Writing The Future Of Scripped.com
By Paul Feinberg
Sunil Rajaraman ('08) couldn't have scripted it any better.
Like any good Hollywood movie, the story of Rajaraman's company - Scripped.com -- has had its share of compelling moments, along with a few fortuitous plot points. But the company's continuing saga proves an uplifting tale of entrepreneurial success, all that's left to be written is the ending.
If it was a movie, the pitch would read something like this:
After being accepted to business school, a young man leaves his consulting job, summers in Barcelona, but gets a little bored. He and a close friend, a talented-but-undiscovered screenwriter, start looking for ways to use the Internet to get exposure for good writers lacking the connections and marketing skills to draw the attention of studios and producers. Just as blogging was becoming ubiquitous, the original pitch for Scripped was "a blog for screenwriters." As it happens, Rajaraman had another friend who happened to be developing online software for writing collaborative novels. The three decided to join forces and use the software to aggregate screenwriters on the ‘Net. The goal, Rajaraman says was to "use the Internet to pull together enough (writers) so that Hollywood would eventually say ‘Look, there are actually quite a few people trying to write that may not be part of the Writer's Guild and these people come from everywhere.'" The goal was to create "an army of writers" to whom studios and producers could go when they were in need of a script or screenplay.
The current version of Scripped (www.scripped.com) offers a suite of features. The most basic is a script writing software akin to industry standards like Final Draft and Movie Magic, the difference being those can cost a couple of hundred dollars. Scripped's basic version is free, while a more robust version is available for a low-cost, monthly subscription. There are also collaboration features, a variety of script formats and monthly contests for budding writers to enter.
Scripped, first conceived in '06, did not actually become a company until 2007. Rajaraman, in fact, accepted an internship between his first and second year at Anderson in the renewable energy industry and was fully prepared to make that a career. All along though, and with the help of a variety of Anderson resources, he and his partners continued to write Scripped's story. "I can't tell you how much Holly Han (‘02), Angela Klein and Elaine Hagan ('91) of the [Harold and Pauline] Price Center [for Entrepreneurial Studies] helped me," Rajaraman said, "They helped me with connecting with people who would benefit my business. I took advantage of all those opportunities and anyone who is at Anderson needs to take advantage of every opportunity that's presented." Though he worked on building Scripped throughout his b-school tenure, Rajaraman did not follow a typical entrepreneurial path while in school, eschewing the typical entrepreneurial track and even opting not to take a business plan development course. But professors like George Geis ('81), Sanjay Sood and Bob Foster (‘65) provided feedback whenever asked on Scripped's development, as did other Anderson faculty. "We're very much an Anderson company," said Rajaraman, who also credits Assistant Dean Allison Holmes and Anderson Director of Media Relations Dianne Dillingham for their assistance with Scripped. Always the fan, Rajaraman credits the success of Scripped to being an avid fan of HBO's "The Wire". "Everything you need to know about entrepreneurship, you can learn from Stringer Bell," he says.
Scripped's original funding came from the three partners. Upon graduation, Rajaraman took a full-time position with Applied Materials in Sunnyvale, California - telling the company he needed a September start date. He spent the summer of 2008 trying to secure angel funding for Scripped, but none came through during that year's tough market. He began working full-time at Applied (while also planning a wedding to Chitra Balasubramanian ('09) a then-future Anderson alumnae) while trying to build Scripped. Almost by accident, he learned that the chief technology officer of one of their competitors had resigned his position. Curious, he reached out to the CEO of that company and learned his rival was already on to a new business. The two companies merged and the merger enabled Scripped to both secure funding and double its user base at the same time.
The company's revenue model is two-fold. Software subscriptions are both profitable and steady. Scripped also charges producers to run contests through the online user base. "A producer might be looking for a fifteen page horror script set in Los Angeles," Rajaraman explained. "We'll put out a call for scripts; our editorial board reads the entries and establishes a top five, which we'll then present to the producer, who in turn selects the winner." Winning entries earn a cash prize and the producers get the rights to the script.
To this point, Rajaraman cannot point to any Scripped-produced material that has gone viral or broken big in the mainstream, but dozens of scripts and screenplays have been produced at a time when the web has become a voracious in its need for fresh content. Rajaraman acknowledges that mainstream Hollywood still turns to established Writer's Guild members for its content and while there is still a gap between independents creating web content and the entertainment industry establishment, Scripped is making inroads to the mainstream. Producer Ed Burns has joined Scripped's Board of Advisors and Anderson alumnus Nate Williams ('05), a former agent with William Morris has been instrumental in making introductions to his entertainment industry connections. Recently, Scripped ran its most prominent contest to date when Spike Television ran a two month contest for a 30-page teleplay for a pilot television show. The winner of that contest might be produced this fall.
Scripped is now a three-person operation, as one of the three original founders has turned to dentistry, and replaced on staff by a software designer found on Craig's List. In typical start-up fashion, Rajaraman never knows what his day will be like; one minute he's researching business insurance or looking for office space the next he's figuring new ways to increase the conversion rates for the web site's landing pages. Sunil has tried his hands at a couple of scripts - he took a screenwriting class at UCLA's School of Theater, Film and Television as an elective while at Anderson - but says there's nothing he would show to anyone else.
The ending for Scripped has yet to be written. Rajaraman is open to a variety of possibilities.
"[What] I really like about this business there are a number of different exit routes. If we decide to produce our own content there is a compelling play there, as there are enough talented writers in our user base and enough quality content where Scripped could become a low-cost production studio," Rajaraman said. "Another potential exit is that it could become a small to mid-sized independent production house that's looking for a steady pipeline of content. Or a studio could decide to buy us when they realize that the writers on Scripped.com are just as good as anyone. There are a lot of options."