Today, we present Visually as our “WIP of the Week.” Visually, launched in 2011, is a work intermediation platform specialized in creating “visual content” -- videos, infographics, e-books, reports and presentations, social media and interactive microsites--for businesses. By visual content, we mean the visual, graphical media for a business' informational content (e.g., the design of an infographic, but not the information represented in it).
Historically, many businesses have turned to advertising agencies to source creative services, including "visual content." Overall, according to Ad Age, U.S. agency revenue alone reached $44 billion in 2014 and is growing at around 5%. Digital media content accounted for 40% of U.S. industry revenue in 2014, up from 26% in 2009. Different kinds of platform alternatives, which can deliver certain types of creative outputs, reportedly faster and with greater efficiency than agencies, have been emerging over the past eight years. The models have ranged from unmanaged crowd contest platforms, like 99designs, to managed crowd contest platforms, like Tongal, and to managed freelancer service platforms like Visually. (The distinctions among these kinds of platforms will be treated in another Spend Matters brief.)
In this post, we will provide an overview of Visually’s business, platform and services and offer some thoughts on why procurement should be interested in this alternative to the usual agency suppliers.
- Founded: 2011
- HQ location: San Francisco
- CEO: Matt Cooper
- Corporate status: Privately held
- Investment to date: $15.7 million in four rounds, most recently: $3.3 million Series A round led by Crosslink Capital in March 2015.
- Investors from contingent workforce industry: None
- Annual spend (revenue) on platform: Not disclosed
- Annual growth rate: Not disclosed
- Other platform dimensions: Management has reported that Visually engages a highly vetted pool of over 1,000 creative workers in various disciplines. Management also reports that Visually has been serving approximately 1,200 customers — about 50% are large enterprises having over 1,000 employees, 35% are businesses with 200–1,000 employees and 15% are businesses with under 200 employees. The company is focused on growth in the larger enterprise segment accounts, where there are more users per account and more repeat service requests. (We will discuss the newly introduced PRO Plan below.) Among the roughly 600 large enterprise customers, there are clearly some large businesses with leading brands.
Visually: A Digital Platform-Based Business
Visually is a platform-based service provider that specializes in providing “visual content” to businesses. By focusing on "visual content," as such, Visually has targeted a slice of creative production that is typically just a narrow band in the spectrum of services that agencies provide customers--often in opaque bundles.
Before going into further detail, it should be noted that Visually is not an "online freelancer marketplace," where business users and freelancers can find and match each other though search or bid processes and then enter into an implied contract (directly between one another), agreeing to have a project (defined by the business users) completed and paid for. These kinds of platforms typically offer businesses a vast assortment of freelancers to search for and match and transact with. Visually is, what we called above, a "managed freelancer service platform," where business customers contract with the platform business for specific pre-set services/outputs (in the case of Visually, videos, infographics, ebooks, etc.). The platform acts as a service provider, and it engages a vetted pool of creative specialist freelancers, who produce the creative outputs that the platform delivers -- as service--to its business customers.
The Visually managed digital platform-based model consists of the following:
- Business customers which, through a customer user interface or API, submit a brief/requirement and informational content into the digital platform
- A vetted private talent pool of top-notch freelance creatives--over 1,000 at this time and representing a range of specialized skillsets--who also are connected with the digital platform to perform their creative work
- Project and account manager employees, who provide crucial services to organize, facilitate, monitor and help manage the end-to-end process.
- The digital platform itself, which enables the entire process lifecycle from submittal to the delivery of the created content and payment processing. Two very crucial processes supported by the platform are:
- Output/product-specific best-practices workflows that enable and guide creative work through process stages that promote quality, speed and efficiency.
- Collaboration capabilities that support the collaboration process among customers, creatives and managers — something that is absolutely necessary to produce quality creative outputs and avoid costly rework and loss of time.
According to CEO Matt Cooper, “Generally speaking, Visually can deliver agency-quality work in about half the time and at half the cost. For example, our videos start at $7,250 and infographics at $2,500, while most agencies would charge a multiple of those prices. That said, we work very well as the production engine for a growing list of PR, communications, social media and creative agencies. Their strength lies in their strategy work, and ours in the quality, speed and efficiency of production.”
Customers, Offerings, and Pricing
We noted above that Visually serves about 1,200 customers, half of which are large enterprises and major brands, including the following:
Most of the business users are within enterprise marketing departments, but some can be in other departments as well.
The business pricing model consists of two main offerings: Starter, for businesses with intermittent users, and PRO, for larger businesses that will use the platform on an on-going basis across the enterprise.
Standard “rate card pricing,” referenced above, is has been represented as follows:
“Standard rate card” may not be quite right the term, as the table identifies minimum prices without any corresponding sizing measures. And quotes must be obtained. That said, one large enterprise technology client has reported its costs were 30%–50% less than those it was accustomed to.
Why Procurement Should be Interested
The management of creative services suppliers and spend has tended to be a bit of a conundrum for procurement. On the one hand, one of procurement’s main missions is to reduce costs, but on the other hand, business users object to this goal when it comes to creative services — they point out procurement tends to disregard the intangibles that differentiate suppliers and the subjective aspect of determining value.
However, Visually differentiates itself from agency suppliers based on certain factors that are more tangible, like more convenience, reduced response time and end-to-end cycle time, and ease of collaboration and co-creation. And if its client reports are correct, Visually’s quality levels are at or above accustomed levels. A platform like Visually also provides something akin to an e-catalog for creative services, a capability that both business users and procurement would approve of. In any case, these are all benefits that business users can appreciate.
From the procurement perspective, savings result from cost structure differences between the traditional supplier model and the platform supplier model--not from pushing prices down, which will eventually affect quality. A hyper-specialized platform like Visually also promotes visibility by decomposing the current, prevailing creative spend categories that contain agency supplier bundled services and pricing. Finally, a platform like Visually decomposes activities and spend based on particular outputs and does not “decouple” creative and production work — an approach my Spend Matter’s colleague Peter Smith has cautioned us on.
Ultimately, a platform-based “supplier” like Visually may allow business users to have their cake and let procurement eat it, too.