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Video Stars: Simply Sublime
Here’s the story on Internet video. Until recently, there was pretty much one technology to play video online: Flash. It enabled the YouTube revolution. Today, however, the Web is moving away from Flash—a proprietary technology from Adobe—and towards something called HTML5, the new Web standard. To reconcile video with the new world of the Web, Swiss startup Jilion pioneered a solution: SublimeVideo.
The startup just ended a three-month residency in the Bay Area, where they took part in the US Market Entry CAMP. They worked out of the swissnex San Francisco office, participated in workshops on brand messaging and visa issues, and most importantly met with potential clients. In fact, three new major customers are on board as a result of in-person (in-California) interactions.
Zeno Crivelli, who grew up in the Italian-speaking region of Switzerland, is Jilion’s co-founder and leads the development team, and he represented Jilion in San Francisco. An electrical engineer with a degree from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), his master’s thesis was firmly rooted in computer science—his true passion. His project enabled students to provide instant feedback to their teacher through anonymous polling over the Internet using mobile phones. This was before EDGE, 3G networks, and the smartphone boom, by the way.
EPFL’s Craft Lab noticed Crivelli’s talents and hired him in 2004. In 2005, he met Jilion co-founder, Mehdi Aminian. “In our free time, we were going out for coffee and talking about building a startup. It was a perfect match,” recalls Crivelli.
Together, Crivelli and Aminian began working on a new Web project and, in 2009, started a consulting service developing web and iPhone apps for clients. One project particularly excited them and they wrote up a blog post to share their innovations. It made sense to include a video of the cool animations and UI transitions they’d created, only they did not want to use a video player built with Adobe Flash to do it. It was an iPhone app, after all, and iPhones don’t support Flash.
The Jilion team figured there had to be another way, and when they couldn’t find one, they made their own using a technology just starting to emerge in some browsers and known mainly in geek circles at the time: HTML5. The resulting SublimeVideo player became Jilion’s core product.
“It was a Web first,” Crivelli says. “Nobody was doing that before.”
Jilion worked on the player in their spare time over the Christmas holidays that year with the sole purpose of adding a video to that one blog post. But they quickly saw its greater potential.
“Instead of publishing our blog post, we published a demo page showing the player,” Crivelli says. “That was on January 25, 2010. We had 30 to 40 Twitter followers. Within a week, we had 3,500 and within a couple of months we had more than 8,000 followers and 1,500 articles mentioning us. Our demo page got 1 million unique visitors.”
Through a stroke of serendipity, two days after Jilion published their demo, Apple’s Steve Jobs presented a demo of his own—the iPad.
“It’s a great device to surf the web and watch videos, but it doesn’t support Flash,” notes Crivelli. “We had articles on the iPad linking to us.”
Armed with what they knew was a powerful product, Jilion worked like crazy to make it viable for widespread use. That meant developing a service and payment plan, and learning to market the product as well as scale it. One upshot of a Flash player is that it’s one technology in all browsers. Meanwhile, each browser and device implements HTML5 slightly differently. Jilion was able to exploit this difficulty, however, and create a business opportunity.
“If everyone needs to go through the complexity, we can handle it and provide a final solution,” Crivelli says, thinking back.
Unlike competitors who sprang up shortly after Sublime launched, Jilion’s team works endlessly to update the code of their player for every browser and new device—and delivers it all in the cloud. Each time a page displaying the player is visited, it’s updated with the latest version. That means no installation and no maintenance for customers.
Customers like the digital agency Wollzelle. “Practically speaking, [SublimeVideo] enables us to integrate rock-solid video capabilities into our sites and applications, safe in the knowledge they will work everywhere, so we can focus on what the video is about and what happens around it,” reports Thomas Pamminger, CEO/Chief Creative Officer of Wollzelle. “Because Jilion keeps an eye on the rapidly changing browser and plug-in landscape, we know our videos will keep playing, no matter what.”
Jilion launched Sublime Video commercially in March 2011 as a paid service, and in November of that year introduced a free plan. In 2012 as a participant in the Bay Area CAMP, Crivelli led Jilion’s entry into the US Market by taking advantage of the region’s density of like-minded startups and potential clients.
More than half of SublimeVideo customers are located in the US, and of those really driving traffic, almost all are here, remarks Crivelli. He says that’s why Jilion applied to the CAMP in the first place.
“We’re able to take a car or a bus and go meet existing and new customers. The fact that you sit face to face, side by side and do demos, it’s different than doing a Skype call.”
Another new client is TWiT, an online provider of video content now using Sublime for all their shows. Crivelli met the company’s founder, Leo Laporte, at Le Web in France but the contact didn’t result in a business relationship until Crivelli was physically here in the US and could go and visit in person.
Jilion’s happy customers and viewers all over the Internet need look no further to display and watch videos online. Sublime indeed.