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Voodle

What was Voodle?

Voodle was a tech startup that built a short-video messaging app that launched in 2020 and shuttered in 2022. The initial idea was for a mobile-first “async short video” app that would be “tiktok for work” for sales and marketing teams to talk to each other. First versions launched in summer of 2020 during COVID pandemic conditions, and while 10k+ users tested the app with their teams, the rise and dominance of team messaging activities within Microsoft Teams, Slack, and Google Meet platforms proved too high of a friction for any meaningful adoption of 3rd party apps in this era of the industry. Meaningful integration of Voodle within other apps proved difficult, as the APIs for rich video playback was minimal or not available to 3rd parties.

Voodle evolved to focus on 1-to-many “me-casting” workflows–such as a sales outreach, coaching group, or other special interest space for asymmetrical chat (eg: not everyone participating making videos, rather, most users watching the videos of a main/principal maker). Email notification workflows, analytics for views/engagement, and other more traditional sales/CRM features were added.

The last phase of exploration in summer and fall of 2022 included Web3 token-gated spaces for creators to build audiences around a mixture of NFT, video, text, graphic posts.

Here’s a quick demo from fall 2021, and some screenshots of key UX and features.

Categories
Pixvana

What was Pixvana?

Pixvana was a VR Video tech startup from 2016-2019 that built a cloud virtual reality video processing, streaming, and editing software suite SPIN Studio. The company was based in Seattle WA and had traction with large media companies that used its platform to build consumer facing media streaming apps. As the 2015-2018 VR market cycle crashed (Microsoft and Google canceled their consumer headset plans, Meta/Oculus adoption faltered) and consumer VR adoption failed to breakthrough to meaningful usage, Pixvana built enterprise training tools. Ultimately the VR market proved “too-early” and development of Pixvana was shuttered in late 2019.

Pixvana SPIN Studio had comprehensive features to process raw VR video camera files and prepare them for very high quality streaming to headsets at 8k+ resolutions. The app was capable of massive parallel rendering with cloud GPU instances, so that a task that might require 10hrs to render on a single workstation class PC, could be distributed to 100+ nodes and rendered in just minutes.

Some of the core features are shown below, for posterity.

SPIN Play was the headset playback app available in the many VR app stores (Windows, Oculus, Google, iOS, etc.) that could be programmed/skinned with playlists of videos and interactive programs developed using SPIN Studio. The app could be synced over-the-wire and then run in offline mode, which allowed for very efficient management of fleets of headsets. If you had 50 headsets that you wanted to prepare for an event or trade-show, for example, you could prepare content and deploy/update on the fleet, using SPIN Studio and SPIN Play.
Pixvana SPIN Studio included both 180 degree and 360 degree camera “stitching”, wherein multiple video files from camera-rigs could be uploaded and “solved” to formats ready for streaming to VR headsets.
Parallel processing in the cloud was achieved by “sharding” jobs to multiple rendering nodes. Here dozens of clips are being rendered on 100s of individual GPU and CPU nodes in AWS cloud. Rendering this same set of clips on a high-end workstation would take 100x time. This sort of “cloud-first” approach to manipulating large media files was novel for its time, and remains a yet-to-come technology for video processing in 2023.
Getting VR video onto headsets was a complex mess and many startups built video-players with varying approaches to “theater-mode” — a way to organize, deliver, and control playback on VR headsets to controlled groups of viewers (such as for training curriculums). Pixvana SPIN Studio had many features to target individual headsets with specific content and playlists, to gather analytics of how that content was viewed, and to allow for a proctor/guide to set-up group viewing–a requirement for enterprise applications such as training in VR.
Pixvana SPIN Studio’s most innovative and exciting features were it’s in-headset video editing capabilities. Tools for trimming, sequencing, and adding interactive graphics/text to VR video programs were layered on the cloud administration of files and interactive files. Users could put on a headset, edit while in VR viewing the content at high quality, then immediately publish/share to other headsets–since all of the data was in the cloud at all times.
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Pixvana Voodle

What happened to Pixvana / Voodle?

In fall 2015 we made an ”emerging tech” bet on VR and chose a “swing for the fence” scale risk-reward approach.  We believed VR would rapidly emerge as a very large-scale industry based on anecdotal buzz and our own profound amazement at early trials of the 6-DOF systems floating about Seattle via Valve’s early-access demonstrations. 

I’ve been a founder of several businesses and by my count worked on ~15 v1.0 software products at both startups and large co’s. Pixvana’s SPIN Studio platform far and away exceeded anything else I’ve ever been involved with in terms of system design, technical innovation, and the potential to be of large commercial consequence for decades.  Alas, the work also scores as the most catastrophically irrelevant (measured by adoption by end-users we achieved) of my career.

Voodle by comparison was a practical, pragmatic application that required very little technical innovation or real change in users’ expectations, but it did come on the scene at a time of “app saturation” when we were welcomed by a market with quite a bit of app-adoption-friction.  We executed well-enough, but failed to find product-market-fit.

Over the last 7 years our approach evolved and ultimately meandered as we shipped a series of interesting tools that scored as not-quite-right for customers.  We started with large media companies and followed with makers; pivoted to enterprise learning orgs, to individuals on teams, and ended up in last efforts with “one-to-many” affinity communities.  From VR, to mobile selfie video-messaging and of late to web3 and utility for NFTs in community.

All of us that worked on the projects are incredibly disappointed.  Hard work, good execution, dogged perseverance – these are table-stakes.  Timing and luck are also brutally critical ingredients.  We aspired to delight customers. We didn’t.  I’m chagrined that we pursued such a wide set of interesting technologies in search of problems to solve—a cardinal sin.

To our shareholders and advisors  Thank You  for your support of me and the team with your trust, mentorship, and capital.  To my colleagues, we did a lot of great work and I know we all take our experience together forward into new chapters to come in our lives.

—  Forest Key, Dec 2022

The last 7 years touched the lives of many team members who worked together. For many Pixvana + Voodle were a first job right out of college, and for a few it was their formal job before retirement. From an office in Seattle, we evolved into a remote team in 8 states in our pajamas. We collaborated with passion, and experienced disappointments and achievements.