Netxposure Q + A: Jason Wehling
Our communication team sits down with Jason Wehling, CEO of NetXposure, to talk a bit about the company's history and evolution, trends and challenges facing the DAM industry, what's next for NetXposure and Jason's passion for Oregon Pinot Noir.
Can you tell us your history with NetXposure?
I’ve been here for 13 years, after my company Midnight Madness, an Internet consultancy ﬁrm, merged with NetXposure back in 1998. I started Midnight Madness back in college when I was running the newspaper at Portland State. Even though I’m a liberal arts major, I’ve been a geek since early on — I had a Vic 20 which had 20K worth of RAM, with Basic and the only hard drive was literally a cassette tape that you could program once and ﬁll up. I was on the internet in 1991, which predates the web, and started doing websites for the university and the newspaper early on.
One of Midnight Madness’s larger clients in 1997 was a now defunct sporting goods store called GI Joe’s. We ran their website and at the time, encouraged them to consider setting up an e‐commerce site. They asked us to ﬁnd best-of-breed software for what it was we wanted to do. At that point, there were a number of e‐commerce packages but nothing like today; it was all embryonic and nascent software.
However, there were a few front‐runners including a product called InterShop. Deutsche Telecom was an investor in it. More importantly, NetXposure had made a deal with InterShop to develop e‐commerce stores in Japan, which was a booming business. NetX was moving quickly into e-commerce and they needed InterShop experience. Midnight Madness provided that experience, so we merged our companies.
How has NetXposure evolved over the years?
After we merged in 1998, we started doing e-commerce sites and professional services around various e‐commerce projects. In early 1999, we partnered with Macromedia because they came out with Macromedia Generator, which was server‐side Flash. Back then Flash was just an animation tool for building “splash screens for websites.” A designer could create Flash movies and Generator allowed you to take data from a database and shove it into Flash movies. We took the GI Joe’s e‐commerce store and added Flash movies as part of the products so that the price could zoom in or we could animate the products or the pricing or the text.
At the time, we were already in Japan where animation was big. But they had a problem because even though they loved Flash, they have a double-byte language and the fonts for this language ﬁles are very large. Downloading a movie that had a custom font in it that font ﬁle wouldn’t be just a few kilobytes -- it would be a few megabytes. Generator solved that problem and we could just take out the characters that were needed.
In the US we designed, built and hosted Flash ads for ZD Net back in 2001 on servers that we built for them. We also did work for Hallmark and Disney because Flash and dynamic content was the most interesting thing for all marketers.
By Flash 5, Generator became obsolete and for us it was serendipitously right around that time that we were approached by Adobe. Adobe was looking for experienced people to get involved with the Adobe Graphics Server project and we were involved early on, so much so that we ended up writing all their whitepapers. We then started doing more text-book Dynamic Imaging -- not just Flash but taking Photoshop ﬁles and merging data from a database and building PDFs, or JPGs and others so we can generate dynamic images on the ﬂy for various purposes. As we started doing all these custom projects around graphics server, we realized were getting into digital asset management.
In 2002 we identified the fact that we had built a number of custom sites that were quite similar and decided to build a product. By 2003 we had our ﬁrst Digital Asset Management product, which we called Image Portal. But as much as we’ve wanted to move and become strictly a product company, our professional services background has actually served us quite well. It’s because the digital asset management industry, even today, many years later, is still largely a hybrid industry where you have a product that does most of the job, but there is always some customization component. There are a lot of features that are driven speciﬁcally with this technique - we have certain projects where we try to look at them and say “okay, is this a one‐oﬀ, or is this speciﬁc, or is this something generally useful to other customers?” And this is how our products have evolved.
What are some key insights from 11 years as a DAM vendor?
Dealing with systems integration can be pretty complex with our larger clients, and we've learned a lot about how to manage these projects. Our customers like Catalina Marketing and Nike rely on us to make sure their systems work. Tying together systems that we don’t have control over and utilizing technology that we didn’t write can be challenging and that can be a lot of pressure. Just recently, we did an implementation for a grocery store chain in Canada. We assembled all the pieces and everything was running smooth but then there was one piece of technology that didn’t work. We didn’t develop that piece but we needed to integrate with it. We had to ﬁnd a way to make it work. We ultimately found a solution and it worked but that type of stuﬀ is stressful and keeps me up at night. I have a commitment to my customers and feel responsible to make things work, even when I can’t control the technology specs.
Where is NetXposure headed in the future?
Video is super-hot and so you’ll see us add a lot more video support in terms of storage, transcoding and advanced editing and collaboration features. As with any type of emerging technology wars where the bigger players such as Google, Apple and Microsoft stake claim in the formats they want to win, we have to play all or sides and hedge our bets. For example, we support Flash video, H264, and Google’s new open video format. And, we are accessible to devices like iPad and Android and Blackberry. We’re always expanding support based on customer demand. As the demand for video proliferates, DAM plays a critical role and we’re investing heavily to continue to optimize video management capabilities in our platform.
Another area we’re gravitating towards is helping companies manage and improve workﬂow. Workﬂow is a big, important word and means a lot of diﬀerent things and diﬀerent contexts. When it comes down to it, we move assets through companies and assets are really just the embodiment of knowledge through an organization. One of our customers, Catalina Marketing generates the coupons that you get with your receipt at the grocery store. Catalina prints sixteen million coupons every single day, so de‐saturating the ink of those coupons is very important to reducing costs. The workﬂow behind the design and approval process of coupons is very intense and iterative. Once the design concept has been created and approved by the vendor, it goes through an engine to de‐saturate colors, which ultimately saves money. This may get passed back and forth between the designer and vendor many times. Our system streamlines this process, sending a JPG to a hundred thousand stores over frame relays daily. All that production and workﬂow is done inside the DAM. It streamlines the creative process, productivity and ultimately saves money. It’s like a hub with spokes with things coming in and out all the time. Our solution helps facilitate how they do their business and we provide the framework, the repository, the management, and reporting and analytics as are needed.
What is unique about NetXposure in comparison to other DAM oﬀerings?
First, we’re not an industry-speciﬁc DAM company. We cut across a lot of diﬀerent industries and work with a range of organizations from Nike to Catalina to Cornell University and government agencies as well. Our licensing approach is also unique. Most of our competitors sell on a per‐seat basis – i.e., how many people use the system. Some are doing CPU, but that can get challenging. For example, small organizations with very few assets, but with very large servers can be incredibly expensive. So we came up with a solution where we price per asset and nobody else does that in the industry. Last, our technology is diﬀerent because we adhere very strictly to open standards. We keep everything open, unlike some of our competitors that create little black boxes where they hang on to your data in way that makes it hard to get at. Our system is open and friendly and our technology is very good – and we know this because our customers say so. We’re ﬂexible; we’re just as happy to run on Mac, Unix as we are on MS.
So, apparently you're a wine guy...
I’m an oenophile and a huge fan of Oregon Pinot Noir. I had a wine blog but got too busy so now I don’t update it anymore, which is too bad. If I had time I would spend more time on that site. I love history. I like politics. I think it’s fascinating. I read history books all the time. I’m happy reading about the Spanish Civil War, or ancient Rome. As modern of a person as I am, a part of me likes the older notion that a liberal arts degree gives somebody a certain perspective that is necessary for life and that includes business. I’m not sure how to connect that to technology, but I think it’s important to have perspective. Knowing how people think, live and how we’ve evolved is important and interesting.