Friday, March 8, 2019

startup movie

startup movie

How Chennai-based CiniCloud can be the Zoho of theatre management systems -

Posted: 07 Mar 2019 06:06 PM PST

"If you tell a Rajinikanth fan that he can't do something, he will do it," says Suresh Kumar G, founder of cloud-based theatre management system CiniCloud.

The self-confessed Thalaivar fan tells YourStory that CiniCloud was born out of a problem when MacAppStudio, his other startup, tried building a website for AGS Cinemas - Chennai-based theatre chain - sometime in 2017. The developers had to connect AGS' backend to Vista (a decade-old ticketing software) but ended up hitting a roadblock instead.

Suresh calls Vista the "SAP for cinemas" considering it occupies over 65 percent of the market, but is also quick to point out that it is heavy, slow, and not really cloud-ready. Basically, outdated. "We had to connect to Vista's backend but integrations were difficult because each cinema had a local server. It was like their front-end was a super-fast car, but backend was a bullock cart," he says.

There was a clear problem. And, Suresh, along with his co-founder George Christopher, decided to fix it. They came up with the idea of a cloud-based theatre management and ticketing platform, and decided to build it not just for AGS Cinemas, but as an all-new SaaS product. Thus was born CiniCloud, which launched operations out of Chennai in early 2018.


Suresh Kumar G (left) and George S Christopher, Co-founders, CiniCloud

Also Read: Indian online ticketing market records $28M quarterly revenue, non-movie events play a huge role: RedSeer report

What CiniCloud offers

CiniCloud serves as an end-to-end integrated platform for theatre management, location management, movie cataloging and scheduling, screen management, seat layout management, parking management, ticketing fulfilment and delivery, and also finance and HR management. It even provides data analytics and insights to admins of cinema chains as well as single-screen theatres to help them decode cinegoers' behavioural patterns and preferences across locations.  

In about a year, CiniCloud claims to have processed five million tickets on its platform, with peak sales achieved during Pongal 2019 for Tamil releases Petta and Viswasam. But, the first real validation came with Kaala, Rajinikanth's 2018 blockbuster, which saw close to a million tickets fulfilled by CiniCloud. The startup aims to hit the 50-million mark by the end of 2019.

Suresh says,

"People told us that building such a large platform from scratch in just a few months wouldn't be possible. They also said that our system would crash during big releases or festivals. But, we have proven them wrong by creating a fast, lightweight and easy-to-use system."


CiniCloud's entire product suite

He asserts that it takes all of seven minutes from on-boarding a theatre to getting a printed ticket on CiniCloud. Earlier it would take 20-30 days for cinemas to enroll multiple screens across locations, figure seat layouts, schedule movies, list tickets, and then open booking, the startup claims. CiniCloud's API integrates seamlessly with BookMyShow, Paytm, and TicketNew.

Suresh says,

"We have also created an intelligent scheduling engine for cinemas based on their previous data. All excel sheets have been eliminated. Cinema owners are able to cut down on resource costs, and are also seeing  a 45-50 percent increase in revenues."

Reach so far, and growth avenues

At present, CiniCloud services 45 screens across 20-odd locations in Chennai, Hyderabad, and smaller towns like Guwahati, Vijayawada, Satna, etc. Theatre chains on board include AGS Cinemas, Musica Entertainment, YScreens, ABMiniplex, and Gold Cinemas. Clearly, the focus has been to enable smaller theatres which its cloud platform. But, a few big tie-ups are in the offing.

CiniCloud reveals that it is in late-stage discussions with two large multiplex chains - PVR Cinemas and Carnival Cinemas. Both these companies have enormous reach across the length and breadth of the country, and will help CiniCloud expand its platform. PVR has close to 700 screens in 60 Indian cities, while Carnival operates about 470 screens in 120 cities.

CiniCloud hit peak transactions during Pongal 2019 with twin Tamil releases Petta and Viswasam.

It is also helping a Dubai-based cinema enroll 3-4 screens, and is looking at a potential tie-up with them. CiniCloud adds that its solution was a hit at the Big Cine Expo 2018 in Mumbai, and several theatre owners were keen to adopt it.

Suresh reckons that cloud is quickly scalable and that is why CiniCloud has set itself a steep target of reaching 1,000 screens by the year-end. "We tell companies ok, you have 10 theatres? Fine. 100 theatres? No problem," he says.

Also Read: Why BookMyShow, other online ticketing players are looking beyond movies

Operations, challenges, and finances

However, despite the obvious benefits that a cloud-based system offers, CiniCloud has had to battle the inertia of theatre owners. "Nobody was ready to replace existing systems. There was a technical challenge," the founder says. "It was also because six-seven companies have failed in this earlier," he adds.

Of course, building a new venture is never easy. CiniCloud has been bootstrapped so far, and the founders have invested Rs 3-4 crore in the platform. To expand, and add more people, it needs funds. The 70-member startup is looking to raise a Series A round of $10-12 million by 2020, and says that a few investors, including Nexus Venture Partners, have already expressed interest.

CiniCloud says it is cash positive and has hit revenues of Rs 2 crore. It operates on a conventional SaaS model and offers three monthly plans - single screens ($99), miniplexes ($149), and multiplexes ($249). Additionally, it takes a cut from every ticket transaction on its platform. "We are looking to scale revenues up to Rs 6-7 crore before funding," Suresh reveals.

CiniCloud promises cinemas an additional revenue of $50,000 per year. While that is an enviable proposition, the startup has to contend with peers including Vista, of course, and others like GDC Theatre Management System (rated highly in India), EventPro, EventAvenue, Gantner Ticketing, etc.

However, most of its competition comprises global operators. Hence, CiniCloud's focus on bringing small, obscure Indian theatres to the cloud could be its USP.

Suresh says, "We found that cinema owners in India don't understand technology and techies don't get cinemas. We are just building a bridge between the two."


Startup Myths: The Overnight Success - Forbes

Posted: 05 Mar 2019 05:45 AM PST

For as much as we now know about startups and as many stories that have been shared about founders' experiences, there are still prevailing myths about the startup world that don't seem to go away no matter how much reality threatens to impinge upon these notions. These ideas can distort what entrepreneurs think about their own businesses and even how they behave and make decisions. In this series, I hope to shine some light on some of the more prominent myths in the hope that they will eventually give way to the truth.

Group of Young coworkers work together modern office studio.Horizontal closeup.Blurred backgroundGetty

The idea of the overnight success is one of the more aspirational of the startup myths that continues to persist. Holding out the idea of a company that was able to rocket past the struggles and pivots of other startups straight into profitability and growth and a permanent place in the market is understandable in the face of challenges and potential failure. If one company can do it, then certainly another can replicate that success with the right mix of inspiration and execution. But as much as founders might want to skip the hard bits to go straight to the keynote speaker circuit, there's not much evidence of past cases to support that dream.

Take the now-ubiquitous Amazon. While its current circumstances can lead to some post-hoc rationalization that the company was always destined for greatness, it took years for it to reach the status it's achieved. The company started as an online bookstore in 1994, years before many of us had logged on to the internet, and it was another four years before they expanded beyond just selling books and moving into  DVDs and CDs. Granting that it had had its IPO in 1997 and was already successful by any measure, that still represents years of hard work required to get Amazon to the point where it could grow into what we now know, and that doesn't even include the thinking and planning and gestating that comes before the formal founding of any company.

The birth of Google is another example of a now-massive entity that didn't become so overnight. Starting with a basic web crawler built in 1996 during their time at Stanford, Larry Page and Sergey Brin eventually turned that idea into a company that touches seemingly every part of our digital lives. But the journey to the top was a long one - it took over a year before the nascent company even came to the name Google to use for their BackRub project. (Let us be thankful that we're not required to do BackRub searches for movie times and store hours!) And the advent of the suite of products that have become indispensable to many of us was still years away, meaning that the company and its founders were left to continue to work towards that future.

Despite those roots, it can be easy to still see those companies as somehow outside the normal paths of development because of their status as outlier successes. While it's true that Google and Amazon and others we recognize as global brands have risen to a level that only a handful of others can attain, they nevertheless started as small operations at some point in their history that had to put in the same long hours that are required of any startup founder. So why does the idea of an overnight success remain, especially given how easy it is to debunk, given the information publicly available about any of these companies?

The idea of the overnight success is hope for some and absolution for others. Depending on the entrepreneur, it is an ambition to be achieved or a reason for their continued struggles. For the hopelessly optimistic, it's a lottery ticket out there to be had, a magic formula to be found. Conversely, by viewing the success of Amazon or Google as inevitable, the cynical or failed entrepreneur can frame their company's fortunes — indeed, any company — as a function of fate rather than the end result of a series of decisions, good and bad.

The truth is that the best companies take time to build — any successful company requires a strong base on which to grow and develop. The biggest and most successful businesses took time to reach that level, even if most of that time was spent outside of the public eye, and many made their share of mistakes and missteps along the way.  The overnight successes we think we see are years in the making.#onwards.

AI2 gives birth to WellSaid, a startup that synthesizes amazingly realistic voices - GeekWire

Posted: 07 Mar 2019 07:00 AM PST

WellSaid software interface
A screenshot illustrates how WellSaid's voice synthesis platform could be used. (WellSaid Illustration)

We've got Apple's Siri, Microsoft's Cortana, Amazon's Alexa and Google Assistant — so do we really need more synthesized voices to do our bidding?

Absolutely, say the founders of WellSaid Labs, a startup that's being spun out from Seattle's Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence (also known as AI2).

"We're just solving a different problem," co-founder and chief technology officer Michael Petrochuk told GeekWire. "Alexa and Google Home are trying to solve the problem of clearly, slowly communicating — pronouncing everything the same way, in a monotone format so it could be understood by everyone."

WellSaid, in contrast, is developing a stable of AI-powered voices customized for different context, and sounding so lifelike that you wouldn't believe they're robots. During a recent video demonstration for a roomful of AI aficionados, most folks guessed that the images were generated by an algorithm, but not the voices:

"Our voices sound different each time," Petrochuk said. "They always interpret the sentence differently, and they can be used in a video, or an audiobook, without making you fall asleep."

The venture grew from the work that was being done by Petrochuk and WellSaid's other founder and CEO, Matt Hocking, under the aegis of AI2's startup incubator. Now the technology is ready for its public reveal, and the two AI researchers are raising seed funding and seeking partners.

"We're looking to partner with people who are looking to sell content production with voice, and also the next generation of voice experiences," Hocking said. "We're actively looking for people to explore opportunities."

The technology could be applied to a wide range of opportunities: For example, a video game known as Red Dead Resumption 2 required the services of 700 voice actors. Theoretically, WellSaid could offer a huge catalog of synthesized voices to do the same job with AI.

WellSaid's software platform could also spice up audiobooks, offer customized voice assistants or give companies "branded voices" that become part of their enduring image. Veteran announcer Don Pardo may no longer be with us, but his synthesized voice could continue to introduce "Saturday Night Live" for decades to come.

For those who have lost their ability to speak due to accident or illness, WellSaid could provide a synthesized voice with a natural lilt rather than the robotic monotone that became the trademark of the late physicist Stephen Hawking.

Hocking compared the concept to the use of stock images, stock video and stock music in creative productions. Now there'll be stock voices.

"Anything which is written can now be voiced," Hocking said.

Petrochuk and Hocking are very aware of the potential pitfalls associated with super-realistic synthetic voices. Deep-fake videos — such as a viral clip in which former President Barack Obama appears to make crazy statements like "Ben Carson is in the sunken place" — already show how the line between reality and fakery can be blurred beyond recognition:

"That's just not a direction that our company wants to head in," Petrochuk said. "Our focus is on allowing creators to create with voice, and we're focusing on building a product for the common good, per AI2's mission. With that, we have to recognize some possible negative implications of this technology."

Petrochuk said WellSaid won't allow anyone to create a voice. "All we're doing is, we're opening up a library of curated voices, with the appropriate cautions to make sure those voices aren't used in a negative light," he said.

WellSaid's voices are generated by recording text spoken by voice actors who have given their consent, and then putting it through an algorithm that captures the voice's natural-sounding "fingerprint." That voice can then be used to speak any text entered into WellSaid's software program, with appropriate tweaks to convey emotional content.

Won't WellSaid's stable of synthesized voices put actors out of business?

"At the moment, we're working on the core technology, but we definitely do see a business model where you can look at a voice actor and liken it to a photographer," Hocking said. "A voice actor could potentially have a synthetic version of their voice which they may be able to license out for larger-volume, lower-quality projects — but then do work on the high-end movie or television commercial that truly needs to be acted."

The flip side is that the software can literally give voice to the voiceless.

"The positives far outweigh the negatives," Hocking said. "You look at CGI, you look at existing technology, and it's inevitable that voice is going to be a part of that. The applications that we're focused on, and the way they'll empower people who have trouble speaking, or can't speak, or need access to voice in order to produce something valuable, is what we're focused on. … We're focused on bringing this amazing technology to the people who need it most."

Here are some additional comparative examples:

Alebrijes superpower? Mexican functional drink startup eyes international expansion -

Posted: 07 Mar 2019 08:17 AM PST

Mexico City-headquartered Play Saludable launched its original DrinkPlus brand in 2015 when the company was founded and released its more affordable, playful line Nikte in May, last year. Both functional beverage brands use herbals, vitamins and minerals to target lifestyle issues like hydration, energy and concentration and are sweetened with a stevia-monk fruit blend to ensure a zero- or low-calories. DrinkPlus is now stocked in 5,000+ points of sale across Mexico, primarily major supermarket retailers, and Nikte is gaining traction in similar outlets and online.

Saúl Hernández Orendain, co-founder and director general of Play Saludable, said affordability was the primary driver behind developing its functional beverages DrinkPlus and Nikte.

"We saw some very boutique brands sold throughout Mexico; very regional or imported products that had a very big price point," ​Orendain told NutraIngredients-LATAM.

And there wasn't much innovation coming from the bigger players, in terms of healthy beverages, he said. "There were a lot of fortified beverages with mass production but they tended to have very few benefits, with limited science backing their claims, and many with a high calorie count."

Fortified beverages for the 'general market'

Image courtesy of Play Saludable

DrinkPlus beverages contain 50 calories per 500ml bottle and Nikte zero – important, Orendain said, given Mexico's obesity crisis. Both beverages feature herbals like chamomile, ginseng and yerba mate and vitamins and minerals such as B12, magnesium and l-choline.

Whilst both DrinkPlus and Nikte were founded on the same principles – to be nutrient-dense, low-calorie functional beverages for the mass consumer market – Orendain said Nikte opened up more market opportunities.

$1.7bn startup Revolut's bank plans could face tough culture questions - Yahoo Lifestyle

Posted: 07 Mar 2019 10:44 PM PST

Revolut's founder and CEO Nikolay Storonsky attends a session at the Paris Fintech Forum in Paris on January 30, 2018. Photo: Eric Piermont/AFP/Getty Images

Revolut, the British "unicorn" fintech startup, will likely face tough questions from regulators over its internal culture when it applies for a banking license, according to experts.

Wired magazine ran a feature last week on what it called "the human cost" of Revolut's rapid rise. The story detailed people being asked to work for free as part of job applications, excessively long hours, a culture of "hitting targets at all costs", and high staff turnover.

Revolut has pushed back, insisting in a blog post that it has already addressed the issues raised in the article. CEO and founder Nikolay Storonsky told Yahoo Finance UK in an email that "the allegations in the media over the past week are not an accurate reflection of the company that we are today."

But recent employee reviews on website Glassdoor suggest there could be more work to do. Compliance and regulatory experts that Yahoo Finance UK spoke to also said the UK's banking regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), would likely apply extra scrutiny to the startup's culture in light of the report.

"Culture is incredibly important to the FCA," according to Gillian Roche-Saunders, a partner at law firm Bates Wells Braithwaite and head of its compliance practice. 

"Do the sum of the parts across the management team proposed, will they actually be able to deliver in a way that meets the FCA's objectives? That would be a question anyway but this backdrop would mean it's really going to be at the fore of that process," Roche-Saunders said.

Revolut is one of Britain's hottest startups. It was founded in 2015 by a former Credit Suisse currency trader and began as a prepaid card linked to an app that let people buy ultra-cheap currency. It has expanded into everything from insurance to cryptocurrencies.

The startup was valued at $1.7bn (£1.2bn) last year and has raised money from top venture capitalists in Europe and Silicon Valley. Revolut has 3m users globally and signs up thousands of new accounts each day.

Revolut currently operates in the UK using an "e-money" license, but the company wants to gain a full banking license in the country. It is already licensed as a bank in Lithuania, and is currently recruiting someone to spearhead efforts to get licenses in the UK and US.

However, the startup is suffering through what marketing magazine The Drum dubbed a "PR crisis," after recent press reports questioned its advertising techniques, sanctions controls systems, and internal culture.

While sanctions control issues made by The Telegraph may sound the most serious, Revolut has pushed back strongly in a company blog post. Revolut said it was simply testing new systems and no laws or regulations were ever breached. The FCA told Yahoo Finance UK that it is talking to Revolut to "understand and assess the issues the article raises."

Experts Yahoo Finance UK spoke to said the culture questions raised by the Wired article may be more of a sticking point for regulators when it comes to signing off on any banking applications.

"To be a bank, actually you do end up having to change your culture somewhat from being a 'startup,'" Sandra Quinn, founder and director of The Compliance Foundation, told Yahoo Finance UK.

"Revolut, the perception out there is they are actually very different and they're trying to do things in a very different way. I think the process of becoming a bank will actually naturally both probably oblige them to develop and make them want to evolve. Success is all about evolution."

Revolut has pushed back on claims of a toxic culture. Storonsky, the company's CEO, said in a blog post that while "we haven't always gotten things right" Revolut is "not the same company that we were 12-18 months ago." He said that staff turnover is now just 3% and Revolut will "share our plans around culture and wellbeing in the coming weeks."

"According to the media, we are a sweatshop of tribal and submissive employees hunched over and chained to our desks, working tirelessly over the weekends at the direct orders of our founders," the company's lead data scientist wrote in a Medium blog post. "If you seriously believe this — I am not sure you should be on the internet."

However, recent reviews on Glassdoor, the website that allows staff to leave anonymous reviews of their employers, suggest that there's still more to do.

Revolut has a rating of 4.2 out of 5 on Glassdoor. Twelve five-star reviews have been posted since the Wired article was published, eleven of which were published on Sunday, 3 March.

However, reviews prior to the article's publication suggest a more mixed picture. Several comments draw attention to issues around intense working hours and high targets.

One posted on 28 February complained of "people working insane hours to meet the unreasonable KPIs [key performance indicators] set by management." Another posted on 30 January said, "This is not the place if value your mental health or work/life balance." Others from within the last year complained of the culture and work-life balance.

Twitter user @syswarren also tweeted a picture of a push notification she received from Revolut on 5 March asking her to post a review of the app on Trustpilot to help the person "not get fired." Wired's article featured a Slack message sent by Storonsky last spring saying staffers would be "fired without any negotiation" if they were too far below targets set for them.

Multiple fintech industry insiders told Yahoo Finance UK that Revolut has a reputation for having a hard-charging culture that raised eyebrows elsewhere. Four people independently compared the startup to Uber and its former CEO Travis Kalanick.

"You have a Travis Kalanick — Russian version — who wants to build a regulated business and do it faster, better, bigger than anyone ever has," said one London venture capitalist who didn't want to go on the record.

"I'm the first to admit that we're on a constant journey when it comes to our culture, but we have come a long way in a very short space of time," Storonsky told Yahoo Finance UK in an email.

"Culture comes from the top down, and I'm committed to demonstrating that these allegations are not a reflection of who we are today. Going forward, I'll be making our cultural roadmap public, so that people can get a real-time view of the initiatives that we'll be introducing, but also to give people an insight as to what it is like to work at Revolut today."

Long work hours and high targets may strike many as the norm in banking — particularly in investment banking, where Storonsky and his co-founder came from. But in the wake of the financial crisis, regulators have been increasingly concerned about culture at banks, realising that poor cultures can often create compliance problems.

"[The FCA] do ask questions that try to draw out how things are working in practice, the governing compass, essentially, of the firm," Roche-Saunders, the head of compliance at Bates Wells Braithwaite, told Yahoo Finance UK.

"How are senior managers really setting the tone and also making sure that further down the ranks everybody is acting in line with the ethics of the firm, which shouldn't be growth solely."

The claim that Revolut sets aggressive growth goals — KPIs — could be an issue.

"It's always a challenge with fintech businesses wanting to grow incredibly quickly," Roche-Saunders said. "Is there enough, literally, margin to make the business work and also to be able to meet all of the regulatory requirements?

"Essentially, the business model needs to support the FCA's own objectives — things like consumer protection, market integrity."

"I have internally made some recent announcements about improvements that we believe will make our processes around employment engagement first class! These include a revamp to how we onboard new talent, talent retention, and performance management," Storonsky said in an email.

Quinn, the director of The Compliance Foundation, said that the company's recent "PR crisis" may in fact be a useful spur to address issues that may have become even bigger problems down the line.

"The more your head starts to go above the parapet, the more this kind of thing happens, and the higher people's expectations are because you move from being a great funky app — this is new, this is a brilliant addition to my life — to: I'm actually depending on this," she said.

"It's that change in expectation that I think is so key for consumers and so key for public perceptions and clearly the regulators obviously have regard for that as well."

"In some ways, actually getting that sort of focus actually helps you change. It probably doesn't feel like it at the time, but it's almost helpful," Quinn said.

No comments:

Post a Comment