Pie raises seed round and launches iOS app to make capturing and sharing 360 videos with a smartphone as easy as pie
SAN FRANCISCO, Calif., November 14, 2016–360 video startup Pie, which just released its first app for iPhone on the App Store, has raised a seed round from McClatchy, Colopl VR Fund, Sparkland Capital, Stage Venture Partners, Graph Ventures, Matter Ventures, and others to build a mobile social network where users can discover, create, and post 360 videos in seconds — with or without a 360 camera.
Pie videos are vertical, 10 seconds long, and the viewer can choose where to look by swiping the screen or twisting their phone. While 360 video is commonly associated with virtual reality, Pie is not a VR app. Pie’s team of four engineers and designers are instead laser-focused on building the best way to watch and create 360 videos on mobile phones without the need for a virtual reality headset.
Co-Founder Ceci Mourkogiannis explains ‘we are excited about the long-term possibilities of VR as it relates to 360 video, but today we want to serve the 2 billion people who already own smartphones and give them a way to create and watch 360 videos that fits into their everyday lives.’
Pie and its investors believe that by focusing on making a seamless 360 video creation experience, Pie can fend off competition from 360 video heavyweights YouTube and Facebook. ‘Until now the difficulty of creating a 360 video has been holding back mass adoption of this new medium,’ CTO and co-founder Guillaume Sabran elaborates. ‘We set ourself the goal of making the process of capturing, editing, and sharing a 360 video at least 10x faster than existing options.’
Using the Pie mobile app today it takes under 20 seconds to capture, edit, and share a 360 video to Pie — complete with 360 filters and text. That’s compared with the hours and sometimes days it takes to complete a 360 video if you’re dealing with a high-end 360 video rig and other software — not to mention the difficulty of re-injecting 360 metadata into edited video files so that they’re recognized as a 360 video by Facebook or YouTube.
There are two ways to capture content for Pie. Users who own a consumer 360 camera like the Ricoh Theta S, LG’s 360 Cam, or the new Nikon KeyMission 360 can upload videos directly to Pie from their iPhones in seconds. Creators who own an Insta360 Nano camera ($199) that attaches to their iPhones can shoot 360 videos directly within the Pie mobile app thanks to a partnership between Pie and Insta360 parent company Arashi Vision Inc. Video clips are trimmed to 10 seconds — a length which Sabran says ‘is long enough to explore a space in 360, but short enough to keep the viewing experience dynamic and interesting.’
Users without a 360 camera can use Pie’s proprietary ‘slices’ feature to capture a video experience using only their iPhones that feels like ‘a cross-between a Boomerang and a 360 GIF’. Capturing a slice is similar to the process of taking a panorama, with the user scanning the space in front of them, from left to right, for 3 to 5 seconds. To play back a slice or a 360 video, users can simply swipe their phones or spin around in any direction “magic-window” style.
‘We’ve had a great response to slices, particularly from younger users who have seen 360 videos in their Facebook feed but until now haven’t had a way to make one that was quick, easy, and didn’t involve buying separate hardware,’ explains co-founder Jacob Trefethen.
‘The fact that slices allow you to move forwards and backwards in time as well as through space was initially an accident we came across while hacking on the iPhone camera. Once we realized what that experience could be like, we couldn’t wait to get it out there. It means you can slow down, speed up, and reverse dance moves, skate tricks, or even just funny faces with a swipe of your finger or just by turning your phone using the iPhone’s gyroscope, the same way you move through a 360 video.’
Users’ Pie videos and slices are automatically added to the user’s Pie story: a Snapchat-like feature that Pie’s team adopted because they wanted to ‘give users an easy way to create and watch stories with a beginning and an end, rather than just individual clips’. The story format is at its best with slices — allowing the viewer to move from one slice into the next, seamlessly, simply by continuing to spin or swipe their phones.
Mourkogiannis attributes Pie’s innovative approach to 360 video to their small team size and the fact that they aren’t part of a larger organization: ‘As a team of four we’re able to be more flexible than most and respond to what users really want. We don’t need to sell VR headsets or court brands like the bigger players in the space so we’ve had the freedom to build a product we know users love without anything else getting in the way of our decision-making.’
‘A lot of the features that we’re most excited about wouldn’t have even occurred to us if we’d been building a VR app: slices, the way we add text to videos, the transitions between videos, fast cuts, short clips. None of those things work in VR, but the experience is awesome on a smartphone.’
Pie’s founders have stressed that their goal is not to build a content library of 360 content, but rather a social platform and community around 360 and other ‘touchable video’ formats like slices. For that reason the company has stayed clear of the kind of branded and professionally-produced 360 video content that has previously dominated the 360 video industry. Instead, the company has said that its small team is obsessed with finding out ‘how people will use 360 video and slices to communicate with each other and share small snippets of their lives in a way that helps us feel closer to one another’.
Quotes and testimonials
Razmig Hovaghimian, Graph Ventures, Founder & Exec Chair of Viki.com: “We invested in Pie because we believe 360 and VR video are going to be market making. Pie’s team, and their relentless focus on the creator/community experience is giving them an edge in helping define and win in the space. I’ve co-founded two community driven video companies, and know how hard it is to get the right kind of traction — Ceci, Jacob and Gui are a brilliant founding team to pull it off.”
Andy Pergam, VP Video and New Ventures, McClatchy: “As a news company, we view 360-degree video as a major driver for the industry overall. As we consider how storytelling evolves, in our communities and around the world, we see this as a major step ahead. Just as important, the team behind Pie knocked our socks off early on. They’ve fully embraced human-centered design principles and are building a product — and a community of users — that will shape this slice of the future. We’re excited to support them.”
Jing Sun, Partner, Sparkland Capital: “We have been looking for a social platform of 360 video for so long and Pie has the best team to make it happen. Pie provides a stunning way to capture, discover and share immersive video content for everyone. The experience is incredibly fun and engaging. We believe the future of video community is here.”
Rob Vickery, Co-Founder, Stage Venture Partners: “Before Pie, creating, sharing and discovering 360 video was complex and expensive. Pie makes 360 easy, fun, and something anyone can do on the phone they already have in their pocket. We believe that everyday users will make the best, most engaging 360 video using Pie’s platform, just like everyday users built YouTube into a dominant platform a decade ago.”
Shintaro Yamakami, CEO, COLOPL NEXT: “We have seen quite a few companies that are going after the user-generated 360 video market. We invested in Pie because Ceci, Jacob, and Gui are a great team to win the market: they are very passionate, yet have the down to earth personalities required to develop a new and innovative platform like this one. Above all, they naturally attract great people and get them involved in their mission. This is the most important factor for succeeding in the market Pie is in.”
Corey Ford, Managing Partner, Matter Ventures: “Ceci, Jacob, and Gui are three of the most exciting and driven entrepreneurs I’ve ever worked with. Their user-centered approach to building Pie means that no one is better positioned to win the huge, burgeoning market of 360 video.
Jingkang Liu, CEO of Insta360: “We are excited to work with Pie as our U.S. partner, and to integrate Insta360 cameras with the Pie iOS app. Insta360 and Pie share the vision of making 360 video creation as easy and accessible as possible, and with Pie’s platform launching today we are one step closer to that reality.”