“Render Street” is a global provider of rendering services.
Below is the full interview that we have conducted with Mr. ‘Vinatoru’ regarding his technology start-up company “Render Street”;
1. What is it exactly that you do and what “Render Street” is all about?
Render Street is an easy to use and affordable render farm for 3D projects with very good customer support. Using our services, the customers can speed up their rendering speed up to hundreds of times in case of large animations. We have recently entered the closed beta stage and are currently supporting only the blender 3D modelling software.
2. When has “Render Street” been founded? And what stage is “Render Street” currently at?
Our startup was founded in May 2012. We are currently in the closed beta stage. At this stage, we accept selected customers in the beta program, so they can test our platform and provide feedback on what works and what can be improved. We are looking at opening up the open beta at the beginning of the year. Usage of the site in closed beta is free of charge for a limited time.
3. What is “Render Street”‘s business model and how does it work?
We have opted for a “utility” business model, in which the customers pay exactly for the resources they use. The customers can choose one of the three paid plans, depending on the complexity of their work and the resources they need to allocate. In the open beta, we will offer a limited amount of free credits so people can test our site without needing to pay.
4. How did your team meet? And who in your team does what?
We are a team of 3. The CEO (Marius Iatan) and CTO (Sorin Vinatoru) have worked together since 1999 in 4 different companies and met at the first company they worked together. They both have a technical background, but have been running businesses as well in the past. The 3rd partner (Oana Vinatoru) is responsible for Product and Community Management and is Sorin’s wife since 2000.
5. What, exactly, makes you different from existing options, what will make your product and/or service stand out in the marketplace? In other words what’s unique about you and what’s new about what you make?
We identified a need for our product some time ago when Oana was in need for a render farm to render a bigger project she had. The current offering in the market is extremely difficult to use, has bad customer support and is either expensive or uses outdated hardware. What we do better than the current market offering is:
- have a very easy to use interface
- have great customer support by 3D professionals
- have affordable prices or top of the line hardware
6. What is your growth like? And what milestones has “Render Street” achieved so far?
We are currently in the closed beta stage, so we can’t talk about growth yet. We do have 50 users accepted in the program who are testing the site and providing feedback. Because we don’t have a free offering for users, we are not hoping to achieve exponential growth. So far, the only milestone we have achieved was to launch the closed beta site.
7. Who are your competitors? And what is “Render Street”‘s competitive advantage over them?
Some of our competitors for the initial market we launched in (Blender 3D modelling software): blenderrenders, respower, rebusfarm. What we do better is to provide a very easy to use interface that saves the customers a lot of time. We also have great customer service that actually solves the problems the customers have and we also have an overall better pricing.
8. What obstacles did you face and how did you overcome them?
We initially thought this is a very straight forward process. We hoped to be able to provide a proof of concept and launch a closed beta version in less than a month and iterate from there. We were very wrong in fact. We had to spend a lot of time preparing the server images with the 3d modeling software we use, compiling and optimizing the software so it uses the hardware better. In the end, it took us 6 month to launch the closed beta, after a lot of internal testing and benchmarking.
9. What are the key things about your field that outsiders don’t understand?
1. Probably many of the outsiders don’t understand what a render farm is. It’s a service that uses its own computers to render the 3D projects for the customer
2. Another thing that is less known is how much computing power is required for this. For example, one second of the transformers movie can take 3 years to render on a home computer (http://michaelbay.com/2009/06/17/transformers-revenge-of-the-fallen-fun-facts/ )
3. Until now, the common process for uploading files on a farm relied on FTP. We changed that since 2012 web technologies allow us to achieve the same results using HTTP.
10. Why are you going to succeed?
We have a very dedicated team with great technical background and a desire to succeed. The CEO and CTO are both seasoned programmers with a lot of knowledge in both architecting systems and building businesses. Our other partner, Oana, is an established 3D artist, with great connections in the 3D community. She also writes the blog at http://blendermama.com/
11. If “Render Street” succeeds, what additional areas might you be able to expand into?
We have a vast market to cover. After successfully covering the Blender market, we plan to expand by supporting the other major 3D modelling programs available: 3D Studio Max, Maya, Cinema4D, V-Ray. We plan to implement the Cinema4D program by the end of the next year, if we manage to hit our milestones.
12. Why did you choose this idea and concept to build “Render Street” based on?
The idea for this startup originated when Oana had to render a bigger project in the first quarter on 2012. Since it was obvious there was a lack in the market for a service like ours, we decided to go ahead and start working on it. While researching the concept, we were encouraged to see that there is no other site with such an offering, at least in the market we are launching first in (Blender 3D).
13. What have you learned so far from launching your idea?
We have only been in closed beta for about 3 weeks, but we are already learning a lot. The main lesson was that there are many things that the customers are hoping to achieve using a render farm. While we tried to keep the interface simple and intuitive, we will have to add more features requested by the customers, while still keeping the site very easy to use and uncluttered.
14. Six months from now, what’s going to be your biggest problem?
If things go according to our plan, in 6 months, we will fact two challenges. The first one will involve scaling the business to support hundreds of customers and thousands of servers rendering in parallel. The second one will be to expand our offerings to support Cinema4D, while maintaining our focus on serving the existing customers.
15. What’s the benefit for the customer/user?
There are at least 3 benefits for the customer:
1. They are saving time. Both the time saved by rendering on our farm instead of their own computers and the time saved by not having to learn and navigate a complex interface.
2. They have better pricing and rendering speed. That’s because we use top of the line hardware at affordable prices
3. They are served better by our customer support, because we don’t outsource it in a 3rd world country.
16. How did customers / users find out about you?
Since we are in closed beta, all our existing users have been selected to enter the beta program from those who applied. Those who reached us came via two channels: word of mouth from customers already in the program and the largest forum in the blender community where we maintain a thread posting updates about our service and interacting with the users.
17. Who are your current customers / users? Who are your target customers / users?
Current customers are all Blender users, though they use different rendering engines that come with the program. They vary from small studios to independent 3D professionals to just enthusiasts. What they all have in common is that they are all 3D artists, with a good artistic eye. The current group of customers is relevant for the target customers, since we are targeting the same kind of customers.
18. Where do new customers / users come from and what makes new customers/users try you?
Currently the users come from social media efforts. Either via our own posts or via “online word of mouth”, from entries posted by users accepted in the program who were satisfied with the way our service works. People want to try our service for two main reasons: it’s new and they want to keep current with the offerings and because it addresses the problems they have with the current farms.
19. What do your customers / users say about your product and/or service?
Generally speaking, they have been very welcoming. Most of them provided good feedback and suggestions for improvement, while a few sent in unsolicited rave reviews. Examples: “I gave Render Street a spin today and I was absolutely blown away.” and ” If this is any indication of how you’ll treat you customer, then Render Street should be a hit, and huge success”.
20. How are you going to scale?
On the technical level, we are using the infrastructure of one of the largest providers in the US. So we are able to allocate as many resources as needed by our customers. Our software is designed to easily scale to multiple providers though. On the customer acquisition side, we are going to play the social media game, trying to be as active as possible in the community, sponsor community events, etc.
21. What’s the biggest missing feature? The one thing customers/users keep asking for?
Because we have only a small set of customers at this time, there isn’t a very clear winner on the missing features. Something that popped up more than a few times is tighter integration into the 3D modelling software, so users can use our farm without having to go to our site and upload it work from there.
22. Are you going to internationalize? And if yes how are you planning to expand your start-up’s operations accordingly?
We are definitely going to internationalize. Our site has been built from the start with this in mind, so from a technical point of view it is not an issue. From an operations point of view, our CEO and CTO ave experienced in building operations for different markets, as they had to do just that for French, German and Spanish market at their previous company.
23. How big do you think you can get? Why? And how you are planning to achieve your goals?
We think it’s reasonable to achieve $50 million in revenue per year, based on our market size and conservative estimates on the average revenue per user. This is going to require a sustained effort on our side, since we’ll have to support at least 5 different 3D modelling programs and keep them updated to the latest versions as they evolve.
24. Are you looking to hire a new workforce? And if yes, what job vacancies do you currently offer and where can potential applicants contact you at?
For the near future, we are only planning to hire in customer support. But will have programming vacancies as soon as we launch. We are taking a conservative approach at the moment with regards to hiring, intending to see first how well the market reacts when we’re fully launched. Once launched, we will probably accelerate our hiring program, so we can scale as soon as we can.
25. Are you looking for partnership opportunities or funding from Venture Capitals (VC) or other funding sources? Or your business is self-sustainable? And if the first option applies where can potential partners / investors contact you at?
Our business should be self sustainable immediately after launch. We already have a few paying customers even though we haven’t started accepting money on our site. We are also looking for funding and are trying to raise a round of seed funding to finance the pre launch activities. Those interested are encouraged to post a ticket on http://render.uservoice.com/ and we’ll get in touch with them.
26. What advice do you have for fresh entrepreneurs?
They should be passionate about their idea. And be prepared to work very hard. Also, they should launch as soon as they can, even with an incomplete product. Early feedback from the market is very important.