Welcome to Startup of the Week. A column highlighting BC’s most innovative and exciting tech startups. Today, we’re featuring Vancouver’s Omnisearch.
A pain point can spark the best ideas. That was the case for Omnisearch. This company arose out of its co-founder’s frustration with the time-consuming nit-picking task of searching for an exact minute within an audio or video file.
Finding “stuff” inside any of your files can be a headache. That’s a problem that Omnisearch has eliminated. It lets you search for literally anything, regardless of file type, in a snap. Omnisearch ingests your files, including PDFs, Word docs, audio, video, images, presentation, and more. It extracts content depending on file type: for example, performing speech-to-text for audio materials, OCR for PDF or Word docs, etc. Next, your content is indexed so you can find whatever you need, painlessly.
Marin Smiljanic, Co-founder and CEO, talks about his personal pet peeve, reminds technical founders to follow an often-neglected piece of advice for success, and lets us in on his real life heroes.
Q: How would you explain what your company does to an alien visiting Earth?
A: Omnisearch is a SaaS product that enables companies to search all their files in one place, regardless of the file type. It started off as audio and video search, allowing you to find exact moments when words or phrases are mentioned inside files. We’ve since expanded the offering to many other kinds of files, from Word and PDF docs, images, presentations and more. We primarily target customers in the media and education sectors.
Q: Why did you start your company?
A: Before going into the startup world I spent close to three years at Amazon’s Vancouver office. Much like all of my co-workers, I relied a lot on internal training videos. My main peeve was that I couldn’t find what I was looking for inside the videos. Say you were looking for “recurrent neural networks” (an important concept in artificial intelligence), there was no way to find the exact moments where this is covered in the videos.
After leaving Amazon I worked on another startup but then came back to this search problem. My friend Matej Ferencevic, an exceptional programmer whom I’ve known for over 10 years, joined me as co-founder and CTO, and we decided to build audio and video search as a SaaS product and make it available to companies of any size. We’ve been working on it full-time for about eight months now. It’s been a fantastic ride.
Q: What don’t people know about Omnisearch that they should?
A: As one of our earlier projects, we actually built a site aggregating podcasts. We basically transcribed and indexed a bunch of different podcasts so you can find anything inside them down to the last second. It was highly successful on Product Hunt. You can take a look here: podcasts.captionapp.net
Q: What would you tell yourself if you were starting out today?
A: Both my Co-founder Matej and I are really strong technical founders so my advice would be to focus on the business side and make sure to acquire the skills you lack. The essential business skills are pretty wide-ranging: lead generation, sales, marketing (FB and Google ads), copywriting, A/B testing, PR, SEO and much, much more. While you ideally want to hire people with expertise in these areas, as a founder you should know the basics, at the very minimum.
Another thing I’d say is don’t be afraid to fail. Looking for a perfect time to start a startup doesn’t work, and trying to de-risk it completely just leads to wasted opportunities. Sometimes you just have to take the leap.
Q: What future trend do you think will most impact your company?
A: COVID-19 has led to a lot of things going virtual, with a corresponding increase in audio and video content: education, conferences, corporate events, work meetings, and much more. We’re confident that post-pandemic, while we can expect things to return to an extent to the way they were, the new normal will be a hybrid. Given this, we anticipate extensive opportunities to partner with educational institutions, conference organizers and businesses in general.
Q: What advice would you give to others in the startup community?
A: Focus on the customer. Know who you’re solving the problem for and where the main pain points are. Solicit customer feedback as frequently as possible. This advice is straightforward but a lot of founders, particularly technical ones, don’t really follow it. Apart from this, at least in B2B startups, figure out the distribution and price the product accordingly: is it a self-service
product for smaller customers (or even individuals) or does it require enterprise sales?
Use networking opportunities extensively, which is easier said than done, especially during COVID-19. But make sure you’re attending meetups and conferences and being active on LinkedIn, at least to some extent. In our case, a lot of great opportunities came from those channels. Also, make sure to practice your pitch as often as you can.
Q: Who are your real life heroes?
A: Definitely my parents. They taught me everything and instilled the right set of values in my sister and myself. They taught us the value of education, hard work, and being bold and taking risks. The last part was particularly useful since it meant they were very supportive of my entrepreneurial journey and were even able to provide some great tips and tricks.
Professional heroes are a different matter. Being a bit old school, I always admired Bill Gates tremendously. The combination of being an all-time great coder while also being proficient at every aspect of building a world-class business makes him stand out. The incredible thing is that he basically bootstrapped the company, starting small and then seizing the moment when it came (providing MS DOS for IBM). His humanitarian efforts have been awe-inspiring too. Another guy that I admire but is somewhat forgotten is Intel Co-founder Bob Noyce. Not many people are Nobel prize-caliber physicists while building an incredibly successful company.
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