The story of how AssetSpot was born
Together, Jo and Nick run The Walk, a successful boutique marketing agency. So, why the start-up? As an integrated marketing agency working across a range of mediums they – like every agency – generate a lot of digital assets. The genesis of their start-up, AssetSpot, came from the combination of their own experiences of the challenges around digital asset management, and helping a multi-national enterprise client with a business solution.
Their client was creating a huge number of assets from locations around the globe. Some were globally relevant, some geographically restricted, there were videos, print pieces, audio, documentation, presentations, web pages and dozens of other file and media types. Not only did the client need to be able to find them more easily than by just fumbling through folders, they also needed to share them securely with both internal and externals. Nick and Jo wondered: “Could we help build a system so they could more easily store, find and share their assets?”
The rest, as they say, is history. Not much further down the road, they were knee deep in all sorts of planning documents and were starting to look at prototypes of the user interface design.
The Vault is currently used every day, all over the world by hundreds of users.
The solution became known as “The Vault” and it’s the current Digital Asset Management system for Lenovo, the world’s no. 1 PC company. A US$46 billion company, Lenovo operates in 160 countries and it’s massive library of of digital media marketing and advertising assets, research and technical documentation is shared every day. This means that the Vault is currently used every day, all over the world by hundreds of users.
They knew they had just built something transformative. Having retained the rights to the source code, they quickly went to work building a new version of the product that they could make available to others, helping them to solve this almost universal and rapidly growing issue. And that’s how AssetSpot was born.
Taking it somewhere though, is a whole different requirement though. Which is how they’ve come to appreciate the start-up mentality – the challenges that come with moving quickly with limited resources.
Q&A with the creators:
What motivated you to start AssetSpot?
Nick: Well, we found ourselves talking to a client about building a solution for storing and distributing digital assets across thousands of users worldwide and found ourselves really getting into it. Media storage & distribution is a tough area and when we found ourselves building a solution that addressed some of the problems really well, we thought it would be a good idea to build this for ourselves and see if we can solve this for others too.
Why now is the time for DAMs?
…its potential for humanity – for archiving human knowledge, culture and experiences…seems a very worthwhile pursuit.
Nick: It’s very early days for smart media storage. I think people are yet to wake up to this problem and how easy it is to solve. Especially for important assets that either need to be archived or more widely distributed. Digital archiving is a really interesting area and when you think of its potential for humanity – for archiving human knowledge, culture and experiences – it suddenly seems a very worthwhile pursuit. We’re not just talking storing text, we’re talking about any digital file format available. It won’t degrade, can be kept in duplicate and it can be held incredibly securely. And with its inclusion in a system like AssetSpot, with meta data and associated keywords, etc., it can now be found and shared more easily.
What do you love about AssetSpot? What could be improved?
Jo: I love the concept of making assets more valuable. Having started in the creative industry during the early days of digital assets (right back to floppy disks, Jazz drives and the earliest forms of PDF for print!) I’ve seen first-hand not only how the proliferation of digital assets has been transformative, but also how the effort that goes into creating assets becomes devalued if what you create isn’t put to good use. By allowing assets to be more easily curated, collected and shared, AssetSpot allows all that investment to be repaid with results.
What do you love about your team, and why are you the ones to solve this problem?
…what I love about our team is that we have an incredibly experienced group…
Nick: AssetSpot was originally built as an extension of an open source DAM, known as ResourceSpace. Our customisations have gone so far that it barely resembles the original system but its core functionality is very much built on this original source code, making good use of the best features of ResourceSpace. When we started to evolve the code for AssetSpot, we began working with the open source community and were able to leverage some of the world’s best developers to contribute code. We added single sign-on for Enterprise teams, custom modules for curating whatever our customers needed and so on. So, what I love about our team is that we have an incredibly experienced group, who have sharply honed skills working in exactly this space. And most of them are really dedicated to the cause of archiving the human experience.
What milestones has the company achieved?
Jo: Really, starting the company with an actual working product, was an unusual beginning for a start-up. It was already being used by thousands of people and was completely stable and getting better every day. That’s probably the most significant milestone. Also, reengineering the solution to leverage cloud technologies was a great step. What that does in terms of security, scale, costs, speed… it’s astounding.
What has been the biggest accomplishment for the team to date?
Nick: It would be hard to go past the original build as the biggest accomplishment. We built this amazingly stable, smart solution within just a few months. And before we knew it, the solution was being used around the world by thousands of users every day. Several years on, it’s still in use today, which is rare in the digital space. That’s a real source of pride.
What is the company’s competitive advantage?
Nick: Right off the bat, we built in a reporting dashboard so managers could see what’s being used, shared, where from and how often. And because of our experience in building the reporting, we quickly learned that the dashboard needed to be flexible. Different people, different companies, need to see different things. This makes a custom reporting dashboard a great tool. And from this experience, we learned that the front-end also needed custom modules. Do you need to showcase your latest approved product photography in a single worldwide location? Or do you need to showcase series of data, reports, videos? You name it, we make this customisation available to all AssetSpot customers.
What can you learn from your competition?
Jo: Lots! We treat them as there to keep us on our toes, set the bar in some areas, validate our point of difference in others. There’s always something to learn from competitors, and the trick is knowing whether it’s a “how to” or a “how not to” for your own business.
How will AssetSpot scale as it grows?
Nick: Once we started building AssetSpot itself, we made sure it was built for modern technology. We built it right in the cloud, with the ability to replicate resources relative to demand. And of course, the ability to turn off resources when they’re not needed so costs can be kept to a minimum. So, scale is really built into the core. But of course, we’re always looking for new ways to do things better, faster and with fewer overheads.
What is the biggest opportunity the company is facing right now?
Nick: The market is so young. There’s this significant problem with how assets are stored. They just get put into folders. It’s so crazy, are we expected to remember where that photo was saved? What it was called? We see this as being very much in its infancy with some amazing developments to come that will really help.
How are you going to overcome the challenge of a competitive market?
Jo: The key is to keep our eye on where the industry is headed and maintaining our point-of-difference as we develop and roll out more and more new competitive features. We know our product has great potential and there are things that it does better than current market alternatives, so as long as we’re matching our competition in other areas, we’ll soon have our noses in front.
How is the product likely to change over time?
Nick: What we’re finding is that whilst the original vision was for distributing marketing assets, the use cases for such data driven storage are many. We’re keen to watch this space and work with our customers to adapt it to their needs. And we expect that will most likely be the greatest driver of change over time.
How much investment has your company received so far?
Nick: Proudly, none! Not only have we managed to get a beta of this product in market, we’ve also built a successful marketing agency and are proud to be 100% independent.
What does success look like?
Nick: When the product is really helping people, that’s when we will have succeeded. What people and businesses need will of course keep changing, so we will too.
What is that special thing that’s going to help you grow from being a start-up to becoming a successful business?
Jo: In the case of AssetSpot, it’s the repeatable features that are going to take this product from infancy to maturity. What we’ve been working on in terms of not just storing assets, but finding, classifying, collecting and curating them is as relevant for large enterprise organisations as it is for small businesses. Everyone’s digital asset libraries are growing and we all need help with keeping them from turning from assets to liabilities. When assets are working as hard as they can and making a difference, there’s a great efficiency there.
When the product is really helping people, that’s when we will have succeeded.
What’s the best thing AssetSpot does to help customers?
Jo: Nick and I have worked in creative industry for decades before developing AssetSpot. Whether it’s marketing, advertising, web development, publishing… everyone is generating, storing and sharing digital assets all day long. So much effort – i.e. time and money – goes into making these assets, that to have them lost on a server, or shared with just a few people over email, or (god forbid) have the wrong version go out into the public domain is just tragic. AssetSpot can stop those assets from becoming a liability.
Why is it important that you’re working on a project that can help people?
Nick: Well, it’s really just part of our culture, who we want to be as people, as professionals. I see life as being an opportunity to serve, to help others in whatever way I can. And this is one area I think we’re really poised to help. If we can be part of this revolution, the archiving of humanity, and help others to see what was previously hidden or difficult to uncover, it would really be an honour.
What’s it like running a successful business and a start-up at the same time?
Jo: Aside from being a little tiring, it’s a fantastic opportunity! We get to import start-up culture and learnings from AssetSpot into the agency, and the agency rigour and business acumen from The Walk into AssetSpot. It’s a highly complementary scenario.