Launching a new business venture is nothing new for serial entrepreneurs Steve Durham, Michael Puscar, Todd Giannattasio and Jeffrey Paul. All the cofounders have extensive resumes that include launching and exiting successful ventures.
Now they’re back at it again with another business, this one called “Ziotag”(formerly “Viziotag”), located in Plainfield. The Ziotag idea was originally conceived during the weeks and months after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The idea was to help corporations that would normally fly new hires and recently promoted employees to their headquarters for several weeks of classroom-based training.
Steve Durham was working with a Fortune 100 company on developing and delivering training for field sales personnel. Immediately after the attack, air travel became much more complicated and worrisome for the employees, their families and the company. It was necessary to look for alternative ways to deliver the training to remote employees at their home offices, so as to eliminate the need to travel by airplane.
By video recording the classroom training and delivering it via streaming media, a company can get its employees trained and prepared to be successful in their new roles. It was clear at the time, however, that employees receiving long-format streaming videos needed a better way to watch and engage with the content. Steve hunkered down and created the first version of what is now Ziotag.
NJTechWeekly.com contributor Johnathan Grzybowski spoke earlier this month with Paul, the CEO as well as cofounder of Ziotag. During the conversation, Grzybowski asked Paul how the idea was created. He also wanted to know how New Jersey Tech Weekly, “The Voice of New Jersey Tech” could help!
Q: What does your company do?
Ziotag is an AI [artificial intelligence]-driven video system that transforms the experience of online video for both publishers and viewers, solving real-world problems for anyone with video content: event producers, video publishers, learning professionals and more. Its powerful concept-based audio and video recognition technology is the basis of Ziotag’s “Visual Navigation System” and trademarked “Actionable Table of Contents,” making any online video easier to watch, share, search and navigate. A pioneer in the market of end-user video AI-based offerings, Ziotag provides “a better way to watch” for any online informational video or audio file.
Q: How did you start the company?
The company was established in July of 2018. The founders have a long history of working with streaming media and training videos. The explosive growth of long-format, informational videos online has created an immediate need for end user-based artificial intelligence- and machine learning [ML]-powered tools to help viewers search, navigate, share and watch videos. Without tools like Ziotag, users are blindly navigating long-format videos in order to find and understand the topics being discussed. Absent the Ziotag offering, these videos are unwatchable and quickly become orphaned, underperforming assets. Ziotag delivers a strategic solution that turns these assets into high-performance, interactive videos that greatly enhance viewer productivity.
Q: How did you get the funding to start your company?
The company was started with our own money. Bootstrapped with a capital “B”! Steve Durham, chief product officer, built the initial versions of the product by hand to get to our [minimum viable product] and on-board our initial customers. Once the platform was deployed and stable, we recruited CTO Michael Puscar to join the firm and upgrade the service to include artificial intelligence and machine learning. We recently completed our initial angel round of investment, which will get us to our next release of the product, scheduled for December of this year. Early release will be available October 15th.
Q: How does tech help your business?
The explosive growth of long-format, informational videos online has created an immediate need for end user-based AI- and ML-powered tools to help viewers search, navigate, share and watch videos. Ziotag helps companies by taking their long-format informational video and audio recordings and making them easy to find, search, share, watch and understand. It’s great for training and events. Ziotag transforms any long-format video into a high-power, interactive video.
Q: Could you give us a case study about how your business has helped someone?
Event producers that capture speaker panels and product demonstrations were the first to deploy Ziotag. The Disruptive Technologists group and the New York Tech Meetup found that their two-hour videos were much easier to search and share using Ziotag. The investment to pull together all the resources to produce an event is significant. When they are recorded, nobody watches the videos because they are too long. With the Ziotag platform, any nontechnical person can automatically build the “Visual Navigation System” and “Actionable Table of Contents,” and rapidly push the video out over many difference social media channels. It’s faster, better, cheaper.
We have organizations that are looking for us to deploy Ziotag as a media contextualization engine for audio and video files. In simple terms, they want to use the Ziotag AI and ML capabilities to discover, find and enable media clips from online video and audio files to deliver contextually appropriate media content to users.
Sample applications might be marketing communications or help-desk or corporate training or any enterprise application that could benefit from video files. In a nutshell, it is putting enterprise videos to work to support the mission. Everybody’s got video. Nobody knows what’s in them and they don’t know how to best leverage them. Ziotag solves that problem.
Q: What is your strategy for scaling?
We will have an end-user product available online and in the app stores. There will be several versions available, with different features and functions to match different requirements for different markets. We will use the app store offering to generate leads for our enterprise version for medium-sized and large companies. We will have a robust inside sales team and enterprise sales reps, as well as strategic partners, to bring Ziotag into specific vertical industries. Over time, we will have specialty products for podcasters, small video publishers, sports organizations, music teaching groups and others.
Q: How do you plan to acquire your initial customer base:
- Watching a Ziotag video of a long-format event or conference is a life-changing experience. It makes watching easy and simple, and it’s a real joy to use. Our initial customers will come from the user base of events that we participate in. We will be targeting corporate training events —for example, the Association for Talent Development — and other training trade shows. We are bringing onboard a top-shelf marketing firm based in New Jersey that will help us build out our outreach and recruitment programs.
- We completed our first trade show, which was Amazon’s VOICE Summit Conference in Newark in July. That has pushed us into high gear for investors and clients.
- We will be a sponsor for the upcoming Propelify Innovation Festival, held in Hoboken in October.
- We were recently recruited by a large video and webcasting company to be their partner at a few upcoming industry events.
- With them, we will be participating at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) event in New York City in October and the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in January.
Q: How can the New Jersey Tech Weekly community help you?
We are always looking for new clients and investors. If you know of an organization that has a library of videos that are underperforming assets, we would love to help. We currently also have video event producers who bundle the Ziotag offer with their proposals to win business. Having the Ziotag offer allows them to add significant value to their offer without having to discount their service. It’s a win–win for them and their customers.
We have successfully completed the angel round of fundraising for the company. We are looking for qualified early-stage investors to help us finance the growth phase of the organization.