How To Startups

Making your own product demo video is easier than you think.

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Getting a demo video for your startup’s product made by a pro can cost several thousand dollars per minute — out of the budget of your typical startup. But making something really good yourself is much easier than you think. I made my own video myself following the Grumo video course and Justin McLeod’s method of iPad drawing and Keynote animating. (Here’s a blog post from Grumo on how I made my video.)

Here are the resources that you need:

  1. Grumo course. ($150)
  2. Basic writing software. I used Google Docs.
  3. A tablet with drawing software. I used InkPad. ($5)
  4. Keynote.
  5. A good microphone. Try to borrow one or use the iPhone and a blanked method.
  6. Screenflow. ($99)
  7. Audacity. (Free)
  8. Pond5. ($25)

The basic steps are:

  1. Write a script. A good script has a story that illustrates the problem, what’s wrong with the current solution (this isn’t talked about explicitly in the Grumo course, but it’s very powerful to put things in terms of the status quo), why your product is a better solution, and includes some fun and cute elements that keep the viewer engaged. After you take the Grumo course, this should come naturally. I downloaded some of the example scripts for Grumo videos and analyzed them according to the Grumo method. Once I did that, spitting out a script was easy. Your script will include not only what the voiceover will say, but an overview of the visuals that tell the story (try to re-use as many assets as you can).
  2. Draw. This part is fun, but it was also the most time consuming for me. (I chose to skip the storyboard step and just dive into drawing the assets for the animation.) If you think you can’t draw, take a little time to familiarize yourself with InkPad. Read the instructions (they are short). Then start by just drawing some circles and basic shapes and fool around with the handles. On a tablet, you can take almost any crappy shape and adjust it to look good once you get the hang of it. Also, make heavy use of bold outlines, bright colors, and shadows to make it look like a cartoon. Don’t forget that you can import an image, trace it using layers, and then delete the image in the background. This is how I drew the map of the United States. Another tip: don’t neglect the background. Spend a minute creating a gradient that goes from white or very light gray in the center to slightly darker gray on the edges. It will really make the characters and props in your animation stand out.
  3. Animate. This was the next most time consuming step for me. Keynote has a pretty limited set of animations and moving different objects in sync with one another can be time consuming. I made heavy use of the plain old “move” animation, as well as “scale”, and the “pop” object build in. Don’t forget to use transitions in between the slides. “Object push” and “Magic Move” are easy ways to keep things moving on the screen. When you’re done, convert the Keynote to a video using Screenflow.
  4. Record the Voiceover. If you don’t think you make a good voice actor, find someone with a good voice and ask him or her. In my case, I asked someone I know and just sent him the script and he sent back the audio file. I don’t know what he recorded it with but I’m told a good microphone makes a huge difference. There’s also a tutorial from Grumo on how to record your audio with a blanket. If you have any noise, you can remove it automatically using Audacity (which is free).
  5. Find music and sound effects. This part is also fun. I used Pond5 for both the music and the sound effects. It’s tempting to neglect the sound effects, but I think they go a long way towards making the video look polished. I just used a typing sound, a mouse click, a whoosh, a pop, and a few others. I used many of them multiple times. It took about 15 minutes to find them all and just layer on that third track.
  6. Putting it all together. You can also do this in Screenflow and it’s pretty self explanatory. Once you’ve created your video file, you’ll layer on three audio tracks: voice, music, and effects. Do the voice first. You can clip audio files in Screenflow and drag them around to line them up with what’s happening on the video track. Once that’s in place, drag and drop your audio file in and adjust the level. Finally, drag and drop your sound effects in, line them up with the animation, and adjust the levels. This step is surprisingly easy and satisfying.

And that’s it! In total, I spent under $300. People ask me which agency made my video and they are shocked when I tell them I drew it on an iPad with my finger and animated it with Keynote. You’ll be surprised at how good of a video you can create with this method.