It was at a video editing session for one of his short films, a passion that whetted his creative appetite, that Balaraman Lakshmanan experienced the complexities of using a video editing software. Editing a video shot on a mobile phone was even more difficult, given the paucity of such tools on mobile devices and the efforts needed to master the operations.
This was circa 2012. A video codec engineer in Aricent in Bengaluru, Balaraman invested all the expertise gathered during three years on the job to brainstorm over a solution that would automate video editing on mobile phones and simultaneously compress the file size without compromising on quality. That is how Crispify, an automated mobile video editing app, germinated.
“I felt then that the process for editing videos on mobile phones was very manual and took much time and effort,” says Balaraman. “I felt that editing is key to a video. For self-shot videos, editing was even more necessary, else they looked awkward. Back then, photo sharing was huge, but video sharing was not. I figured out that a major issue was the big file sizes.”
It was during his stint at Aricent that Balaraman started working on an algorithm that would weed out idle frames in a video, besides enhancing the tempo as well. He tested the algorithm, only to find out that not only were the videos compressed, but the perceptional quality was also retained, which he claims was a rarity in most apps back then.
“Initially, I wanted to develop an algorithm. After I saw the results, I thought of developing a utility app for mobile users,” says Balaraman.
Crispify was nurtured at Start-Up Chile, an accelerator, after Balaraman quit his job and enrolled for the accelerator’s sixth batch in January 2013. The first four months in Chile were spent in modifying the algorithm. In April, armed with $40,000 he secured from the accelerator, Balaraman outsourced the app development works to an Indian company, Queppelin. The first version of the Android app was launched in October 2013. The very next month, he applied for a patent in the US through Inolyst, a Bengaluru-based patent firm.
Balaraman says Crispify can be of much use in professional spheres, apart from common uses such as compressing, editing and sharing videos through social networking sites. It can be deployed by the video surveillance industry to crop lengthy footages as well as professional film editors and real estate portals, which host muted video clips on their portals. Mobile phone makers could also integrate the app with camera phones to enable seamless video editing, he adds.
The first variant of the app compressed videos by about 33%, but there were a few more creases to be ironed out. “In the first version, users had to upload the video to our servers, which ran the algorithm, and again download the compressed and edited version from the server,” says Balaraman. The process consumed much time and internet data.
The second version of the app was launched in January this year. The latest version enables video compression on the phone itself, with no need for Internet connectivity, while the edited clip gets stored on the phone memory, thus reducing the processing time. “Following the new launch, app downloads increased considerably. We have about 7,500 downloads so far, which is still low,” he says, adding that the app can compress up to 100MB footages.
For Balaraman, the dream run ends here. While Crispify is finding it tough to make space among the likes of New York-headquartered Magisto that has so far raised $20.5 million, Twitter’s Vine and Instagram’s Hyperlapse, a cash crunch prevents him from making the big marketing splash needed to increase app’s visibility. He admits that it will be difficult to match the might of these global entities, given their enormous war chests and talent pool. Crispify, which neither charges end users for app downloads nor hosts ads, makes do with Balaraman as the only full-time personnel. Friends help him out with the app development.
He is also finding it tough attracting investors. “I have spoken to angel investors and venture capital funds, and failed to raise funds as they feel the video sharing game in India is not yet matured,” says Balaraman. This has inadvertently led him to scout for a buyer or a tie-up with another company, but that has not made much headway either. In September, he met an original equipment manufacturer, who was hesitant to invest in Crispify because of the lack of any clarity on the future of mobile video sharing in India.
In December, he met an instant messenger service provider, but the negotiation fell through. “We did a few rounds of interviews. They were thinking about whether to acqui-hire me or hire me to do other multimedia tasks,” Balaraman says. “Then they decided to put it off saying they envisaged a different role for me and thought I didn’t fully fit that role.”
Balaraman seems to have made peace with the fact that Crispify will get more visibility through a tie-up with a bigger entity than remaining a standalone product. He is planning to connect with a social media platform and another OEM in the next three months to explore an acquisition. “As long as I get an opportunity to work for Crispify and similar multimedia projects and get the creative freedom, I don’t mind working under anyone. At present, I want to make some good exit for Crispify,” he says.