Farhad Mohit, the US-based CEO/founder of storytelling app start-up Flipagram, is so confident of the company’s robust future, he is openly declaring monetization can wait; getting the product right comes first.
With any combination of videos, images, audio and text, Flipagram users can apply its consumer-friendly technology to intuitively create, upload and share short music videos, slide shows, lip-sync videos, stop motion animation, cooking recipes and a-la-Pinterest product catalogs – in the form of stories.
Just over a year after its launch in October 2013, it garnered 50 million-plus registered users globally, including 30 million monthly active users. Already they have uploaded more than 100 million Flipagrams. All without any marketing campaigns. It claims it will disclose more up-to-date figures early next year.
But Mohit (pictured above) has no illusions about the overcrowded social M&E landscape Los Angeles-based Flipagram has entered. The way he sees it, every Flipagram tells a story and every story has an audience that can be monetized – if done properly.
“We’re not focused on this right now,” he says about the monetization strategy. “We’re not worried about that too much. We’re more concerned about over-commercializing it. We’re trying different monetization formats to see what works and what doesn’t.”
Still, it takes a certain kind of audacity for emerging digital media and entertainment (M&E) companies to declare generating revenue takes time, especially when backed by angels and high-profile investors who usually want to get their money back pronto.
Among other moneymaking considerations, he says Flipagram could be a great promotion tool for brand owners and marketers to sell products or raise awareness of new releases aimed at devoted followers.
For example, he explains, fashion designer labels could use the platform to offer exclusive content to fashionistas. And One Direction, the boy band sensation, are scheduled to use Flipagram to promote their new album.
If Mohit and his team get it right, he predicts, Flipagram’s video-storytelling format will be bigger than Instagram with its gargantuan vault of instant soon-to-be-forgotten images; larger than Snapchat and its truly disappearing multimedia messages; and as impactful as the still mighty TV and its ability to tell a visual story to mass audiences.
Investors are listening
Flipagram hit the headlines this summer when it snapped up US$70m in a new round of funding led by Sequoia Capital (investments include PayPal, YouTube, Tumblr and Airbnb) with contributions from Index Ventures (investments include Facebook, Dropbox, ASOS) and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (investments include Google, Amazon.com, Square, SoundCloud).
What caught their attention is the technology, which is in the process of being patented, that allows Flipagram users of mostly young digital natives to meld videos, blogs and still images to narrate and share their experiences in a few clicks.
A significant chunk of the US$70m new financing will be used to “scale up so that we can handle the increase in users we’re predicting.”
That expected hike follows the expensive licensing deals clinched in July with leading music companies, including Universal Music Group, the world’s biggest recorded-music conglomerate. [For more details, read Flipagram’s interview in a MediaTainment Finance article about music’s value.]
The investment would be worth it. It is encouraging major music acts to set up their own Flipagram pages (see images below). And when fans upload their favorite songs to their Flipagrams and create their own music videos, Mohit and his company need not fear being smacked by the music companies’ mighty litigious hands as many now-defunct music-tech ventures discovered.
And since artists are more influential than celebrities, politicians and brands among social media users, having their music on board legitimately made sense. The investors’ money will also be used to enhance Flipagram’s communication tools.
Fans have been able to Like, Follow and Comment since its launch. And by the end of 2014, you could save as many photographs as you wanted via cloud computing. From 2016, users will also be able to group share or private share their creations (something that has so far only been possible by sharing via email).
The app’s story
Available on iOS, Android and Windows smartphones, the app allows subscribers send and share Flipagram stories to other Flipagram followers, as well as to friends on Facebook, Twitter, or Google Plus.
Users gently tap their device’s screen to play, pause and replay and see the number of ‘Views’ each story has had and add comments.
Flipagram is aimed at demographics already familiar with sharing user-generated content on YouTube (videos), Instagram and Pinterest (photos), Snapchat, Twitter and Tumblr (messaging and blogs). But instead of entertaining, communicating with and keeping up with friends on all these different platforms, Flipagram has brought the best of each one under one app.
“Tweets are linked to stories already existing elsewhere. YouTube has democratized video making but can be challenging to edit when you have 36 hours of footage of a wedding. And blogging is limiting by the fact that (a large number of) the world’s population is illiterate and half do not speak English. But it doesn’t mean they don’t have stories to tell.”
Flipagram, he insists, overcomes these barriers wherever you are in the world thanks to the audio-visual elements.
Although 40% of its existing registered users are in the US with another 6% from the UK, 12% are from Brazil, with a significant number from countries like Turkey, Indonesia and the Middle East.
“Our app dials into your hearing and seeing senses,” Mohit adds. “Audio-visual stories transcend languages.”