San Diego Entrepreneur Zack Parker On The Next Generation Of Action Sports Video Viewing
San Diego entrepreneur Zack Parker and long-time friend Josh Pritchard have stumbled onto something that they hope changes the way the action sports industry consumes media--specifically video content. Their new platform, ishbowl.com, uses Youtube and Vimeo’s application programming interfaces (APIs) to pull in content from those sites, and then filters it through the lens of an action sports enthusiast, sorting out the less than stellar clips and showcasing the freshest and highest quality videos from multiple sites across the web.
“Our core hypothesis with ishBowl is that there doesn’t need to be a way to produce more content, but there needs to be a way to sift through and find the best and most relevant content that is out there,” says Parker. “Our functionality is similar to Instagram or Twitter, except we are not a platform for creating new content, we just aggregate it. People can follow their favorite athletes, brands, and filmers, and then ishBowl delivers a customized video feed based on their preferences.”
Clearly, ishBowl’s main focus is on simplicity. With online video viewership skyrocketing by 50% year-over-year during the past two years, Parker and Pritchard feel certain that the future of action sports media lies in video. “The platform could’ve included news, events, photos, blogs, reports, stores, etc., but we just wanted to focus on videos,” he says. “Today's kids are growing up with the ability to watch videos everywhere. It only makes sense that video viewership will only increase from here.”
Parker recently shared with us the story of ishbowl’s development, it’s lofty goals to hit more than 20 million impressions per month in the next year, and where he sees the future of the platform headed.
How did you come up with the concept for ishbowl? How long did the process take and what were some things you learned about developing this type of platform?
A year and a half ago a high school friend of mine, Josh Pritchard (early Facebook engineer in charge of Facebook's monetization strategy), approached me to work on a new project with him. My friends and I were finding that we needed to go to five different sites/blogs to get our fix of action sports videos. Sometimes you show up to a site/blog and nothing new had been posted. We brainstormed ideas and I began looking into the action sports video market. I noticed that the action sports video market was increasingly becoming fragmented across blogs, media sites, and brand websites. I reached out to a couple of my best friends who worked in the industry to ask for feedback, Taylor Paul, Editor-in-Chief of Surfing Magazine, and Nick Greeninger, president of The Republic athlete management. They agreed that there could be value in a consolidated platform for action sports videos, so I decided to move forward with the project. Josh Pritchard put up the seed capital to recruit a team and get a product to market.
The development of the platform has been going on for about a year now, and there has been a steep learning curve. The most important thing that ishBowl has done is work directly with brands, athletes, and agents to develop a product that was valuable for all of the stakeholders within the industry.
Secondly, not every new startup is the next Facebook or the next Instagram. ishBowl has several informal advisors and one of them used to be the Vice President of MTV. He suggested that ishBowl focus on our business model sooner rather than later. His words of wisdom made us think that there were some outside of the box ways for us to use our existing platform to make money without relying on the traditional Silicon Valley model of “get big and then figure out how to make money later”. This is some of the most influential advice that ishBowl has received in our early stages.
Lastly, our team always says, “in every revolution there are revolutionaries.” The hardest part about building a company is finding a team of highly talented people (revolutionaries) to work with. Recruiting is harder than you think. Recruiting is really time consuming. Recruiting the right people is incredibly rewarding. ishBowl is fortunate enough to have the brightest technical developer (Asa Denton) and the most creative designer/developer (Shane Heath) that I have ever been around. It makes going to work much more fun when you know that you can literally build anything in the world and have it look good.
What was your experience/background before launching ishbowl?
Previously, I started a non-profit, Walu International, as an MBA project that was aimed at improving the hygiene and sanitary conditions in the coastal communities of Papua New Guinea. The people in Papua New Guinea have no running water and no toilets so they are forced to poop on the beach without adequate handwashing facilities. Our initial investor for ishBowl, Josh Pritchard, was a big donor to Walu International and had donated to our “Give A Crap” campaign (nominated for a top 25 awareness campaign by a charity in the USA). The idea behind “Give A Crap” was that for every time somebody pooped here in the USA they would then give $.25 or $.50 to help others in Papua New Guinea get access to the same services that we have here in the states (toilets and handwashing stations). We had a lot of support from the surf industry behind Walu International.
Are you still heading things up with Walu International?
Walu International is still making progress over in Lido village, Papua New Guinea. I have built a group of volunteers that have completely taken over the overseas operations. Now, Cynthia Runyon is in charge of all activities that take place overseas. She has over 20 years of international development experience so we are fortunate to have her on board. I continue to oversee everything, but my role is much more limited now that I have a solid team in place.
How do you hope to improve the platform as it grows and gains momentum? What is your goal as far as number of videos available, number of views, etc?
Currently, ishBowl has over 43,000 videos. The main improvements will focus on the distribution of this video content. Currently, ishBowl has a website and a mobile site. ishBowl will be building out mobile apps (iOS and Android) in the coming months, as well as rolling out a retail strategy that will stream up-to-date and relevant video content directly to retailers from the brands that are sold in their stores.
ishBowl expects to reach 20 million impressions per month in a year by executing on our web, mobile and retail strategies. We have just begun promoting the site in February, so we have an opportunity to get to “hockey stick growth” with a few more distribution channels in place.
How does the video ranking system work and why is that an important element to the platform?
In a matter of minutes, ishBowl makes it really easy for an athlete to create video profile for themselves. Athletes have told us, "this is so easy, now I have a place to showcase my online video presence." These athletes may have never uploaded a single video to the internet, but ishbowl can aggregate all of their videos to create their profile. ishBowl is all about helping out the brands, athletes, and agents that help us out. If guys produce sick content and also want to help ishBowl promote the platform, then they get priority. From there, ishBowl has created an algorithm that promotes whoever is “trending” at the time based on followers and video views. It has worked out really well so far. At the end of the day, it is ultimately up to the viewer to decide who or what they want to follow, then they'll get a customized video feed based on their preferences.
ishBowl has quite a few influencers involved with the project including, but not limited to:
Brands – Rip Curl, Quiksilver, Sanuk, Kustom Footwear, Reef, O’Neill
Athletes – Balaram Stack, Luke Davis, Nat Young, Torrey Meister, Peter Mel, Dillon Perillo, Josh Kerr, Chippa Wilson, Charles Reid, Christian Haller, Danny Davis, Luke Mitrani, Jack Mitrani, Greg Bretz, Greg Watts (MTB), Tyler McCaul (MTB)
Agents – Nick Greeninger from The Republic, Greg Fernandez from Mosaic Sports Management, Robert Reynolds from Crush Sports, Jayson Hotell from Friday Management Group, John Oda from Icon Athlete Management
What is the feedback from brands and athletes who are already on board with ishbowl?
It is usually things like, “Wow, you guys have made this so easy for us to showcase our online video presence” or “How does something like this not already exist?” ishBowl has developed a technology that helps athletes aggregate all of their video content from the web and put it together in one location. ishBowl has also developed a technology to manage athletes content (for team managers, social media managers, and agents) to get notifications every single time their athlete is mentioned in videos around the web. It makes it much simpler for them to promote the video content of their athletes.
What is their commitment to the platform in order for their videos to be included in the loop?
ishBowl is already pulling content in from the best content creators, so they are already on the platform. However, when people promote ishBowl out to their own social networks, then we make their presence known on the platform. Once a new user creates an account, ishBowl autofollows 20 people based on the sports they like. ishBowl makes sure that those that promote us are in the “autofollow program.” For the athletes and brands, it is kind of like being "Tom" from Myspace. People automatically follow you.
For those that haven’t yet promoted ishBowl, they still have a presence on the site. The technical team has built a technology to automatically pull in content from the top content creators from around the world. For example, as soon as Mick Fanning posts a video to his Vimeo account, the technology automatically pulls it into the ishBowl platform. It makes it really simple for content creators with Youtube or Vimeo accounts.
Why do you think this type of video platform was needed in the market today, and what do you think is the future of video viewing?
Everything needs to be accessible and at your fingertips in a matter of seconds, or you don’t stand a chance. With the fragmentation that we saw in the action sports video market, we saw a huge opportunity to provide something better and faster than anything else out there. Simple design and less clutter. Consistently, we have seen new action sports websites come out, but none of them have been customized to how people have been consuming content over the past 7-8 years. ishBowl wants to change the game. We have taken a lot of our early stage strategy from our first investor from Facebook. At Facebook, they focused on the user experience first – because if you can’t nail that, then you will never get big enough to where your revenue streams will even matter.
We will eventually be on all devices (laptop, PC, Android, iOS, Roku, Apple TV, etc.).
What are your thoughts on the overall state of the action sports industry?
Things have changed and will always be changing. Currently, there is such a large emphasis being place on social media and video views in the action sports industry that ishBowl wanted to really nail the video view component (I’m pretty sure that Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have a pretty good hold on social media for now). Change is natural. Change is good. Our underlying goal with ishBowl is to drive the progression of action sports through video. Making high quality content easily accessible from any device is only going to push the progression of the sports. A kid in Brazil can watch a P-Rod video from his phone, a kid in Japan can watch a new Julian Wilson clip while shopping in stores, or you could sit back and watch a stream of Burton videos on your plasma while on the couch. Wherever it is, videos should get you psyched to go do something. That is why our tag line is, “Let’s see it.”
The reason why action sports is even as big as it is today, is because entrepreneurs over the course of the last 30+ years have made it big. Without innovation, the industry will stagnate. We are just trying to be influential contributors to the community as a whole.