Fascinated by the startup scene? Us, too. It seems like everywhere you turn, there’s a new app or company designed to solve a longstanding problem or make life a little easier. Curious about what it’s like to actually launch one of these companies? Then keep reading.
Here, we talk to Rumala Bhaiji, founder of the new app Castifi (and former L&C contributor), about the career change that prompted her idea, how she solved a problem in the film and television industry, what it’s like to create (and pitch) an app, and more.
TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOUR PROFESSIONAL BACKGROUND.
I started my career in Big 4 Public Accounting – I worked at PricewaterhouseCoopers, then went onto consulting at Ernst & Young. After a few years, I decided to pursue the industry I had always dreamed of — so I left Chicago and moved west to Los Angeles to jump into the entertainment world. Shortly after I landed a job with FOX helping with production work on the show “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” That experience was one of the best of my life — I worked with an amazing crew and cast, and I knew I wanted to continue working in this industry no matter what.
WHAT LED YOU TO THE IDEA FOR CASTIFI?
After wrapping at FOX, I was assigned to the TV show “State of Affairs,” starring Katherine Heigl and Alfre Woodard. It was a very extras heavy show, and one of my tasks was to process payroll for extras (AKA background actors). Some days it would take me up to 6 hours to process this paperwork! I loved everything about my job, except for this particular task. I felt there was a better way to do it.
As I dug deeper, I learned that background casting and payroll were outsourced to a market dominant casting agency. Working with this agency that was founded in the early 1900s was not only a pain for the production due to excessive paperwork, but it was a pain for the background actors as well! These actors have to wait in line for hours just to register, pay to have their photo taken, call phone hotlines to obtain background acting jobs. I found the lack of technology astonishing and the process purely absurd.
WHEN DID YOU KNOW THAT THE IDEA MIGHT BE A VIABLE BUSINESS?
Before jumping into anything, I did my research.I spoke to my colleagues in production who shared my pains and pitched them my idea for a digital way to manage the whole process. They loved the idea and agreed it was long overdue for such technology to exist.
To test whether background actors would be interested in a digital method, I created a “ghost” business called “Book Me Casting.” I printed out the name and one-liner concept on business cards and handed them out to background actors waiting in line to register at a local casting agency. I explained the digitized concept and told them to sign up if interested. Out of 98 business cards passed out that morning, 65 people registered. That’s when I knew I was onto something.
WHAT DOES THE APP DO?
Castifi automates the casting and payroll process for background actors from start to finish. For background actors, they can register through their phones, upload photos, set their availability, search/apply for jobs, and get paid through the app. For production companies, they can post jobs, search for actors, hire them, manage them on set with digital timecards, and pay the actors with ease. We have also created a brand new concept called on-demand casting, which allows productions to find actors locally who are available to work for RUSH calls. Casting just got way easier.
WHAT’S THE PROCESS LIKE OF DEVELOPING AN APP/STARTUP? WHAT STEPS DID YOU HAVE TO TAKE?
We spent hours on research, user testing, and networking. Tech is a brand new industry for me, so I jumped in by reading tons of books and attending networking events in Silicon Beach (the tech scene in LA). I sought out leaders in the industry and pitched them my idea just to get feedback. I would then go home and evaluate their feedback and see if my idea still stood strong.
Eventually, I was confident enough to move forward with my concept. As I continued networking, I heard about the [build] program at Rhubarb Studios. This program matches entrepreneurs with individuals who are interested in joining a startup to grow their skills. Each entrepreneur pitched, and the people interested would join that team. We would then spend the next three months building the idea together, with every one month being assessed whether we can continue on. I’m happy to say that Castifi has been accepted for all three months with a team of six strong. I couldn’t ask for a better team. We have two engineers, one UX designer, one product manager, and one growth hacker.
WERE THERE ANY RESOURCES YOU FOUND PARTICULARLY HELPFUL WHILE YOU WERE STARTING YOUR COMPANY?
Yes, my husband was the best resource I had! He was incredibly supportive, positive, and motivated me every single day. I couldn’t ask for a better co-founder. I also read quite a lot of books and highly recommend “Zero to One” by Peter Thiel and “Choose Yourself” by James Altucher. Those books changed my life as well as my outlook on both my external and internal world. Also anything by Paul Graham is brilliant.
WHAT’S BEEN THE MOST CHALLENGING PART OF DEVELOPING YOUR STARTUP?
Slowing down! As an entrepreneur, I am full of ideas and want to move quickly. As a result, I thought I could build my product out in one month! Looking back I realized that it’s just not feasible and could have easily built a product that was marginally better than my competition. I made the decision to slow down make sure I was building a product that users actually wanted! Through build, we use agile development and embrace lean startup principles. The correct way to design apps is with the end user in mind at all time and testing every aspect of the product while building it. This means we speak directly to background actors, directors, and producers to see if the functions we are building are what they want. Slowing down was hard, but I’ve learned it is best in the long run.
WHAT’S BEEN THE MOST REWARDING?
Knowing that I’m creating a product that will empower thousands of people around the world to continue with their acting careers. The amount of time spent on this part of the production is going to be reduced drastically, and I can’t wait to see how this impacts film and television production as a whole.
YOU JUST ATTENDED YOUR FIRST “PITCH DAY.” FOR THOSE UNFAMILIAR, WHAT HAPPENS AT THESE EVENTS?
A pitch event is where CEOs of startups will come and give a three-to-five minute overview of their product/business model and why they are building it. It is generally done to gain exposure in the industry and attract interest of investors who could potentially fund the startup. After the pitch, CEOs are questioned by judges.
HOW DID IT GO?
It went really well! I’m always the hardest on myself, but I was told by many that it did not at all appear like it was my first pitch. That was reassuring. I had tons of people come up to me afterwards who wanted to learn more about Castifi and collaborate. I was also approached by a couple of very interested investors, which definitely didn’t hurt!
WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS FOR THE FIRST YEAR OF CASTIFI?
My goal is to do a hard launch of our product right before pilot season, so we can be considered for long term use of potential TV series. I would also love to see us used in a couple of major feature films. That would be awesome.
WHAT’S YOUR ADVICE FOR ANYONE OUT THERE WHO MIGHT WANT TO START A BUSINESS?
High risk, high reward. That’s always been my motto. Take the risk, but be smart about it. Be lean in the beginning, meaning do the least amount of work for the most results. Conduct months of validation of your idea before quitting your day job or spending a dime. If you’re scared yet extremely excited at the same time, then you’re going in the right direction so keep going!