• Common Craft Shows that Video Entrepreneurship is Alive and Well

    Far, far from the world of big media, where broadband delivery is causing multi-billion dollar tectonic plate shifts, there is a Seattle-based husband-and-wife team who are demonstrating that video is truly a wide open playing field for entrepreneurs with clever new ideas and the pluck to pursue them. Big media's broadband pursuits provide ample grist for my daily VideoNuze posts, but periodic detours describing entrepreneurial companies like Common Craft show how fundamentally empowering broadband video has become.

    I discovered Common Craft last week when I noticed a prompt at the top of Twitter.com for a video explaining "Twitter in Plain English." I clicked and found myself watching a short video with simple paper cutouts acting out how Twitter works, along with a voice-over providing simple but detailed narration. It perfectly explained what Twitter is about in 2 1/2 minutes.

    Intrigued, I followed the producer's link to CommonCraft.com and found an entire library of similarly formatted videos, on topics such as technology, society, money and green. I tweeted how cool I thought the videos were and 20 minutes later, Chris Savage at Wistia sent me an email saying he saw my tweet. He said he knows the Common Craft founders and offered an introduction. Shortly thereafter I found myself talking to Lee LeFever, half of the Common Craft team. (as an aside, talk about the power of Twitter to connect people!).

    The whole Common Craft story is well-laid out here, but the abbreviated version is that Lee's on-the-job experience prompted him to write blog posts explaining RSS and Wikis in "plain English." On a hunch, he and his wife Sachi turned the RSS post into a short video, sort of stumbling onto the idea of the paper cutouts (which they call "paperworks") and narration. When it was posted in April, 2007, it was promoted on Digg and got tons of views. Next they turned the wikis post into a successful video and Lee discovered his knack for productizing explanation (to date Lee says their videos have racked up 10M+ views and have been translated into 50+ languages).

    Given the Common Craft team's lack of video experience, their videos might get thrown into the "user generated" category. But the quality and power of their videos instantly blurs the distinction between what is UGC and what is "premium." Lee explained to me that it was in fact their lack of formal video training that freed them to do things that "professionals' likely wouldn't have done, allowing them to create their own authentic style.

    The capper to the Common Craft story is that not only have the LeFevers figured out how to make quality video, they've figured out an effective way to promote and monetize it. Eschewing the custom video path (which they started to gain traction with), they've instead focused on licensing their videos for training and educational purposes. Lee says they're already generating $15K/mo in license fees. The key is still using YouTube and their own site to offer full length free viewing, with prompts to transact. They've also leveraged their reach by creating something called the "Explainer Network" which provides referrals to a handful of custom video companies.

    I'm drawn to the Common Craft story because it is a business model completely rooted in the broadband video economy. The LeFevers demonstrate that broadband really does enable "amateurs" to found successful video businesses that in the past would have been prohibitively costly and untenable. I have no doubt we'll see plenty more success stories like Common Craft's in the years to come, as broadband becomes an ever more pervasive part of our economy.

    What do you think? Post a comment now.