A talent for spotting a way to fill the Internet’s endless content needs led Liz Giorgi to found two burgeoning businesses.
Graduating just before the Great Recession proved to be an unexpected boon for Liz Giorgi (B.A. ’07). Unable to find a job, the journalism graduate from Mountain Iron, Minnesota, started freelancing as a videographer, working for the Big Ten Network, Twin Cities Public Television, and Apartment Therapy, among other clients. “It’s lucky I was a hustler,” says Giorgi.
Lucky indeed, for a dozen years later, Giorgi has hustled her way into founding two thriving businesses: the online video business Mighteor, and the brand new, rapidly exploding “fast food photo and video” business Soona.
Mighteor came about when Giorgi was doing digital strategy work for Minneapolisbased communications firm Himle Rapp and Co. One day, while trying in vain to find a video production company that could make Facebook videos, she thought, “I could do that.” And she did, in 2013 founding Mighteor, a production company specializing in producing videos for the internet.
The first year’s financials “stunk,” she says, but soon the industry boomed, with seemingly every company and institution in the nation needing constant video content to post on Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, and more, to “fill out their channels,” says Giorgi.
The very first project she did, for the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, was a collaboration between the U’s engineering and music departments called “Song of Our Warming Planet,” in which a student musician crafted a song using historical temperature data to audibly
demonstrate warming in the Northern Hemisphere. In the spring of 2014 that video went viral, after Al Gore tweeted a link to it. The cello-playing student, Daniel Crawford (B.S. ’15), ended up on NPR and was also mentioned by the New York Times. “It got me a ton of attention,” says Giorgi, and “helped me realize there is so much potential here. If you make something that people actually want to watch, it can really help the organization you made it for. That video kicked off this whole thing.”
Before long, she and her Mighteor crew members—which now number 14, split between offices in Minneapolis and Denver—were making internet videos for Facebook, the Red Cross, the U of M, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota, and many other major players.
Yet Giorgi remained dissatisfied. The average video still cost clients $20,000 and took eight to 10 weeks to produce. Not every small company could afford that time and money, and even the larger ones were eager for a quicker, cheaper way to keep fresh content on their social media platforms.
Enter Soona, a new company its founders call a “fast, casual content revolution.” Soona is the brainchild of Giorgi and partner Haylie Anderson, whom she hired in late 2015 to run Mighteor’s animation department.
The idea behind Soona is that companies and sole proprietors crave quality photos and video, but they want them fast and cheap, and want to be able to choose for themselves which shots or footage to use. “We’re like the Kinko’s of content,” Giorgi says.
Soona achieves its goals by providing photos starting at $39 each and videos beginning at $93, both within one day. They make this magic happen thanks to their fully equipped studios and professional staff, along with a camera-to-cloud compression algorithm that most of us can’t hope to understand. Suffice it to say their model has already worked for everyone from local real estate agents and plumbers to large companies selling products on Amazon.
Giorgi and Anderson were able to launch Soona very quickly, thanks to earning a spot in the business incubator TechStars, a national program that helps mentor and launch new companies. They completed the intense, 13-week, Boulder, Colorado-based program in April 2019, and won $1.2 million in venture capital financing in May. They opened Soona’s Northeast Minneapolis storefront the same month.
Inspired by their experience in Boulder (“The Colorado startup community is very supportive and passionate,” says Giorgi, who now lives in Denver), the duo opened a Denver branch of Soona, and today have 17 employees working between the two cities. In other words, Soona—less than a year old— is already bigger than its more established sister, Mighteor.
And Soona’s formula works, adds Giorgi. One of their first Denver customers was the eucalyptus bedsheet company Sheets and Giggles, which came to them with what Giorgi describes as “crappy pix.” After Soona photographers reshot the company’s photos for Amazon, the company increased its sales by 3,000 percent in one month, Giorgi says. “We help small companies compete with the giants of the world by generating beautiful custom photos and videos—fast,” she says. “This is a revolutionary idea, way bigger than Mighteor could ever be.”
But speed and cost aren’t the only revolutionary aspects of Soona. Gaining almost as much attention is the company’s “candor clause,” which requires investors to disclose if they or their employees have ever been accused of sexual assault or harassment. If they fail to disclose such matters, Soona’s owners are legally allowed to buy them out.
“Until there are consequences for bad actors, nothing will change,” says Giorgi. “We were surprised and delighted that our initial set of investors, Matchstick Ventures, supported the candor clause and even became champions of it.”
Soona’s founders also support women by “treating them with dignity and paying them what they deserve,” says Giorgi. Two-thirds of the Soona team is female, unusual in the male-dominated worlds of video and photography. Giorgi is also committed to hiring full-time staff with good benefits, again unusual in this industry’s heavily freelance world. “My goal was to offer better maternity benefits than Target, and I do—by one week,” she says.
On a more serious note she adds, “I’m on a real tear right now to use our business to advance equality. If we can nail establishing a great work community, the sky’s the limit as to what we can build.”