Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots

479: Wistia with Brendan Schwartz

June 15th, 2023

Brendan Schwartz is the Co-Founder and CTO of Wistia, software that makes it easy to find, engage, and grow your audience with video.

Victoria talks to Brendan about the latest updates on the platform, interesting problems he found that Wistia was able to remove and help his team get to speed and velocity, and the personal value that drives his decision-making.

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VICTORIA: This is the Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots Podcast, where we explore the design, development, and business of great products. I'm your host, Victoria Guido. And with me today is Brendan Schwartz, Co-Founder and CTO of Wistia, software that makes it easy to find, engage, and grow your audience with video. Brendan, thank you for joining us.

BRENDAN: Thanks so much for having me.

VICTORIA: And I believe this will be your third time, at least, on the Giant Robots Podcast, right?

BRENDAN: Yes, I think this is my third appearance. Thank you for having me back.


BRENDAN: Is there anything I receive? What is it when you host SNL in a [crosstalk 00:39].

VICTORIA: You get a jacket.

BRENDAN: A jacket, yeah.

VICTORIA: Yeah, we should.

BRENDAN: [laughs]

VICTORIA: We should do a Giant Robots jacket or something from returned guests. I love it. So it's been great to follow along your journey here. So, for those who don't know, like, what is Wistia? And I'll say, just a precursor, that thoughtbot is a client of Wistia. So we use it ourselves. But why don't you just give us a little bit about what is the product and what makes it different?

BRENDAN: Sure. And thank you so much for being a customer all these years. You kind of hit it at the top, but we help businesses of all sizes thrive with video. And so we serve mostly marketers. To dive a little bit into the history of the business, we'll be around that right? 17 years. It sounds like a long time when I say it out loud, [laughs] 17 years this June. And, for most of our history, we were, I'd say, a video-hosting platform for marketers. So if you want to put video on your website, track who's watching it, how they're watching it, and integrate that data with your other marketing systems, that was our focus and what we did.

And over, I'd say, the past two years, we've brought in that focus to help businesses with all aspects of their video marketing from creating video...We recently introduced a live video product for webinars and for live events last fall. We just launched last week, which I'm very excited about native video recording in the Wistia platform. So you can record your webcam and your screen. And there's also a very simple video editor in the platform, which has been really powerful for folks to make small adjustments to content or to atomize content, take out highlights or sections of things, and to be able to publish them to their audiences.

VICTORIA: Thank you for providing that context. And I'm curious if there were any, like, environmental or market forces that pushed you in that direction with the latest updates on the platform.

BRENDAN: So, like I mentioned, a large part, our success came (We're a relatively small team.) it came from being focused. And so for, you know, that decade or more, there were a lot of things that we had heard from the market or from customers. Like, live video was an obvious one we had been asked for a really long time. When will Wistia do live? When will Wistia do live? And, you know, our approach to that is we want to be really good and excellent at the things that we do and be focused. And I think that has served us well over the time that we've existed.

And some of that came out of; I'd say, the really early days of the company's funny, [laughs] we've always built Wistia, you know, sometimes we say in the shadow of YouTube, so YouTube and seeing YouTube. My co-founder was the first person who showed me YouTube in 2005, I think it was, and that was part of the inspiration to start Wistia. We are both really into video. And we saw that and having video be more accessible on the web, we knew was something that was going to change the world.

There was a question...this sounds kind of dated nowadays to say, but there was a question if you were starting a business, you know, let’s say, in 2006 or 2007 or '8, right? What are you going to do when Google enters your space? [laughs] It was a funny one for us to answer because we said...well, I forgot when YouTube was bought by Google. It was maybe in 2006 or something like that. Like, Google is already in our space, and it's free. So that was always an interesting challenge.

And the way that we were successful there [laughs]...obviously, YouTube is at a much larger scale [laughs] and level of success than Wistia is. But to the extent we have a business at all against a very well-known and free competitor from those early days, it was being really focused on our customers and keeping the product footprint fairly small.

Our business changed a lot during the pandemic. There were some obvious things, right? Video was used a lot more. So existing customers had a lot more usage. We saw an influx of customers, people who maybe were late to adopt video in their organization, and then that became a much obvious way that people could reach their audiences and grow. So that was something of a tailwind for us.

And then it also forced us to kind of take a step back and look at the market in general with clear eyes. It was a funny moment, I think, for me and my co-founder because in the years leading up to that, you know, it had been like 12,13 years of doing Wistia, and it felt like we had solved a lot of problems in the product. We were still building new things, but they were for the most mature part of our audience or the most advanced marketers, which was pretty fun. But it felt like a lot of the problems had been solved. We were always, like, is the product done? Is the product complete?

And when we took a step back and looked at the market, what we had found was that we had kind of just, like, got ourselves into this, you know, more mature corner of the market. But in a large part, because of COVID, so many businesses, existing and new businesses, were very new to video and were using video in new ways. And people who had been using video, their solutions to do that were super fragmented.

You'd have one product that is providing...[laughs] You might have a different product you're using for internal meetings, video meetings, and that's different than a live event product, that's different than a webinar product, that's different than where you might publish your videos or host your videos, which is different than how you'd, like, analyze your performance.

And as video became more important to organizations, that fragmentation of the solutions was something that was super painful. And we had heard from a lot of people who were Wistia customers and people who were not...having this as an all-in-one platform was something that they really desired, which I was also kind of, you know, we were, like, cynical about a little bit, right?

Because if [laughs] you're in the world of product, it's like you can ask, you know, if you had a magic wand, what would you want? And someone says, "Oh, I want it all in one. And if you could just do everything for me, that would be so great." You know, it's hard to say, is that what people really want? And what gave us more confidence at that was, correct, is when we started digging into some of the details and hearing about existing workflows that existed that marketers have to deal with, including ourselves. We do a lot of content marketing.

A lot of the really interesting things you could do in a product that is all in one it opens up new opportunities. And you could just've hosted a webinar before. Almost always, it's the best practice that you host a webinar; after you're finished, you probably have a good marketing asset there. You should publish it to your website. You usually need to do some light editing. Maybe you're going to take off the Q&A before you publish it. And you put it on your website.

And then, a while later, you're like, was this effective? Did it work? And then you have to, you know, probably have a spreadsheet somewhere. You have to go into the tool used to host the webinar to figure out who was watching it and [laughs] who registered. Did they attend? And then where's the data for how it performed on your website? How many people watched it? Did you get subscribers if you were, you know, had an email gate on that content? It's cumbersome, and it's a mess.

And then, you know, the most motivated people who are well-resourced have the time to do that and analyze the performance. But then a lot of marketers who are on smaller teams they just don't have time to do that, which means a lot of content gets under-utilized or under-marketed. So a lot of evidence and motivation to change what we were doing and expand the product footprint. So that had us make a big investment in our product design and engineering teams, and we almost...we doubled them in about 18 months. And then that kind of set us on this journey that we started maybe two years ago to greatly expand what we're doing.

VICTORIA: Well, that's great. So just to play that back, staying close and focused on your customers almost had you to a point of being stable with your product until COVID happened. And you have this increased demand for video that opened it up to almost have Wistia be like a startup again and create a whole new feature branch, right?

BRENDAN: Yeah, that's exactly right. And that was really fun and motivating. I mean, we...that early-stage energy and not having all the answers to things where stuff is a little bit, you know, less-researched, and it's faster paced is something that I really like. That was a big shift for the company. So there was some, I don't know, I think we had some self-doubt a little bit if I'm honest, of, you know, when you've been so focused for so long. Like, can we do this?

Like, will we be able to create something really good with this expanded footprint, and what resources that take? And is it going to take shifting the culture and mindset of the team, like, in ourselves? But, I don't know, that's kind of why I started the [laughs] business in the first, like, the adventure and not knowing what's next is very appealing. So that's been the fun part of it.

VICTORIA: And how did you go about shifting that mindset? Or even what was the moment where you realized that you needed to go after this shift? And how did you start lobbying everyone around you to get on board?

BRENDAN: A lot of those customer interviews and market interviews, we worked with an outside firm. We worked with Boston Consulting Group, who was a really great partner. We have obviously worked with folks outside. We hadn't worked with somebody; I'd say, at that scale in terms of kind of, like, tie-in with our company strategy today. But that was really helpful to have a partner, especially to push us. We got to something different than we had been doing, I mean, not dramatically so. But it was expanding what we were doing.

So that was really helpful. It helped...that put some structure around it to what we had, and the whole company knew this was happening and was along for the ride. So I'd say the communication and getting to a clear strategy was something we did pretty well, and telling that story internally. I'd say where we didn't do as well [laughs] and were maybe late to make some decisions is how the culture would need to change to support that strategy.

Again, like I said, we've doubled the product design and engineering teams. That is now feeling in a pretty good spot, but that was a lot of growth for us. And was, I'd say, pretty messy along the way. So the beginning, I'd say, was clear, and I think communicated well. And then I feel like in the middle it was, I don't know, a big mess where we got maybe a year in, and we're like, wow, we have this new strategy, but we really haven't executed much on it.

Some of these things we're building are taking a lot longer than we thought. Our velocity doesn't feel great. Like, maybe we didn't plan some of this stuff out. Like, we've hired a lot of people, but, like, are they productive yet? And so, yeah, I think we were in a pretty [laughs] tough spot maybe last summer. We were a year into this strategic shift, but it didn't feel like we were really moving against it as much as we had hoped.

VICTORIA: It makes sense that it would take some time to change strategic direction and then get to that high-velocity point that you would expect. Were there other blockers that you found you were able to remove to get the team back up to that high velocity on delivering features for clients?

BRENDAN: [laughs] Well, it's funny that you say that. I wish; I mean, that is pretty obvious, I think, and obvious in retrospect. But, for some reason, when you're in this, or when we were in this, you're impatient, and you want it faster. And I think probably [laughs] having some clear expectations would have made the ride a little smoother along the way for this. I feel like I have to remind myself of this pretty frequently.

I mean, Wistia is not big. We're 180 people or so but certainly bigger than...I can think back to various other sizes. Doing that strategic shift it takes time for leadership, let's say, or me to shift my mindset about some of those things. And then once you've changed your mind, you kind of... it's easy, or at least for me, to discount the time it took and all the information it took to lead to that, which needs to cascade through an organization. And so that's where some of that impatience...or just the piece you said about, yeah, it makes sense that this would take time. I was like --

VICTORIA: [laughs] [inaudible 11:56]

BRENDAN: [laughter] You're like, once you've got it, you're like, wow, this is so exciting. Let's go. Let's go. And everybody is like, what are you talking about?

VICTORIA: Yeah. My background has been in, like, Federal IT consulting. So you're used to kind of the pace of things being a little slower. And I think people forget that as an organization gets to any amount of size, that kind of bureaucracy tends to creep in. And, like you're saying, the information just needs to cascade down throughout everybody. I think my original question was, were there any blockers or interesting problems you found that you were able to remove and help your team get to that speed or velocity you really wanted?

BRENDAN: Yeah, there were a lot. I think most of them and most of the hardest ones to move centered around cultural change, and they weren't necessarily so clear at the onset. And so, you know, one thing that kind of partway into the strategy change that became clear is, and you had said it, it's like going from, you know, basically thinking of ourselves as being in a late stage or more mature market to being in an early-stage environment. And the type of culture that, you know, succeeds in those worlds is different.

One thing that we've learned along the way at Wistia that we have employed and I think been successful with is this concept that when you update your strategy as a company, you should be thoughtful and, like, make conscious updates to your culture and values. And so much is you're saying culture is the way that you work. You want that to be in support of strategy. And I remember when I first heard this concept, and we were earlier into our journey. I was like, what is this, like, corporate nonsense? Culture is just this, like, intangible, you know, it's this sum of how everyone works. And it's, like, this beautiful symphony of values. [laughs]

It was a more kind of, like, idealistic [laughs] view of it or more organic view of it, which I think is reasonable. But you can also be intentional about your culture. So when we wrestled with that the first time...this was many years ago when we updated. I forgot even what the strategic changes at the time. But we updated our values, and we set about making a conscious cultural change. So when we changed the strategy this time, we did the same thing. I'd say we were a little bit late doing it, like, getting to it. But we did do it.

And so some of that was there were certain, for instance, being so focused. We had a really lean team. And we were optimizing for things like predictability of outcomes and needing to be correct. So, for instance, if you're only going to make...let's just, like, say, on the product side. Like, if you're only going to be able to ship or do, you know, a few big improvements to the product per year, like, you're well served to kind of go slowly and make sure those have a reasonable chance of success. This was, like, the culture and the mode that we were in.

That doesn't really work very well when you're in an early-stage environment where things are pretty unpredictable and things are moving really quickly. So that was an example of something that we kind of identified, and we're like, we're going to need to change this. So it was this shift from teams feeling the need to be correct and really well-researched about something to moving towards; I'd say, you need to talk to a lot of customers to build customer intuition in order to make decisions faster.

But that shouldn't be the case that; for every product decision you need to make, you have to talk to 5 or 10 customers to validate that. You should be able to build an intuition to be able to make those decisions faster, and we should be more tolerant of failure. And so, we should work in a more incremental style. I mean, some of this is, like, super familiar to anybody [laughs] listening to this, right? It's like a more agile style. So work more incrementally, like, work incrementally towards great as opposed to, you know, this big thing that's going to be super polished and correct from the jump.

VICTORIA: I think that's really interesting. And it's not necessarily wrong to be so thorough in your changes when you're in that steady state, and you, like, know what clients you have, and you have a pretty well-defined product. But it's interesting that it took quite a bit of effort, it sounds like, to shift back into a flow state where you're incrementally doing changes very frequently to get that new product and find those new customers that you're targeting.

BRENDAN: And it continues to be. We've made a lot of progress on this. And maybe it's helpful...I don't know if it's helpful to folks listening to dive into some of the details of how we went about making those changes. It's still really difficult, right? There's a lot of things in tension.

So I'd say in our previous mode, one thing we were pretty good about is when something was released, it was well-tested. It was high quality. It was, like, well-communicated. Throughout the org, people knew what was coming. Obviously, there were hiccups with that, but, like, that's the side of the spectrum that we were on there.

And then in this mode where we're building faster and more incrementally, we have a lot of internal tension in terms of quality, like, is this good enough? Is this first version good enough? Are we going to make a bad first impression? And so, obviously, you do this for's a set of trade-offs, right? There's no free lunch, but that is still very much we're trying to find the right balance.

VICTORIA: Right. So, like, in your role as CTO, how do you make people feel comfortable failing [laughs] [inaudible 17:06] describing.

BRENDAN: Some of this cultural change, I think, it's been interesting to go through because some of the properties of how we had been working are, you know, things that are part of the way I like to work. Like, it makes me uncomfortable to release something that you know the flaws in it. And that's an old kind of startup advice that I think is generally right. Like, if you release something and it doesn't make you a little bit uncomfortable, you have waited too long. [laughs] Advice is very easy and abstract. It's hard to apply. Like, there's a huge spectrum there of, like, how uncomfortable [laughs] you want to be.

But I will say that that's been something that's been, yeah, hard to reconcile with. And I guess that the piece that I'm able to do in my role is, like, remind folks where we're headed, right? So the first version can be a bit rough. What matters is what happens after that. So, if we're quick to listen to customers, to fix those things, to correct that, and people can see that momentum, I think that matters for a lot. And I think that's, like, something...I've been telling that story repeatedly.

Internally, I've had other leaders, and that's what we've really been leaning on is, like, we've adjusted how we're delivering customer value. And that we're going to push things out that might be a little bit more raw, but where we ultimately are going to get them to and get them to quickly is something that we're really proud of. So that has helped. And then, I'd say we still haven't figured out, which is, again, like, in these smaller increments, things can be a failure, and that's okay as long as we learn something and correct and move forward.

And one thing that's been a little bit tricky to recognize, too, is there's some places where you have some experiment, and you're not actually sure if there's a market or if there's a need for a feature. So you might do something, and it really doesn't land well. And then you learn something about the market or the customer base and say, okay, that isn't what people needed.

But, in a lot of places that we're building product, like, let's say, take live video, for example. [laughs] When we launch a live video product, it may be a failure. Like, the first version may not be completely right or may be a failure. But the customer need for [laughs] a live video for a webinar exists, right? So that's not the type of failure that you go, oh, I guess there's not [laughs] a market there. Or, it's like, you go back and say, okay, how do we need to improve this to make it work?

I don't think we have the right language internally around that. You know, there are certain areas where it's like a failure, and then it's like, okay, we've learned not to do that again. And there's other areas where it's like, we're going to keep...[laughs] not we're going to keep failing. I mean, there are goals to succeed, right? But we're going to keep improving this until we get it to work because we know there is a market here, and there is a customer need.

VICTORIA: Making a culture where it's acceptable to run experiments [chuckles] and as long as you're learning from the failures. And honestly, it sounds like you all are very connected to your customer. Like, you're talking to them regularly. You're testing out features with them and getting that feedback. And that sounds like that's really what you want to focus on and want your whole team to focus on.

BRENDAN: Yes, yeah, exactly.

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VICTORIA: You mentioned a little bit about your values. So, what would you say is, like, your most important personal value that drives your decision-making at Wistia?

BRENDAN: So, like I mentioned, we've changed our values over time when we've changed strategy. And we think of our values as a decision-making framework, not as a set of things that we value. For instance, if you go on our website on, I think about/values, about/company. It's somewhere. And you can see our values. It's not a list of everything that Wistia values or even the things that we value the most.

For example, Wistia has, like, creativity is something that I value a lot that is very built into Wistia's culture that we value a lot, but it's not a listed value. It used to be at one point, and then we found that as a decision-making tool, it wasn't very helpful. [laughs] If you're faced with a decision, and you say, okay, one of the values is creativity, how do I make this more creative, right?

VICTORIA: [laughs]

BRENDAN: That's not usually the question you want to ask. So we have, over the years, shifted towards the values are a decision-making framework. And I'd say the one value that has stood the test of time in there is simplicity, which is not unique to Wistia, but it's something that I care a lot about personally. It's served us well as a business.

It's almost always harder to get to a simple solution or answer than it is to get to a complex one. It takes a lot of failure. Sometimes there isn't a simple solution, but I think it's always worth the pursuit of trying to find one. And that's served us well in keeping a focused and easy-to-use product. I think that's fairly self-evident [laughs] why that matters to customers. And it's something that I think it's hard to do as you grow, and add, and get bigger. And it's an important feature of the product. And it's an important feature of, I don't know, companies' internal policies or the employee experience.

The simpler something is, it's easier to understand. I think the more someone who works inside your company can wrap their arms around more of that context or, you know, more of the product, more of the all the ins and outs of how it is to work there, the better informed they'll be, the better faster they'll be able to make decisions, and the better work they'll be able to do. So, yeah, simplicity, minimalism, those are things I think that have served us well over the years.

VICTORIA: Oh, I appreciate that. I could see how that could apply to how you're writing your code, or how you're designing a feature, or even your pricing structure.

BRENDAN: Yeah, and I don't think...we definitely don't always get it right. So, you know, all of this is aspirational, but I think it's the right thing to aspire to.

VICTORIA: Right. Oh, I'm familiar. [laughter] It's like that, I mean, the Marie Kondo, like, keeping it simple and organized. It's definitely aspirational [laughter] in my personal life as well. But that makes sense. Okay, I have a fun one for you. What is your favorite viral video style that you think people should do more of on Wistia? [laughs]

BRENDAN: Oh, whoa. That's a hot-button one. [laughs] I think we have long said...this, like, feels like it takes me back to when we first started Wistia. The term viral and viral video was a new thing for the internet, I guess because video on the internet was still fairly new. I've always been on the side of this, like, hardworking video. And most of our customers are B2B businesses, so these are, like, marketing teams at B2B companies.

I'm sure a lot of people who are listening to this have seen some very cringeworthy, you know, attempts at a viral video made by various corporations. Those usually don't land well. There are some people out there maybe that can crack this and make something that is viral through some art and science, but most everybody else cannot.

VICTORIA: [laughs]

BRENDAN: It's like, not something that can be kind of, like, bottled and captured. So we've always been on the side of, like, be authentic, be yourself, make these harder-working videos. But --

VICTORIA: I think that's generally good advice for businesses that was, like, maybe don't try to just do viral trends...[laughs] Like, make your own authentic content. But you personally now, like, yeah, if you were going to do whatever the latest TikTok trend is, which one would you pick?

BRENDAN: You know, okay, maybe here's one. So we have always been, as I described it, on the side of, like, do not do this. It is, like, almost always going to be cringe-worthy. But do you remember...I don't know what year this is from, the Harlem Shake. It was mostly kind of a business trend, right? You'd play this track, the Harlem Shake, and have, like, when the beat dropped, it would go from normal office to everyone dancing in a costume.

VICTORIA: Oh, that's fun.

BRENDAN: So it was, like, a fun trend. But it was...we were and still are, I'd say, fairly, like, anti-trend. I don't know what, you know, like, contrarian when it comes to marketing trends or things like that. But then, when this happened, we were like, this will be really funny. We should set a calendar reminder to do this, like, ten years in the future.

Actually, the last onsite that we had; unfortunately, it was the last day. Our head of production [laughs] who, like, we kind of had this, like, running joke of he randomly saw a news article. I think that it was the 10-year anniversary of the Harlem Shake [laughs] or whatever. He's like, oh, this would be...this is the perfect time to do this, now that it's so, so, so out of vogue. But, you know, people, like, maybe have fond memories of it. And now this is so out of fashion. I think it could be funny to do it. [laughs]

VICTORIA: Yeah, right. You don't want to do it just because it's the trend. But if it fits your personality and your business, then I think it would make sense.


VICTORIA: I've heard that there might be a Wes Anderson style. [laughs] And I wanted to do a Wes Anderson goes to RailsConf video, but I'm actually meeting this --

BRENDAN: Did you do it?

VICTORIA: I didn't do it. I'm not actually good enough. I think tomorrow I'm meeting with the Wistia customer success team. [laughs] I'm going to ask them to help me.

BRENDAN: Oh yes, we'll help you.


BRENDAN: I do like...that trend is nice. That feels like a; I don't know, like, less aggressive. I've seen a lot of those, and they don't feel, I don't know, cringeworthy to me because maybe it's a nice shell in which to put some personality and content, as opposed to --

VICTORIA: Just being goofy or whatever, yeah. [laughs]

BRENDAN: Yeah, I don't know exactly how to describe it. But I think that one works better. Yeah, someone at Wistia did that the other day in the office, and people enjoyed it a lot. That was more for, like, internal consumption. But those ones are nice.

VICTORIA: Yeah. Well, I like the idea of bringing some of these editing tools to marketing teams where they can maybe not create viral videos all the time but do a lot of very highly editing and having it all in one place as well. Like you mentioned, I do run webinars, [laughs] and I'm familiar with the bouncing around between different tools to get everything to work. And there's even sometimes, like, security issues with different types of video-hosting tools. So I think there's a lot to offer for a marketing team who may not have as many resources to do the individual pieces.

BRENDAN: Yeah, that's a story we've heard, yeah, from a lot of customers. And we have a lot of video resources internally because we're a video company, and we invest a lot in that. But even so, yeah, if you talk to folks on our marketing team, they'd say it's hard to get those resources, especially if you have something small that you want to do.

I think it's always better if the person who has the need can easily do the thing themselves, right? More and better work gets done that way versus if it's, like, this chain of having to, like, ask other people because then you're like, should I really ask? It's like, do I want to, you know, spend social capital or budget on this thing? Will it work, will it not? But you can be, I think, faster and also experiment more when you have those tools available to you.

VICTORIA: Yeah, no, that makes sense. Because I don't know if it's worth [laughs] me spending my team's time to make this Wes Anderson video, but I want to do it for fun. So we'll see if I can do it at RubyKaigi next week.

BRENDAN: You should. That's great. That's, like, the perfect example of it because I feel like, yeah, well, maybe not. You might be sheepish to be like, yeah, I'm going to spend, like, ten grand with this, like, contractor to make this Wes Anderson...and to be like, what do you...what? What are you doing?

VICTORIA: [laughs] That makes sense.

BRENDAN: But if you do it, I think, you know, it's very likely it'll be really well-received, and you'll learn something about your audience. And then that could, like, blossom into, you know, a whole bunch of other things. I feel like that's been the case for us in our content marketing. We've long said, and this is, like, much more commonplace now, but one of the advantages of having a video producer in-house, like, is exactly that you now are employing someone full-time.

And so you've, you know, like, maybe knocked off, like, the major pieces of content that a business would make with video, some of the obvious things. But then it's exactly what you're talking about that, oh, we could take a risk, and we could try this. And that's where you learn and figure out new things and things that are different than your competitors might be doing or more creative approaches.

VICTORIA: Oh, That's great. You know, something I like to ask everybody who comes on the show, and it will be super interesting since you've been on a few times before, but if you could go back in time to your younger self when you first started Wistia, what advice would you give yourself?

BRENDAN: Patient...One funny thing of when we started Wistia, we had really unrealistic expectations. I don't think that's [laughs] unique when starting a business when you're young. But yeah, I was 22 or 23, as was my co-founder, Chris. And we really honestly thought—this is, like, this is cringeworthy to say—that we would either be really successful and, in six months, build this great business and sell it to Facebook or now Meta, right? But that was, like, a hot company at the time.

So we'd be wildly successful and sell to Facebook in six months, or we would fail in obscurity. That was, like, our honest-to-goodness business plan, which is so naive. [laughs] And here we are, you know, 17 years later and having a wonderful time. So I guess I would say, I mean, it's the most cliché advice, and you're young, and you never listen to stuff like this, but it's, like, enjoy the journey.


Things haven't always been easy. And there are, you know, hard challenges and, like, times filled with self-doubt. But even in those moments, if you have support from people around you, if you can learn to enjoy the growth and the journey, that is what keeps you motivated to do something for a long period of time. And usually, you know, people who stay focused on something for a long period of time you figure it out and can be successful. This sounds like the most generic advice as I say this out loud.

VICTORIA: [laughs]

BRENDAN: It really is. Enjoy the journey. [laughs]

VICTORIA: Enjoy the journey. But I think that's common. And even actually talking with Chad a few weeks ago and interviewing him about thoughtbot, is his younger self would tell him to have more fun [laughs] during the whole process and really enjoy it. And I think it's also interesting that you had either the most optimistic and the most [laughs] pessimistic as options and, like, nothing in between [laughter] that you expected would happen.

Which is funny because I have people ask me, like, is there still money in building apps and building new products? And it's like, yeah, like, it feels like there's these big people in the space, and they're doing everything you could think of possible. But there's still niche market that you can pursue [laughs], right? And there is still the ways that you can differentiate yourself as a product.

BRENDAN: Yeah, I think that's exactly right. What advice would you give to your younger self?

VICTORIA: Oh, me? I think, you know, probably something similar. Like, I feel like all of the times in my life where I've been, like, what am I going to do next and been really stressed out about it, within, like, three to six months, I found a new job, or I found something better where life improved a hundred-fold. [laughter]. So I think that's something even now I like to keep in mind is, like, if things turned down badly, like; usually, things turn around in a few months after that, [laughs] and a lot of times for the better. And that's, you know, true with, like, moving to California across the country from DC a few years ago. And yeah, a few other points like that.

I think the other part I think about is who I might have invested more time in and who I would have invested less time in. And like what you were saying, like, having the support of people around you, and finding the people who really have your back and support you, and, for people who don't, maybe letting go a little sooner. [laughs]

BRENDAN: Oh, interesting. Yeah, that's good advice. Yeah, I feel like both of those things are things I should probably remind myself of more frequently. [laughs]

VICTORIA: Right? And have more fun, which means...there's another quote I heard that's, like, when people travel back in time, they're worried about changing a small thing that will affect the future. But people don't think that they can make small changes now that will affect their future big time.

BRENDAN: Oh, that's a good one. I haven't heard that. But that's a good one.

VICTORIA: Well, super cool. Just to kind of really summarize or go back to some things we mentioned already about video, just how important do you think video really is to marketing in the current landscape for businesses?

BRENDAN: I mean, [laughs] I'm a very biased party, but I think it is becoming increasingly more important. I think it is the default way a lot of people want to consume information. This is a whole other tip that we didn't talk about with what's happening in the world of generative AI. And I'm sure a lot of people listening to this have voice cloning and how good those things have been getting.

I think it's going to make the value of authentic connections in video much more important in the short and medium term. And there's some challenging questions about how do you tell what's real in an environment where we've gone past the uncanny valley in terms of generating, you know, an avatar of me or you with the perfect voice clone? But I think people are going to rely a lot on video to break through.

VICTORIA: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. It's going to be just more video world [laughs] as it goes. What does success look like for Wistia six months from now and even five years from now, the longer term?

BRENDAN: I think for six months from now, so there's a lot of new areas of the product that we've added. And, in the next six months, we should be able to make pretty substantial progress to have those parts of the product have really solid adoption and repeated usage by customers. I think that's what success looks like, which we're seeing it now for our editors, probably the farthest along, that it has really good adoption among the customer base, and repeat usage, which I think is, like, a really good sign of success for a product.

Live is still really early for us. You don't get a lot of shots if something goes wrong with a live event. [laughs] You know, I'd be pretty quick to look for another platform. And that's a pretty mature market where there are a lot of really strong competition. I think if we can get to a place in six months where we've got, you know, a few hundred customers using that every week or every month, we'd feel like we're on a path towards success.

And the five-year version, I don't know, we recently started making three-year goals for the company a few years ago that have been pretty helpful to have as an anchoring. We have not made a five-year goal. But the thing I'm very excited about right now and what we're doing is, again, like, live is a small example. The market for live itself is much bigger than the market that traditionally Wistia has been in, and just in terms of video hosting, which itself has always grown a lot over the years. And it's itself a big market, as is video recording and creating video.

So we have entered into a bunch of new markets that are all really quite large. And it's pretty humbling to be in a spot where I feel like we have a really solid base with a lot of in-depth knowledge of marketing and our customer to be able to build a really excellent product for that set. We're playing in a much bigger market than I ever thought we would.

VICTORIA: It's like, success already achieved.


BRENDAN: Well, I don't know. It doesn't feel that way. It doesn't feel that way. But -- [laughs]

VICTORIA: Maybe next time you come on the podcast, you'll have another success story to share with us. [laughs]

BRENDAN: I hope so. Yeah, I feel like that's always the case, right? It's like, yeah, there are moments where we're certainly very proud of what we've been able to achieve. But most of my time is spent [laughs] in the headspace of, you know, why are we so slow? Why is the product not good enough? Why are we, you know, like, all the stuff that's going wrong, right? Which drives you to be better and is exciting.

VICTORIA: Right. That makes sense. Well, hopefully, this helps remind you all the good stuff that you all have done so far, too.

BRENDAN: [laughs]

VICTORIA: I'm really excited to hear about just how your values drive your decisions and then how that goes to the rest of the team and how closely you're listening to your customers, too, on the product. I think those are all just really great cultural examples and ways to build great products. So, thank you for sharing your story with me.

And you can subscribe to the show and find notes along with a complete transcript for this episode at And if you have questions or comments, you can email us at And you can find me on Twitter at @victori_ousg.

This podcast is brought to you by thoughtbot and produced and edited by Mandy Moore.

ANNOUNCER: This podcast is brought to you by thoughtbot, your expert strategy, design, development, and product management partner. We bring digital products from idea to success and teach you how because we care. Learn more at

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