There are good media pitches. I get them every day, and I love engaging with companies who are innovative and smart.
And then, there are GREAT media pitches that have me clicking reply right away.
Serial entrepreneur Freddie Laker, Jr is a master at pitching the media. When he contacted me about his startup Gui.de, I laughed, I clicked through, and I replied. Now, I’m writing the article.
Gui.de has already been working in the text-to-video space since 2012. The original product was consumer-focused, using virtualized avatars to read the news of the day. Unfortunately, they had a problem. The avatars were–well–creepy.
“It was fun, but extremely polarizing,” Laker told me. “People that hated it really hated it. One friend said the avatars would haunt his dreams. It’s some kind of psychological thing that people hated the avatars.”
Seeing as how they weren’t in the scaring business, Laker realized they needed a pivot. So last week, they relaunched with a product aimed at publishers instead of consumers.
The problem with producing good video rarely lies in the shooting or even editing. Rather, it’s incredibly time consuming to research and pull all of the pictures, maps, and other images from the Internet to accompany the story. Guide automates that process, using access to creative commons materials to tell a visual story. The product works well for fact-based content, but by Laker’s admission struggles with local or abstract articles.
Guide does still use computer voices for the free model of the product, but publishers can also add human voiceover, eliminating the creepy avatar problem of the earlier product.
Guide is based in Miami, but Laker was in New York when I talked to him, “shaking his tin cup,” as he says. I couldn’t help but ask, “Why not just base the company in New York?” The city is the home to the many, many publishers, and it seems the investment community would be easier to access.
Laker’s answer surprised me. “Talent.”
In his years in Miami, Laker has found and recruited the best tech talent in the city. While many entrepreneurs everywhere else struggle to find good tech talent, Laker shrugged off that suggestion.
“The best way to attract A-list talen,” he told me, “is to challenge them.”
Guide videos, while looking simple, are complex systems of programming that coordinate images, natural language processes, and editing. It’s enough to keep his developers busy for awhile, he says.
The new Gui.de product launched last Monday, and when Laker and I spoke on Friday, he said there were already 400 publishers using the platform. 30 of those had converted to full paying customers.
Some of those publishers are big, but Laker really sees opportunities for his product with smaller publishers who may not have the money for video departments. While the Internet initially democratized journalism, he says the growth of video gives bigger publications more of an advantage.
Gui.de, he says, can re-democratize digital journalism.
The company has already raised $1.5 million from investors like the Knight Foundation, Omar Epps, and Laker’s former employer Sapient.