The newest member of the VC4Africa Booster Programme is the South African venture MyOws. Working in the creative sector Max Guedy, co-founder of MyOws on the right side of the picture below, experienced difficulties to register copyrights for his creations and started to work on a solution. Let’s meet Max and see where his journey has taken him.
What is MyOws?
“MyOws is an online app that makes it easy, and somewhat pleasurable, for creatives to claim ownership over their work and protect themselves against illegal copies and redistribution. We like to describe MyOws, which stands for ‘My Original Works’, as the ‘BaseCamp’ for freelancer’s copyright.
The main function Myows offers is an ‘instant issuance’ of date-stamped copyright certificates linking any kind of file (jpg, mp3, zip, rss) to it’s creators. But it also allows you to manage of all of your working files from the cloud, which can be used as a backup, and the system detects online copies of your work.
Also part of MyOws is the ‘Step by Step’ dispute resolution that helps in dealing with Copyright infringement, in accordance with Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) guidelines. And the ‘Contract Generator’ builds valid intellectual property contracts, allowing creators to sell or license their works (including Creative Commons) and last but not least our tool offers online signing of contracts by clients.
How are you changing the way people can protect their intellectual property rights?
“While other services exist that may date stamp files, and Creative Commons is widely used for public sharing of works, Myows pioneers the full intellectual property management approach with an award-winning user-friendly interface that caters for all kind and technical skills. Myows is built by creatives for creatives and solves a serious problem we, as designers, photographers and bloggers, were experiencing on a regular basis.
Different from competitors is that we are also a management system for copyrights. Whereas other sites assign copyright, we are there to provide that function plus a host of other functions which make us a one-stop copyright management solution in effect.”
Is the protection of copyrights a bigger problem in Africa compared with Europe or the US?
“No, the internet knows no frontiers and the bulk of our users are in North America and Europe. It’s very common for freelancers to work with clients on the other side of the globe. No matter where you live, if you create something of value and put it online, you face a real risk of having your content stolen. Thankfully most countries will adhere to the DMCA guidelines and Myows leverages the quasi-universality of copyright law to protect its users globally.”
How did you get the idea for MyOws and what has happened since?
“It’s been a long road… I started a photography and web design company in 2005 and ran it by using online solutions such as ‘Basecamp’ for project management or ‘Freshbooks’ for invoicing. In 2007, I realized I had thousands of professional pictures and wanted to sell them through my own image bank. I did a lot of research on image banks and copyrights. During this research, it became evident to me that most freelancers don’t know their rights regarding intellectual property and there was no easy way to register your work online. I needed a way to claim ownership of my work and help me deal with infringers painlessly, and couldn’t find a solution that would meet my needs, so I decided I should scratch my own itch and create one.
I partnered with Chris Human (in the picture on the left), a friend and branding specialist who had also felt the pain of copyright theft; we enrolled for a short intellectual property course and everything we learned was confirming we were on the right track with our vision to make it easy for everyone to manage their copyrights.
Before launching, we presented our website to the best IP attorney in Cape Town to get his stamp of approval; he loved it so much that he decided to come on board and advise us on all legal matters. We launched Myows.com without the contract generator or detection feature in November 2009 and quickly received raving reviews from the freelance community.
Since then, we’ve been working at cementing the brand and launching new functions, which has been a challenge as Myows is to date entirely bootstrapped. At the beginning of 2012 we met with Trevor Marc Ray who has the energy and business-savvy we need to turn our visionary startup into a very profitable business.”
Who are you targeting?
“Although the entire segment would be classified as “Creatives”, essentially we are targeting four fields: 1. bloggers, 2. designers/creative, 3. photographers and 4. music and film makers. We have 8.500 members to date, from pure organic growth with zero money put into any form of marketing. Just a lot of late nights at the computer reaching out to our community and hectoliters of coffee!”
What’s the business model you are using?
“We are a ‘freemium’ business, meaning that we let anyone freely use our features for a set number of files, and we trust that in time they will upgrade to a paying plan that lets them protect more files which we deliberately keep affordable (starting at 5$/month). Popular websites following this business model include Flickr, Evernote and Freshbooks.
It is a numbers game and our vision is to have millions of free users, of which 5% will upgrade to a ‘pro plan’ within two years. Because of the nature of our service, it’s important for us to focus on brand integrity and recognition, and we often use the saying “safety in numbers” to encourage our current users to refer more people to us.”
What are you looking for in terms of investment?
“We need funds to help us achieve our very ambitious vision in terms of functionality and marketing. To comfortably meet our goals and become massively profitable, we require US$325.000. This will place Myows as an extremely useful and well recognized global player known by every freelancer from Helsinki to Cape Town via LA and Tokyo.”
What do you want to achieve in the next 12 months?
“We hope to create strategic partnerships with existing communities (for example Flickr, 99designs or Deviant Art) to protect the work uploaded to these platforms and pursue infringers. We want to leverage the power of our API to create plugins and smartphone apps and polish the interface and add more functionalities.
We want to become the de facto website to manage intellectual property and to establish this we want to attract 4 million people to our homepage in the next twelve months, of which 500 000 sign up to try our service for free.”
Visit the MyOws profile on the VC4Africa website for more info and contacts. We look forward to following their progress and are pleased to see ventures like this make waves across a global playing field.