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This article was published 5/11/2020 (608 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Lucille Miller’s parents had rented a hall and hired a band for a big 60th wedding anniversary party for Oct. 22.
When COVID-19 made that impossible, she wanted to come up with an alternative.
Her daughter had used an online service called VidDay, where customers invite people to load videos of best wishes or photos or other media and VidDay’s automated system makes them into themed videos with music that folks can then keep and share.
Miller rounded up more than 50 friends and relatives to submit greetings and VidDay’s subsequent video made her parents, Louis and Aline LaFleche, cry tears of joy.
"It was such a positive experience," Miller said. "Everyone loved it. In COVID time it is perfect. Nothing could be better."
But even when it was declared a pandemic, Denis Devigne, one of the co-founders of the five-year-old Winnipeg company, did not really appreciate what COVID was going to mean for his business.
The company had been growing steadily before. But early in the year, the website started crashing and the back end of its system started breaking down with the demand.
"Suddenly we knew this was something," he said.
At the time Devigne had a hand in just about every video the company made.
But they quickly expedited some automation technology upgrades that were in the works, but not before he had to train up about 60 "video wizards" to handle the demand.
Now with business 100 times greater than last year and its back-end technology in place and a staff that’s doubled since the beginning of the year to 12, Devigne said VidDay is in a good place to handle the huge demand.
"When he see the tears of joy in the reaction videos people send us and the comments like "this is the best gift ever" it fuels us to keep going," he said.
VidDay has a very purposeful mission to be a "force of good" and it counts its business volume by the number of smiles — the number of people who contribute to videos they produce.
That’s now at more than one million.
It has handled three million pieces of media and it’s already become busy enough that Amazon Web Services, Amazon’s huge cloud computing service, is doing a case study on them. Devigne and his team just received a shipment of hoodies from Amazon with the AWS and VidDay logos on them.
Considering that a birthday card can cost close to $10, VidDay’s prices start at US$12 for up to nine minutes. The average cost is about $24.
The hour-long LaFleche anniversary video cost less than $100, but it sounds like it was worth a lot more.
"My mother has watched it 10 times and she’s now calling all her nieces and nephews," Miller said. "They feel like they connected with everyone which is really neat."
VidDay has received submissions from people in more than 180 countries. The majority of its business is in the U.S. but it is absolutely location agnostic.
"We recently heard about a Winnipeg customer who was surprised to learn the company was based here," he said.
Devigne and his two founding partners have totally bootstrapped the company and have not had to solicit any outside investment.
That’s probably a good thing because not all of its earnings are re-invested in the company like venture capitalists would want to see.
The company is dedicated to giving back with every video it makes, first by helping to build a school in Laos and now donating to a non-profit that will plant one tree for every customer. It’s just launching its Christmas holiday offerings and is also offering get-well videos free of charge.
"Especially during these times, we want to help as many people as we can." said Devigne. "Social isolation is creating loneliness and affecting a lot of people emotionally. If we can help a little it makes us feel good."
Devigne said the pandemic has forced the company to speed up a lot of development but its increasing word-of-mouth popularity has led to more opportunities and some aggressive copycat competition.
"We are proud of what we’re doing," he said. "We just want to keep making our service better."
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.