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Studio Highlight: ShowLabs, Creative Force and Orbitvu with Danny Effron and Polly Babcock

Chief evangelist at Creative Force

Full episode transcript

Daniel Jester

From Creative Force, I'm Daniel Jester, and this is The E-commerce Content Creation Podcast. The content crisis, Danny Effron said it really well in this episode of our podcast. When a brand makes the decision to move into a new marketing space or channel, they quickly find out that it requires its entire own set of assets designed to work within that space. That's why the content studio of the future needs to be able to adapt quickly while still building a system that ensures accurate and timely work.

Joining me for this episode is Danny Effron and Polly Babcock of ShowLabs, a Denver based commercial studio that uses some of the most cutting edge technology available in our industry in order to meet the content crisis head on.

Danny Effron

We call it the content crisis, right? I mean, it's brands going to new competitive channels, whether that's a marketplace like Amazon or large network of new wholesale partners with e-commerce presence or trying to push into the social commerce world, every one of these channels requires really great compelling content to effectively market and sell products.

Daniel Jester

In this episode, we also highlight a brand new integration that we at Creative Force are very proud to announce. Creative Force now integrates with Orbitvu automated imaging devices to take your smart capable studio to the next level. We're very proud and excited to bring this out to the industry and we hope you get a chance to check it out soon. Now, without further ado, let's get into this episode. This is The E-commerce Content Creation Podcast. I'm your host, Daniel Jester. Joining me for this episode, Danny Effron and Polly Babcock of ShowLabs. Danny, Poly, welcome to the show and how are you both?

Danny Effron

Doing great. Excited to be here and thanks for having us, Daniel.

Polly Babcock

Yeah, it's great to be here with Creative Force. Thanks.

Daniel Jester

It's my pleasure to have you, guys. I've been wanting to have this conversation with you for quite a while. Polly, you made a brief appearance, some of our listeners might remember, on this podcast after the PixelFlow event in LA this past February. By the way, listeners of this podcast, if you can hear my fan blowing on me right now, I apologize for the subpar audio quality, but it is very early in the morning and it's already pushing 90 degrees in my studio. You're going to have to deal with the sound of a fan. I'm sorry. I'm supposed to be a podcast professional, but I'm not going to stand here looking sweaty and weird in front of you, guys.

Polly Babcock

We appreciate it.

Daniel Jester

We invited you on the podcast to talk... We want to talk about ShowLabs, you guys, Polly, Danny. Danny, you're the founder ShowLabs, which is the commercial studio based in Denver. Why don't you tell us a little bit about who you are and what show labs is?

Danny Effron

Just a little bit on my background, I've been working in the e-commerce industry in the outdoor vertical as a serial entrepreneur for over a decade and really working to help brands and retailers market and sell products to customers. I've done that across a few different companies and a few different sort of market targets looking at consumer channels versus B2B wholesale channels. Just to talk a little bit about how ShowLabs came to be, I was doing some consulting work for one of the leading B2B wholesale e-commerce platforms in the outdoor industry called Elastic Suite.

They work with some of the biggest and best outdoor brands like The North Face, New Balance, Vans, Timberland, Helly Hansen, just amazing brands, helping these brands, providing a platform and technology that these brands use to market and sell products to retailers. We sort of identified, especially within the wholesale point in a brand's product cycle that these brands were having an incredibly difficult time producing really great content that was sort of helping them digitally transform that segment of their business, decreasing reliance on trade shows and in person meetings and getting full value and really being able to leverage these great selling platforms.

Like Elastic Suite, one of the biggest hindrances was their inability to create really great content quickly. And that was how ShowLabs came to be. I stepped out of my role in that business to start ShowLabs. We sort of launched this mission to help transform the way brands go to market and bring their products to life and their most digital and virtual sales and marketing channels.

Daniel Jester

A legitimate question for me, I'm not doing one of those ask the question that I know the answer to to sound smarter, whatever, but the outdoor space, I know like we were talking offline that I'm a cyclist and I'm aware that the cycling industry, the retail cycling industry, there's still a lot of legacy operation like cycling and the bike manufacturers and the parts manufacturers were a little bit slower to adopt to e-comm just because of the way that industry handled distribution and selling bikes through local bike shops and that kind of thing.

Is that true across the board in sports and outdoors? Are there other segments of sports and outdoors that just have tended to be slower to adopting D2C e-com because of the way that just the industry of grew up?

Danny Effron

I think that's true. As we looked at direct to consumer versus B2B and wholesale channels, I think what we've seen is the industry's been a lot quicker to adopt to direct to consumer e-commerce presence and technology. We've seen that the wholesale channels have really lagged behind, as these brands have sort of continued their heavy, heavy reliance on in person meetings and like I mentioned before, trade shows.

I don't want to talk negatively about an industry that I love, but I do think that just in general, the outdoor industry tends to be a few steps behind some of the other even related verticals like fashion and their adoption of technology, which as an entrepreneur is kind of exciting, because we can help understand what's happening in other verticals and bring solutions to the outdoor industry and leverage really great relationships and connections to help push the industry forward like we're doing with ShowLabs.

Daniel Jester

Polly, I want to kick it to you for this next part of this question. Obviously everything you just said, Danny, was very heavily impacted and informed by the pandemic and, for a while, the lack of trade shows. There's a lot of businesses whose almost their entire business was wholesale and finding themselves in a position to needing to suddenly pivot to selling direct to the consumer if they wanted to survive. This is a serious problem and Polly, it's one that ShowLabs set out to solve for their customers. What other problems is ShowLabs solving? What are you all solving for your customers?

Polly Babcock

We're building structure around these photo shoots. We require all of our product data to be delivered to us in a certain way. We provide creative standards of what we are capable of doing here and how that mends with our clients. We create these kits before our shoots so that we have clear direction on set. We're also solving quality control issues. We are delivering assets straight to platforms with correct margins, correct variance. Everything's been color matched. We're solving that efficiency as well. Getting everything up front, organized, running it through our system and delivering a beautiful ribbon tied package to our clients directly to their platforms.

Daniel Jester

That had to have been life saving for some of your customers through the pandemic. You laid out in very concise terms that there is a lot more to producing images that encourage your customers to buy. Period. I could end it there, but also sports and outdoors is a competitive industry with tons of innovators that are popping up every day and making new things. Not to mention, Danny, you said something earlier about adjacent industries like fashion. It just got me thinking, this was a little off topic for this episode, but I wonder what it would be like to be one of these boutique outdoor brands who suddenly finds themselves a fashion icon, similar to what we've seen happen with Carhartt.

Carhartt, a staple of Midwestern farm wear, suddenly became like an icon in the fashion industry. And now they want to capitalize and take advantage of that. Who's to say that doesn't happen for one of your boutique brands and you guys are there saying, "Let's do it. Let's shoot it. We can help you."

Danny Effron

We love working with these emerging brands because those are the types of brands that, to your point, have new and big problems to try to solve as they're trying to grow aggressively in the market. We call it the content crisis, right? I mean, it's brands going to new competitive channels, whether that's a marketplace like Amazon or large network of new wholesale partners with e-commerce presence or trying to push into the social commerce world. Every one of these channels requires really great compelling content to effectively market and sell products.

One of the challenges that these brands really have to solve is that every one of these channels may require something unique and different as it relates to a file type, an image spec, file name, the appropriate angles, the way in which you're shooting or styling a product. It's a lot for emerging and mid-market. I mean, really top to bottom in terms of different market segments, it's a lot of problems for a brand to try to solve themselves.

Daniel Jester

For a lot of the heads of these companies, it's often not even a discussion point when they're saying, "We're going to launch this new brand and here's this problem that we're going to solve for our potential customer, and here's what we want to do. I think we got a great product and I think we can sell it." And often how do we sell it? Well, we need images to do that is an afterthought. But as you guys are aware, as I'm aware, as that most listeners of this podcast are aware, it requires... I don't know, a small brand has a few thousand square feet of warehouse space. Guess what?

You got to double that now because you got to build yourself a studio, and then you got to put another $50,000 worth of equipment in that studio. And then you got to find the right people to run that studio because you don't know what you're doing. And that seems like an excellent place for ShowLabs to live.

Danny Effron

Yeah. We love to draw this distinction. We look at sort of the product cycle for a brand producing a physical asset or a physical product and product design, the manufacturing facility possibly overseas, possibly here. We like to draw the comparison of just the importance of creating or manufacturing the digital twin of this physical product. It needs to run in parallel. It's almost as important. Because if you don't have the right digital representation of the product, you're not going to sell it anywhere.

We refer to it as the digital asset supply chain that sits right in parallel with the physical asset supply chain. The type of stuff that we're doing, the problems that we're solving are just absolutely critical for these brands to be able to sell a product effectively online.

Daniel Jester

Danny, you gave me chills. I've described it exactly like that. It actually literally is an entire digital supply chain that runs in parallel, and that's part of the reason it's a much more complex process than people give it credit for. In some ways, it's as complex as a product supply line, whether it's getting raw materials to make your product, then getting those products made and delivered. It's as complicated as that, with the exception of you can't actually see any of that stuff. You can't point to a room full of digital assets. It's on a hard drive somewhere. Let's pivot the conversation. I've buried the lead a little bit for our listeners, and I apologize, listeners, if you feel like this is a...

I wouldn't call it a bait and switch, but we're going to talk a little bit more about Creative Force today than we normally do in this podcast. Obviously I am an employee of Creative Force. The show is produced by Creative Force, and we're going to pivot to talk a little bit about technology because you guys at ShowLabs had the opportunity to test our new integration with another piece of technology that's out there on the market, the Orbitvu automated imaging device. I don't want to get into the details of that sort of integration and testing process just yet. I want to hear from you guys a little bit on your philosophy on tools and technology.

Let's go Danny first, and then let's hear from Polly on, what are you thinking about? What's your sort of philosophy? How do you see the tools and technology that you use in your studio that help you solve your customer's problems?

Danny Effron

Philosophy wise, I mean, I would say the way that we've approached designing and building this studio and the way that we have approached assessing and selecting both hardware and software to combine it, design this highly efficient workflow, I mean, the philosophy is it's really about initially understanding the problems that we're trying to solve for our brands and ensuring that we have a good grasp on what's out there in the market and who's doing what and who's a true leader and innovation, who's going to be able to support us in the right way.

We've certainly found that within partners that we've selected to work very closely with like you guys at CF, like a company like Orbitvu. Heading out into the market, we have a very clear positioning as a company in terms of the types of brands that we're trying to build a solution for. We know what kind of products they are manufacturing. We know what kind of content they need. I think it's just one of our key advantages is based on our background, we really understand their issues.

As an example, the need for us to be able to handle staggered sample management, the need for us to really dial in our focus on continuity in color and lighting against different production types and sets in the studio. I would say just being very, very close to understanding what the customer needs and spending the time being diligent, understanding what's available in the market is kind of the approach that we've taken to pull together hardware, software, and workflow solutions that are helping us just bring a really great service offering to our clients.

Daniel Jester

Polly, I know I had the benefit of working with you a lot through the early days of your Creative Force implementation. That time, Creative Force was a smaller company than it is today. I was doing a lot of support, and we spent a lot of time on Intercom chatting and uncovering problems and learning new problems. And one problem led to another problem. We solve one and it created four more. I wanted to get your sense of as your workflow, as ShowLabs was founded and as you've been identifying technology and layering solutions on top of each other to build this ecosystem for yourselves, how has that informed the workflow design process in the team that you've built?

How have you managed figuring out, okay, do we have the right talent in place? Is this the right tool? Is the tool working the way that we need it to? I know that's a very broad question, but I'd love to hear how that has worked out a little bit.

Polly Babcock

I would say from day one, we had pretty much an empty room. I think one of our main challenges was recognizing that we have this robust hardware and software. Really the big challenge was figuring out how do we make a workflow that is harmonious between all of these amazing pieces of hardware and software that we have and that we've invested in. It was really figuring out the ins and outs of the software, of the hardware. Like you said, we talked so much and we uncovered a lot of things and that built to more questions. I think asking the questions and testing and trying new things, I feel like every production that I've designed at ShowLabs has had some kind of change in it.

I'm always trying to push the boundaries of the capabilities of what we have, also recognizing what our capabilities of our team are. We have local talent, stylists, photographers, models in Denver. It's a different market than New York and LA, and figuring out what our capabilities are with the software and how we can go into every production with confidence that our workflows are going to be efficient and clean. Really we want to be an extension of our clients and we want to make sure that we adapt to them. It's a lot of factors to take into consideration every single day in the studio. Daniel, you said it the best.

A handyman can go to the hardware store and get a bunch of tools, but it really takes that knowledge and skills to put it all together. And that's what we're doing here at ShowLabs and that's kind of where our magic exists here.

Daniel Jester

I, I guess, commiserate. I don't want to make it sound too negative, but Polly and Danny, prior to the pandemic, I was at a commercial studio here in LA and I specifically was hired to take this very boutique, very project oriented studio and build something that resemble the continuous sort of e-commerce product photography workflow. The thing that I learned almost immediately almost on the first day is when you're working for a retailer or a brand in their e-comm studio, many decisions are made and it's usually made by a committee. Once those decisions are made, you just go with it and you roll with it.

You can build a studio that is a constant churn of productivity. But in this situation, in your situation in your studio, guess who gets a vote? The client gets a vote and they often are like, "Oh, you know what? Now that we've talked about this for two months and you've delivered the assets, we actually want to change something." That takes this process to an entire another level of challenge. I totally recognize what it takes to get through it. In some ways, I think I've shared this with you, Polly, living vicariously through ShowLabs because we just never really got there before the pandemic.

We had a lot of ideas and we had a lot of ways that we thought we can make this work, but I'm living a little bit vicariously through ShowLabs to see like, it can work. You can do this. You can build a process that allows for some flexibility, but it also kind of means that you need to have some conversations with your customer about what is doable and when it's doable. Sometimes it just means attaching a cost. Yes, we can do this for you, but it's going to cost something. It's either more time or more money. A lot of the time, it's just simply more time and that seems to be the one that customers sometimes have more of a problem giving up.

But a big part of this is sitting down and saying, "We've got the tools. We've got the technology to help you. We want to be the best partner for you. Here's all the information that we need." Once we get going, that's it. To some extent, we need to agree on this upfront.

Polly Babcock

I'd also say that Creative Force has helped us so much with the way we're running our productions as well. I remember when we were running everything off of spreadsheets. I mean, there's still a lot of spreadsheets involved, but Creative Force allows us to track these products in every single step of the way. And as Danny was saying, these life cycles of our products and our assets. It is pretty linear. There's a step in our workflow and we have a pretty structured way of going about it. It's helpful to have a robust production software tool that helps us every step of the way.

Daniel Jester

For the record audience, Polly is not being paid. I don't think she's being paid to say this stuff about Creative Force. I don't know actually. But yeah, let's use that as a segue to get into talking about your experience testing. To say it on this podcast, the time that we're recording this, it hasn't been publicly announced yet, but audience, by the time you listen to it, it will have been announced, but Creative Force built in integration with Orbitvu, who manufactures automated imaging devices that are a combination of hardware and software that are quite impressive.

We had an episode with Mark Duhaime of Orbitvu. I think you guys probably know Mark. Incredibly nice guy. One of my favorite people in the industry.

Danny Effron

We know Mark very well. We love Mark.

Daniel Jester

I'm very curious, at this point as of this recording, I have not seen what the Orbitvu and Creative Force integration looks like, so I'm dying to know what was the process like of beta testing this. Some of the specific questions I have is, how did you define your... One of the things I love about a process of testing something new is just sitting back and thinking about, how am I going to define success and how am I going to define failure so that I can identify them quickly and move on? I'd like to just ask what was the process like and how did you define your goals before getting into testing the integration?

Polly Babcock

I'll take the testing. I was very excited about this. As I mentioned earlier, just one of the things I've been so focused on at ShowLabs is really how do we create this workflow, how do we create bridges over gaps. Having Orbitvu and Creative Force, we came up with creative ways to integrate them, but having the actual integration now is so helpful because it makes it easier on our photographers. There's features in the integration that we didn't have with Orbitvu alone. All the imagery gets transferred to one place. I have confidence that those images are going to be tracked under the right product name. I know that they'll be moved through our system and spit out the other end with the correct file naming.

I think that there is definitely a few hiccups in the testing. Windows popping up here and there. It's beta, so we know going into it that there are things that are still getting smoothed out. I think one of the biggest things that I'd like to see are... Down the road, our editor is looking through all the selections and we need an alternate select, she rejects it back. We'd like to see all the images on the Creative Force platform, so we don't have to go all the way back to step one in the production station and republish everything. That's something that I would love to see within the software integration.

Daniel Jester

A sneaky way to get your feedback back to our product team is through this podcast, Polly, but I respect you for it deeply.

Polly Babcock

Thank you.

Daniel Jester

Danny, I guess I'd be taking a little bit of a step back, but I'd like to hear from you of what drew you to Orbitvu in particular? And then can you tell us a little bit about what it was leading up to... I know that we had an eye... Actually I shouldn't say I know this for sure. I know that we've been internally talking about this integration between Orbitvu and Creative Force for a long time. I'm not sure how much ShowLabs played into... Certainly you guys were a customer and you already had Orbitvu devices, so it was a natural place for us to beta test this.

But I'm just curious to hear from you, Danny, what drew you to Orbitvu, and then was there always a hope on your end that you'd be able to connect these two things? Or did you just see two killer pieces of technology that you wanted to adopt and went from there?

Danny Effron

There is definitely always a hope. It really speaks to an earlier question about our philosophy and making selections like this is we want to be working with teams that are pushing innovation and that are really open. I mean that literally too, an open platforms, thinking about ways to make these types of important integrations and connections to make workflows easier. I feel like that was one of the big pieces of what we were looking for when we were out in the market doing selection on hardware. I mean, we looked at most of the leading, if not all of the leading manufacturers in this automated photography equipment.

We found that with Orbitvu, they were more software focused than a lot of the other manufacturers in the market. We felt like they had this openness about them that was really going to be able to support our entrepreneurial energy of trying to push and push and push and innovate. That's who we are as a company and that's how we always want to be in sort of collaboration with our partners. I mean, we've found just superior hardware and capability with Orbitvu. We liked what we saw on the software side.

Again, that openness and spirit within their organization was something that was really, really important for us and something that we felt with you guys in going through our selection process on a production management and workflow tool as well. Here we are talking about the integration.

Daniel Jester

It's beautiful.

Danny Effron

Maybe a pat on the back to us.

Daniel Jester

High fives all around. Virtual high fives.

Danny Effron

Yeah, high fives all around. Exactly. We made some good decisions.

Daniel Jester

I really think that that idea of jumping in with a company that you feel like listens to you, and that's one of the things that I respect about Orbitvu. I deeply love that about Creative Force is that I know in some cases it can feel like to some outward facing outside of the Creative Force, that we have a lot of customers who have a lot of really specific and unique needs, but we listen. We genuinely listen and use that information to inform our roadmap. At the end of the day, we have limited resources to develop certain tools or some things are...

For me, what I've noticed internally is that when I take my product ideas to Tejs, our chief product officer for Creative Force, it turns out that what I thought was a super simple idea actually affects 30,000 other things in the platform and it impacts all these connections that I didn't think about. But I mean, that's exactly the same reason that when I was at the commercial studio, I was interested in Creative Force for what you said, Danny, which is that I'm interested in a partnership and growing along with and pushing the sort of industry forward, so to speak. I respect that philosophy quite a bit. I'm excited to be here talking with you about this integration.

It's this is one of the more exciting features for me on Creative Force. We've had a lot of really great updates to Creative Force over the last year, big and small, but this is one that I'm very excited to see where it goes. The Orbitvu software, in particular, like you said, Danny, really challenged for me the idea that Capture One was the end all, be all. I mean, I love Capture One. I don't ever see Capture One not being a part of the process somewhere. But of all of the Capture softwares out there, the Orbitvu one was just so impressive and so thoughtful and clearly was designed of real world situations, the same way that Creative Force has been designed.

Just for these last couple of minutes, I want to hear from both of you from each of your perspectives, what does the future look like for ShowLabs beyond today?

Danny Effron

Yeah, the future is exciting. I mean, we feel like we're still in our infancy. We feel like there's so much opportunity to continue to innovate and bring just some really unique offerings to our roster of clients. We feel like it's such an exciting time within this content crisis and the metaverse and need for all these new different types of content types. It's just a very exciting time to be in this space. I think I talked a little bit earlier about just this high level mission to help these brands transform the way that they're bringing products to life. We focus on three pillars here at ShowLabs: production, processing, and publishing, in terms of what we're doing for clients.

It's much more than high volume production and helping them enhance the types of assets that they're producing. We're doing a ton of processing work, helping them build market ready variants, publishable specs ready to go live. And actually on the publishing front, helping them move this content to where it needs to go and kind of offering this hands-off publishing capability where the content is just sort of magically appearing where it needs to go. I think looking to the future of ShowLabs, our vision is to launch more studios. We want to build the most efficient and innovative e-commerce studio available in the market and have multiple studios.

We want to focus on this processing piece and be investing in proprietary technology to bring a lot of automation and capability to image and video processing. Again, our investment and focus in publishing is a key area for the future for this company too. We're focused on bringing more solutions to our clients around digital asset management, syndication, and optimization of assets. We are very excited about the opportunities with innovative technology, within processing and publishing and those critical parts of this whole product content life cycle.

Daniel Jester

Syndication is an excellent and underused term in our industry, for sure. It really becomes a syndication process to get your assets where they need to go. Amazing, Danny. Polly, same question and we'll wrap it up.

Polly Babcock

One of the exciting parts of my job is actually working with Danny because he's always thinking so many steps ahead. What I love about my job is finding solutions and efficiencies and pushing our boundaries. Speaking of Orbitvu, that software is so wonderful and there's so much more that we could do with the software that we haven't even tried yet. I'm looking forward to just pushing that forward and pushing forward some of the stuff Danny's talking about and how it all works together in harmony, and also just building our team and creating community within the studio. We have such a vibrant color in the studio.

Everyone is happy. We got music going. There's dogs around. Just building more of a community around ShowLabs, and it's just really fun to watch it grow. Looking forward to the future as well.

Daniel Jester

Very cool. Danny and Polly, I'm going to take the last 30 seconds to soap box a little bit for the audience and extend my sincere gratitude to the two of you for coming on the podcast to talk about this. You mentioned earlier the analogy that I used about the hardware store and everybody has access to the same tools. What I'm talking about specifically is in our industry, we've all got access to the same tools and technology. It's not really a secret, but there still is a tendency to be a little bit secretive about the production process at various studios. I really sincerely want to thank you guys for coming on and talking a little bit about what you do.

Because at the end of the day, we all win on the basis of great creative and being excellent to work with and having good ideas. The tools and the technology just support that. I think the more open conversations we can have across the board for commercial studios and brands and retailers, I think the industry will benefit from that. Sincerely from the bottom of my heart, thank you too for coming on and talking about it. Obviously we got to talk about Creative Force, so it's not all just fluffy stuff here, but thank you guys for coming on and I can't wait to see what's next from ShowLabs.

Polly Babcock

Thank you, David.

Danny Effron

Thanks for having us. Yeah, that was fun.

Polly Babcock

Great.

Daniel Jester

That's it for this episode of The E-commerce Content Creation Podcast. Many thanks to our guests, Danny Effron and Polly Babcock. And thanks to you for listening. The show is produced by Creative Force. Edited by Calvin Lanz. Special thanks to Sean Almira. I'm your host, Daniel Jester. Until next time, my friends. And Ian, love you, buddy

About the host

Chief evangelist at Creative Force

Daniel Jester is an experienced creative production professional who has managed production teams, built and launched new studios, and produced large-scale projects. He's currently the Chief Evangelist at Creative Force but has a breadth of experience in a variety of studio environments - working in-house at brands like Amazon, Nordstrom, and Farfetch as well as commercial studios like CONVYR. Creative-minded, while able to effectively plan for and manage a complex project, he bridges the gap between spreadsheets and creative talent.