Evoléna de Wilde d’Estmael: “We want to make the re-commerce bigger than the e-commerce”
After winning the award of the Kultur- und Kreativpilot*innen the …
Seneit Debese founded Greta & Starks ten years ago, two apps that enable blind and deaf people to go to the movies. She received funding for her idea through numerous programs and initiatives. Now Greta & Starks has become just Greta. Where does the company stand today?
CCB Magazine: Hello Seneit. We interviewed you at the beginning of 2017, and a lot has happened since then. Please tell us again how you came to do what you do today.
Seneit Debese: I am originally from Eritrea and grew up in Mannheim. In 1999 I came to Berlin. Actually, I studied business administration. But during my studies I had a downer: Just earning a lot of money was not enough for me. I wanted to work in an entrepreneurial way, but I also wanted to solve social problems; I wanted to get involved in society. But I never dreamed that I would one day develop apps.
CCB Magazine:You came up with the idea for Greta & Starks in 2012 after shooting a feature about blind runner Kidisti Weldemichael the year before. What happened?
Seneit Debese:The report about Kidisti Weldemichael was a kind of key experience for me. It was my first encounter with a blind person. I suddenly realized how bad it is not to be able to participate in something that the vast majority of people can participate in. Kidisti Weldemichael was 19 years old at the time. She, like all her friends, just wanted to go to the movies. And as a cinema enthusiast, I thought that everyone should have the opportunity to go to the cinema. In the cinema, you immerse yourself in strange worlds. There's something magical about it.
In our niche, we aspire to be the nonprofit world leader. We want to be a global, strong and influential network for participation
CCB Magazine:Your apps have been used more than half a million times until the corona-related closures. Today, Greta & Starks has become just Greta. Did the two no longer get along?
Seneit Debese:We simply merged the two apps. And we are now also offering our first audio films, which are great cinema stories to take home. RTL ZWEI and RTL are two broadcasters that have integrated Greta into their offerings to blind and deaf viewers as a tool for watching and streaming together, respectively. In doing so, series such as "Faking Hitler" are also made accessible to the whole family for the first time with audio description via Greta. We are proud to be one of the few companies in the world certified as safe by studios like Warner Media. With our new features, we can also offer any language version or dubbing you want - all through one app. After all, isn't it kind of antiquated that there are up to twenty different language versions for many movies, but none of them are usable for going to the movies?
CCB Magazine:Can you explain how Greta works?
Seneit Debese:Quite simply, the blind user uses Voice Over to operate his smartphone. This is a technology that Apple introduced in 2009. And subtitles are played for the deaf. Users can download the app for free from the App Store or Google Play. Then they pick a movie of their choice, and off they go: Greta "whispers audio descriptions" or "plays subtitles." The app thus makes cinema experiences possible for anyone and everyone, in any cinema, in any auditorium, at any desired screening - simply from their own smartphone!
CCB Magazine:Who developed the app? And what is your role in the company?
Seneit Debese:I am the managing director, we develop the app as a team. The team currently consists of four people and some freelancers. But we are still looking for more people for controlling, development and sales. We've added a few distributors with whom we cooperate, and we're also getting more and more distributors from other countries, such as France, Israel, and French-speaking Switzerland. We are on an expansion course! We are currently even talking to Netflix, who are showing interest in our app.
We are proud to be one of the few companies in the world certified as safe by studios like Warner Media. With our new features, we can offer any language version or dubbing you want - all through one app
CCB Magazine:And what about the competition today?
Seneit Debese:In our niche, we aspire to be the nonprofit world leader. We want to be a global, strong and influential network for participation. There are no competitors yet in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and many other countries. And if there are competitors, I always approach them and seek collaboration. I am deeply convinced of a cooperative company or market design.
CCB Magazine:Your solution is software-based. It works worldwide and costs the cinema and film industry only about one percent compared to hardware-based solutions. The applications are free of charge for the users and the cinema operators. Who are your clients and how do you finance yourselves?
Seneit Debese:We are commissioned and paid by the distributors. As I said, there is no comparable software solution yet, which is our market advantage. And we are delighted to have such major distributors as Universal and Disney on board as partners. Through Universal or Disney, movies like Fifty Shades of Grey or Rogue One - A Star Wars Story are also made available for blind and deaf movie fans. This is a great achievement, for us as a company, for our target group, for the entire cinema industry.
CCB Magazine:That means that your idea is mainly supported by the big distributors? What about the smaller, independent distributors who can afford it less? Do they support you as well?
Seneit Debese:Yes, many independent distributors also use our solution and commission us. These include distributors like Piffl, Neue Visionen or X-Verleih, who make every German film they release available to the deaf and blind. But the big ones make all the films available to us. That's a real competitive advantage for us over comparable providers abroad. Because no one so far has such a wide range of films as we do: Our offering ranges from animation to blockbusters to arthouse.
No one else has as wide a range of films as we do: Our offering ranges from animation to blockbusters to arthouse
CCB Magazine:You have been funded by numerous programs since your beginnings ten years ago. How do things look today, how do you finance yourselves?
Seneit Debese:In principle, we are profitable. We have financed the above-mentioned further developments from our cash flow. For the planned expansion, among other things with the fee-based multilingual offering, we received further funding last year. Firstly, through the Innovation Program for Business Models and Pioneering Solutions (IGP) of the German Federal Ministry of Economics. Secondly, via the German Federal Film Board. Since 2019, we also have Joachim Schoss, the founder of the ImmobilienScout Group, as a funding partner for the expansion in the social franchise - and thus also the partnership with blind or deaf entrepreneurs.
CCB Magazine:Seneit, last question at the end, what's next?
Seneit Debese:We aim to expand with our cooperation partners in 18 new countries. In the same countries, we want to introduce and scale our multilingual offer aimed at sighted and hearing tourists, expats, students and language learners. But the most important thing is that we and everyone else can go to the movies again. Our vision is that different people, with or without disabilities, foreign speakers or not, young and old can experience the same movie in the same auditorium, in the same cinema, laughing in the same places. This is our contribution to community, to participation, to belonging and economic growth in the cinema industry.
Do you know it? Our new magazine on sustainability and culture
You want to have the new CCB Magazine for free? [Click here]
Category: Innovation & Vision
Also a good read
Privacy | Imprint