Though the country is fairly small, Belgium is very active in the startup space—especially in New York City where the Belgian Chamber of Commerce recently opened Atelier, an incubator for Belgian companies. Zentrick is one of the startups in Atelier, and it is leading a revolution in the way we watch videos on our computers and mobile devices. The company’s online platform allows users to integrate interactive elements into their videos in order to engage, activate, and convert audiences into customers. New York International had a chance to speak with Pieter Mees, founder and CEO of Zentrick.
Can you explain what Zentrick does and why your platform is unique?
Basically what we do is make video interactive and actionable. Video is the last remaining type of media that you’re not able to interact with—you can’t click it or touch it with your finger. Whenever you see video pop up you just have to lean back in your chair and see whatever shows up on the screen. We’re changing that.
For example, let’s say I have a cosmetic video that’s teaching me how to create a specific look; I can actually click on every makeup item in the video and purchase it online while watching the video. We have large clients in fashion, cosmetics, finance, automotive, and more—they’re using our platform to make their videos more engaging, more activating, and more consumer oriented.
When did you start Zentrick?
We started the company back in 2010, but the product we sell today we only launched in April 2013. Originally we were working on a different video product, also video technology, but in a different area. And all of our clients were telling us about all these issues they were having with video. It wasn’t telling them how the consumers were using the video and they were spending a lot of money without seeing a lot of return; that’s when we realized we should turn our technology around and start making videos interactive so customers can click in the video and we can tell our clients how engaged their customers are.
Why did you decide to come to New York?
We originally started in Belgium, but that’s a small market—about ten million citizens—almost the same amount of people as in New York City. From a marketing and advertising perspective, the US is the biggest market in world. It’s also very competitive, so you have to think “How strongly do I believe in my product? Do I believe it can it be the best?” If you believe you’re the second or third best, you might want to go to a developing market first, but since we truly believe Zentrick is the best out there, the next step was to come to the US. If you can win here, you can win everywhere.
I had visited other places in the US before deciding where to start but we settled on NYC. The strong television, advertising, and media legacy here, combined with being in a convenient time zone, helped us decide to start in NYC. I was travelling back and forth between the US and Belgium for quite a while and eventually in the end of 2013, we raised a three million dollar VC round of capital for the company. That allowed us to really kick off and open up a real office, hire US employees, and scale up.
What are the main differences you are finding between running your business in NYC as opposed to Belgium?
One of the main differences I noticed is that US meetings are very different. Europeans take time for everything, while in the US—and especially NYC—it’s a fast-paced environment where people make decisions on the fly. Meeting times tend to be forty-five minutes rather than an hour and a half. You get meetings by knowing people, and you sell in the meeting by showing the numbers and that the product works. It’s different than Belgium, but as an engineer I connect well with this. In the US people look at results. As an engineer, I deliver results; so if I can sell what I deliver that’s a great way of doing business for me. If I had to choose, I would definitely pick the US over any other location in the world.
Are other companies doing anything similar? What makes Zentrick stand out from its competitors?
Well, people have been clicking on video for decades—we call that video games. But while the concept of leveraging videos and making them clickable and interactive has been around for quite a while, we haven’t seen a company that takes a holistic view of this and tries to transform video into something that can live in the 21st century with all our digital screens. We feel Zentrick is the solution. So far, video on digital devices has been just copied over from television. We have a play and a pause button and we can seek to different times, and that’s about the whole set of controls. We feel that it’s time to make video more like a web page where the user has full control. We’re also moving into a world where videos will be optimized just for you. An example of that customization is instant translation—if the video detects that the user is likely a Spanish-speaker, it will give them a translated experience.
Do you think in the future most videos will be interactive?
Yes, this is much bigger than ecommerce. It’s very useful in ecommerce, but we also have a broader vision. We want to make every video interactive. The future of video is clickable.
How has your experience been as part of an incubator?
I was actually quite surprised, as a Belgian company we found there’s a strong support system for companies like us here at Atelier. We’re so happy that we’re able to be part of this incubator. When we arrived, we immediately had access to great office space and could learn directly from people who already went through the same stages of launching. The support is so good that we didn’t have to waste a lot of time figuring out, “How do I incorporate? How do I find a good lawyer? How do I do accounting?” We were able to move through that quickly and start actually running our business, launching into the market, and meeting clients.
As someone relatively new to NYC, which apps have you found to be the most useful?
Google Maps was really useful as someone new to NYC. I had a hard time arriving on time for meetings when I first got here, I had no clue how to navigate the subway system. So I bought an iPad with Google Maps so I could get to meetings on time. I also use Slack, a team chat app, and Uber. Uber is not as useful in Manhattan, but when the subway system gets blocked up, or when I’m on the West Coast I use it quite often.
What’s next for Zentrick?
We are growing quite fast. If all goes according to plan, we’ll be hiring quite a lot of people in 2015. So many large brands are seeing the vision and are ready to move their efforts into doing interactive videos. We see the world changing and we’re very excited. We think 2015 will be an awesome year. For any readers interested in joining us on that journey, we’d love to hear from you.