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Meet Jes Bickhart of Minnow

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jes Bickhart.

Jes, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I’ve spent the last ten years working in film and TV development and production for a few different producers. There is no debating the reality that theatrical ticket sales have been in a slow decline for many of these years. The future of consumption is in our living rooms – at least for the majority of storytelling.

The only problem? If all the legacy studios (Disney, Warners, Universal) and new entrants like Netflix, Prime and AppleTV+ have direct-to-consumer products competing for our eyeballs, it’s going to take us a long time to find something to watch.

This was a problem that excited me and got me thinking, “How do you surface the best stories across a vast ocean of content?” So, in 2018 I joined a Berkeley-based startup accelerator called “The Batchery” and built the first version of Minnow. That early version was a web-based demo that I used to prove aggregating all streaming platforms was not only possible but also opened up very interesting business models in scale.

We went on to raise an angel round of financing from investors all over the US and completed development on multiple different platforms including web, iOS, Android, Apple TV, Android TV and Amazon Fire TV. It’s still early days for us, but we’re encouraged by our strong early growth since launching in November 2019 and look forward to an exciting 2020 ahead.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Ha!

There were times early last year where in order to make payroll, I had to drive for Lyft for two weeks straight. Not wanting to eat into the work day, I’d wake up at 3am and do about 5 hours of LAX airport runs – introducing my passengers to Minnow every chance I had. I still have a box of those early flyers.

About a week before launch, we made a few changes to our code that caused a week of sleepless nights.

Despite the roller coaster, it’s important to surround yourself with a team that is passionate about the problem you are trying to fix. It’s taken a village to get us here and will continue to be a team-led project going forward. Everyone’s voice needs to be heard if we’re going to be successful. The best idea wins.

Minnow – what should we know? What do you do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
What was the last movie or series you watched? Chances are, it was recommended by a friend or another person whose opinion you trust, not just another algorithm. It’s easy to sample songs on a Spotify playlist until you find one you like, but it’s not the same for movies and shows. Moving on after 20 seconds of a 3-minute song is much easier to palate than stopping a film 20 minutes into a 2-hour run time.

There are numerous decisions to consider when tackling recommendations – genre and ratings, cast and crew, visual style and even time of day. Each of us evaluates these filters differently – this is why it’s difficult to build just one algorithm. We knew this approach wasn’t the foundation we imagined “Cable 2.0” should be, so we built Minnow around the idea of playlists instead.

Like Spotify’s user-generated playlists, a Minnow Playlist is a grouping of films, series or episodes with a specific theme or subject made by brands, critics and people just like you. Just as you may browse Pinterest boards or Spotify looking for inspiration, our users do the same to find something new to watch on Minnow everyday.

In addition to playlists, a big differentiator for us is our 100% logged in audience. In order to understand the unique tastes of the streaming generation, we have to understand who is watching and why. This helps power a recommendation engine that will get better over time, showing you playlists that resonate with you more. Even better, the content isn’t solely limited to one library – it includes almost every film and TV show ever made.

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
There aren’t many people that get to tell stories for a living and I’m humbled to work alongside some brilliant friends in the industry, I even married one!

Making movies and shows isn’t rocket science, but success to me looks a lot like shining a light on inspiring and truthful stories made by unique voices who care about what they’re saying; stories that have the potential to change opinions and enable an audience to maybe even just for a moment, acknowledge a point of view other than their own.

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