When we talked to media veteran Fred Seibert a few months ago about his new venture, a little thing called Thirty Labs, he was holding his cards pretty close to his chest. While he told us a little about the company, and that it planned to incubate interesting ideas in the video space, details around how it would do so were sparse.
But now Seibert is willing to give a few more details — most notably that it will use a Betaworks-like studio model to build new applications for the video industry. Also that it has raised a small bit of funding from a group of interesting investors from the media world.
Thirty Labs was conceived along with Betaworks founder John Borthwick, who has applied the startup studio/incubator model to build and grow several popular social applications and games over the years.
At Betaworks, a small team will spend a few months building a product and then release it into the market. After seeing if they attract early users, the products with the most potential are spun out and become their own businesses. Lately that model has proven pretty successful, especially with Betaworks projects like Dots and Giphy taking off with consumers and raising big rounds of funding.
With Thirty Labs, Seibert and his team will use roughly the same model, but will apply it specifically to the video industry. He’s teamed up with former Shine Group and Bebo executive Yoel Flohr to help run the company, which will pair studio leads with some of its in-house talent to build interesting new applications. Jon Miller, former CEO of AOL and head of News Corp’s digital division, was also on the founding team and serves as Chairman of the Board.
According to Flohr, Thirty Labs will have two or three people work on an alpha version of a product over a period of about three months. If the studio decides it’s worth pursuing, they’ll move on to the scaling and market stage for another four to seven months. At the end of that period, Thirty Labs will choose whether or not to spin a project out into its own business depending on customer adoption.
The team is recruiting studio leads from all around the world, leveraging Seibert and Flohr’s network of tech and media professionals who hope to build something new. “We’re a home for creative people who just happen to be engineers,” Seibert said. “We try to support them and help them build out their ideas.”
Flohr says Thirty Labs has already quietly run through about 10 alpha projects since it began, but the first one or two were mainly just to test the structure of the program itself. But he says the first projects it will officially launch to the public are coming in the next few months.
The word “officially” is important, as one of Thirty Labs’ early products leaked to Reddit a few months ago and subsequently blew up. That product, called Crumbles, lets users type a sentence into a text field and then assembles a video message out of one-word video clips from a variety of movies and TV shows.
To get its studio of video projects off the ground, Thirty Labs has raised $2 million in funding from a group of investors that know video and media. Investors in the company include Elisabeth Murdoch, David Karp, BDMI, Bloomberg Beta, MTG, Broadway Video, Matthew Anderson, Jed Simmons, Gil Fuchsberg, Luminari Capital, Anthony Orsten and Matti Leshem.
Having investors who understand the industry and can help products find an audience is important, especially in the video world, according to Seibert.
“One of the things we have seen over and over again with people who have ideas in the video space is that a guy alone in his room launching a product will have a tough time,” Seibert says. “Video by its nature needs an audience… and finding spontaneous ways to build out audience is very difficult.”
Moreover, having a group with diverse industry and geographical reach should also help the team. After all, you never really know how a group of users will take to a product or a piece of content until you get it in front of them.
“One of the things that you learn as you travel across the world… [is that] your assumptions around how people will interact with a video sometimes will limit you in the way you’re thinking,” Seibert said. “Our point of view is, ‘I don’t know what the answers are, consumers always know what the answers are’… They will tell us how they want to interact with our products.”
For a startup studio that wants to build a bunch of stuff and see what works, that’s probably a healthy attitude to have.