Web Media Startup Raises Small Business Spirits

Meet the new Sir-Mix-a-Lot.

He mixes sound and video, along with a good cocktail and sips it back in the form of a small business.

Colin Kimball, 31, is co-founder of the one-and-a-half employee Web-media company Small Screen Network and a good example of today's new media entrepreneur.


Cocktail lover and videographer Colin Kimball gets ready to shoot a Web show. (Courtesy of Kimball)

He went to film school in Seattle, worked on independent films and for major networks. He cut his teeth as a production assistant on the first season of television phenomenon American Idol.

Kimball, who has always had the entrepreneurial itch, started a company called Storypipe after graduating. It had a concept similar to Small Screen, but Kimball said it "imploded because five people -- really, really creative people -- were trying to run a business."

He then started Small Screen in September 2006 with the idea to make a television-style network on the Web. Kimball is a self-described "foodie" and decided to start with a Food Network-like show focusing on quality cocktails. He was inspired when he read an article in a Seattle newspaper about mixologist Robert Hess , author of The Essential Bartender's Guide. Kimball contacted him and brought him on to shoot a pilot episode. "I knew he was the guy for us when he gave me a lecture for 15 minutes just on gin," recalls Kimball.

Kimball said he wants his Small Screen Network "to become a major player in the entertainment industry via the Web, but right now [they're] focused on a cocktail/wine/beer vertical market."

"I'd love to get into other areas like tech, auto, sports or do a more food-based show with a local chef. This is very much the infant stage of what we'd like to ultimately do," he said.

But not even a bright idea and a strong work ethic will always bring in the revenue.

To remedy that, Kimball tapped Brian Dressler, a high school friend to put together a Web design. Dressler now at Small Screen part-time as a business partner and is an initial investor.

Dressler is "much more of a numbers and business-oriented guy," said Kimball, who works from Bainbridge Island -- just west of Seattle and call himself "crazy creative."

Today, the company is self-funded, profitable and makes money through sponsorships and advertising. A connoisseur's alcohol brand like Hendrick's Gin or Maker's Mark Whisky pays Small Screen a sponsorship or product placement fee. "We look for brands we like, and we know that our audience will like," said Kimball, who sees his audience as people who treat a cocktail as culinary pursuit and not a slapdash, slug-it-back kind of experience.

Persistence can be the key to success. It took about two years for Hendrick's to agree to sponsor Small Screen shows. Kimball, in addition to shooting, editing and encoding the video, calls up the big firms to try and drum up partnerships. He says the major brands have been "really receptive" to new and different ways of advertising, although they can take a while to reach a decision. "I try to read as much about marketing and advertising as I can and what I'm seeing is that people are cutting back on their marketing budget but still trying to find cost effective ways to get their brands out -- and one way is through online video, especially one with a niche audience that can be measured."

Kimball is also reaching out hi into other small businesses so they can piggyback off each other. For exmaple, he uses a technology offered by VideoClix, a small firm in Vancouver, British Columbia. He said the technology, which allows users to click on objects and learn more about them while viewing them in a video, has been key to enticing advertisers to get on board to Small Screen's programs.

"The development of the Internet as a free distribution portal.made it really easy for people like us to start a business," said Kimball, who noted that he's certainly not the only entrepreneur out there pursuing Web media empires. "We don't have to pay a huge fee to be a broadcast network or get on cable.All these technologies of Internet, video and low/cost production by working on my laptop makes it so we don't need thousands of dollars to get started. There's opportunity for people like us now."

He's entertaining the idea of getting some outside money to use for marketing or for additional talent to put before the camera and has big plans for growth, but for now "we're the anti YouTube - we want quality over quantity and we're happy where we are."

By Sharon McLoone |  March 27, 2009; 10:45 AM ET Profiles in Entrepreneurship
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