Maybe you've watched the trailer for "Dishonored," the choose-your-own-adventure style video lets you step into the shoes of the game's supernatural assassin protagonist and make choices that affect the game. Or maybe you've seen the One Kings Lane promotion (video above) that lets you set a table tailored to your tastes and the items in your house. Or maybe you've never heard of interactive video, in which case FlixMaster CEO Erika Trautman is about to expand your world.
For those not in the know: Interactive video is video the user can interact with, whether by changing the plot of a story, choosing to open a door or clicking a button marked “more information.” Trautman's web-based tool FlixMaster turns creating an interactive video from an intricate engineering feat to a simple drag-and-drop experience.
In a phone interview with the Huffington Post, Trautman compares FlixMaster to website-builder WordPress: “You can obviously create a website before Wordpress, but you had to be technically savvy and you had to manage it top to bottom. Wordpress comes along and makes it so easy that not only can everyone create a website, everyone is creating a website.” Trautman hopes to replicate WordPress’s success, and with high-profile clientele already producing with her product (including flash-sales site One King’s Lane) she looks like she’s well on her way.
But what inspired filmmaker Trautman and her husband, game designer Cameron McCaddon, to co-create an interactive video company? “I’d say I didn’t hear the words 'interactive video' until we were already starting to build it,” says Trautman. She and McCaddon were inspired to start the company when collaborating on an interactive “game-like” series, for which they tried to produce nested video.
"As we looked around for technology, we realized, 'Sure, we can do this, we’re gonna have to hire engineers, hard-code this experience. This isn’t low-friction.' It’s definitely heavy engineering lifting just to get this off the ground," she says.
Looking for projects like the game the duo hoped to build, search results piqued the pair’s already-whetted interest. Says Trautman, "We started to see a lot of really innovative, largely one-off video experiences, people had engineered what we had thought of doing, which was 'Let me build one, to get it out into the world', so it’d be these massive labors of full creative and engineering effort to create them."
Trautman and McCaddon concluded that this was territory ripe for entrepreneurship, and not just as a provider for a niche market, either. "We realized that the functionalities we were seeking for this game-ified video experience were really really broad,” says Trautman. “They were great for trans-medium storytelling, but they were also great for anywhere you’re using video to communicate. From education to shopping videos to customer support. It really was very, very broad."
The pair briefly considered starting the company in the San Francisco Bay Area, concluded that the cost of living was too expensive and moved out to Boulder, Colorado because Trautman had just seen the mountain town's tech scene written up in the New York Times. Once based there, even more benefits of the mountainous region began to emerge: “It’s never easy to recruit, but recruiting in Boulder compared to recruiting in New York or the [Silicon] Valley is easier.”
Since launching in 2012, FlixMaster has attracted more than 3,000 users and has been used for high-profile projects, including the "Sights Unseen," the web-only prequel to USA Network's "Covert Affairs" series.
Given a chance to brag about her company as it stands now, Trautman seizes it: “Oh my God, I mean there’s so much that we’re proud of. We’ve got an amazing engineering team who are, like, the foremost world experts in HTML5, which is still pretty darn new. That’s fantastic, and look at what we’ve managed to build on so few resources in a very short period of time, and that’s really fantastic. We’ve had really amazing customers who are creative, and it’s just a pleasure to work with them every day.”
That said, she tells us laughingly, her CEO style may be enthused to the point of obsessive: “I am so all-consumed with FlixMaster. It is what I go to bed thinking about, what I wake up in the morning thinking about.”
It’s hard not to appreciate the enthusiasm that’s pushed Trautman to where she is now, and which, by all indications, is powering FlixMaster towards the future as she wishes it to be. With the tool and several showcases under her belt, the FlixMaster CEO reveals her ultimate plan: to revolutionize the world of video watching.
“In 18 months, 2 years, if all you can do on your video is hit play or hit pause, it’ll be like, ‘It’s broken, why can’t I do more with it?’" predicts Trautman. "This is where video is gonna go, and we want to be the technology that powers that.”
In her excitement, she enthuses, “We want to make interactive video really ubiquitous, we want to make it simple, we want to make it pleasurable...we’re just starting to scratch the surface in terms of what we can do.”