How I Launched This Company
How I Built This explores the path of entrepreneurs and innovators in the Asia-Pacific region. From challenges faced to lessons learned, we will join them on their journey as they share how they got to where they are today.
Join us this week as we meet with Riaz Mehta, Founder and CEO of allrites
Welcome to Cloudflare TV.
Welcome to Riaz Mehta, who is my guest for today on how I built this company.
Obviously with a credit to NPR in the U.S. that runs a segment called how I built this.
So we are giving credit to them for the trademark and the idea. And what we're doing here is a series of meeting with local APAC entrepreneurs who have built companies and are building interesting companies.
And Riaz in this case has done both.
So he's built a company which he has now shut down in order to build another company.
And we're going to hear about both of them. But first, I'd like to just start with your background.
Riaz, can you tell us a bit about your career?
Because I know this isn't your first stint. Thanks, Aliza. Thank you very much for the opportunity.
My career started initially in technology and I did a degree in computer science in Australia.
And after that, I entered the software industry as a software engineer, literally cutting code.
I did that for a little while before I realized that my passion was more in other areas.
I was creative and I wanted to get into business development, which I did.
And I was with a small Australian startup back then called Kaz.
And when I joined them, they had about 20 people, a tech company that they built applications and the data center outsourcing.
Long story short, I stayed with them for about 13 years and saw them from being a small startup through to becoming a unicorn to an IPO on the Australian Stock Exchange.
This was in the dot-com boom days and then through to a trade sale to Telstra.
And that's part of the reason I moved to Singapore. I was in Australia then.
They wanted me to come and establish their operations in Asia and Singapore was a great hub to do that.
So I moved here in about 2001. I set up that company in Asia.
It was successful and through to its acquisition by Telstra. And at that point, I decided to pivot my career.
And that's what kind of took me into media and entertainment.
It was a passion that I had for a very, very long time.
And I hadn't realized that. And I dabbled in a couple of other things in the meantime, because...
Yeah, yeah. Just before you go too fast, didn't you tell me you had a women's apparel company as well?
I did indeed. So, you know, I was interested in anything creative and I love fashion.
So I decided to create a women's wear brand.
And it was really sexy club wear basically that I was creating. And I enjoyed that still...
You have to model it for us on this segment. I still have some of those clothes somewhere.
And I enjoyed that gig. You know, I would organize shows, fashion shows, etc.
And that was an interesting part of my transition from being in the tech industry through to media.
So that was an intermediate step, I guess, for me.
And I did that for a couple of years. But of course, that business wasn't...
It was a very, very tough industry, the right trade, and to break into that and to succeed.
And then, meanwhile, I had an introduction to an American producer called Mark Burnett.
And he's the producer of shows such as The Survivor and The Apprentice in the US through a mutual friend of ours.
And that kind of started me on the journey to creating content. And I didn't know anything about being a TV producer when I started.
And I jumped into it literally.
And Mark's actually got a book that his title is Jump In. And I'd read that book and I thought, okay, you know, Mark did it himself.
And he became one of the most successful producers in America.
So I'm going to give it a shot here.
So I literally jumped in and I taught myself everything that I know about creating content from the word go.
And it wasn't an easy journey. I guess a startup is never an easy journey in that sense.
Learning about a completely new industry.
And I remember making my very first TV show when I had a crew of 150 people and they were all looking to me and to say, okay, we're making television.
What do you want us to do next? And I had never done it before.
So it was an adventure to say the least. What was your first TV show? What was the first one?
It was called The Contender. It was a fight show. And in the US, Mark had done that with Sylvester Stallone.
And in fact, both Stallone and Mark were executive producers on my very first show.
And I produced that for Asia with Muay Thai, with an Asian sport.
And that format was really successful. We sold it to about 40 countries around the world.
It broadcast primetime in US, Australia, UK.
And that was kind of real affirmation to me that I'd gone out, I'd set up a venture.
And my very first show had achieved considerable success for a producer.
And that kind of inspired me to keep going, of course. And over the years, I went on to create my own formats.
I created shows like The Apartment, which is an interior design competition.
It's been running for about seven years now in Asia. I sold that to Netflix in the US as well, Australia, and several other markets.
The Fit for Fashion, a whole bunch of other things.
And I really enjoy making content. Sorry, you're going to say something.
Oh, I was just going to ask. So you said you jumped in and your first one was a success, which is amazing because a lot of entrepreneurs, maybe the first thing they try isn't.
How long was it from deciding you were going to jump in to getting that show sort of deemed a success?
Like, how long did that take?
Is that a year, two months? I don't know what. Yeah, it was a two-year journey.
It's from the minute that I started, it took me two years to figure out how to find the large-scale production and how to actually make one.
And in between that, I think there's at least one solid book in there that I'll be writing about that journey someday because I met some really interesting characters from Hollywood to Las Vegas and across Asia, traveled through different parts of Asia.
And it was a real journey and a real adventure with highs and lows, the likes of in Indiana Jones adventure, I would say.
But I look back on it and it made me the person who I am today.
And it taught me resilience, which has actually helped me in my businesses since as well.
So I might, depending on if we have time at the end, I might come back to some of the tips and secrets that you're going to divulge in that book.
But I want to make sure we have enough time on the business you're building today.
So I know you have a new business. I think your TV production business was Imagine.
Is that correct? That's correct. It was Imagine. And my current business is called All Rights, which is what you see on my T-shirt, of course.
And what you see on my head. Sorry, the logo didn't come out as large. That's right.
It's behind your head. So perhaps if I can come to how I came about creating All Rights, because that itself was an interesting journey for me that as I was creating content, typically the way the media industry operates is that a producer would create content and a distributor would get hold of those rights of that content and say, OK, I'm going to sell this to you or you to multiple broadcasters around the world and help you monetize that content.
And typically the distributor would take exclusive rights for that content for usually a three to five year period with no guarantees that you'd actually make any money off that or not.
And then they would try and source the buyers for that content. And it's an extremely manual process.
So they would go to trade fairs like Cannes Film Festival, MIPCOM, Snappeys, et cetera, around the world, have face to face meetings with buyers.
And it's a time consuming and an expensive process because they go and set up booths, which costs tens of thousands of dollars to set up and travel and whatnot.
And as a result, they have to charge fairly high commissions, really varying between 30 to 50 percent, depending on who you talk to.
And a few years back, I was distributing my content using such middlemen.
And one of them owed us quite a lot of money, about half a million dollars.
And they weren't paying. They went out of business.
And we tried the legal route that didn't, that was too expensive as well.
And it became a real personal pain point for me. And it really got me thinking about why is content traded this way?
And in parallel, what I was saying is that the consumer habits of how content is consumed have, is watched, have transformed dramatically with streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon, et cetera, that people are binge watching content and the traditional broadcasters are slowly dying away, in a sense, whereas the back end of the industry on how the content is acquired has not changed for over 100 years.
And that was my pivot point that I decided, OK, I want to do something about that.
I want to solve the problem, not just for the producers and the people that create the content, but also for the buyers, because it's extremely inefficient the way content is acquired today with buyers having to travel everywhere and distributors giving them physical brochures to read.
And they come back from Cannes in the south of France with a bag of brochures, and then they look through that and see, what am I going to buy?
So it's a very archaic process. So All Rights is a B2B marketplace which streamlines the buying and selling process.
It connects buyers with sellers from around the world, and it allows them to search for content just like a Google search.
So they can type in title or genre or even actors, et cetera, what they're looking for, and the system will come up with the selection.
They can shortlist what they want.
They can communicate with the seller via the platform.
They can watch trailers, episodes. They can check the rights availability.
Every bit of information that they need to conduct a transaction and to acquire that piece of content is at their fingertips.
And for the seller, it becomes a lot easier as well that their content is now seen by thousands of potential buyers instead of 30 or 40 people that a distributor might meet at a film festival or a trade fair.
So the opportunity of monetization has increased dramatically as a result, and both sides of the marketplace benefit.
And what's been good for us, I guess, in a sense, we are looking to transform an industry.
This is a disruptive technology.
And I, of course, saw that, okay, it'll take a while to achieve the transformation, but people have been forced to embrace the marketplace as a result of the travel restrictions due to COVID and also because of trade fairs being canceled around the world.
And what we have seen is a hockey stick, literally, in the last few months in our business in both the buy and the sell side, coming to the marketplace and transacting.
So it's been a- Yeah, you got to my next question before I got there.
So nobody's able to travel to buy and sell. And then presumably, I don't know if you have any statistics, but are there statistics on the amount of watching time?
I presume there's more content being consumed because we're all sitting at home.
Oh, tremendous. Every streaming platform has seen a massive uptake.
And if you've watched Netflix stock and how that's performed through this period as well, that's a clear indicator that people are flocking to streaming platforms because they have nothing else to do.
They're in lockdown in many countries.
LA has just gone back into lockdown as well. So that's forcing people to consume more.
But what's also happened is that as a result of COVID, content production stopped in most countries.
And so content is not being produced like it was.
And so people are having to acquire more content from other markets, which is also beneficial to us because we have content in every genre, every category, every language around the planet on the platform.
And so for streaming services, for example, for Netflix, they need to cater to local tastes in different markets.
And how do they acquire this content?
Because they can't produce it just now. And they're a big example. But there's what we have seen is there's literally hundreds of streaming services launching every week around the world.
And people are launching niche services that cater to a certain demographic.
And these are super exciting times for being in this particular industry because it is going up like a rocket across the board.
How do you inform people?
I'm sorry, one of the other vagaries of being at home is that all of a sudden my neighbor is hammering.
So hopefully there's not too much. No, we can't hear the hammering.
So that's okay. Okay. How do you get the word out about the business when you're starting?
So you know, there's always the issue with a marketplace is that you need both buyers and sellers to know.
And I'd be curious in terms of building the business, how you've gotten the word out in an industry that seems to me to be a little more exclusive, a little more closed than some, you know, just that, you know, it's Hollywood or film and television.
It's very glamorous. So how do you reach those people who say, hey, there's an online place to do this now?
So I guess I have an unfair advantage that I've been working in this industry a long time.
And I have a unique advantage that I also come from a tech background. So I'm able to combine both of my hats in media and technology for this particular business.
So the team that I have on board, they've got dozens of years of experience in the industry, lots of relationships.
So in the early days, when we started, it was pretty much phone calls and reaching out to people that we know, and getting them to come on board.
And, but of course, that's not a very scalable model.
Since then, we have, we're doing a lot of digital marketing and why we find sources like LinkedIn are extremely helpful, and in different forums, etc.
And now, probably 90% of our outreach is via digital marketing.
And we've seen a great uptake as a result on both sides of the marketplace.
So how did you, you mentioned to me when we were getting ready for this, that you participated in an accelerator program, you know, you'd hired some people, you know, I think you had some things that went well for you, maybe on the accelerator side, and maybe some challenges as you got started.
Would you give us any more detail on those? Sure. So where would you like me to start?
With the challenges or the accelerator? Why don't you start with the accelerator and the stuff that's gotten you to where you are, and we can come back to some of the troubles you had to overcome.
So yeah, we joined the China Accelerator, and I highly recommend that program to anyone.
It's run by SOSB, which is a venture firm from the US.
And the guys there are just amazing. The program is intense, it's three months on the ground in Shanghai.
And you learn a lot of things that even on day one, as I went into this program, it was like, I wish people had told me these things like 15-20 years back when I started my first business, because I wouldn't have made those mistakes, in a sense, and it would have fast-tracked my journey.
And the accelerator program was kind of a pivot point for us in terms of transforming the business vision and the execution around it.
Plus also, it helped us with the fundraising, and that in itself was not an easy task.
But having someone like SOSB behind us, and we got a couple of other venture funds come in later last year, which has helped scale our growth.
What is the main need for funds?
Is it the marketing? Is it building out technology? Just in terms of scaling, what are the things that you're trying to do, invest in?
Yeah, and I guess no matter how great an idea is, it's impossible to realize it to any scale without funding.
And building the right team is important, and that right team doesn't come free of cost.
There are some people that will take that risk and say, yep, I'll do it for sweat equity, but you can't build a scalable business just with a bunch of people that'll do it for sweat.
So you do need monies to pay salaries, you need monies to market, we need to hire developers, we need to constantly keep improving on our tech because we're introducing new features, new services, and even new products completely that will transform this industry.
So to do all of that, we need the funding. And we've seen that post -funding, we have been able to achieve a lot more than we had done before.
I do want to go back to the challenges in a minute, but can you tell us anything about one of the new products that you're introducing, or something you've recently introduced?
I don't mean you to give away secrets. What's new to the industry that didn't exist before that you've got?
Okay, there are things that are truly transformative, and we're literally in the process of launching it, so we haven't announced in the market yet.
And I'm a little bit sensitive because we do have competitors in this space.
And what we are about to do is a game changer, even beyond what we have done today.
And so I'm going to tease that, and hopefully, one day when we have another session like this, and I can share a lot more behind it.
Yeah, isn't this your TV guy? We can do how I built this with Riaz Maida, part two.
That's exactly it. We can make a whole series out of this.
Exactly, for each of your product launches. Why don't we come to challenges? I think to the extent that other entrepreneurs see this, we all know that it's not smooth sailing, that you don't just launch and have everything go right at once.
Although it sounds like that might have been the case with Imagine. But with All Rights, I know of at least one pickup for you, and you said you might just talk about some of the challenges you've had.
Sure. And just to correct you slightly, even though it looks like Imagine was an overnight success, it wasn't the two-year journey that I did to get there, that wasn't easy at all.
And there were a lot of failures along that way, along that path, and lots of challenges.
But I'm coming back to- Yeah, there's that quote that it takes 10 years to become an overnight success, and it only took you two years.
So it still sounds- Hey, that's not too bad, hey?
So the challenges on this journey, of course, you know, initially I started the business with my own funds.
And at one point, I brought in a CEO slash co -founder.
I literally, I'd built the software and everything, and I brought this person into the business.
And they worked with me for almost 12 months within the business.
And it was interesting. When it came to, we were in negotiations with a venture capital firm, and they had given us a term sheet.
And at that point, there was a gun held to my head, basically, to say, unless I have majority stake in the company, I'm going to tank this deal.
And that completely blew me away. And in fact, I remember sitting in the VC's office, and the person going, I'm not doing it anymore, because I wouldn't give him a majority stake in a business that he hadn't built.
And he went on to build a competitor, still existent based in Singapore, a similar kind of marketplace platform.
And that really set us back quite a lot on the journey.
And it was tough for me as an entrepreneur to take that hit and see kind of a whole team disappear.
He took other people with him as well that were in the team.
And I had to literally start again at that point, which it was tough.
But it also lit a fire under me. I said, there's no way I'm going to let someone get away with that and do better than me.
So it put me in a position that I said, I'm going to make this business succeed, no matter what it takes, no matter what the hurdles in the way.
And it spurred me on the journey. And it's really interesting.
I mean, I look back on and I'm a great believer that everything happens for the best.
And now I've got a great team around me, very supportive people, and that have a common vision.
There's no power struggles. It's like we are unified in our vision.
And we're kicking some really good goals. So I think my personal lesson is it doesn't matter what happens.
You've just got to have equanimity that there's a better outcome for you, ultimately.
And that's to stay the course.
I think it's really interesting because sometimes the challenges are about getting money.
Sometimes it's about the systems development.
I'm sure you've had those too. But it's interesting to hear about just issues that happen with founders, because I'm sure that happens a lot.
You have built these two companies.
I wonder, do you find building Imagine All Rights very similar to building Imagine?
Is it sort of the same style, or are there large differences between how you built the companies and the kinds of companies they are?
We don't have a lot of entrepreneurs who've done two successful companies. So I'd love to hear how you see the similarities and differences.
Yeah. I think the similarities are in that it's a challenge.
It doesn't matter what it is. This is a tech business.
That's a media business. And there's always going to be challenges thrown at you.
It takes sheer grit to get through those challenges and sheer focus to say, I'm going to get there.
So there are similarities. I guess the differences are with this particular business, we are able to get venture funding, whereas that business, it wasn't easy.
It's a traditional production business, and no one was willing to invest in that.
But at the same time, that business, I was able to get to profitability within a couple of years, whereas in a tech business, that doesn't really happen.
So that's the other difference.
In the tech industry, it's a very different game. The other one was a cash flow business and provided a good living, whereas we're able to do that.
This is on scale, and how do we transform an entire industry, what I was doing before wasn't transformative in that sense.
So that's why I find this adventure super exciting.
And that's why I decided that, okay, I'm going to put all my chips on this one.
Super interesting. I want to make sure we have a bit of time before we end to hear about that book that you haven't written yet and see if we can get some inside tips.
But before we do that, since most of us are still in some form of lockdown, and you're seeing huge amounts of content, is there anything you've seen lately that you recommend?
I don't want to bias any of your whatever content distributors one way or the other, but because you must see so much content and hear about it, is there anything really good to recommend?
There's a phenomenal amount of content out there.
Well, I love startups, right? So I don't know if you've watched the show called Startup on Amazon.
That's brilliant. It's got the Silicon Valley startup journey combined with mafia, and it's just, yeah, it's just mind-blowingly good.
It's fictional, yeah. Okay, okay. I'll look for that.
I just started watching Mrs. America, which is a history of the amendment on Hulu and Amazon Prime.
Yeah, it's got Cate Blanchett. She's the producer, and there are a lot of amazing female actors, and it's a period of history.
Probably most people watching this weren't alive then, but I was actually alive.
So not very old, but still alive. So it's interesting to go back, and they've made it.
I love it when people can make, I mean, I'm sure there's some fictionalized parts of it, when they can make parts of history really interesting to learn.
So I'm enjoying that. Okay, so last thing, you know, this book that you haven't written yet, and you probably won't until All Rights is singing and dancing all by itself, but any tips, tricks, insights from the book that you haven't written yet that we should share with budding entrepreneurs?
So I know we've only got two minutes left, so I'll try and hurry up on that.
Yeah, it's very critical that you find the right team, right co-founders, and vet them really, really carefully, and ensure that you have a solid contract in place with anyone that you bring on board, and no handshake deals.
They don't exist. Sheer grit and determination.
Failure should never be an option in your book. It's like, you know, whatever happens, if you've got a vision, you've got to stick to it, and no matter what happens, it's got to come to fruition.
And no matter what challenges life throws at you, it's okay.
You know, you'll get through it. Keep breathing, and you'll live another day, and you'll get to the other side.
Even with the mask on?
Yes, even with the mask on. Riyad, thank you so much for joining us today.
We all learned a lot. I think All Rights sounds fantastic, and I'm excited to have you on.
Let me know when the next game-changing part comes out, and we'll do the sequel.
Absolutely. I will. That's very soon, actually. So talk to you again soon.
Thank you so much, Lisa. Thank you. Bye-bye. Bye-bye.