Sunday, November 15, 2015

Vidku: A UMN Spinout Success

Flipgrid beta release - image from August 28, 2012 Flipgrid blog posting
In Fall 2012, Charlie Miller (Co-Director of the University of Minnesota Learning Technologies Media Lab and Associate Professor of Learning Technologies) and Brad Hosack (LT Media Lab Lead Designer and Learning Technologies PhD student) launched the beta version of Flipgrid, a video-sharing service to use in the classroom.  A few months later, Flipgrid was made available to teachers everywhere. Since then, Flipgrid has spread not only in institutions of higher learning, but also in elementary and high school classrooms.  By the end of October 2015, over 4 million Flipgrid videos had been shared.

While it has been nicknamed “video Twitter,” a key feature of Flipgrid is that it is private to a specified group of people – initially a classroom.  It’s remarkably simple:  a teacher poses a question or prompt and shares a link.  Students access the link, click on the “+” button, and record a 90 second responses using their laptop webcam.  Other students can view each other’s responses and “heart” them.  

Flipgrid would be considered a success simply because of its broad use in the educational space, but in fact, about 20% of its users are outside of schools.  It turns out that lots of organizations want to share simple videos with each other, but not the outside world.  Two successful Twin Cities tech entrepreneurs, who both happen to have sold businesses in 2011, took an interest.  Jim Leslie (now CEO) had founded Midwave Corporation, which he sold to Datalink.  Phil Soran (now executive chairman) had founded Compellent, which he sold to Dell.  Joining forces with Charlie, they renamed the company to Vidku (a mashup of “video haiku”).

At the beginning of 2015, Vidku successfully raised over $17 million dollars in Series A financing.  They moved the company off campus to the tech and design firm-heavy North Loop area of Minneapolis, and now have a few dozen employees.  Jim Leslie and Charlie Miller were recently recognized as Titans of Technology by Minnesota/Saint Paul Business Journal. Just a couple of weeks ago, Vidku released their first consumer product, a 17-second video messaging service for circles of friends.

Jim Leslie (and possibly one or two others from the company) will be sharing the Vidku story with our STARTUP class on December 8.  We’ll be making the session open to others who are interested in learning about a successful UMN-hatched startup.  Register at