Videos on the web have a huge potential. Youtube has more than 1 billion users each month and about 100 minutes of movies are uploaded every minute. Netflix is revolutionizing TV. Online streaming of live events is reality. Chromecast is streaming video content on your HD TV. However, there is one problem: Creating high quality videos can be quite frustrating. Usually you need a camera, good light conditions, at least one microphone and a lot of time to get shots right. Very often you eventually need to cut and paste everything and use expensive software to show of something that looks really remarkable. Professional video equipment can easily get an individual into the regions of 10.000 USD, and software is all but cheap. Not to mention the learning curve to master these tools. What if everybody could create awesome video contents. What if there was something like Shutterstock for videos. Millions of short videos, sounds and effects available and all you need to do is to put them in a timeline and press the create button.
At the beginning of 2013 the problem was suddenly solved by Binumi. Binumi provides a huge, 1 million and growing, library of video and sound clips that you can assemble online. The service runs completely in the cloud which means that the rendering is done online as well. The user interface is pretty straight forward. Drag and drop the clips into your timeline, add sound, click render, wait until the video rendering is done, watch and share. Since the whole content is royalty free – everybody can create, share and even sell their creations.
The face behind Binumi is Anthony Copping. The British documentary filmmaker, producer and entrepreneur worked with National Geographic to create the Television show “Last Voices from Heaven” where he explored indigenous cultures to explore their storytelling through music.
With Binumi Anthony translated the storytelling concept into the 21st century. Binumi has been in alpha since early 2013 and had recently its official launch. During the nine month the Startup was able to create collaborations with 50 primary and secondary educational institutions in Thailand to provide them with access to the huge multimedia database. The content is aligned with the Thai and Australian school curricula in order to support creation, communication, collaboration and critical thinking in the classroom. Currently Binumi supports more than 150,000 students and has more than 10,000 pre-paid subscribers.
This large amount of users and the heavy usage of computational rendering power in the cloud require a sophisticated architecture to work flawlessly. Binumi hired Carlos Herrera as a CTO. Before joining Binumi Carlos was Head of IT for Rocket Internet, specifically Lazada. We spoke with Carlos about the technological challenges of Binumi and the efforts that went into creating a scalable video rendering platform.
Binumi provides a vast content library, I’d say one of the largest in the world.
When I first saw Binumi in January, I think, it was already working quite well. It looks significantly different now. Why did you implement so many changes?
We did many changes as we felt that the storytelling focus had to be more prominent, there was also a need to improve some of the existing flows and make it very straightforward to show what Binumi is about. Introducing elements such as tutorials, intro videos and a “functionality tour” made it easier for our users to understand how to start their journey.
Binumi provides a vast content library, I’d say one of the largest in the world, in addition to the hundreds of pre-existing story templates that make it very easy to get started. We needed to translate these facts into the message we delivered with the product. I strongly believe that the team made a big step to achieve this with the current release and the feedback has been very positive so far.
I believe that building a product is not only about making it functional and useful for our customers but also making the life of my development team easier every day.
How did you find out these changes were necessary? What processes did you use?
Experience is key. My previous position managing a large website such as Lazada Thailand and my experience in web development over the last nine years gave me the insight to understand what was needed to be improved.
The previous version of Binumi was actually good in terms of functionality, but we wanted to have an easy way to explain the product, a cleaner interface, better workflows and a platform ready to grow. When I joined I sat down with Anthony, the CEO, and went through the site reviewing where we needed some adjustments, and we have since translated that into design and lines of code.
Did you only change the “look and feel” or did you change the back-end as well?
We changed not only the look and feel but also the entire way of developing the product. We introduced new processes, tracking tools and platform components such as a queue system, automation scripts, improved our source code management process, decoupled the entire platform in a way that allow us to react faster to the upcoming growth and also re-factored several parts of the system. Now we have a solid source code base where the development team can be more productive. I believe that building a product is not only about making it functional and useful for our customers but also making the life of my development team easier every day.
How many people have been working on these changes?
The development team is 4 developers including myself and we worked closely with the CEO, COO and the Head of Design. Many more people were involved in other specific tasks as well.
In terms of methodology we use agile, more pragmatic rather than a purist.
Having such a large makeover, how do you control the different jobs, and manage the team?
I act as the gatekeeper for all the product adjustments, issues and new features. All the requirements are sent through our project management tools, I then prioritize and assign after verifying the impact on the business side. This enabled us to focus on delivery and keep track of everything we were doing.
In terms of methodology we use agile, more pragmatic rather than a purist. The team is very capable so I focus on removing their obstacles, coaching and lead bigger tasks or infrastructure changes.
What software do you use to manage such a project?
JIRA, Github.com, several bash scripts for automation and small libraries as grunt.
Where are your hosting your and how do you handle the, I imagine, hefty amount of computing power necessary to render a large amount of videos?
We use Amazon Web Services. The flexibility they provide is enough for what we need. S3 for storage, Cloudfront for CDN of videos and static content, optimized EC2 instances and Kestrel for queuing rendering jobs. Of course, apart from that we’ve added more elements such as monitoring systems like New Relic and Icinga. Using the right tools for the tasks is the way to manage any platform.
What was the most important change you initiated?
I started a re-factor in several parts of platform and introduced new technology components to have the platform ready for growth. As I knew the team was growing, I wanted to make it easier for new members to jump in. Removing possible sources of frustration is crucial to have the team motivated and help them to deliver at fast pace.
If you look back at the last six months, what would you have done differently?
I would put in place a product management process from day one rather than jump in on the source code, which would have helped us to align the product with the business. Fortunately, we are doing very well on this regard now.
Binumi is still in Beta, what can users expect of the next couple of month? Do you plan further significant changes or are you know in the fine tuning stage?
We will definitely keep adding features and making improvements. In the next couple of months we are expecting to add hundreds of story templates, revamp our search capabilities to make it easier to find specific content and also prepare our backend to be ready for mobile.
How are you able to create such a large amount of royalty free content?
We have a team working 24/7 on content production and we add close to 20.000 clips per month to our library. 100% of the content was either produced by us or acquired, that’s how we can make it royalty free.
A mobile strategy is in our roadmap.
Since you have already established collaborations with several schools in Thailand, are you looking to build an app that supports the one tablet per child initiative of the Thai government? In general looking to develop apps for tablets and phones?
Indeed a mobile strategy is in our roadmap. It’s very important to us to provide convenience and easy to use tools in several devices apart from the web version. We don’t have any specific strategy regarding OTPC but that’s something we would be very interested to explore with our partners.