Meet Ajay Kishore, founder of Stareable, a website dedicated to making internet television easier to find and watch. Over the past two years Ajay and his colleagues have built a platform that has become a community-driven hub for web series creators and fans alike. We visited Ajay at Stareable's Dumbo headquarters to chat with him about why he started his business, his greatest business challenges and what makes a good web-series.
Tell us about yourself.
I grew up in Maryland and was working in finance when I had the idea for Stareable. Before it took over my life, I spent my free time haunting comedy clubs, cooking, and boxing.
What prompted you to start Stareable?
I’m a television nerd who’s driven to help amazing shows get discovered and filmmakers get the credit they deserve. I’m also an engineer who wants to create structure around an increasingly opaque and fragmented ecosystem. As content shifts online, traditional Hollywood needs to evolve with it, and so far it hasn’t. We are providing the structure to help creators make that leap.
What is a typical day at Stareable like?
I think one of the best parts about this whole experience has been that there isn’t a typical day. We’re always meeting someone new, trying to think of potentially interesting features or strategies, or discovering some amazing web series that just makes our jaws drop with how good it is.
What's been the most challenging part of starting this business?
Building a product with limited resources and limited information is definitely the biggest challenge. I found teammates who believed in the idea and were willing to work part-time for equity so we could get the company going before we raised money. We built whatever we could and only paid for what we absolutely had to. And we learned how to grow entirely organically, rather than rely on paid marketing. It was much harder but these are good skills to pick up early because they instill discipline.
What's the most surprising thing to have come out of starting Stareable?
I have been pleasantly surprised by the strong feeling of community that surrounds web series and independent television. There’s no sense that filmmakers are fighting over the “Thursdays at 8pm” slot because they aren’t. As we bring more attention to independent content overall, all of the individual creators also benefit.
How do you find new web series for the platform?
It speaks to our central challenge and opportunity that there isn’t a place to go to find web series creators. So over the life of the company, we’ve built a number of different ways to find them. Social media is a big one for us. We also do our own live events, ranging from meetups that we and Stareable-associated creators host across the country, to screenings (in New York and LA, so far) and our upcoming festival. We also built our own community forum, exclusively for web series creators, providing them with a new way of discovering us as they participate in online conversations and meet each other.
In your opinion, what makes a good web series?
There’s a cliche in the industry that everyone wants “fresh, unique voices.” But then everyone pattern matches against what’s worked in the past and tries to come up with the new version of that. I think if you look at the web series that have broken through - Broad City, High Maintenance, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl, etc etc - they didn’t really have predecessors. There weren’t many buddy comedies about 20-something young women in New York. Or other slice-of-life anthology series with few recurring characters. Or someone taking an honest perspective about what it means to be a young woman of color. Really dig deep to understand what you have a truly interesting perspective on and if it’s well-done, it’s going to resonate with people. Don’t give in to pressure and make it overly broad. Part of the point of creating a web series is to make the art you want to make, not what you think the system is demanding.
For someone with a web-series, hoping to get more exposure, what recommendations do you have for them, other than putting their work on Stareable, of course.
It’s all about finding and being a part of your community. If you’re making a horror web series, start participating where other horror creators and fans gather, whether that’s on social media, blogs, or in various organizations. Help out your fellow creators and they’ll boost your content too. See how other shows are marketing themselves and evolve your own strategy to incorporate what works. Mainstream television primarily gets discovered through marketing dollars, which most web series don’t have. As an indie filmmaker, you have to be a bit scrappier.
What's next for Stareable?
We are building relationships with mainstream television platforms so we can level up the careers of talented filmmakers and continue to centralize our position in the online television ecosystem. And we’re launching a festival for mid 2018 to take all of our community-building efforts and translate them into a real-life event.
Can you give us a few examples of web-series makers that you think are doing an excellent job.
Texting with Gosling - A girl meets Ryan Gosling and then maniacally schemes with her friends about how to respond to his texts.
Creatures of Yes - A fun quirky puppet show shot on 1970s tv equipment
Dynamo - A stylish and expansive cyber punk space opera
Stage Dad - A darkly comic portrait of a child actor (played by the show creator) and his struggling stage father.
The Feels - A dramedy, partially animated, about a maybe bisexual, maybe asexual Brooklyn teacher.
Unicornland - A woman, post-divorce, looks to explore her sexuality...one couple at a time
Check out Ajay Kishore's Playlist:
Interview and Photography: Emily Saunders - @thesaunder