People in Beta: Gianfranco Chicco

In this series of video interviews we highlight our Betabook alpha testers: professionals who have been using Betabook prototypes for several months.

Gianfranco Chicco has been a Betabook alpha tester since October 2014. In this Skype interview he talks about his personal workflow with Betabook which combines digital tools like Evernote and Wunderlist. He also talks about his love of analog interfaces for human interaction and the limits of digital writing technologies.

Some of Gianfranco's Instagrams using Betabook this fall.

About Gianfranco

Gianfranco Chicco is a marketer and digital strategist who focuses on creating people-centered experiences to tie together the physical and the digital world. He’s passionate about innovative technology and design applied to brands, products, services and cities, and how they can provide value to users. A professional nomad, his work and personal interests keep him traveling around the globe (Americas, Europe, Asia). Gianfranco is the Chief Dreamer Officer at Taiken Lab and the Executive Director of Social Media Week London.

People in Beta: Tina Roth Eisenberg

We love this quote from Tina Roth Eisenberg aka @swissmiss. We first discovered her work in 2010 when she posted our video Delivered in Beta to her blog. Within days of her post, Delivered in Beta received over 10,000 plays on Vimeo. This was the first time one of our documentaries had ever reached that sort of web audience and it really gave us pause. We must have been doing something right.

Tina’s enthusiasm about our storytelling gave us the confidence to keep making videos. It’s not a direct cause and effect, but there’s a good chance if she hadn’t acknowledged what we did with Delivered in Beta we might never have winded up producing the Betabook.

But Tina is also an inspiration to us for her entrepreneurial spirit. She’s the instigator of Creative Mornings, a global monthly series of creative talks. She runs the webshop Tattly, a boutique designer temporary tattoo outfit. And – as if that weren’t enough – she runs an amazing collaborative workspace in Brooklyn called Studiomates. We love how Tina is working in all these different areas simultaneously.

So we’ll admit it: we are infected by Tina’s enthusiasm. Watch her 99U talk and we’re betting you’ll be too:

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:

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.