I love to read about women who took risks in business. Bold risks. Risks that involved a work life sacrifice but eventually paid off. I figure you like to read those stories, too. Today, I am featuring Ana Benitez, President & Co-Founder of Storyrocket, a Miami company with a genius concept. Ana is a Cuban American mother of two who believes in dreaming big. She is disrupting the entertainment industry with her startup, an online marketplace that it allows writers to showcase their work to an audience of content-hungry producers.
Meet Ana Benitez....
What is your Background?
I was born in Cuba and came to Miami as a two-year-old toddler. We were not your typical Cuban family, I don’t remember much politics being discussed. At home it was all about education, it was ingrained that we would go to college and pursue a higher education. I don’t think we were ever given a choice. My father always said, “They can take away all you have (which Castro did, when he left Cuba) or lose a job, but no one will ever be able to take away your education.” My parents always reminded us that we could achieve anything we wanted with our hard work and determination. We were always encouraged to dream big and then road map it… in other words take steps every day to get there.
What is it like to be a Latina in the entertainment business?
It takes courage. But growing up in a family of immigrants you saw courage in action every day and it became part of my DNA. I think courage is vital to being an entrepreneur, whether or not you are a Latina. There are a million great ideas, but you have to have the courage to take action. I was taught that nothing is given to you for free. It is your responsibility to make it happen and live with no regrets.
Your new company is Storyrocket...what is it?
Storyrocket is an online marketplace that connects great written works with the global production community that has a goal of producing for film, TV, theater or web. In the entertainment industry everything starts with a book or script. So content is king, but content is all over the place. There is no one place that amalgamates and organizes content easily so that great written work is discovered, opted and produced.
How does it work?
Storyrocket is an open online marketplace with a free membership model where both writers and producers can enter their first project free of charge. Subsequent projects are fee-based ,with very accessible plans starting at $9.99 a month for up to 10 projects. Our site also has a social media component to it that allows you to promote your script outside of Storyrocket to as many people as possible. Storyrocket has the ability to create groups, that allow people to form collaboratives, which can add momentum to a project and also help to crowd source since some ideas will become indie projects that will need funding. It’s really the go-to place for both writers and producers.
How did the idea to launch Storyrocket come about?
It began three years ago with the realization by my partner, Ron Karasz that although he’s a great writer he has never been able to get his writing optioned because of the way “show business” works. It’s all about who you know and if you can attach a big name to your project. Getting representation by a reputable agent is like playing the chicken and the egg. Agents won’t represent you unless you have something already produced and the industry won’t look at your screenwriting without representation. Like Ron, we estimate there are hundreds of thousands of writers globally that are desperate to get their writings into the rights hands, but have nowhere to go.
On the flip side, I’m a two time Emmy-winning producer. In my field, we always say that there are not enough great written works out there. Big production companies spend thousands of hours vetting scripts sent to them by agents and many other sources. Nowadays, not only the traditional networks and studios are in competition for great content, but also companies like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon etc. who are producing great original movies, shows and series. This trend will continue to grow, again creating the need for more and more content.
How Is Storyrocket a game changer?
Storyrocket's robust search engine is a game changer. As a writer, you can get your work into the hands of content hungry producers. As a producer whether you're searching for a book, script or treatment, you can easily filter by genre, gender, location, era, etc. and can communicate directly with the content owner, or agent. Production companies who used to spend a considerable amount of time and money vetting scripts from a multitude of sources, now have a one stop solution with Storyrocket.
What challenges are ahead?
Our goal is to have the largest collection of content in the world for the entertainment industry that is easily searchable from anywhere, 24/7. We understand that great content transcends borders and is adaptable to multiple markets. This has prodded Storyrocket to begin the expansion of the site to multiple languages. Having launched in English, it plans to be available in Spanish by the fall of 2017. This will open the possibilities to huge production markets in Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, and Spain, among many others. The long-term goal is to have the site available "in-language" for the top 15 film and TV producing countries of the world.
Will you self-finance your expansion in Phase II, or be looking for funding?
We will definitely be looking for investment funding our next phase. Recently eMerge Americas, the technology conference of the Americas where many tech trends are launched, invited Storyrocket to be one of its select Startup Showcase companies on June 12 & 13 in Miami.
What tips would you give to other entrepreneurs?
Having self-financed this startup, I can tell you it hasn’t been easy, but it sure has been an exciting ride. No two days are the same. Each comes with its own priorities and there is no road map. It’s up to you to steer the company in the right direction. Start-ups are not for the faint of heart. It takes guts and determination to see it through from idea to reality. On the personal side, lots of meditation, envisioning the end-result, keeping a never-give-up attitude and a positive outlook no matter what.
As a mother of two, how have you been able to balance family and launching a company?
It took a lot of hard work and many years of willing to do more than was expected of me to get ahead. It was when I was at the top of my career creating the highest rating specials as senior producer of special events for Univision Network that I had to take a hard look at my life. During this time, I gave birth to my two sons. The intense work schedule and travelling commitments left little time for family, and even less time for me. I had a serious lack of balance in my life and for the first time I felt I was losing the joy. This is when I knew, I had to reinvent myself in order to have more flexibility and be able to be happy in all areas of my life. This took deep thinking and great courage.
Was it scary to leave a job you loved?
I left the network at the top of my career…with multiple nominations and 2 Emmy Awards, an executive position with high visibility, great pay and benefits and opened a marketing and entertainment agency Benitez Karasz, with my husband and partner, Ron Karasz. I re-invented myself and I have zero regrets. Benitez Karasz not only has provided me the with the flexibility I was looking for but it also expanded my expertise in the areas of talent management, marketing and events. We worked with Fortune 500 companies leveraging talent for marketing campaigns. After many years of success at Benitez Karasz it was time to start our new challenge. Today the same partnership has decided to disrupt the entertainment Industry with a win-win formula that helps both writers and producers, Storyrocket.
How are you different now that you've run your own business? Did it influence your willingness to take risk?
I’m much wiser, stronger and my tool box is much bigger. I’ve learned I can do it all with the right attitude, being organized, prioritizing, planning ahead, and focusing on the things that I do want. I’m able to spend quality time with my family, travel, volunteer at my church, take care of my health, support emerging filmmakers and launch a startup. And, yes I’m very happy!”