After failing to build the Netflix for African short films, Tobi decided to solve one problem he and his filmmaker partners were constantly facing: submitting films to festivals. With only $11, after losing $10,000, he bought a domain, a hosting and started developing. Since then, Festivilia has made $15,000 and is now making a few hundreds per month.
Hi Tobi! What's your background, and what are you currently working on?
Hi Failories! !’m Tobi Ogunwande. I am 27 years old and a proud Nigerian based in Lagos, Nigeria. I love to describe myself as a lover of film, tech and good food. I have been interviewed on Failory based on my failed startup (Hubrif); an online video platform for streaming award-winning and curated African short films. You can call it a Netflix for African short films. I figured I should balance up the equation by talking about my current startup Festivilia which is quite successful and I credit its success based on the lessons and experience gained in running Hubrif.
Festivilia is a film festival submission and distribution platform that allows filmmakers and content providers to submit their films to a curated list of film festivals with just 1 form. Festivilia acts as the Festival Distributor for its clients helping to scout, source, submit to film festivals as well as manage all communications between these festivals and our clients. Basically, Festivilia saves filmmakers money and invaluable time by only submitting their films to festivals they have a higher chance of being accepted in as well as making sure their time is spent on other productive activities rather than spent filling numerous submission forms.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
The idea for Festivilia was inspired by 2 experiences. The first was with an encounter with an Egyptian filmmaker, Ramy El Gabry, in 2016 while I was still running Hubrif. The other was my personal experience with submitting my films to film festivals. I stumbled upon Ramy’s short film, From Inside, and was really moved by the storyline. I then reached out to the filmmaker to get the film featured on Hubrif and it became the most watched film on the platform at that time.
From my years of attending film festivals, I felt the film would be a perfect match for some festivals and decided to submit the film on his behalf. To both our surprise the film was selected by almost all the film festivals that I had submitted it to, including the 2016 Africa International Film Festival where we both finally met. On one of the days of the festival, Ramy and I were discussing and then he said that what I did for him was a great service that many filmmakers would gladly pay for.
Fast forward 3 years later, Festivilia is the official Festival Distributor for all of Divine Touch Productions films (Ramy’s production company).
The second experience was that I have always had a problem with filling numerous submission forms of film festivals to submit my film to festivals. With an acceptance rate of less than 5%, I find the whole process very inefficient and time wasting.
Over time, other submission platforms like filmfreeway and withoutabox made the process less frustrating by building a marketplace for filmmakers and film festival alike, but I realized the issue of time spent on these platforms sieving through different festivals rules and regulations to see which festivals your film is a perfect match for hasn't been close to being solved.
I didn't want to spend 100 of hours monthly doing this activity but would rather find a platform that can help me do all the hard work (Source for the right festivals and submit on my behalf) and I pay for the service. There was none in existence. I decided to solve my problem. These 2 experiences were the fire that sparked the idea for Festivilia.
How did you build Festivilia?
I didn’t want to go through the experience I had when I founded Hubrif. A summary of that experience was I had to find a technical co-founder who not only had the skill-set to build a VOD platform but also must love filmmaking. It took about 1 year to find that person.
For Festivilia, I decided to take the bull by the horn. With all the tools out there today, I knew it shouldn’t be that hard to build an MVP on my own. I already laid out a template that will support the use of free tools and with little-no coding required. I found Mobirise - an offline website builder and was able to get a reliable free/cheap hosting plan (hub8), Canva was used to design my logo and in 3 weeks, I was able to build a decent MVP. In all, it cost me just $11 in total! (I only spent money to buy the domain).
Back then, clients had to download the form, fill and email back to us and we would then send a payment invoice. The back and forth wasn’t good enough even though our customers never complained. I wanted a semi-automated system so I kept improving the workflow of the platform. Thanks to Airtable Forms which enabled us to build flexible cloud-based online forms (This replaced users having to download, fill and email back a form).
Thanks to Flutterwave and Paystack, we could integrate our payment invoices to our online forms with zero set-up fees). Google Sheets allows us to create beautiful and easy to understand festival tracking dashboards. We have a near perfect semi-automated system with minimal supervision today.
Which were your marketing strategies to grow your business?
We have sorely grown through referrals and word of mouth. We have generated over $15,000 in revenue since our launch 10 months ago. When we launched, we were fortunate to get enough buzz from blogs and media outlets in Nigeria and South Africa.
We have sorely leveraged on this and built our reputation from such buzz. We also have just begun to take our SEO seriously. Blogging was a great resource for us and gradually helped us build a community but unfortunately, we had issues with our blogging platform and lost all of our contents so we had to start blogging afresh. Thanks to the amazing guys at publishnow for building an amazing blogging tool, we are now back to blogging. Recognition from filmmakers happened after we appeared on the front page of the 2018 September edition of Screen Africa Magazine.
What are your goals for the future?
We are not just looking to build a marketplace for filmmakers and film festivals but build an automated and AI-powered platform that will totally make the submission of films to festivals seamless by cutting the time spent on this activity as much as we can so filmmakers can actively spend their time on other creative activities.
We also want film festivals to be accountable. The emergence of film festival submission platforms like filmfreeway and shortfilmdepot has made it very seamless for filmmakers to submit their films to festivals all in one place. This has made film festivals easily receive far more submissions than they would have imagined only a few years ago. film festivals that receive about 500 submissions annually now have access to receiving over 5000 submissions but for only 30-50 available spots. While this is beneficial to the festivals, it has also created a fraudulent system because these festivals most of the times end up not watching 50% of these submissions whereas they still got 100% submission fees from these filmmakers. We are building a secure marketplace system whereby filmmakers can easily see if a festival they paid an entry fee to actually watched their film. In the case where they the film wasn't watched, the entry fees paid by the filmmaker will be returned back to the entrant. We believe the film festival circuit should be a free and fair ground for both filmmakers and festivals alike.
Our short-term goal is that we intend to sponsor an award category at a few partnered film festivals this year. Few film festivals have monetary award prices, we want to be able to contribute towards the growth of the careers of filmmakers. Filmmakers need funds to continue making films, this will be our own little way of being a part of their success stories.
What were the biggest challenges you faced and the obstacles you overcame?
With no background in software development and definitely very broke with no funds to hire a developer, I didn't know how I would build a platform by myself. I took up the challenge to research, read a lot of articles on website development, how to build an MVP, etc! Well, as they say, the rest is history.
Also, manually curating thousands of film festivals and carefully selecting the ones that are a perfect fit for Festivilia was a painstaking job. We spent a few months doing this. Well, it is still a painstaking job as we constantly research and add film festivals to our database.
Which are your greatest disadvantages? What were your worst mistakes?
One of our biggest mistakes was at the initial launch of Festivilia, we priced the service so low and this was a huge strain on us. We overpromised and in the bid to not disappoint our clients, we worked our ass off (Permit my language) to fulfill our promises. Because of this, we couldn't take any more clients for a few months for obvious reasons. If we had done that, we would have failed to deliver. This meant we lost money. Fast forward to today, we are happy we made such mistakes as this has helped refined our business model. I guess the popular saying “If you are not embarrassed with your product when you launched, then you launched too late” is true.
If you had the chance to do things differently, what would you do?
We have been fortunate to have been profitable from day 1. Our costs to build an MVP was extremely low and our current cost of running the platform is still low. In figures, we launched the platform with a total cost of $11 (Just to buy the domain).
We currently spend around $20 monthly and this is sorely for internet data services. We are not incurring any expenses running the platform in itself. We have generated roughly $15,000 in revenue so far (From Subscription fees, VOD distribution deals and Commission on award prices with monetary values from film festivals) and currently doing about $250 in MRR (Sorely from subscription fees).
I am pretty satisfied with how we launched. I wouldn’t change anything. I started Festivilia as a side project while still working at Cartehub as a Business Development Personnel. I have since left Cartehub and joined Divine Touch Productions; an International production company headquartered in Egypt. Technically, Festivilia is still a side project as I work full-time remotely for Divine Touch.
What are some sources for learning you would recommend for entrepreneurs who are just starting?
Firstly, let me chip in a piece of advice for budding techpreneurs. Forget about startup incubators, VC funding and all those noises you already know about. I spent a lot of time on these things when I was running Hubrif and trust me, the outcome was not as good as we thought. It was an emotion-draining activity. Rather, spend time building your startup and get in touch with your specific target audience. Figure out a way to begin making money from day 1. If it’s too expensive to set up an MVP, it’s probably not a good idea. Goodluck!
I am a big fan of Failory and IndieHackers. I love to discover new products on Hacker News, Betalist and Betapage. The guys at The Hustle and Techcabal Digest are amazing! I get my daily tech news roundup sent to my email in a fun and entertaining model. I love to connect to the filmmakers' community on Reddit and Stage32. Quora is an amazing place to get real answers to almost all of your questions and also help out with sharing your experiences.