Tobi Ogunwande is a 27-year-old Nigerian who founded Festivilia, a film festival submission and distribution platform that allows filmmakers and content providers to submit their films to a curated list of film festivals with just 1 form. The idea for Festivilia was inspired by two experiences: an encounter with an Egyptian filmmaker, Ramy El Gabry, in 2016 while running Hubrif, and his personal experience with submitting his films to film festivals. Festivilia has made $15,000 and is now making a few hundreds per month.
After attempting to create the Netflix for African short films, Tobi made the decision to address an issue he and his partner filmmakers were continuously having: festival submission. After losing $10,000, he purchased a domain, hosting, and began building with just $11. Festivilia has since earned $15,000 and is currently bringing in a few hundred dollars every month.
Festivilia: The Game-Changer for Film Festival Submissions and Distribution
Tobi Ogunwande here. I’m a proud Nigerian who lives in Lagos, Nigeria, and I’m 27 years old. I like to think of myself as a fan of excellent cuisine, technology, and movies. On the basis of my unsuccessful venture, Hubrif, a website that streams handpicked and award-winning African short films, I was interviewed by Failory. You may think of it like Netflix for short films from Africa. I decided to discuss my current business, Festivilia, which is fairly successful and whose success I attribute to the knowledge and experience I obtained while starting Hubrif, in order to provide some balance to the situation.
Filmmakers and content creators may submit their movies to a selected list of film festivals using only one form thanks to Festivilia, a platform for film festival submissions and distribution. Festivilia serves as the festival distributor for its customers, assisting with festival sourcing, submission management, and client-festival contact. Festivilia basically saves filmmakers money and priceless time by limiting the number of film festivals they submit to and making sure their time is spent on other worthwhile pursuits rather than filling out endless entry forms.
How Festivilia Simplifies the Film Festival Submission Process
Festivilia was the result of two different experiences. The first was in 2016 when I ran Hubrif and ran across the Egyptian director Ramy El Gabry. The second was my own practical knowledge of submitting my movies to film festivals. I came upon Ramy’s short film From Inside by accident, and I was very touched by the plot. After that, I got in touch with the director to arrange for the movie to be shown on Hubrif, where it quickly rose to the top spot for viewers.
I chose to submit the movie on his behalf because, based on my years of visiting film festivals, I thought it would be the perfect fit for several of the festivals. To our amazement, practically every festival I submitted the movie to chose it, including the 2016 Africa International Film Festival, where we ultimately met. Ramy and I were talking on one of the festival’s days when he mentioned that the work I produced for him was excellent and that many moviemakers would gladly pay for it.
Three years later, Festivilia has taken over as Divine Touch Productions’ (Ramy’s production firm) exclusive festival distributor.
The second experience was that I’ve always struggled to complete various film festival submission forms in order to submit my film to festivals. I find the entire procedure to be incredibly time-consuming and inefficient, with an acceptance rate of less than 5%.
By creating a marketplace for filmmakers and film festivals, other submission platforms like filmfreeway and withoutabox helped to ease the process over time. However, I realized that the problem of time spent on these platforms sorting through different festivals’ rules and regulations to determine which festivals your film is a perfect match for hasn’t been close to being solved.
I preferred to discover a platform that could handle all the labor-intensive work (search for the appropriate festivals and submit on my behalf) while I paid for the service rather than spending 100 hours a month on this activity. There was none to be found. I made the decision to fix the issue. The inspiration for Festivilia came from these two encounters.
From Manual Submissions to a Semi-Automated System
I didn’t want to endure what I did when I started Hubrif again. I learned from that experience that I needed to find a technical co-founder that loved filmmaking in addition to having the necessary skill set to create a VOD platform. It took roughly a year to track out that individual.
I made the decision to grab the bull by the horns for Festivilia. I was aware that creating an MVP on my own shouldn’t be all that difficult given the tools available today. I’ve previously created a template that supports the usage of no-cost tools and little to no coding. I discovered Mobirise, an offline website builder, and was able to obtain a trustworthy free or inexpensive hosting plan (hub8). I used Canva to create my logo, and in three weeks, I was able to create a serviceable MVP. I spent just $11 on everything all in total! (I merely paid money to purchase the domain.
Clients back then had to download the form, fill it out, and email it to us after which we would issue an invoice for payment. Even though none of our consumers ever voiced a complaint, the back and forth wasn’t good enough. I continued to enhance the platform’s process since I desired a somewhat automated system. We were able to create adaptable cloud-based web forms with Airtable Forms, which eliminated the need for users to download, complete, and send back a form.
We were able to link our payment invoices to our web forms with no setup expenses thanks to Flutterwave and Paystack. We can construct visually appealing and simple festival tracking dashboards using Google Sheets. Today, we have a semi-automated system that is almost perfect and requires little oversight.
The Power of Recommendation and Word of Mouth
We have greatly expanded thanks to recommendations and word of mouth. Since our inception ten months ago, we have earned over $15,000. We had the good fortune to receive adequate press when we began from Nigerian and South African blogs and media sites.
We have really profited from this and used the buzz to establish our reputation. We’ve only recently started to take SEO seriously. We found blogging to be a terrific tool and it progressively assisted us in forming a community, however due to technical difficulties with our blogging platform, we lost all of our information and had to restart. We are back to blogging today because of the incredible authors at publishnow who created a fantastic blogging platform. We received recognition from filmmakers after our front-page appearance in Screen Africa Magazine’s September 2018 issue.
Overcoming Software Development Challenges
Instead of just creating a marketplace for filmmakers and film festivals, we want to create an automated, AI-powered platform that will completely automate the process of submitting films to festivals. By reducing the amount of time required for this task, we hope to free up time for filmmakers to actively engage in other forms of creativity.
Additionally, we want film festivals to be responsible. Filmmakers may now submit their films to festivals all in one location thanks to the introduction of platforms for doing so, such as filmfreeway and shortfilmdepot. As a result, film festivals now routinely receive much more applications than they may have thought possible only a few years ago. Film festivals that formerly only had approximately 500 applications a year now get over 5000, yet there are only 30–50 slots available. While this helps the festivals, it has also led to a dishonest system because the festivals frequently only watch 50% of the submissions they receive but still charge the filmmakers 100% of the submission fee. We are developing a safe marketplace platform so that filmmakers can quickly determine whether a festival for which they paid an entrance fee actually saw their film. The entrance costs paid by the filmmaker will be reimbursed to the participant if the movie wasn’t seen. We think that both filmmakers and festivals should have equal access to the film festival circuit.
Our immediate objective is to sponsor an award category at a few jointly organized film festivals this year. Few film festivals provide monetary prizes, therefore we want to be able to help filmmakers advance their careers. This will be our small contribution to the success of filmmakers, who need money to keep creating movies.
Developing Software Without Prior Experience
I had no experience developing software, and I was too poor to hire a developer, so I wasn’t sure how I would manage to create a platform on my own. I accepted the challenge to do some study and read lots of articles about developing websites, creating an MVP, etc. The rest, as they say, is history.
Additionally, it took a lot of time and effort to personally curate thousands of film festivals and choose the ones that are the best match for Festivilia. We worked on this for a while. As we continually research and add film festivals to our database, it is still a laborious task.
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Festivilia’s original launch was one of our worst blunders since we underpriced the service, which put a lot of pressure on us. We overpromised, and in an effort to not let our customers down, we worked our ass off (pardon the term) to deliver on those promises. For obvious reasons, we were unable to accept any new clients for a few months as a result. We wouldn’t have been able to deliver if we had done that. This resulted in financial loss. Today, we are glad we committed those mistakes since they helped us improve our company strategy. I suppose it’s true what they say: “If you weren’t embarrassed by your product when you launched, you launched too late.”
We were lucky to experience success right away. Our expenses were incredibly cheap to create an MVP, and they are currently quite inexpensive to maintain the platform. According to the numbers, it cost $11 to create the platform, only for the domain.
We presently spend $20 per month, which is a pitiful amount for internet data services. Running the platform itself doesn’t cost us anything. We have so far made around $15,000 in income through subscription fees, VOD distribution agreements, and commission on award prices with monetary values from film festivals. Currently, we are making about $250 in MRR (solely from subscription payments).
I am largely pleased with how our launch went. I wouldn’t make any changes. While still employed as a Business Development Personnel at Cartehub, I launched Festivilia as a side project. Since then, I’ve joined Divine Touch Productions, an international production firm with its headquarters in Egypt, after leaving Cartehub. Festivilia is still technically a side project because I work remotely for Divine Touch full-time.
The Importance of Connecting with Your Target Market
Let me start by offering some guidance to aspiring techpreneurs. Forget about VC money, business incubators, and other buzzwords you may already be familiar with. When I was running Hubrif, I spent a lot of time on these issues, and believe me when I say that the results were not as positive as we had hoped. It was a draining activity on the emotions. Instead, put time into developing your company and connecting with your precise target market. Find a way to start earning money right away. It’s probably not a smart option if setting up an MVP is too pricey. Goodluck!
I’m a huge admirer of IndieHackers and Failory. On Betalist, Betapage, and Hacker News, I adore finding new products. The Hustle and Techcabal Digest’s guys are awesome! My daily email digest of tech news is presented in a pleasant and interesting way. I adore interacting with the filmmakers on Stage32 and Reddit. Quora is a fantastic resource where you can share your experiences and nearly always find accurate answers to your queries.
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