As Generation Z enters their mid-teens, the idea of a “safe space” online to share the struggles of growing up in a chaotic, tech-driven world is one long overdue. Marcy and Josh Sinel of Storybooth did just that, garnering more than 35,000 stories submitted by teens and young adults who want their stories told. Storybooth, a YouTube app which allows users to record their stories for selection by the Sinels’ team, won Shorty and Webby and Shorty awards in 2016 and 2017 respectively. Recently, Storybooth’s YouTube Channel surpassed 100 million views, with videos generating an average of 2.1 million engagements. We spoke with the duo about their mission and why New York was the right place to grow their startup.
Tell us about your company’s beginnings. What did you see (or not see) in the market that led you to launch?
We saw a hole in the market. Much of the content being served up to kids was not fully utilizing the power of digital. Kids are moving fast and are digital wizards, and we wanted to create programming that moved at their speed and took advantage of how much you can innovate and connect in this medium. We also saw the need to create content that was meaningful and could make a positive impact in kids’ lives while being entertaining. Too often, cookie-cutter Hollywood media oversimplifies the real issues that today’s teens face – our primary mission is to create content for young adults that meets them where they really are and has a positive influence on them.
What were some of the biggest challenges that your team faced at zero stage?
The biggest challenge we faced before launch was whether young people would like and connect to the content. We had no idea if kids would record and submit their stories and if those stories could then be developed into engaging and entertaining animations. We’ll never forget when the first story submissions trickled in – the relief we felt that kids were actually sharing their personal stories. Now over 45,000 stories have been submitted, which is very humbling. Another challenge we faced was determining if our brand become a personality on YouTube. While most kids connect with YouTuber personalities because they are people, we are a brand. Our backgrounds are in community management and we knew we had to work hard to create this connection. We developed a warm, authentic and responsive voice in our social platforms and developed a strong connection with our audience. That was a real challenge and a very important goal that we accomplished.
What makes Storybooth different from other products in this space?
There is both art and science behind what we do. The art comes in when we listen to the stories and select which ones to animate. There is not a formula for this – it’s a combination of gut and an understanding of which topics will resonate with kids. Then we have to bring in the art of animation and understand which stories our animation team can be successful with. The science comes in once we launch a story. We have a system in place for how we play in the YouTube ecosystem so that every story gets as much traction and attention as possible. This is a combination of a handful of digital tactics that we apply to every story we produce.
How do you translate your brand’s message in a way that gets you heard above the noise?
It’s the kids’ raw and authentic voices and stories that lifts storybooth stories above the noise – we are just the delivery vehicle. Listening to a storyteller expose themselves and share a personal moment is what connects people to storybooth and makes them pay attention to who we are. So we have all our amazing storytellers to thank for that.
Let’s talk about brand values. What means the most to your company besides industry success?
Making an impact. We believe it’s our responsibility to create digital content for young adults that will have a positive influence on their lives. Every story has that power. That’s why we do what we do.
There’s always been this rivalry between Silicon Valley and NYC in tech. What are some tangible benefits to being based in NYC?
Well, I was born and raised in NYC so I am completely biased. I don’t think Silicon Valley can compete with the energy and diversity of the companies that exist in NYC. This helps us avoid a Silicon Valley bubble and gives us perspective. NYC always reminds us that our industry is just one of many – it’s refreshing and keeps us on our toes.
Name one place in your company’s NYC neighborhood that you and your team just can’t live without.
In New York City, we love The Coffee Shop. In Greenwich, we are big fans of The Granola Bar