Studio for experimental storytelling.

What ever happened to Video Sprint after PIE?

It was late October 2012. We had just returned from three months of near perfect sunshine in Portland, Oregon to the grey and dingy early winter of former East Berlin. After a couple weeks, the euphoria of Demo Day had died down and reality began to sink in. Prospective clients for Video Sprints didn’t have reasonable budgets for our services. Our business model was flawed. After a brief period of flirting with the idea of developing Video Sprint software, we headed south to visit Pati’s family for Christmas and put our plans on hold for the new year. We finally were reckoning with something we’d been hearing the whole time at PIE about our business: “that’s cool – but how does it scale?”

January 2013. We were artists in residence in the Frankfurter Kunstverein. We spent that cold and snowy month living in an art museum and producing our most experimental video to date: a portrait of four artists called Another Dimension. On long walks taken through the winter streets of Frankfurt, we looked ahead to the coming months of the new year and decided to focus on our individual strengths for a while. Pati went on to expand her client roster of corporate design agencies in Berlin. Gabe took directing work in California, did lots of public speaking, and produced new video artwork.

But there was something else. Something gnawing at our consciousness the whole time. A parallel story of what was and what could be that was stubbornly, persistently calling us to act. In short: something which could scale.

You might have seen us using it when we were at PIE. Fervently scribbling notes during a presentation or drawing storyboards for our videos. Truly, there were moments during PIE where our daily use of the prototype created cognitive dissonance to the tune of: “Why are we working on Video Sprint when we could be working on this?!” Working on what, you ask?

Betabook: a portable whiteboard in the form of a book.

So here’s that parallel story:

Early February 2010. It was a typical grey-skied winter afternoon in Berlin. A group of designers, makers and tinkerers gathered together in one of Berlin’s first coworking spaces – the Betahaus – for a workshop on Open Design. Among the participants was Jay Cousins – a recent transplant to Berlin from Sheffield, UK. Jay was leading a workshop on creating self-made plastics. Jay’s enthusiasm caught our eye. As the only video production company present, KS12 became the workshop’s storytellers. When Jay sat for an interview, he uttered a one-liner which would set the tone for our friendship. “Basically,” Jay said, “everything should be delivered in beta“.

Fast forward to the Spring of 2012. Jay was cleaning up his apartment when he came across some old notebooks. After reviewing the contents and salvaging only a couple pages in each book, the waste created struck him as a problem to solve. Then inspiration hit. He took the empty notebook binding and affixed a piece of whiteboard plastic inside: the first Betabook was born.

Jay approached us about helping him to make a Kickstarter video to get the Betabook out into the world. We said we’d think about it after we had some time to test his prototypes and so in the summer of 2012 we left for Portland with a Betabook in our production kit. After using the prototype for a couple months, it became clear to us that it had a bigger future. So in the beginning of 2013 they developed a supply chain, built and tested dozens of prototypes, and in the summer of 2014 founded Betabook LLC. The design was improved from a rough proof of concept to a refined and beautiful object. Which brings us to the present day: mere days before the launch of Betabook on Kickstarter.

We used the Betabook prototype during our time at PIE for everything from meeting notes to business model diagrams. Since then we have iterated on the plastic surface so that it wipes completely clean.

Betabook is a product born in Berlin – but the minimum viable product was road-tested in Portland, specifically at PIE.

If we hadn’t used it intensely during our time in the incubator who knows if we would have been convinced of the value. After all, at that time the prototype was just a scrappy old journal binding with a piece of duct tape and a sheet of dirty plastic glued inside. But besides the practical testing we did at PIE we learned countless other lessons which have had an impact on our ability to move forward with the Betabook. As graduates of film and design schools, PIE served as our crash course in startup business. Mentors like Renny, Rick, Nick, Kirsten, Marcelino Alvarez, John Jay, Amber Case, Brad Berens, Jason Glaspey, Andy Baio, Mat Ellis and Brad Feld – among dozens of others – gave us invaluable insights. Our classmates served as mirrors for us, helping us to see ourselves as entrepreneurs even if at times we felt like amateurs.

Next week we are launching Betabook on Kickstarter. If you want to help spread the word before we launch, please encourage people to sign up here for our email list:

http://betabook.co

You might also check out our (somewhat cheeky) trailer about the history of tablets.
We’re using hashtag #betabook and we’re @betabook on Instagram; @betabookco on Twitter.

KS12 now exiting ‘stealth mode’ on Betabook

It’s been a while since we updated the KS12 blog and its been for a good reason. We’ve been in what the startup scene calls “stealth mode” working on a new project together with long-time collaborator Jay Cousins called Betabook – the whiteboard tablet for the digital age.

If you’re in Berlin we hope you can join us for our Kickstarter launch party December 2 at Betahaus. We’re looking to raise funds to finance the first production run of the Betabook. If we manage to meet our goal before or during the party we’re gonna buy everyone in attendance a drink!

Sign up here to be one of the first to know when we launch: http://betabook.co

Transmedia Documentation Master Class: Blog Post #2

 
The word “documentary” comes loaded with many connotations and assumptions. For many people a documentary is merely assumed to be a collection of facts. Or worse yet, it is considered some sort of ‘opposite’ of fiction. In this case I’d have to side with my favorite living German filmmaker Werner Herzog to say that it is neither facts or fiction which are relevant, but rather the communication of truth which is more important. To that end, yesterday in class we screened the Herzog documentary “Grizzly Man” and today screened “Gates of Heaven” by Errol Morris. These films provide us unusual takes on eccentric characters, multifaceted stories which include critical perspectives, as well as constructions for the camera – reenactments, stagings and subtle dramatizations which reveal deeper levels of meaning than conventional approaches.

Alongside these screenings I have been conducting one-on-one personal consultations with each participant in the class. The approaches to the theme are diverse; a modular boat-sharing system for Berlin’s waterways reminiscent of car-sharing; variations on a hammock hotel for various audiences; a short-term bike rental system with hybrid vehicles that can be slept in; a scheme for transporting the atmosphere of hotel rooms in the form of mood lighting. An important focus has been to get students thinking about specific audiences to jumpstart the process of telling the stories of their projects. We have used a service design technique involving mapping values from favorite objects and services to spark inspiration, asking questions like: How can a boat be soft like a bed? How can a hammock be independent like a backpack? How can a bicycle be fast like a computer? The answers to these questions can yield insights into product/service features as well as provide an outline of touchpoints for the narrative.

I’m looking forward to see how these projects turn out!

Transmedia Documentation Master Class: Blog Post #1

Nomad tent, Ouarzazate Province, Morocco by John Hope

This week I am conducting a master class workshop for the students of the Berliner Technische Kunsthochschule masters program in media spaces. This class is working on the thematic topic of Transient Living:

The main topic of this semester is to conduct extensive research and deliver innovative modes and models for situations that involve temporary, transient or ‘nomadic’ living. The area that can be used as research can span from new concepts for tourism (i.e. capsule, container or boutique hotels), apartment swaps (airbnb.com), living in the sky or on the road (business/first class lounges, caravans) to addressing the situation of nomadic workers (container cities in Dubai, China etc.).

Anything that deals with an environment that constitutes the notion of ‘temporary’ or ‘mobile’ living is a viable research area, past or present. This includes ideas that are rather futuristic and not necessarily possible to realize today. For example: would there be a feasible concept that would allow a hotel room to follow you wherever you are instead of you having to return to a fixed location every evening?

Today’s session included a series of screenings selected from our Design Fiction Vimeo channel as well as the presentation of case studies of some of KS12′s projects from the past three years. The focus was on the various possibilities afforded by different media; photos, videos, time lapse, maps, blogs, social media, games, events, interventions – each medium has its own unique advantages in telling certain types of stories. We also looked at the role that assuming a persona can play in creating a point of view from which to create documentation that blurs the line between documentary and fiction.

Because the weather is so nice we took the chance to have an ice cream at a newly opened ice cream parlor down the street from the school. I gave the students an introduction to Creative Commons as a tool for collaborative co-creation, explaining the differences between the suite of CC licenses. We explored the ways in which Vimeo, SoundCloud and Flickr have incorporated Creative Commons directly into their platforms.

After the break we took an in depth look at The Future of Money project and Early Stage, reviewing the various forms the storytelling took; Twitter hashtags, Quora questions, videoblogs, stand-alone video interviews, trailers, info graphics and photos. The rest of this week I’ll be spending in one-on-one consultations with each student as they prepare their final documentation of their projects for a presentation in class at the end of the week. Be in touch if you’d like to provide them an audience!