doing business overseas, education, internet, StageBitz, Start-up Profiles, technology start-ups, testing, the arts
National Institute of Dramatic Arts, Stage Management Association, Queensland University of Technology
StageBitz, Production Genie, Arts Industry: Start-up Profile
By Michelle Hammond
StageBitz is the latest project of Catherine Prosser, who founded Canberra-based theatre software company Production Genie in 2007.
StageBitz is a web-based system designed to simplify prop management for production professionals, allowing them to manage the lifecycle of prop sourcing, maintenance and tracking.
Currently in the throes of capital-raising, co-founders of the company include tech seed fund Pollenizer and Mat Lawrence, head of props at Opera Australia.
Prosser talks to StartupSmart about applying technology to the arts industry, both in Australia and overseas.
What inspired the idea for StageBitz?
We thought, ‘what can we do to widen the [Production Genie] market and make it easier for companies to jump on board?’ StageBitz was the answer.
Props management was the only part of Production Genie that we could develop independently because everything else relied on it all being interconnected – that was the value of it – whereas props management could actually be standalone.
It was much cheaper for us to develop, it’s cheaper for the companies and it’s much easier for the companies.
They’re not relying on the whole production working with this new technology. It’s just a single bit, and it’s very simple and easy to understand.
It’s effectively a much better way of doing it than their existing spreadsheet, so it’s an easy transition for them to make. That’s how it came about.
What was the next step?
We thought, we need to keep the momentum going that we’ve had from talking to all these companies; we need to build minimum viable product.
With Agile, the technology company we work with here in Canberra, we pulled the minimum things that we’d need to do together and we pushed out the beta version.
I put an email out to everyone on my contact list, and I was really thrilled with the number of responses we got for the beta version.
There were some networks overseas like the Stage Management Association in the UK – they’ve been really supportive. They put it out through their lot over there.
We’ve also had a lot of enquiries from the US, which I was quite surprised by because we didn’t have any formal networks in place there.
There were also a lot of people just searching for it – that was one thing that became very clear. We’re not doing any promotion of Production Genie at all but I still get about one inquiry a week just from people going and doing Google searches.
People are starting to realise that this is something that should be happening. It’s an area that just hasn’t had any development in the production side of things.
How was StageBitz funded?
It was funded out of my own pocket. Into StageBitz, we’ve put in $100,000.
We’re just putting the finishing touches on the website and the next version’s ready to go, so we’ll put both of those out together and get it all rolling.
We’ve been looking at what we think is achievable to happen and how long we think it will take.
The target we’ve been setting ourselves is to have four million props running through the system by the end of 2014, so that’s three years away and I think that’s an achievable thing.
What we really want to achieve is to be the industry standard for props management and we’ve had some really good indications that we’re heading in the right direction there.
Whenever we go and talk to trainers at the universities or other institutes, they just grab hold of it with both hands and say, this is exactly what we need – we need something we can teach so that there’s a common set of expectations.
That’s certainly what we hear from the industry more broadly too. So to be a teaching tool and an industry standard – the hand-in-hand thing – that’s what we’re aiming for.
How do you intend to achieve that?
We’ve been working quite closely with some of the tertiary trainers already.
The National Institute of Dramatic Arts has come on board as a founding member and an early bird licensee, so their students are going to start using it when the next version comes out.
Queensland University of Technology has also bought a license for their students to start using it, and a couple of others have started the wheels in motion on that front.
I’ve had quite a bit of interest from trainers overseas too, so we’re going to be really focusing on that education sector.
The other thing is we’ve been developing really good relationships with a lot of the top end companies. For example, Opera Australia is one of our founding members too.
The idea behind the founding members is that even though StageBitz isn’t actually up to the level that they need yet, they believe it is what the industry needs.
They’ve effectively paid a deposit for the subscription they think they’re likely to want. That’s been a really great show of support.
We’re really looking for more contacts and networks in the film and TV industry because that’s an area that this has got a lot of application for. Our experience is predominantly in theatre and events so we’re trying to broaden our networks there.
How many staff do you have?
At the moment, it’s me. I’ve got a team of two people working on the technology – predominantly one at the moment, with somebody in a part-time, sort of supervisor role.
Pollenizer’s doing the marketing and web strategy and capital raising side of things, so that’s probably the equivalent of another person.
What do you think is the biggest challenge you face?
Most of the time, people don’t think that a product like this exists. We’re not doing a new type of an existing product – it’s a brand new thing.
It’s not so much brand awareness but solution awareness, if you like, so that’s the biggest challenge.
At the moment, if you go and do a search for prop software or something like that in Google, what you get is real estate and propellers.
We’ve got to do some basic customer development. On the plus side, I am yet to have anybody say, that’s not quite what I’m after.
So if I’m able to get in front of people, the conversion rates and the interest rate are very, very high. We’ve just got to make sure we establish those networks and those channels, and build awareness of what we’re doing.
Is there anything you would have done differently?
A lot of it is tied up with Production Genie; there are certainly a lot of lessons that I’ve learnt with StageBitz that I wish I’d been able to apply a lot earlier to Production Genie.
I think making sure that you keep track of every single lead and making sure that you’ve got a very systematic way of keeping hold of the information [is important].
I think if I’d known all the information that I need now, I would’ve set it up differently so that it was easier to get hold of that information.
It’s not that I’ve lost any information, but now I need to spend more time putting it all into the right kind of framework.
But if you ask me that question in another six months, it could be a very different answer.
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