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Make it personal: Renece Brewster discusses using video to build business relationships

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Inspired by the power of videos to trigger an emotional response, Melbourne businesswoman Renece Brewster has made a career out of using the technology to deepen the connection businesses have with their staff and customers.  

She is the co-founder and CEO of video production company Visual Domain, and the founder and CEO of personalised video startup, Data Creative. Collectively, the two businesses are valued at approximately $9 million.

Dynamic Business recently had the opportunity to speak with Renece about her career, beginning with the well-timed customer encounter that drew her into the start-up world.

Discovering the power of video

Throughout high school and during her time studying at Melbourne’s Monash University, Renece worked in retail electrical sales. While admitting it wasn’t a glamorous job, she said it gave her strong foundations in customer service, negotiating and sales. It also opened the doors to new and exciting opportunities.

“The day after finishing my Degree in Arts and Marketing in 2003, one of my customer offered me a role as account manager in start-up, which built websites for real estate agents, among other services,” she said. “It was my first taste of working with technology that was not yet the norm. In fact, most of our clients didn’t believe in spending money online – they believed their teenaged kids were more than qualified to build their professional company website! I loved being involved with new technology and wearing several different hats. I loved the start-up environment.

“My next role was with a mobile technology start-up in 2007. It was probably ahead of its time and due to poor timing, it went into administration the following year. During the final months, however, the business embraced video production with the help of the founder’s friend Daniel Goldstein. I was instantly hooked! Videos can be highly engaging. They can stir emotions and tell stories that imagery and text alone can’t communicate.”

Hitting the brakes and refocusing

United by their interest in video production, Renece and Daniel went on to co-found Visual Domain in 2008 at a time when YouTube was still gaining momentum. Both were committed to helping clients, big and small alike, develop high impact videos for an online audience. Their journey with the company, according to Renece, has been an intense but ultimately rewarding one.

“Daniel and I initially wanted to produce five videos a week but after just a few months, we were getting close to 20 videos a week,” Renece said. With no signs of slowing down, it became a full-time commitment for us both.

“The first few years were tough and we made a lot of mistakes, although we didn’t realise it straight away. Daniel and I were employing lots of people – a contract with a major real estate web portal saw us build a national sales team – but the business was moving quicker than we could keep up, the culture was stressed and we weren’t in control financially.

“Seconds before it imploded, we hit the brakes and took a step back. We didn’t like what we were becoming, so we made some tough decisions; notably, removing product lines that had made up over 75% of our revenue – and the staff that worked on those products. We also had to become financially savvy. I finally learnt the difference between a balance sheet, P&L and cash flow! We thought busy meant money and money meant profit!

“Having a clear idea of the business we wanted to be was crucial – and Visual Domain has been profitable ever since. Our culture is better than ever, we have grown back to a team of 60 staff, including people who’ve been with us for 5+ years, and we’re creating products we’re passionate about, while on the lookout for new opportunities. As the video landscape has changed, with more players entering the space, we’ve been driven to create better solutions and products around the core medium we’re passionate about – video.”

Reaching people in under four seconds

Despite enjoying success with Visual Domain, Renece hasn’t hit cruise control; instead, she has leveraged her experience with the company to launch Data Creative, a technology platform for large and enterprise clients. The mission, Renece explained, is to create one-of-a-kind, personalised video experiences for customers, thus giving businesses a competitive edge.   

“One day I received an EDM from my supermarket, which contained personalised specials, and it sparked the thought process which led me to found Data Creative in July 2015,” she said. “I thought to myself, ‘if personalised data can be put into an email, why can’t we put it into a video?’”

“Working with a client’s existing communication software and data, the Data Creative platform creates data-driven personalised videos almost instantly, which has opened up amazing opportunities. Traditionally, it might take a few hours to create video but now we can deliver content in under four seconds. This means we can provide individuals with relevant and valuable video content at just the right moment in time.

“We also recognise the need for businesses to connect with customers and staff on an individual level, and personalised videos can help build these relationships. There are some great stats to back up the use of personalised videos. For instance, 61% of customers feel more positive about receiving messages from businesses when they are personalised, and people spend 2.5 times longer viewing videos that are personally relevant to them.”

“In many ways, my journey with Data Creative has been smoother than it was with Visual Domain. The second time around, I knew getting a business off the ground would be tough, that it would only work with the right team and culture in place, and that I had to watch every dollar going in and out without exception. Since Data Creative went to market, the platform has been fully integrated within the Ray White Group, Bupa, NAB, Flybuys, realestate.com.au and many more. We’ve also created campaigns for Coles, Hawthorn Football Club and Sydney Football Club.

“It’s incredibly rewarding seeing our personalised videos elevate and celebrate businesses. The role played by my team, a majority of whom have a video production background, has been invaluable. They are talented and creative people, and they’re also incredibly passionate. They live and breathe this passion and it’s incredibly infectious.”

Not letting statistics get in the way

Renece is currently seeking investor finance to take Data Creative to the next level. She said she was shocked when she found out recently that only 7% of investor money goes to female-led startups. While she isn’t letting it deter her, she admits that has felt at times like she’s had to work harder to prove herself in what has been a male-dominated tech-based industry.

“I feel discouraged when venture capitalists only want to talk to me because I’m female and not because of the merit of the technology we’ve built at Data creative,” she said. “There is a gender gap in tech and I believe there is a need to create role models and environments for females where they feel included and grow their confidence.

“That’s why I recently became involved with Girls in Tech, serving as the marketing manager for the Australian chapter. Girls in Tech is a global non-profit focused on the engagement, education and empowerment of innovative women who are entering into the high-tech industry and building startups. I wouldn’t be here without the support of my network, so I see my work with Girls in Tech as an opportunity to give back and be part of someone else’s journey.”

Striving for a work-life balance

As well as running two businesses, and her involvement with Girls in Tech, Renece is also a mother to two young children. As she explained, it has been a balancing act.

“Balancing Visual Domain and Data Creative with my family and other commitments has involved time management, forward momentum and amazing support from my husband John as well as Daniel,” she said. “There aren’t enough hours in the day, so I’ve had to be very disciplined in getting all the core things done, i.e. cash flow, sales activity, project and team management. It helps that I have incredible teams in both businesses: I make sure they have the resources and support they need but when I bite off more than we can chew, they’re the ones who figure it out! Something I’ve learnt is that if your team has a problem, you have a problem. It doesn’t matter what else is going on in the business, if it’s going to be successful, you’ve got to make sure your team is ok.

“Family time boils down to quality over quantity most weeks and it’s hard not to feel guilty about the time I sometimes spend away from home. I make up for it by playing Lego with the kids, dancing with them and making sure every moment counts.”

“Success for me is something very personal. Money is great but it’s doesn’t drive me.  What matters to me the most is the experience of continually learning and growing. Part of this has been surrounding myself with a network of individuals far smarter than I will ever be – they inspire me and push me to keep growing.”