder and CEO Andres Espineira, who filled us in on what the service is all about.

Tell us a bit about what Pixorial is?

Andre Espineira: Pixorial is an online, collaborative video service. It enables you to do more with video, digitizing and converting your video from any format, all the way back to 8 millimeter and Super8 to current formats. We have online tools which then allow you to mix this content together, and eventually create products or keepsakes, or DVDs to send to someone. Plus, you can access full resolution downloads, share your videos on Facebook, or embed them on your web site. We also have other products, such as a video mosaic where you can actually upload a photo, and have that photo rendered from thumbnails--I could show you a photo of my son, which was taken recently--which is composed of videos taken from when he was a baby. That's a big hit with moms.

Where did the idea come from, and what's your background?

Andre Espineira: How this came about is I have a technical degree from Stanford, and a degree from Kellogg. I was working in Northern California in R&D, at companies like Netscape, where I managed product marketing efforts at ecommerce, at another startup backed by Motorola, which did location aware software for cell phones---way before the iPhone. I moved here to Colorado one summer a couple of years ago. I was starting to take my dad's 8mm film from over the years, and it hit me that all over those movies there was some amazing footage of my cousins, friends, uncles, and aunts, and that just getting that content onto a computer was only a small piece of the entire puzzle. The challenge we set out to solve, was how to make it possible to share all of that content, and to be able to make movies out of it, without the constraints that exist today. You can share low resolution movies, collaborate with others, click on a few names in our interface, and those people have access to movies in my library and can make themselves a DVD and other products at full resolution. That was the genesis behind Pixorial.

How is this different from all of the video sites which allow you to do video conversion?

Andre Espineira: There have been, over the years, many, many companies focused on converting videos to the newest format from another. From film to VHS, from VHS to DVDs, to more recently even editorial services, which will make movies for you. We have essentially build a platform where people can come in and do that, in a collaborative setting. A few examples of this might be a soccer game, where you have multiple parents with video cameras shooting video. Parents can now get that content onto Pixorial, and all those different parents now have access to all of the footage. They can describe a goal or a particular scene, or a great play, and that information can now be shared together. The end product you make from that would be in high resolution. We're aiming this at the 30-and-above demographic.

Can you talk about how you might share things on social networking sites, and how easy or hard this is?

Andre Espineira: On Facebook, for example, if you friend me, I could show you how I've shared videos with my family in Spain. You just grab the video, edit it, and then you can click on a Facebook icon. We then automatically do all of the transitions, all of the titles are rendered from the original files, and you then get an email and notification on Facebook that your video is ready. You accept that, and it gets posted on your wall. It's really, really easy.

How does this work for a consumer--do you charge for the service, or is it free?

Andre Espineira: We basically charge for the conversions. If you go to the shop to convert anything, we charge for the service, and then we have two level of accounts. We have a normal account, which is free, which has a limit on the amount of stuff you can upload--10 gigabytes. Then there is a pro account, where there is no limit. Anything you send to us to convert and upload, we then archive all of that video for you on our site. In addition, any products you make in high resolution we charge for, for example a DVD, if you do a full resolution download, or need a nice, big-quality video through iTunes, we charge for those. However, anything you do at low resolution--uploading a video to Facebook, embedding it on your site, we offer for free. We look at that as more of a customer acquisition tool.

How long has the service been available?

Andre Espineira: We hired our first developer at about this time in 2007, and we have been working on the infrastructure and other pieces of the platform since then. We started having family and friends log in and use the product in February and March of this year, and although we haven't really opened things up until now, we hadn't restricted people who found it from logging in. We were actively completing the collaboration functionality before our formal launch.

Was it difficult getting the conversion part working, and are you doing this yourself or did you tap someone else for this part?

Andre Espineira: We built it ourselves. We went through a couple of iterations back when we started, lots of that was proof-of-concept, and we've now reached the stage where we're productizing the entire conversion process. We're making sure that this is as close as we can get to cookie cutter, and as we get more media sent to us, we know exactly how to replicate the loading environment and at the same time the back end, in terms of storage and how that will scale up. We've been lucky to have been able to hire the right people on the team, so the biggest challenge we have now is having people slowly find out about the site, and seeing what esoteric and different video formats are getting uploaded to the site. Every so often, we find a codec which we are not yet supporting, and we're able to research that and process them once we fix that and built it into our cycle.

How has it been starting up your own, consumer focused company, compared with your prior experience in the software industry and in bigger companies?

Andre Espineira: This might sound corny, but one of the biggest things for me that has been especially rewarding is we get emails every so often from folks, who are incredibly heart felt about having all this content available in one place. They thank us for letting them make that content available other family members, etc. That was the whole rationale for doing this as a company, but seeing people doing it, and getting touched by it has been extremely rewarding. We've also had other folks using this for things we hadn't anticipated. There's a dad whose son plays a lot of basketball. Apparently, creating scout videos is a very painful and expensive process, and usually you have to hire someone to do that. This dad got the videos of his son, and created DVDs using the site which resulted in his son getting a scholarship. At the emotional level, hearing these real stories from folks is very rewarding. Being that much closer to the consumer is rewarding.

Finally, how are you funded and backed?

Andre Espineira: We have been privately funded until this point, and already started having discussions with boy VCs in the Bay Area, as well as here in Colorado. We're now starting actively looking to raise a Series A round.