The same way Google innovated search or YouTube transformed online videos, Doug Imbruce, founder of visual information experience site Qwiki, is revolutionizing information consumption. He is paving the way for a new medium, one where information becomes an experience you can watch.Skip straight to the Q&A –>
“When you think about it, the way we consume information on the Internet is archaic,” says Imbruce. And he’s right. With 3D movies and iPads, reading boring web pages is up there with riding your bike to the library to do research or writing a paper with ink and lined paper.
Research proves that information consumed with visuals has a greater chance of being remembered. So why hasn’t the idea for Qwiki, which essentially turns Wikipedia pages into quick, minute-long videos (think a one-minute summary of a Discovery Channel show), been done before?
The answer is simple: it’s almost impossible to execute. With millions of web pages dedicated to single topics, how can anything be efficient (and accurate) enough to scour the internet and condense everything into one minute video bites?
After speaking with Imbruce, we learned:
- How to make an impossible idea possible
- Why the New York native moved to Silicon Valley to start his company
- Why he doesn’t think young entrepreneurs should go straight after VC money
- How winning a startup competition changed his company
- How Qwiki plans to transform social profiles, news stories, and information altogether
Doug Imbruce (DI, Founder/CEO of Qwiki): I've been a big geek my whole life. When I entered college, I fell in love with TV production. I went to work for Warner Bros and I built The U, a content network that hosted very unbiased MTV-style tours of college campuses. And I did that because it was a real passion for me. I just loved the idea of students being able to make the right college choice armed with content they could relate to.
I started seeing 16,17-year-old kids sit in front of these college video tours and watched the way they were able to recall and relate to information presented in this mixed-media format. It wasn't just video. But it was video with on-screen infographics, mixed with stills and interviews.
I started thinking about media consumption patterns as they exist today and how the information experience most of us have on the web is pretty archaic. According to Cisco (I think), rich media is going to be 90 per cent of consumer IP traffic by the year 2015. It just seemed like the synthesis of all these disparate information sources and fitting them into a cohesive narrative that was also interactive was the next step. So yeah, I came up with the idea on the way to Buenos Aires on February 9, 2009.
BI: How did you take this impossible idea - trying to visualise information rather than reading it on a Wikipedia page sounds undoable - and start making it real?
DI: We launched at TechCrunch Disrupt before we were ready. Arrington saw the prototype and mentioned this opportunity; we felt it was something that only comes once in a lifetime. It was certainly binary for us because we've been here in our little garage in Palo Alto geeking it out for about a year, not talking to anyone.
Now we have hundreds of emails a day requesting Qwikis for different content and businesses. I don't think there is any better way to launch a startup. Our biggest challenge now is figuring out what to say no to.
DI: I was in a fortunate position where I funded the company myself in its early stages, and we were able to recruit some incredible seed investors. Young entrepreneurs sometimes feel like they need the brand of a large VC to validate their idea -- I think that's absurd. You should try to build the best product you can with the least amount of capital possible and try to get traction.
In our case, it was a little more complicated because the technology we are building is quite expensive and there is real science behind it. If you look at what the GroupMe guys did, I think they did a great job. They bootstrapped, they built it over a weekend at TechCrunch, and they attracted the right kind of investors that acted as company mentors.
When the time was right, they brought in institutional dollars. In our case, it was identifying the right mentor both for me, personally, as the company CEO and for the company as a whole. He plugged the holes that we needed plugged. We needed a world-class scientist. With Bobby and our other seed investors, who include the co-founder of YouTube and early employees of PayPal and Twitter, we were able to get what we needed, which was great engineering.
I think the idea of getting a brand-name institutional VC in to make you feel good should not be a priority for entrepreneurs and the ecosystem gets confused. They think getting money means they have a great business or a great product, and it just doesn't.
BI: There are so many different ways Qwiki can go with reviews, social media profiles and information clips. How will your company maintain its focus and quality?
BI: Is Qwiki going to be the company you build and stay with forever? Where do you see the company years down the road?
DI: Like falling in love and getting married, it's really hard to find the right thing to commit yourself to for the rest of your life. I think, in my case, I got lucky and found it.
This clearly is a once in a lifetime opportunity. It's so special, -- it's an opportunity but it's also a burden. Getting artists and scientists who respect each other in the same room and working on a product that the world finds so compelling is not an opportunity that comes around that often.
We do think about this company 10, 20, 30, 40,50 years out. Personally, if I'm not running this company on my 50th birthday, I've made some mistakes along the way. I hope to be here for a long time.
It's important to realise Qwiki is a transformational platform. I also want people to know how much they can help by participating in the development of a product that they really want to see.
We really believe in bottom-up product development, which is why we were excited to get an early version of our first product out. We really want to develop this product alongside consumers worldwide and not dictate its features.
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