Emily Forbes is the Founder and CEO of Seenit, a video collaboration tool that helps companies and news organisations crowd-source videos from anyone, anywhere. It has now become a company of 34-strong employees. With an impressive track record, Emily was nominated in the Forbes 30 under 30 2017 list in the Media category, one the Most Influential Women in UK IT 2017 by ComputerWeekly, and the winner of Startup Battlefield at TechCrunch Disrupt London in 2016.
True Londoner Emily has a background in film production, after gaining a degree at Chelsea Art School, and subsequently a degree in visual communication in many multi-mediums, film and video. Emily started her career at Working Title (a feature film production), where she worked on film sets for a few years. However, working on such huge scale films it meant that she didn’t feel her work had a real impact on the final production and it became clear that it was the real life storytelling in documentary which inspired her.
Following her instincts to pursue something bigger, she joined a small team producing wildlife films and production documentaries in Cape Town, South Africa. In a role that was much more hands on, she gained a clearer understanding of how documentary production came together from beginning to end. It was a great experience that offered her the opportunity to work abroad in interesting places, and ultimately is where she came up with the initial idea for Seenit.
The idea came to her one day in Cape Town, when she went to film a protest to create her own story; she noticed everyone was capturing the movement on their camera phones. She ran around and asked people to send her their videos and then pieced them together to make a short film with the idea that ‘together our message is stronger’. She had no budget, and no camera equipment, but was excited at how the new world could open up the video industry and develop unique visual content. She never set out to create her own business, but was more focused on telling stories, never with the idea to necessarily commercialise any of her creations.
With renewed energy, Emily returned to London to create her own production company (Koburn) which involved charging people’s phones in exchange for their video content at festivals and then selling it back to the event organiser. As her first venture, a key lesson learned was that finding a cofounder who aligned with where you want to take the product is really rare (the co-founders went separate ways). However, Emily soon realised that this was something she wanted to develop into a scalable platform rather than a production company – and so Seenit was born.
We had the chance to catch up with Emily
Tell us a bit about the Seenit?
Seenit was founded in January 2014 – it’s a video collaboration tool that helps large organizations engage with their employees and clients to co-create with their community – taking crowdsourcing to another level. Seenit is an online platform, and invite-only video capture app. We help people speak up and share their ideas to create authentic community generated content. Our vision by bringing these people together is to build the most powerful film crew in the world!
Let’s take Benefit makeup as an example. They train and invest in their beauty consultants who work in stores all over the world to know everything about their beauty products, they are therefore the best people to be at the front of their brand. We work with them to develop videos on make up tutorials, product reviews, and gift recommendations with their real people, and therefore share out relatable content. It’s now grown a step further into working with their customers and superfans. It’s the best performing content online because customers want to listen to the experiences of real people. It’s about collaborative storytelling: if you can pull in individuals from different ages, backgrounds and cultures, to tell their stories, you’ll have further engagement as a wider group of people will relate with at least one person in the story.
How did the idea for Seenit take off initially?
I joined an accelerator programme called Collider that focuses on B2B marketing technologies. They select 10 companies and give you funding in return for equity, together with an incredible support network. I enrolled together with my co-founder. The initial programme is 3 months with how to’s on : creating a forecast, hiring staff, marketing, how to put a sales deck together etc. They also open doors in organisations you otherwise wouldn’t have access to. They don’t only give you a network of mentors and coaches, but also connections to other founders on the same programme. It’s an incredible experience and I can’t put into words the value of finding your tribe and community in the early days and as you start to grow.
Seenit also received £40,000 interest-free from Creative England, who are focused on backing young businesses in the creative industries such as tech, games, entertainment and film.
As the founder of Seenit, what does your typical day look like and what do you enjoy most about doing your own thing?
There is no such thing as a typical day. Today for example I’ve been trying to solve a sales problem with the team, interviewing candidates and I just offered a new role to someone actually, battling with investors, battling with office leases, finalising an agreement with a client, thinking through HR processes and policies and getting the culture through the company.
What’s been your experience in collaborating with large organisations such as Unilever, NBC Universal, The BBC and Diageo?
One of the biggest lessons is understanding the risk individuals in large firms are taking when they decide to work with companies that are agile and small, considering your idea and taking a risk on you. Seeing the pace at which the larger companies move is also a good lesson, as well as being patient. The key is to find your advocate within the company, but also help them to sell you into the rest of the organisation and be empowered to do it, being part of the institutional knowledge.
Another thing I’ve learned is to bring your clients into your roadmap development – it’s very important for them to understand your journey from the start so that they know where you are going, and where you want to be in 5 years.
What are some of the challenges you’ve experienced in creating your business? And what have been the highlights?
One of the biggest challenges is recruiting the right people and managing those people – it’s incredibly stressful if you haven’t done that before. Don’t be afraid to invest in experience, and specifically people who can do it better and push you to be better. Fundraising has also been difficult, we have only raised funds through private investors to date. Research shows that less than 2% of VC funding reaches female-founded businesses, which is shocking! Female founders are asked more questions focusing on things like barriers to entry, risk, competitors… whereas male founders are asked questions around growth, ambition, vision…. Something in the industry has to change, it’s worrying how much of it is unconscious bias, which makes it even more difficult to change.
The highlights far outweigh the challenges, I never imagined being in a career like this and to have such fascinating conversations with so many interesting people day to day. The stories you hear and the ambition you see is just unbelievably inspiring. The potential of what young people can do is a big wakeup call across the entrepreneurial world. Winning the TechCrunch Disrupt challenge was incredible and a validation that Seenit is a tech company, and is now recognised by some of the top VCs judging on the panel.
Here at Eyedea have been honoured to host some of the world’s leading women in business across different sectors. Who would you say are the women who inspire you?
Janet Coyle introduced me to a group of remarkable women as part of SVC2UK (Silicon Valley Comes to UK) where I joined a group of female founders on a trade mission to Silicon Valley for 5 days which was an incredible experience. Meeting these women and hearing their journeys has transformed who I am and how I run the company. It’s so important to have a support network from the personal to the professional and I can now truly say that they are also great friends.
What would be your top 3 words of advice for anyone thinking of branching out in this direction?
- Don’t be afraid to own your accomplishment and be proud of them to help build resilience for the down days.
- Find the people you trust, respect and admire so that you can let your guard down to learn from others, find a small group that you can release to.
- Trust your gut, always.
Seenit has gone from strength to strength since its start up, how do you see it taking shape over the next few years?
We want to be global and work with large organisations connecting them to their communities as a platform for collaborative storytelling from all over the world. We also want to develop products in all the languages it needs to be in, so that the material is accessible and we champion the voices that need to be heard. I’d also love to double the team by this time next year, and spend more time in New York to grow our client base there. Additionally, we want to further develop our automation and machine learning, there is so much content and data, so I’d love a system to help us mine the data we’ve collected so far.
You can explore more about Seenit on their YouTube channel.