Words and interview by Simon Bland
Your business may be the proud owner of a revolutionary new concept but if you can’t spread the word about what you’ve got, you’re not going to get very far. That said, creating impactful digital content that successfully markets your products while connecting with audiences can be an expensive overhead for any company, especially in the long term. What if there was a cloud service that provided organisations with a range of versatile video assets that could be easily accessed, shared and utilized on a range of platforms, from social media to showreels?
Enter Tonba, the new company from the folks behind multi-award winning creative production agency Be The Fox, Diana Ellis-Hill and Megan Price, that delivers exactly that. As graduates of Creative UK’s Female Founders, a scale-up scheme aimed at catalyzing the success of the women behind promising screen-based companies, Ellis-Hill and Price embarked on this new creative endeavour after noticing wastage and improvement points in the way digital video assets were created and used.
With most shoots distilling their captured content into punchy social media assets that rarely last longer than 30 seconds, a lot of footage is typically left on the cutting room floor, all at the expense of the businesses paying for its creation. Using their in-depth knowledge of this sector, the pair decided to create a brand-new product that fixed this pricey problem while offering a more sustainable solution.
“We realised that clients don’t really hold a central library for the rushes of their films,” explains Ellis-Hill, highlighting the wealth of footage that’s shot during production days but might never be used. Shoots involve client costs, like crewmember time and access to locations, and if all of your footage isn’t utilized, the full investment into that shoot hasn’t been realised. “What if we invented a cloud-based video storage system where people could upload their video assets,” the pair thought, “and what if our clients could dial in to see it, drag and drop it into newly created projects and access it from anywhere?”
Ellis-Hill continues, illustrating the value their new concept holds for brands: “Say for example you were doing a Halloween shoot. Maybe 30 seconds of that shoot would see the light of day but we would have shot maybe three hours of footage that day. The unused footage is still owned by the client but they rarely have access to it to re-purpose it into other future films. What if we were even more clever about things and captured content for other campaigns on the same day because we were spending so much money on the shoot?
“We really liked this idea because we’re into minimising cyber waste,” she continues. “We create digital films for brands and brands want short films with lots of variations, as this is usually the best approach for their marketing strategy. However, a lot of carbon waste goes into a shoot day, even for just a few seconds of final film. People are realising that this is a much better way of spending their money but you need a central piece of tech to store all the footage,” adds Ellis-Hill. “Somewhere where a production company could upload all of their rushes and useful content, see it all in one space and easily give it to another company.”
That was their big idea. There was just one problem: it already existed — but it wasn’t all bad news. The company behind this product, Bath-based production house Suited and Booted Studios, headed by Sara Strickland and Chris Kemp, had developed their concept with just one client in mind and after a quick chat, the two organisations saw an opportunity for collaboration and wider distribution. With Strickland and Kemp’s research and development skills and Ellis-Hill and Price’s commercial client connections, a new, sustainable cloud-based content storage and sharing system was born: “They’re Suited and Booted Studios, we’re Be The Fox and between us, we are now Tonba, and jointly own the IP for ARCD.”
It’s this journey that led Tonba to Evolve, Creative Enterprise’s business support and mentoring scheme helping to prepare high-potential screen sector businesses for future investment. Both Ellis-Hill and Strickland are graduates of Female Founders, so joining the cohort felt like a natural progression: “Female Founders made us realise that we had to work on our business rather than in our business and we’ve gone from strength to strength since we’ve done that,” smiles Ellis-Hill. “It gave us the confidence to do another support scheme. We knew we needed to put a team in place and that’s what we want to raise finance for. We thought Evolve would give us the focus to get what we want and where we want to be because we know this is a hugely commercially viable IP,” she adds. “We have some pretty big global clients and the product has been proven. It’s market ready.”
So far, team Tonba, together with their Evolve-assigned industry mentor Travis Baxter, have found the Evolve experience to be invaluable: “It’s outstripped our expectations,” she admits. “The people working with us have helped our understanding of what we need to do. We’re filmmakers who are business owners and now tech entrepreneurs — and now we want to raise corporate finance. We want to evolve and understand what our unknown unknowns are,” reasons Ellis-Hill, detailing how the scheme is helping her form a better grasp of her company’s growth. “It’s really helped us really focus on our individual roles and who’s doing what and Travis has really helped us. Having access to someone who’s done it all before has been priceless.”
With a keen eye on how to make ARCD even more useful for its clients — including virtual AI tagging for easy clip retrieval and time-efficient editing, and implementing virtual and augmented reality storage — Ellis-Hill is optimistic about Tonba’s future and thankful for the assistance Evolve has provided. “I’d 100% recommend it,” she tells us. “When you’re trying to run your own company, you feel you don’t have the space to do something like this. There’s homework and face-to-face meetings — it’s quite a commitment — but putting that time aside to work on your business has been transformative and the benefit is huge. We knew by doing this, we’d get to where we wanted to be much quicker. Over the next two to three years, I think we’re going to fly. I’m confident we have a good product and finance is going to help us scale faster and with bigger turnovers,” smiles Ellis-Hill. “We wouldn’t have been able to get to this stage as quickly on our own.”