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Interview: Steve Callanan Of wireWAX

Steve Callanan’s first business venture involved making long-boards in his dad’s garage for the local skate park.

“During the summer break – I spent all my time building them and by the time it came to selling them, summer was over. I sold nothing and a few years later I turned them all into bookshelves,” says Steve.

He adds: “I guess I was always interested in building things and creating something from nothing and I suppose in many ways, that’s what entrepreneurship is all about – if you have enough desire to create something unique, you enjoy the challenge of making it work – no matter what – and you get a buzz from seeing others use something you’ve created.”

Now, one of Steve’s handmade bookshelves resides in his office. His passion and creativity for building stuff culminated in a successful company, wireWAX, an interactive video tool, which has recently been accepted into the first BBC Worldwide Labs programme and is used by big brand names such as Nike, Tommy Hilfiger, Rip Curl and Levi’s.

Below, 10×10 Labs gets the chance to interview Steve about wireWAX…

How did you come up with the idea for the world’s first tagable video tool?

Starting very young, I ran a production company producing TV content for nearly 10 years. During that time my company also produced commercial on-line video for brands and publishers and became the production house for all short-form video content for major digital publishers such at National Magazines and Hearst Digital. During that time it became acutely apparent that there was an obvious lack of interactivity in video; the brands whose products we featured grew frustrated by the failure to exploit obvious commercial opportunities. It was at this point that the concept for wireWAX was born. The products in the video were impossible to buy, unless you heard a mention or could see a product name enough to search for that product yourself. A huge ask for viewers and unless they were determined the opportunity to purchase on impulse is lost.

For the first 6 months, wireWAX was a crude prototype being engineered in evenings and weekends but a eureka moment changed everything and we changed focus from production to creating what wireWAX is today. I’m very glad to say I have no plans to go back, production can be a very difficult environment and I absolutely love what I’m doing now, even if the work is much much harder.

How did you go about developing your idea into the product that it is today?

wireWAX started as a simple concept then a working prototype and then a paid for self-service tool. It’s now a much more comprehensive and powerful beast which could only have been achieved with the right people to help build it. Developing that initial idea involved convincing others to share my vision for a clean and simple client-facing interface and an ambitious engine behind the scenes that can deliver the magic and achieve the impossible. I’m lucky to have found some incredible people who now share that vision, believe in its potential and genuinely want to play a part in taking things much further. The concept is still relatively in its infancy compared to where we want to take it.

How has wireWAX’s team and business model grown since you started out?

Initially it was just me, then I was joined by Dan Garraway who helped take wireWAX to the next level. We’re now a much bigger; and rapidly growing team. We’re always on the look out for more people and we’re hoping to expand to international territories over the next year. Most of our business comes from overseas so it makes sense for us to have a presence where our customers are.

We’ll always maintain a freemium self-serve tool for making videos interactive – like we always intended. We have a commercial partnership arm where brands, publishers, broadcasters and agencies get special treatment to create bespoke campaigns that go beyond the freemium tool. The tool and the commercial executions look after each other as the commercial partnerships provides the huge audiences we wouldn’t achieve on our own and the more the consumer and enterprise users create their own experiences, the more the commercial clients look to do something special themselves.

How did you go about seeking funding for wireWAX?

As wireWAX started as an experiment while running the production company, I was able inject a lot of personal finance and channel production revenue to research and development. It grew increasingly obvious that wireWAX was bigger than production and required more time, people and resources; so reducing the amount of personal time on production and looking for investment was the first major step to taking things further. In June 2011 we received early-round investment from Passion Capital, headed-up by Eileen Burbidge, Stefan Glaenzer and Robert Dighero. Between ramping down production and successfully closing that early-round, I’d by lying if I said things were easy. Yes, I could redirect production profits but as my personal involvement in that business diminished so did those profits and there was increasing pressure on me to fund things personally and embark on a very hard period of ‘beg, borrow and steal’. I never doubted that wireWAX was worth the pain and when the tech was in good shape and people were paying to use it, there was an overwhelming sense of vindication and it all felt worthwhile. We started door-knocking investors at the beginning of 2011 and having the opportunity to present at Mike Butcher’s GeeknRolla certainly allowed us to hit a lot of people at the same time. We were invited to Seedcamp Berlin and a few weeks later we were sat around a table with Eileen, Stefan and Robert from Passion bashing out the details.

What are wireWAX’s biggest achievements to date?

If someone had told me a couple of years ago that our product would be used by global power brands such as Nike, Tommy Hilfiger and Rip Curl; and broadcasters such as Channel 4 and ITV, I don’t think I would have believed them.

Where do you see wireWAX in the future?

The future is very exciting for wireWAX. The investment from Passion came with a road-map to develop wireWAX to what it is now. A major overhaul of infrastructure, a complete rebuild of communications, a vast simplification revision of user-interface and user experience; and the start of the biggest commercial application of computer vision in Europe. Our aim is to make wireWAX the first and only solution to make all video, everywhere, interactive. Doing that means we need the systems in place to cope and the automated functions to reduce almost all user effort. We launched the first part of this earlier in the year with a new website and user management studio. We’ll always be adding new automated features and improving the technology and you’ll start to see some incredible stuff over the next few weeks, amazing things with video no one has done before.

What is your advice to new tech start-ups from your experience?

My advice is to simply persevere. If you really believe in your idea and you believe that it has a genuine use for more than 10 people, work hard and work long – whatever it takes to get it working. Whatever it takes to get it to your audience. Sometimes your designs or your code won’t work and it’ll feel like you’re killing yourself for a silly idea that never will, but stick at it. There is no substitute and no easy route. Be prepared to sacrifice to make it succeed, but be aware not everyone around you will like you for it.

My hot tip is lists. This is probably an obvious one but make a list, no matter how big and silly it looks and never quit working through it, ignore anyone or anything that tells you to skip tasks or lose enthusiasm. Stay determined at all costs, set yourself a target and get there no matter what. The trick is to never be overwhelmed by the mountain left to climb, set yourself small goals and cross off achievements as you go. You’ll feel good as you work through it and keeping all your tasks in one place will free your mind of clutter and keep you creative. It’ll also ensure you get a good night’s sleep. And finally I’d say the single most important piece of advice is people. Surround yourself with very, very good people. People who you can rely on and who genuinely share your vision to make your idea happen. Get rid of those who don’t, fast – it may not be immediately obvious but they’ll drag you and the team down. There’s nothing better than coming to work, building something with guys who love it as much as you do and always having a proper giggle along the way.


Steve was interviewed by Corinne Campbell of Kent Business Radio