Our Small Business Star this week is Michael Litman, co-founder and CEO of short-form social video specialists, Burst. In addition to producing branded videos for Vine and Instagram, Burst has the world’s first custom built short-form video analytics platform.
Michael’s venture into entrepreneurship began after starting out in digital PR before switching to the world of digital advertising, where he developed a fascination with storytelling, in particular, how brands adapt their messaging to a raft of platforms.
It was then that Michael was hooked by the platform Vine in February 2013 and its six second video format. He set-up Burst with his co-founder, Simon Bibby, in the summer of 2014 with the goal to cover all short form video sharing social networks on the Burst Analytics platform.
They’ve since focused on creating Vine and Instagram content, and more recently exploring short-form content performance with their analytics platform. From measuring, benchmarking and reporting on short-form content, they offer brands big data on little videos.
1. We saw a business opportunity in a young, innovative market
Burst was born out of a hobby project I began in February 2013 with a friend called Brandsonvine. I was still working at an advertising agency when the business began.
Vine itself had only launched that month, and I saw it as an entirely new way of brand communications, especially because you only have six seconds to tell your story. That was pretty mesmerising to me, because six seconds sounds like no time at all. But if you get it right, you can tell an entertaining and engaging story.
I continued to work on the business as an evening and weekend project for around six months until I made the leap and left my job, believing that I was only able to scratch the surface in the nascent short-form video space, if I continued to do so as a part-time thing.
Fast forward to what will be two years later in February and we’re still in business. We’ve received some really great worldwide recognition, while working with some of the most forward-thinking brands and agencies out there.
2. We cemented our name as a specialist early on
There are a number of agencies saying they do it, but right now we’re the only specialist and have been since February 2013. This is driven by our early mover advantage (within days of Vine itself launching) and now having cemented our name and offering in the space.
In a relatively short space of time, we’ve developed a great client list. Considering this is still a very early stage market, it’s ripe for huge growth.
3. If you want to be evergreen then you need to evolve
No consultancy model is entirely future proof, which is why the vision for Burst will be to deliver an end-to-end solution including strategy, production, distribution, reporting and analytics. I started this journey with a Vine-focused business in 2013, but I received an increasing number of enquiries from brands to cater for a wider range of their owned media properties in the video space.
At first, I didn’t want to listen, but you can’t build your business around one social media platform and call yourself evergreen. You have to take trend reports on face value. It’s hard to ignore stats which state that the mobile first generation (millennials) are set to spend $62bn on media content, despite many believing they are the generation that won’t spend.
It’s great to have a plan, but it also has to be rapidly adaptable. We’ve made many subtle shifts already, trying new things and new approaches, it’s what keeps it interesting. We are investing significant time, resource and funding in to our future steps to build a solid foundation to be in this for the long term.
4. When adversity strikes, just keep going
There have been many ups and downs on our start up rollercoaster but for me it’s simply keeping going through adversity and believing in why I’m doing it. I’ve since been asked to speak at events and conferences all around the world about the company, the market, trends and doing what I love.
This has resulted in being personally recognised in the industry as one of the ‘30 under 30’ most creative in advertising by Business Insider in January 2015. Burst were also finalists for the Best use of Video award at the Social Buzz Awards for our summer 2014 campaign with Vita Coco (below).
Finally, this is more of an opportunity than a success at this early stage, but Burst was accepted on to the fiercely competitive Collider ‘madtech’ accelerator programme in January 2015, which sees us join eight other start-ups vying for global domination.
5. The founding team is the most important ingredient but also the hardest to get right
There’s been a number of challenges over the last two years, more than I care to remember. But putting together my founding team to join the Collider programme is definitely up there.
Ask any entrepreneur who has learnt the hard way, and they will say that the founding team is the most important ingredient but also the hardest to get right in any start-up. You have to come to terms with the fact that it’s very unlikely you’ll find someone who loves what you do, believes in it and gives it their all as much as you do.
6. If you find something you love then it doesn’t feel like work
You have to be in the mind-set that uncertainty is not something to run away from but to actively run after. That’s really not everyone’s cup of tea, and scares some, but to me that’s what makes it so exciting.
There is, of course, more risk involved in doing your own thing. Will it work, will it fail? Will I have run out of money in six months? The truth is, no-one can really answer that for you. For me that’s probably one of the most liberating things, that whether I do or I don’t, it’s completely up to me. It’s made me more organised, focused and efficient with my time, but probably more demanding of others as a result.
It can be a really all-encompassing thing that can and probably will take over your life. But, if you have genuinely found something that you love then it doesn’t feel like work.
When you’ve found what that thing is, don’t listen to whatever anyone else is telling you, that you work too hard or never have any free time for yourself and keep going. It will be hard, but if it doesn’t work you’ll have learnt some valuable lessons and experiences that you will be able to transfer in to any job.
For more advice and insight from business owners, visit our Small Business Stars hub.