Geetesh: Tell us more about yourself and Electric Rain.
Mike: My name is Mike Soucie, and I’m President and CEO of Electric Rain, a 3D and multimedia software company based out of Boulder, CO.
My brother John and I were inspired growing up watching movies like Star Wars - Phantom Menace and other cool movies that featured awesome Hollywood special effects and wondering how the heck they were made. As we grew up, John had a career as a computer programmer and I pursed a successful career in marketing, but we still talked about how cool it would be to start a business making special effects software for the masses. So we got together and started Electric Rain in John’s basement in 1995, with a vision of bringing easy-to-use multimedia creation and editing tools to business and design professionals.
In 1997 we released a 3D program called Font FX. Then in 1998 we came across Macromedia Flash and built a 3D Flash-based product called Swift 3D. Today we have sold more than 70,000 units, and have grown the company to 15 people. Swift 3D enables Flash designers to quickly and easily create 3D vector artwork for their Flash projects. A few years ago, through personal experiences giving business presentations and being surrounded by creative Flash designers, we realized how rich motion-graphic presentations with great design could really draw-in an audience and keep them excited and engaged. It was this personal experience that seeded the idea for a better way of creating and delivering presentations.
So the idea for StandOut was actually conceived in 2002, but it wasn’t until the technology within Windows Vista came along that could deliver on our ideas and dreams for the product. This underlying power in Vista is enabling Electric Rain to truly innovate. We no longer have to compromise our designer's GUI vision; we can create innovative features like Flypaper, and now deliver unparalleled, next-generation user experiences that truly drive customer value.
Geetesh: Tell us more about your upcoming product - StandOut.
Mike: StandOut is a presentation solution that solves a long-standing problem of making custom, high-end presentations more accessible and usable for all presenters. In the past, presenters have been forced to either create their own presentations using traditional slideshow software, or engage with a design firm to build a custom presentation using multimedia software such as Flash. The problem with using slideshow software is that most presenters are not trained as graphic designers or animators so the resulting visuals are often shabby and sometimes even distracting for an audience. Meanwhile, the problem with the custom presentation option is that although the results look terrific, those presentations can only be edited by the professional designers who created them, so they are not very practical as a long-term solution.
What StandOut does is allows professional designers to continue building these high quality custom presentations, but when they deliver those presentations to their clients they also supply them with a tool that enables the presenter to easily edit those presentations. Furthermore, the StandOut solution allows the designer to build extensive flexibility into those custom presentations so presenters can update their content, reconfigure the flow of their presentation, or even rebuild their presentation from scratch using all new material, all without affecting the design built into the original presentation.
Of course, in the end StandOut is really a solution for the audience because they’re the most important component in all presentation scenarios. By using StandOut, presenters will finally be able to offer a visual experience to their audience that matches the quality of their own personal delivery. And when audiences like what they hear and see, they become even more engaged with what the presenter has to offer. Simply put, StandOut allows you to deliver remarkable presentations that get better results.
Geetesh: StandOut is a very different product from the others that you create - what motivated you to get into the presentation design and delivery sphere?
Mike: It was really through a personal pain we experienced early on in the history of Electric Rain. As we began promoting our Swift 3D product line we found ourselves giving presentations and demos to large audiences of designers and were somewhat embarrassed to be using PowerPoint when the other presenters, all of whom were Flash experts, were showing really gorgeous, and very cool supporting visuals. This led us to begin having each and every presentation we gave be built by our in-house designer using Flash, but it was so cumbersome to have him make every last update to those presentations for each new event we attended, especially when it was just changing a few words here and there. We figured that if Electric Rain had this problem then there must be others out there with the same pain, so we began building StandOut.
Interestingly, although we started out trying to enable the delivery of better looking presentations, our research pointed out many areas where slideshow software was really failing presenters and their desire to create effective visual communication experiences. As the product concept evolved we found ourselves developing tools, systems and a user workflow that better supported the presenter at every step of the presentation creation and delivery process. So now StandOut helps presenters deliver better looking presentations that accomplish much more than just turning heads. Standout helps presenters get their point across more effectively, which benefits everyone in the end.
Geetesh: What will Standout offer to PowerPoint users - will there be a move-up path for them to migrate their content in both directions?
Mike: We’re well aware of the fact that most presentation content is currently contained within the hundreds of millions of PowerPoint files that exist out there, so we’ve built a PowerPoint converter to ease our users, and their content, into this new world of presentations we’re offering with StandOut. As far as making a round trip with that presentation content back into the original application that it came from, it’s not quite as simple. Some of the features we’ve built into our system that enable more effective presentation visuals make for a difficult “re-entry” into a slideshow application. For example, we have abandoned the outdated slide paradigm from StandOut to adopt a more natural flow for presentation visuals and their delivery. Although this new model allows for a smoother and more understandable progression through a presentation, it makes it a bit tough to re-divide that content back into slide-sized chunks needed to fit into slideshow software. So for now we are hoping the demand for round-tripping will not be a show stopper, and once we get Version 1.0 out the door we can explore solutions for a more seamless workflow between StandOut and PowerPoint in both directions. But hey, at least we make it easy to get people to migrate in the right direction!
Geetesh: Tell us something about your favorite Standout feature.
Mike: That’s an easy one. Flypaper. When we looked at what we could do to provide a more effective process for presenters developing their presentation content, the concept of “C.O.R.E. Workflow” evolved, which stands for Collect, Organize, Refine and Express. These are the key steps that the top presentation consultants recommend that everyone go through as they develop their presentation content, and our Flypaper interface was built to specifically support each of these critical steps.
Flypaper is essentially a gigantic digital bulletin board that can accept many types of content that a user may have related to their presentation. As the name implies, resources such as images, video, notes, documents, URLs, text snippets, PowerPoints, etc. can be ‘stuck’ to flypaper. Once attached to the surface of Flypaper, these resources can be easily moved around, grouped together into logical chunks, refined according to their relative importance within the presentation, and finally moved into the StandOut outline to be expressed visually. Not only is Flypaper a more effective way to create a presentation, but as you gather more resources it becomes fun to navigate through your material by using panning and zooming controls, much like you would explore a complex landscape with high-powered camera. Aside from the actual presentations StandOut produces, Flypaper is the one feature that everyone sees and says “Now that’s cool!”
Geetesh: When do you plan to release StandOut?
Mike: We are hoping to release version one of StandOut in the second quarter of 2007.
Geetesh: Can you share some trivia with Indezine readers - or just share a tip, an unconventional use of your product, or anything else that you would like to say?
Mike: Although your readers may see StandOut as solution for presenters, it happens to be a great solution for designers as well. The initial success of StandOut is somewhat reliant upon designers selling their clients on the need to improve their presentations, so we’re actively involving them in the business model as much as possible. With StandOut, design firms and ad agencies can begin selling the more premium service of a rich media presentation instead of a PowerPoint background. But they can also make additional income from selling our software directly to their clients because anyone who needs to edit those presentations will have to have a copy of StandOut. We are also going to be developing a designer network where these custom presentations can be sold to the general public along with StandOut. This offers design firms the ability to establish a recurring source of revenue and exposing their design work to the entire presentation space. For us, that’s an exciting prospect because we love to see designers using our software to create things that most business presenters have never even imagined.