Building SoCreate hasn't been a sprint or a marathon ... It's been a journey.
Like many of the epic journeys you've seen on the Big Screen, the SoCreate origin story is filled with ups and downs, giant leaps forward followed by significant setbacks, success, and peril all at the same time. Our story is personal, and it is real. It is one of focus and unrelenting determination to see a mission through. Our founder first dreamed up SoCreate 20 years ago, and we're so close to the big reveal – a reveal that will only be the tip of the iceberg. If you are intrigued and are wondering how it could be possible to envision a technology platform two decades ago that could still be relevant today, you are not alone. Everyone thinks this is not possible until they see it for the first time. We believe SoCreate is going to change everything.
Our story started on a small farm in a small town.
Our founder Justin Couto grew up on a small farm, in a small town, in a family of doers, fixers, and problem solvers. If something didn't work the way they needed it to, they'd solve the problem with whatever materials or tools they had available. When you grow up like that, you never stop identifying and solving problems that are preventing you from being productive. It's in your DNA and there is no way to turn it off.
While in college and pursuing a career in film, Justin was learning to write screenplays and was completely frustrated with the process. The industry-standard software he was using was clunky and cumbersome. It completely got in the way and took him out of his creative flow. There were so many little things he needed to know just to get started. It was a crude tool that was barely better than not using the tool at all. It was awful. Justin couldn't quit thinking about it. He obsessed over it. Why was this process so uninspired, he thought? How could something so fun be turned into death by a thousand needles? He couldn't help but think about all the amazing storytellers this process must have been defeating. He had to fix it.
While Justin was obsessing over the terrible experience of screenwriting, he was also putting himself through college by working at an Internet service provider where he was learning to write code.
Then, one evening in 1999, after a day of school, work, and a frustrating session of screenwriting, Justin was in his think chamber (a.k.a. the shower) when inspiration struck. After months of working through different ideas on how screenwriting could be improved, Justin let go of tradition. He envisioned a completely new experience that would dramatically reduce the barriers and increase the fun of screenwriting. Energized by his ideas, Justin jumped out of the shower and programmed late into the night. He worked at it for months before eventually concluding that his skills and the current state of technology weren't quite ready for what he knew was the answer. So there, in that moment, Justin decided to shelve his ideas and pledged to find a way to deliver them in the future when the world was ready. Never could he have imagined just how far in the future that would be.
Soon after, a new idea emerged that Justin felt the world was ready for. With the help of friends, Justin brought a new brainchild into the world and co-founded a start-up called Somnio World Web Solutions to deliver one of the world’s first modern content management systems. The CMS, as it's now called, was ahead of its time – four years ahead of WordPress. Justin and his partners worked day and night to bootstrap the startup. Then, right before they launched, the .COM crash hit, devastating the tech world so severely that people actually felt websites were only a fad. Nevertheless, Justin and his partners continued on and launched their CMS a few weeks later … to crickets chirping. Their CMS solution was amazing and ahead of its time, yet there was absolutely no fanfare.
The situation worsened with the September 11th attacks in 2001. Justin and his partners held on for three more years, funding their startup on credit cards until it was ultimately acquired in March of 2004.
Justin learned two lessons from that experience. The first: Never wait until you finish your software to start telling the world about it. The sooner you do, the more time you will have to build their interest. Second: Rely on yourself for funding. If funding comes easy? Great. Just don't depend on it because it might not be there when you need it.
Four years later, even after a successful exit, Justin was still obsessing over the screenwriting problem. By this point, it had become his calling. He had now decided that his second company would provide the path to fund his third – a revolutionary screenwriting platform.
Justin's plan was simple. Build a second company with a recurring revenue stream large enough to fund the development of the screenwriting platform, so that he didn't have to rely on venture funding to build his dream project. For nearly two years, he saved as much money as possible by doing consulting work. Then, in late 2005, he partnered with his cousin Billy Souza, Chief Technology Officer, to launch Couto Solutions. A year later, they grew the team, hiring Chief of Software Jami Lurock, Chief of UX Brian Treese, and Chief Financial Officer Rosa Couto.
By 2010, things were coming together for Couto Solutions. The team narrowed its focus to building software for online communities. Two years later, Chief of Operations Amy Pruett joined the team to help Couto Solutions grow its customer base of enterprise clients. The list included Microsoft, The March of Dimes, Lexmark, SlimFast, and many more. Customers depended on Couto Solutions' software to help grow and manage their online communities, and they paid well for it.
By 2014, Justin had saved enough money to begin transitioning to building what he had been dreaming about all these years, but he felt an upstream provider acquisition would seal the deal. And that deal soon came along. Anticipation mounted as the deal moved into its due diligence phase. Then, like a bad dream, everything fell apart. In the final hour, the upstream provider tried to change the agreement, and the terms no longer made sense. The team did its best to pull the deal together but lost the battle when another company acquired the upstream provider, and totally changed its focus.
Justin was devastated. His Couto Solutions team was ready to rebrand and move on to building the screenwriting platform, but now, Justin didn't think there was enough money in the bank to make it happen. How could the team move forward and ensure the company would survive? The team put their heads together and settled on a hybrid solution: They'd sell off support contracts to their competitors, then take on a new large custom development project for an existing customer. The company would survive and move ahead on Justin's dream project, but the pace would have to be much, much slower.
On February 1, 2015, we officially rebranded and launched SoCreate. It was an exciting day filled with hope and enthusiasm. We had a new mission, a new logo, and a new website. It was time to get busy telling the world what we were planning to do.
Forward momentum continued but at a crawl. It took two and a half years to transition Couto Solutions customers to their new service providers. The team made sure to go above beyond their contractual obligations to ensure a successful changeover for their valued clients. They also had to dedicate resources to the custom development project that was helping to fund SoCreate.
By 2017, while most of our team was working on the custom development project, COO Amy Pruett and Justin were finishing up more than 50 in-depth interviews with professional screenwriters at every level in the industry. From the most successful screenwriters in Hollywood to those who just landed their first paying gig, Amy and Justin wanted to vet Justin's ideas against the experience of the people doing it professionally, and learn everything they could about the screenwriting industry and writers' needs. They dove into every microscopic detail of the way each person worked, their workflows, and their creative processes. They left nothing to assumption. They interviewed writers until the process no longer revealed anything new.
In the end, they were amazed at how frustrated the screenwriters were with the industry-standard software they used daily. Out of all the screenwriters interviewed, only one person said they liked the tools they were using. It was shocking how accurate Justin’s original assumptions were all those years ago. Twenty years later, literally nothing had improved. The world was totally different. We had the iPhone, mobile internet, and the cloud, yet the world of screenwriting software stagnated.
SoCreate, the way Justin originally envisioned, would solve roughly 80 percent of the frustration screenwriters had at every level of their careers. Better yet, the new insights they gained by diving in and deeply listening to these screenwriters would enable the SoCreate team to close that remaining 20 percent gap and deliver the ultimate screenwriting solution.
Chief of UX Brian Treese and Justin dove in and started designing the SoCreate prototype. With each iteration, Brian and Justin would share the prototype with members of the SoCreate team to get their feedback. The process took almost two years to complete. When the SoCreate prototype was finished, it blew everyone away. It was simple, powerful, and fun. We couldn't be prouder of it.
Once the prototype was complete, Chief of Software Jami Lurock and Justin solidified the remaining pieces of technology we would use to build SoCreate. The platform would be a cloud-native application that could scale to serve people all around the world.
After the technology was solidified, the custom development project we took on to help fund SoCreate ballooned in its scope. The original plan was to modernize an internal legacy application’s user interface to make it compatible with modern web browsers. Then, after the team was well into the design upgrade, the customer decided to move their application to the cloud and that they no longer wanted to invest in the legacy technology their application was built upon. As a result, the project morphed into nearly a complete rewrite. This created a predicament that had an upside and a downside. On the upside, it enabled us to align the technology used for the customer project with the technology used to build SoCreate. By doing this, we could get paid to learn the cloud technology stack needed for the customer project and then use those learnings to more quickly build SoCreate. In addition, it would also bring in much-needed revenue to help fund SoCreate further into the future. It was a win-win. On the downside, it would slow us down, and it did. Bigtime.
Even at a slower pace, we remained focused and continued to move forward. In October 2018, Director of Community Outreach Courtney Meznarich joined the SoCreate Team. Courtney's focus was to amplify the work we were doing and make many more people aware of SoCreate. When Courtney started, we already had a private beta list that was a little over 6,000 screenwriters strong. We hoped that Courtney could grow that list and figure out the best possible ways to reach people that would be most interested. Courtney crushed it and quickly increased our beta list to 10,000, then 15,000, and now we are nearing 20,000. Each day, our list grows stronger, adding more interested screenwriters that are yearning for something new. We are looking forward to the day when we can open a whole new world for them, and that day is coming soon.
In June of 2019, when we started thinking about our beta launch, it became clear that we would need to improve our now four-year-old website. We had been manually translating our content into eight different languages to serve screenwriters around the globe, and we needed to reduce the time it was taking. We also needed a platform robust enough to quickly scale our site to support all aspects of our company, from recruiting to support. It was also time to expand our brand, further establishing a look people could recognize and connect with, anywhere.
A year later, in June of 2020, we launched the very site you are reading this on. The only thing left for us to focus on now is completing our platform and getting it to storytellers around the world. We have added more dedicated engineers to the project, and things are coming together. We couldn't be more excited about our future and the future of screenwriting. The passion is there, now more than ever. Nothing will stop us.
The journey to building SoCreate has been a long one. It debunks conventional wisdom on how you "should" build a technology startup. Fail fast is the way they describe it, and most people "in the know" would think you are insane to do it differently. We are different. We plan to be different. This difference is what gives us our vision, our edge, and our unique path to our destiny. Nothing will stop us.
We will change the way people tell stories. It is our mission to unite the world through storytelling, and every day, we get one step closer to doing that. We are strategic and methodical. We have the will to stay focused and the desire to see it through. Nothing will stop us.