Adam Lisagor, an L.A.-based video producer, has more demand for his corporate videos than he can handle, thanks to the breakout success of product launch videos for Square, Airbnb, and Warby Parker among many dozens of others. Demand doesn’t look to be tapering off any time soon, either. We recently talked with Lisagor about Sandwich Video, his own six-year-old startup.
TC: A Forbes piece earlier this year attributed your early success to a seemingly serendipitous meeting with Jack Dorsey, who asked you to make a video for Square. How did he find you?
AL: I was Internet friends, then real-life friends, with Robert Andersen, who was the first lead designer at Square [and is today its creative director]. Since we were friends and I’d done my own video for an app I worked on with a friend, and done one professional video for Genentech that no one saw, Robert suggested I fly up and meet with Jack. I thought he was photogenic and charismatic and that he could speak about the product as clearly as anyone, but he said, “No, I want you to do it.” And that was that.
TC: Sandwich’s pricing model allows for startups to pay you partly in equity. How many stakes have you amassed that way?
AL: About 35 at this point.
TC: You also announced the Sandwich Fund earlier this year with Ludlow Ventures, a Detroit-based venture firm. The idea is to assemble a portfolio of select companies that will provide you with early shares instead of the roughly $100,000 that it costs to make a video. How many stakes have you taken through that fund?
AL: Only one so far: Cur, [which makes a pain relief wearable that people apply like a bandaid]. As a product, it was really interesting to me because it seemed like such a slam sunk. I tried it and it worked exactly as promised.
TC: Is signaling risk holding you back from obtaining more stakes for Sandwich Fund?
AL: It usually has more to do with companies’ decision-making rather than our own. Also, I feel like if we take on a client in general, regardless of the compensation structure, it sort of has a positive appearance [to outsiders]. Because we’re in a position of taking on only the clients we’re interested in, it’s almost an endorsement regardless of how they pay us.
TC: With Sandwich Fund, is that idea that Ludlow Ventures fronts the costs, and you split any carry on that equity 50/50?
AL: Yes. I am, for all intents and purposes, the managing partner, and all the investments are at my “sole discretion,” meaning that I’m the gateway. Of course, I wouldn’t do anything without [Ludlow’s] tacit agreement. Even prior to Sandwich Fund, I was sort of a small partner in Ludlow’s fund. We had this prior relationship where I’d introduce the firm to more interesting clients that I come across in exchange for a small amount of carry.
TC: Is there flexibility around these deals? Will it always be roughly $100,000 in equity? That amount can obviously buy you varying percentages of different startups, depending on their traction.
AL: It’s got to be more flexible than that – we found that out pretty quickly. Every startup is structured differently, and it’s not like you can walk in with your ticket that says “Give us some equity please.” So every deal has to be customized, even though you want to kind of standardize it.
TC: Has Sandwich itself raised any outside funding or would it?
AL: We haven’t, and funny enough, that’s how [Ludlow Ventures founder] Jonathon [Triest] first approached me. It was just so foreign, though, that concept. We’re a small production company that’s profitable and our growth is consistent. It’s always been of paramount importance to me that we don’t grow too quickly, so when he suggested investing, it meant I’d be beholden to someone else and that didn’t sound good to me at all. I don’t see us doing that.
TC: Would you also rule out an acquisition then?
AL: How much are you offering? [Laughs.] I’d never say never, but we’re still pretty nascent and I’m enjoying building the company and envisioning what it can be.
TC: How many people do you employ, and how many videos can you collectively work on at once?
AL: There are 10 of us and we usually have about 20 projects going on in different stages. Probably one third are in the exploratory phase, another third are in pre-production, meaning we’re going to shoot in the next month or two. The last third is post-production. We’re always really busy, but we can scale up or down with freelancers if need be.
TC: You’ve made a name for yourself with tech startups. Will you venture beyond them?
AL: That’s definitely the idea, and we’ve done some broadcast commercials in the last couple of years, which are really fun to do. It’s not why I started the business and it’s not our core competency, but they can be really gratifying.
TC: One of those broadcast commercials was for True Car, which you star in. In what percent of videos do you appear?
AL: Maybe 20 percent or less. Those tend to get more widely viewed, but we do a whole lot of work without me, which is refreshing.
TC: Why appear in them? Is it a branding strategy?
AL: I like telling people about things. When I do that on camera, it’s because I’m the guy who wants to tell people about that thing. If we hire another actor or cast professional actors, it doesn’t have the same effect necessarily because they aren’t getting the same satisfaction out of that education process [as I do].
TC: Is that a hard thing to nail in a successful video?
AL: The number one thing that’s underappreciated [in our work] is understanding the technology. The biggest, most incredible tech company is Apple, and sometimes, they don’t even explain products to users in a way that’s going to be clear and understood. I think it’s a misinterpretation of our process to think we make clever videos that are funny and quirky, when what’s true is that we’re really good at figuring out what are the key parts of a product that need to be explained to people so they understand them quite naturally.
TC: When you do star in a video, is that a persona?
AL: The way I come off on camera is me. I have a hard time mustering more energy [than viewers see]. When I think I’m at a 10 in terms of energy level, I watch it back and realize I’m really a four. It’s definitely not an affected character, as you can probably tell.