A Q&A with Wibbitz co-founder and CEO Zohar Dayan. The Tel Aviv-based startup, which has built an app that takes online text and renders an audio and video presentation out of it, recently launched to the public. It was founded in 2010 by Dayan and Yotam Cohen. The team has raised a total of $2.3 million in Seed and Series A funding rounds.
SUB: Please describe Wibbitz and your primary innovation.
Dayan: Wibbitz is a leading developer of text-to-video technologies. We have created a series of algorithms that can automatically summarize any text material in seconds, and transform it into an engaging, information-rich video, complete with pictures, infographics, video, and more. In short, Wibbitz serves as the ‘play button’ for the Internet.
Recently, we launched the Wibbitz iPhone app that utilizes this technology to turn news articles into videos optimized for mobile devices. So far, we’ve seen very strong numbers in downloads, and even more importantly, tremendous engagement from our users. Each month our users are consuming millions of articles with our technology during their commute, on the way to pick up their children, while running errands and more. The Wibbitz app is about optimizing news for on-the-go users, and helping people stay informed.
We recently launched a new Market Update feature that marks a major step forward for Wibbitz. The Market Update aggregates raw data from financial markets and creates an always up-to-date, 45 second alert summarizing key market changes, complete with engaging infographics. Over the next few months, we plan on expanding this to other fields and updating the feature to allow for personalization. This would let any user receive a tailored update every day that monitors their own personal investments.
SUB: Who are your target markets and users?
Dayan: Basically, with all the technological advances we’ve seen, we’re still consuming news the same way we did hundreds of years ago. The platform may have changed, but we’re still reading text—and now, we’re doing it on a tiny four inch screen. The Wibbitz app is an ideal addition for anyone who wants to stay informed with their smartphone or tablet. News consumption is not optimized for mobile devices—the constant zooming in-and-out and scrolling makes for a cumbersome experience. Our app optimizes news consumption for on-the-go users and individuals who get their news on mobile devices.
SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition?
Dayan: There are lots of news readers out there and even some who have realized the importance of voice, but we believe we’ve developed a system that makes Wibbitz a superior solution for our market segment. We’ve created a very cost-effective platform for creating engaging video content at very large scales.
SUB: What differentiates Wibbitz from the competition?
Dayan: The most important differentiator for us is the use of video. Wibbitz truly optimizes news for mobile devices by making the experience enjoyable and engaging. With the use of video, we’ve given our users the ability to create their own mobile newscast.
A second critical component is our ability to use the highest level of Natural Language Processing technology and machine learning. By utilizing automatic text-to-speech, we are able to create a tremendous scale for our users. With other text-to-speech news apps, there are a limited number of articles available for consumption. Wibbitz enables our users to consume any content they want from over one hundred different news outlets.
Finally, with our new Market Update release, we’ve shown an ability to actually create content that is especially useful to our users. With our app and these new features, Wibbitz is personalizing content in a way that no other offering has. With Wibbitz any user can literally have their own personal newscast created especially for him.
SUB: When was the company founded, and what were the first steps you took in establishing it?
Dayan: The company was founded in 2010 as part of a third year honors fellowship at the IDC Herzliya called the Zell Entrepreneurship Program. The program aims to give young entrepreneurs the chance to receive a tangible education in building a business. Through the course we received a hands-on perspective on what it is to build a business. Once we reached the end of the year, we knew this was something we would take forward and continue to build.
SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea for Wibbitz? Was there an ‘aha’ moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?
Dayan: Whether it was sports, technology, or world affairs, Yotam and I were both news junkies. We would read the paper every day and check our favorite news sites whenever we had the chance. But as we started balancing more—school, work, friends—we found that the time we used to have for news wasn’t available anymore. As smartphones became more popular, we thought that the problem would be solved. A mobile Internet device would let us keep up whenever we wanted. Yet, the news experience wasn’t built for mobile devices. The scrolling and zooming were a pain, and reading on such a small screen was just as difficult. We came to our epiphany discussing this problem together. We realized we could create a catch-all solution that optimized news for on-the-go, and utilized video to make news consumption on mobile devices an enjoyable experience.
The Internet is about personalization, yet news consumption has largely remained one-size-fits-all. Wibbitz is hoping to shift that balance in favor of the individual.
SUB: How did you come up with the name? What is the story or meaning behind it?
Dayan: It started out as Webbitz: ‘bitz of the web.’ But when we started the company the domain was taken and the owner wanted $1,000 for it. We didn’t have any money at the time, so it was cheaper to just change the name. In the end, people actually liked the new version much more.
SUB: You launched to the public earlier this summer. Why was this a particularly good time to launch?
Dayan: We are strong believers that a product’s success has more to do with its quality than the timing of the launch. Considering the response, we are very happy with late June.
SUB: Do you have plans to seek additional outside funding in the near future?
Dayan: We have a very big vision for Wibbitz and plan on taking it far—we feel that we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what our technology is capable of. Our plan is to raise another funding round in the near future to execute our plans and grow the company’s reach and further develop the technology.
SUB: What have the most significant obstacles been so far to building the company?
Dayan: As with most new apps, our biggest challenge is getting the word out. Thus far, we’ve seen exceptional engagement from those who’ve downloaded the app. People aren’t just downloading it, they’re using it—a lot. We need to continue developing our technology and bringing it to the widest audience possible.
SUB: How does the company generate revenue or plan to generate revenue?
Dayan: Currently, the app is offered for free and we are fully focused on the distribution. With video becoming the most valuable asset for advertisers and content owners, they still face a major problem. While video is very effective in monetizing, it’s very expensive to create. Plus, the shelf life of videos has become increasingly short. With Wibbitz, publishers and advertisers can create large amounts of video, so literally any article can have a corresponding video.
SUB: What are your goals for Wibbitz over the next year or so?
Dayan: We believe we’ve only scratched the surface in what we can do with text-to-video. Over the next year, we want to continue pushing the limits of our technology and finding new and innovative applications that solve major pain points.
Wibbitz – www.wibbitz.com