Viibar, a Tokyo-based startup, is on a mission to liberate technical professionals from the stifling world of industrial video production. Founded by Yuta Kamisaka and three others in April 2013, Viibar is a crowdsourcing solution for animated or live action video production. Kamisaka, a former director and producer for commercials and television shows, was inspired by his time in the industry. “I took a direct look at the industry’s problems and I strongly felt that there were not any companies trying to fix them. I decided that was up to me,” he told Tech in Asia. (translation ours)
Open Network Lab (OnLab), a Japanese incubator, thought he was up to the job. Kamisaka and his early team were able to enter OnLab’s seventh batch and the six-month program culminated with Viibar winning the Best Team Award in October 2013. The win earned the company some extra attention and a cool US$3 million by the following February. The successful completion of the incubation period was a turning point in Viibar’s history but Kamisaka has a much more sober perspective. “I was happy to receive [the award] but it just made me think, ‘OK, it starts now,’” he said.
Starting from scratch
A lifelong film fan whose favorite director is David Fincher, Kamisaka did not anticipate changing his ambition of becoming a career director. After three years of working in a video production company he realized that the sales-oriented, hierarchical culture of the industry elevated project managers over the actual creators – the people making the costumes, designing the sets, aiming the camera. The men and women doing the day-to-day work of making the videos received lower salaries and far less input in the creative process. He then moved to Rakuten, the Japanese internet services giant, where he was able to initiate and oversee marketing initiatives from conception to release.
Kamisaka wanted to give the same sort of opportunity to his previous colleagues. He recruited Mikio Oguri, a Waseda Business School classmate, to help with business development, as well as Atsuyoshi Matsuda for engineering and Katsunori Naito for design. Together, the four set to work. Typical for crowdsourcing services, their goal was to give current or possible freelancers a way to control their hours and work location while affording corporate clients multiple options for high-quality, reasonably-priced productions.
Those early days were focused on client gathering, meeting freelancers, and putting everyone’s feedback into many iterations of the website. Kamisaka said that they were lucky to receive a lot of help from OnLab mentors like Hiro Maeda (currently leading investment at Beenos) and angel investors like DeNA (TSE:2432) co-founder Shogo Kawada and advertising firm Opt Inc.’s (TSE:2389) CEO Tomohito Ebine. Their advisors opened some doors for Viibar by introducing clients and giving the company high level exposure from the start. Despite its young age, Viibar has already created videos for Yahoo Japan, Rakuten, the popular social network Mixi, and Tabelog, a well-known online restaurant guide.
The freelancers registered on Viibar are all highly capable and have been keeping these clients happy. All applicants must submit a portfolio to be reviewed. Only prospective freelancers who show that they have done high quality client work for companies are allowed to register. Regular amateurs are rejected. Kamisaka believes that talented freelancers will choose Viibar because of the company’s production model. A client sends a general request for the type of video they want made. Looking at Viibar’s website, videos for product launches are most common. The registered freelancers are notified of the opportunity and then submit ideas for how they think the video should be made. The company selects one of the proposals and production begins with the freelancer in the driver’s seat. According to Kamisaka, this distinction – giving freelancers significant control over how to design and execute a project – is one of Viibar’s advantages over more established rivals like Crowdworks.
Entering the fray
The idea has been well-received so far and the team has ballooned from four to 17 and counting. Though Kamisaka demurred on revealing Viibar’s expected revenue for 2014 or how much client work it has been receiving, he would say that there are no current plans to raise another round of funding. “Money is not a bottleneck for us now,” he said confidently. For the immediate future, he wants the team to focus on increasing its profile in Japan. Kamisaka is excited to move into Southeast Asia but calls such expansion premature now. Thinking farther in the future, he wants to diversify both their client and freelancer pool. Digital contents is a broad industry so he sees no need to stay limited to just video design. Further, he wants to start accepting individuals as clients and do away with the “corporations only” rule the company currently enforces.
Creating a larger revenue base is critical for Viibar to reach its full potential as a crowdsourcing service where freelancers can work and earn a suitable yearly wage. There are still plenty of talented video production staff toiling away for large firms. If Viibar pries those individuals away it will weaken traditional media powerhouses and lend momentum to the freelance movement. The level of difficulty for this task is particularly high in Japan where citizens tend to be employed by the same company for their entire working lives. In this sense every milestone of Viibar’s success will bring it closer to the front lines of an important battle in Japan’s internet age.