STARTUP TO WATCH

SesameVault Opens Online Video Channel for SMBs

It is rather challenging to hit a moving target when it keeps changingdirections. That’s a bit like how Cameron Brain, CEO of Open BoxTechnologies, felt when he set his sights ona particular business market while still in college.

In 2006, Brain and a group of classmates at Rensselaer PolytechnicInstitute in Troy, N.Y., started to dabble in online sales and allthings video on computers. They started Open Box Technologies, readywith a variety of product ideas and services. They spent a lot of timewith video content and working online.

However, the marketplace would not stand still long enough for the youngstartup to make its mark. So Brain and classmates changed focus.

“We saw in 2006 that video was coming to the Internet,” Brain told theE-Commerce Times.

Video content isn’t just for entertainment. It’s becoming a popular means for companies andorganizations to train employees, provide distance learning and makemore personal connections with remote workers. It also facilitateseducating customers about new products and services.

Open Sesame

The group’s strong interest in video led Brain to launch a videoplatform. However, success remained elusive despite the potential growth ofonline video.

“We realized that the idea was fine, but there was not a bigopportunity for it. So we shelved the client side software andswitched to the concept for Sesame Vault,” he explained.

The new concept was to anchor the product to the Internet. SesameVault launched in the fall of 2007. Brain released the first versionof his dream Web-based video platform with very little fanfare and notmuch marketing.

Money Trail

With the revised video product in place, the young execsecured funding from sources in New York. With seed money in hand,Brain established his main office in Troy, not far from his comfortzone of the Rensselaer campus.

He has maintained a fairly Spartan operation. Nine workers in Troyserve as technology developers. A few workers staff a small office inSeattle working on business development.

Brain’s early hunch that businesses would find marketing and otheruses for video on their Web sites started to show signs of acceptance.He saw an opportunity for businesses to store, manage and publish videomaterials online.

However, he was not the only player waiting for video production andbusiness strategy to marry. Open Box Technologies was up and runningand gathering some notice for its ease of use.

“One of our main problems was to figure out how to play in the marketspace,” Brain recalled.

Changing Focus

The key to success for Open Box Technologies was to cater to potentialcustomers that other players ignored. The solution seemed simple.Brain focused on SMBs.

“Other competitors aim at high-end storage and management,” said Brain.

Open Box Technologies’ goal is to become the leader in video space forSMB clients, according to Brain. To realize that goal, he had to gowhere the bigger players don’t. Getting there is still a struggle.

“Lots of back-end technology is in that space, so they are up against alot of other offerings. The company is not unique. It operates inbetween SMB and enterprise,” Paul Verna, senior analyst at eMarketer,told the E-Commerce Times.

Attracting Attention

Getting potential clients to grasp why and how video could help theirbusiness requires an ongoing educational campaign. Brain soon realizedthat just because he built it, customers would not automatically come.

“One big hurdle is participating in an early stage market that mostpeople don’t understand. So we are doing a lot of customer education,”he explained.

Developer’s Delight

The video-for-business field is still so new that Brain does not wantto give up on core ideas that started out hard to sell. For example,he built in features to please video developers. So far, though, thatfeature is largely not used.

“Very early on, we wanted to do a Web platform for developers. Sincethe 1.0 release in 2007, we have been growing that as a major part ofour offering,” Brain explained.

The majority of his customers do not use the developer’s platform, butit is there. Instead, they use the automatic features, he noted.

Value Based

Much like when Brain first started his company, he is looking for waysto improve and alter his software. The current plan is to adjust theproduct to be unique in three key areas.

First is having a low entry price. For instance, subscribers pay a rangeof $50 per month for 266 GB of storage to $350 per month for 600 GB ofstorage.

Secondly, the company is opening up the application programming interface(API) for more third-party support. The API is a very critical elementfor the majority of customers, according to Brain.

Third, the encodingpublishing system works with more platforms and 11 different formats.

“The objective is making the service very cost-effective. Ourcustomers just want it to work. So we created a universal player toauto-detect the customer’s format,” explained Brain.

Crowd Appeal

Brain is pleased with the growing list of clients. He has what hedescribed as a mind-boggling array of customers that includes topuniversities and schools.

Open Box offers a publishing solution serving online video with areasonable cost structure, agreed Verna.

“The interface is flexible, and the company has good clientele. Itseems like an interesting company in a tight, competitive state,” hesaid.

More to Come

Brain hopes his unusual approach continues to pay off. Rather thanfocusing on content monetization and advertising, he targets high-quality tools.

The company’s current project is to launch version 3.0 next year as itcontinues to grow its three core areas.

“We want to give customers complete, unlimited control over what theydo,” said Brain.

Smart Move?

Open Box Technologies lowered one of its biggest hurdles when iteliminated the time and expense that developing its infrastructure wouldhave created. Instead, it made Dell the sole infrastructure providerfor its SesameVault Web video platform.

That deal enabled Brain to back SesameVault with a 99.99 percent uptimeguarantee. The Open Box solution includes Dell’s 1950 PowerEdge rackservers, Dell/EMC Storage, PowerConnect Switches and networkperipherals.

“We are a technology company, but our business is customer service,delivering the highest quality user experience available when it comesto web video,” said Brain.

Open Box owns and maintains all of the server infrastructure on whichSesameVault is hosted. The infrastructure itself is stored in Dell’smultiple facilities that provide Internet connections and physicalsecurity systems.

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