In 2018, Netflix series Black Mirror stirred up a lot of excitement when it released an interactive episode “Bandersnatch” that allowed viewers to choose their own adventure within the episode. Imagine if more video content like this gave the audience significant input into the plot and you can begin to understand the idea behind the interactive storytelling platform Whatifi. Unlike Bandernsatch and other existing interactive forms of content, Whatifi is built specifically for mobile devices, releases movies that are split up into shorter segments, and focuses on shared-group storytelling allowing viewers to create an instant watch party with friends. Through what it calls “storyhacking”, Whatifi offers numerous plotlines, character arcs, and endings, and even critical points where the watch party is faced with a problem and the movie cannot continue until everyone unanimously decides what decision to make. Through a built-in chat feature, Whatifi encourages users to discuss, debate, and ultimately decide what happens next in the story. This is interactive, storytelling at the next level in a time where engagement is difficult to maintain.
LA TechWatch caught up with Cofounders Hardi Meybaum and Jaanus Juss to learn more about Whatifi’s launch, upcoming Studio’s script contest for screenwriters and writer-directors that will lead to five new user-submitted movies in 4 months, and the company’s recent funding round.
Who were your investors and how much did you raise?
We raised $10M Seed round led by Andreessen Horowitz with participation from Matrix Partners. Whatifi is also backed by leaders in entertainment and technology, including David Wells (ex-CFO of Netflix), Ilkka Paananen (Supercell), Max Levchin (Paypal, Affirm), Mark Pincus (Zynga), Michael Birch (Bebo), Taavet Hinrikus (Transferwise), Josh Hannah (Betfair), and Jon McNeill (Tesla, Lyft).
Tell us about the product or service that Whatifi offers.
Whatifi provides a new way to watch movies on your phone with friends. We’ve also launched Whatifi Studios, our branching-story development, and production platform. Whatifi Studios launches with a script contest aimed at both screenwriters and writer-directors. The contest has a prize pool and aims to have five movies written, funded and released on Whatifi in 120 days.
What inspired the start of Whatifi?
Whatifi was born out of our love for interactive theater we’d previously been involved with. We took what had been perfected on the stage and brought it to mobile. The main takeaway: people find far more fun and meaning in a story when they have a role in steering, engaging, and debating it with others. The shared-group storytelling experience translated perfectly to smartphones.
How is Whatifi different?
Unlike traditional movie-watching experiences, Whatifi unlocks the ability to discuss, debate, and decide what happens next in the movies you watch with friends and family, offering dozens of plotlines, character arcs, and endings. We call this “storyhacking.” Each Whatifi film is broken down into short segments. At key turning points, the watch party is presented with a dilemma and has to make a decision. If the group doesn’t vote unanimously, they can jump into the built-in chat feature to discuss. Choice matters, as every decision completely changes the outcome of the story – nothing is inconsequential.
Have you seen any interesting behaviors that reveal more on how decisions are made in a group setting, especially when it’s through built-in chat messages and not face-to-face?
We’ve seen that users will find a consensus to make decisions. To progress through the movie everyone needs to come to an agreement. We’ve seen the discourse lead to a change of opinions, which is an interesting behavior as social media has created an opposite effect on behavior.
What market is Whatifi targeting and how big is it?
Our target launch audience ranges from teens to those through college. This generation has grown up with entertainment on their phones, and we’re providing them additional possibilities to watch high-quality mobile content.
What’s your business model?
We do not charge for subscriptions, as teenagers do not want to add another subscription to their bank accounts, nor do we have ads of any kind. In the future, we’ll have a business model that more closely reflects the current “free to play” app model and will have more to share on that soon.
What was the funding process like?
Throughout the funding process, our goal was to find investors who understood our vision and who enjoyed using the app with their family and friends. The process went really well and we’ve able to partner with some of the best investors in the industry.
What are the biggest challenges that you faced while raising capital?
It was a very smooth process because a lot of investors saw a totally new consumer experience and possibly build a large independent company.
What factors about your business led your investors to write the check?
We believe that investors wrote checks because they see the potential in Whatifi and interactive storytelling as the next big medium in entertainment. Whatifi does what the next generation expects on a platform that is native to them. Investors saw Whatifi as a meaningful alternative to laid back or fully immersive experiences.
Investors saw Whatifi as a meaningful alternative to laid back or fully immersive experiences.
What are the milestones you plan to achieve in the next six months?
In the next six months, we hope to have five movies written, funded, and released on Whatifi through our Whatifi Studios competition.
What advice can you offer companies in Los Angeles that do not have a fresh injection of capital in the bank?
Build something that users love, then capital will follow.
Where do you see the company going now over the near term?
We see our platform growing in the number of users and the number of movies our users can watch. Since there are many alternative endings, users can replay the same film and discover new storylines, so it will be less about the number of films and more about the number of potential endings and pathways.
Where is the best place in LA to watch the sunset?
The Getty Museum.
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