Mark Kennedy will tell you he was just a geek looking for an opportunity, but there’s a lot more to his story than that. In fact, his story is all about storytelling.
Kennedy is the cofounder and CEO of Celtx, the world’s first all-in-one media preproduction system. In a nutshell, it’s a software suite that replaces “paper-and-binder” preproduction with a digital approach that’s simple, complete, and easy to share. He and cofounder Chad House launched Celtx in 2001.
“I had always wanted to start my own tech company,” Kennedy recalls. “I worked for another tech start-up in the music business. That was in 1999, and then the 2000 dot-com debacle happened and the company ran out of money. I decided it was a good time to start my own company.”
Kennedy and House decided to take some time to figure out which industry to “plunk [their] flag into.” And it wasn’t long until the cofounders found their niche.
with Mark Kennedy
1. What does innovation mean to your company?
As a technology company, innovation is everything. We are constantly inventing—new software, new business models, new interfaces—and every touch point is an opportunity to bring something unique to the market. Our goal is to be the most innovative company in the industry.
2. How do you innovate on a day-to-day basis?
We invent at every step, we question every assumption, we examine every approach—all in an effort to determine the most innovative solution that we can bring to the market. Since we are often the first to develop solutions for our market, by necessity we must invent every day. We do this by encouraging risk-taking and by recognizing that mistakes will be made.
3. Where do you hope this innovation will lead you in the next five years?
We hope to be the default technology used by the media creation industry. There is no clear standards-based offering in the market to which all providers can integrate their own offerings. This has led to a proliferation of competing standards, many proprietary, which in turn decreases productivity by causing workflow inefficiencies. There is an opportunity for someone to become the industry standard for creating media. We have that opportunity.
4. How do you cultivate innovation among your workforce?
We have tried to instill a culture in our company that rewards risk-taking by awarding failure. Nothing kills a company’s ability to generate innovation faster than punishing mistakes. Mistakes are a necessary part of being innovative. And so we do not dwell on any mistakes made. We instead move ahead quickly with plan B.
5. How can a company encourage innovation without breaking the bank?
Not encouraging innovation will break the bank. Companies that fail to innovate will see their market share shrink, costs increase, and revenue decline.
“We had our eye on the film industry,” Kennedy says. “There is a strong storytelling culture here in Newfoundland, and a vibrant film and theatre community. That helped us make our decision. Chad and I had been in the music industry together and saw what happened during Napster days. We felt the same thing would happen in film, and we felt it was a good place to be prior to the disruption.”
Kennedy says that he and House saw an opportunity in the preproduction space. “We talked to a lot of people in the industry,” he says. “It was clear that a lot of time, resources, and innovation were being invested in postproduction, with things like green screen and special effects. There was also innovation in the distribution side of the business. But there wasn’t a sensible tool to work with during preproduction. It was still a paper-intensive process.”
Using Firefox’s web browser, Kennedy and House created open-source screenwriting software. “We didn’t want to beaver away in a bunker for years trying to create a fully functional product,” he says. “There’d be a high probability that no one would want it. We released early so we could get people trying it. The first version was 0.3, and it was a 14-step installation process. We joked that it would be easier for people to mail their tower to us for installation.”
However, Kennedy says Celtx was not just a Field of Dreams–type of product. “Just because you build it doesn’t mean they’ll come,” he says. “We got the word out by focusing on old-school forums. It was labour intensive, but it seeded our early market and started a buzz. The software being open-source helped with propagation and distribution. There were no proprietary shenanigans. People were willing to try it. And some users started doing volunteer translations.”
Today, Celtx’s software for media creators—which includes screenwriting and editing tools, as well as storyboard, location, and scheduling support—is available in 34 languages. As of press time, the most current version is 2.9, with a new version released each year. And Celtx keeps changing with the times: desktop, cloud, and mobile versions are available.
“This is the ecosystem of technology,” says Kennedy. “You don’t solve a problem with one widget; you need a mixed bag so that each user can find the tool that fits them.”
Kennedy says he’s glad he chose the movie industry instead of something like gas or oil.
“There’s a lot of sex appeal to movies,” he says. “When we were choosing an industry we wanted to beaver away in, we could have done anything. But film made us feel better. We like working with artists and like making tools that help them.”