Master of buzz
It's up to Evan White '06, a public relations wiz who counts Bill Cosby as a client, to make Viddy the brand name of smartphone video.January 31, 2013
White in Venice Beach, where he lives and works.
Photo: Brian Stethem
If Evan White ’06 were to squeeze his education onto video, like one of those 15-second clips composed for his social media platform, Viddy, the highlights would look something like this:
Lutheran youth board president in high school. CLU freshman homecoming prince. And creator of his own public relations firm – Evan White PR – before graduating from CLU with a communication degree.
Good stuff, but just look at the footage he is compiling these days.
White, 29, got in on the ground floor two years ago of the launch of Viddy, Inc., one of the earliest and largest mobile video sharing apps on the Web.
Hailed by many in the tech world as the Instagram of video, Viddy has amassed more than 50 million unique users and is tapping celebrity power – the site is studded with video tidbits from the likes of Rhianna, Snoop Dogg and Justin Bieber – to push its platform.
White serves as “chief evangelist” for the booming Venice Beach–based enterprise, and it’s his mission to build buzz for the social video site while growing its fan base in an increasingly competitive market. It’s likely that one, but only one, of these apps will become a household name.
If anyone is up to the task, it’s Evan White, master of buzz.
After all, he once helped a client barter from a single red paperclip all the way to a house, trading up for items that included a hand-sculpted doorknob, a recording contract and a movie role. (The client got a book and movie deal out of that one.)
And he managed to launch a thriving business on the idea of wearing the T-shirts of company sponsors and using social media to advertise their wares.
As White surveys the rough-and-tumble landscape of social video, he sees Viddy on track to win the scramble for users, noting the celebrity backing and recent infusions of capital by investors including Goldman Sachs and Twitter founder Biz Stone.
“Knowing that all of these big names have bet on Viddy says a lot about who we are as a business and the value of our product,” said White, who is an equity partner in the enterprise, now valued at nearly $400 million.
“The end goal is we need more people and we need more people to use our service more often,” White added. “I want people to think Viddy when they think of smartphone video.”
White was born with an entrepreneurial gene.
Growing up in Spokane, Wash., he worked as a soccer referee as a teenager, saving his paychecks to buy his first car. He shoveled snow and raked leaves, and used money from those jobs to buy better equipment so that he could get more work and earn more money.
He arrived at Cal Lutheran as a business major, but eventually shifted to communications and marketing, and graduated with honors.
White’s professors remember him as a curious and energetic participant in the life of the school, a leader in his classes whose probing questions and passion for learning kept teachers on their toes.
“Evan is certainly bright, motivated and energetic. His mind is always working, and he is filled with ideas,” said professor Sharon Docter, chair of the Communication Department and White’s teacher and academic adviser. “I am not at all surprised by Evan's success. He was born to do this.”
Toward the end of his CLU experience, White turned an internship for a PR company into a position as a senior account executive. He found himself balancing a corner office, a secretary and a boss with the demands of being a full-time student.
He said he learned a lot. Most importantly, he learned that he wanted to work for himself, and launched his own PR firm.
White’s projects ranged from the quirky to the sublime.
He helped a company purchase the naming rights to a town as it was launching in the U.S. market, and helped a client sell his entire life (house, car and food in the fridge) on eBay, following a divorce.
He drummed up celebrities for a Starbucks campaign to provide relief for victims of the 2010 Haiti earthquake.
And he helped launch the live streaming platform Ustream, drawing national attention to a live video feed of a batch of newborn Shiba Inu puppies. As the live stream went viral, the puppies appeared in the pages of the New York Times and People and on air at CNN, NBC Nightly News and the Today Show.
“My mandate by the CEO of Ustream was to make us a household name,” White said. “In the end, millions of people ended up watching these puppies do what puppies do.”
As White tries to pull off something still bigger for Viddy, he has kept working for one PR client: actor and comedian Bill Cosby, who tapped White’s expertise to help bring his worldwide celebrity to social networks and the online world.
Viddy’s style is simple and short. Users shoot video snippets of 15 seconds or less on their mobile devices and use tools to add filters, music and other effects. The videos can be uploaded to a variety of social networks including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
The service built its early user base on iPhone and iPad products, but late last year it added an Android app, and within about a month it had 1 million Android users.
These are heady times in the video-sharing world, with all eyes watching for social media’s next breakout hit following Facebook’s $1 billion acquisition last spring of the photo-sharing app Instagram.
Against that backdrop, a bevy of competitors have arrived on the scene, including Twitter’s recent launch of its own video-sharing app.
So where does Viddy stand?
Time magazine named Viddy one the 50 best websites of 2012, and the company made a slew of year-end lists of “top tech companies to watch in 2013.”
White notes that Viddy recently turned down a multimillion-dollar offer to buy the company, expressing the belief of its founders and its now 32 employees that there are brighter days and bigger paydays ahead.
“The first time I played with the service, I was sitting on the beach and I shot a quick video and uploaded it from the beach,” said White, adding that the technology is so simple that his mother is a regular user.
“I had never done that before, and I thought, ‘This is brand new, this is mobile, and this is really sexy, cool technology,’” White said. “I spend my days talking to all of these content creators who show every day how Viddy is so powerful for their lives. This is a way to really leave your mark on the world.”
In the end, that is White’s goal as well.
He has small goals, such as paying off his student loans before he is 30. And larger ones, including buying a home for his mom.
But then there are those goals that have to do with giving back, whether it’s contributing to the Big Brothers organization, which helped guide him as a youth, or providing scholarship help at his alma mater CLU.
“I was the beneficiary of wealthy individuals who gave scholarships to Cal Lutheran and who helped kids do good things,” he said. “I was one of those. Now I want to be able to make dreams come true.”
Fred Alvarez is a high school history and journalism teacher who lives in Ojai. For more than two decades, he was a staff writer for several daily newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune.