The questions and raised eyebrows were all around when we received the invitation from public relations firm High Road Communications for the first Canadian screening of a movie produced by Microsoft Corp.
The movie was screened Tuesday in Toronto before an audience of startup owners, freelance developers and tech students.
We suspected it was going to be a promotional flick for Microsoft. However the movie Ctrl+Alt+Compete, a full-length documentary on tech startups, had a couple of surprises up its sleeves. It turned out to be pretty good and nearly bereft of Microsoft product plugs.
Apart from the credits, the word Microsoft was mentioned only four or five times, the logo of cloud rival Google was prominent several times and a blurry image of Steve Jobs was even visible during the first few seconds of the movie.
Using MTV-style rapid cuts which were dizzying at times, the flick focuses on the fears, passions, determination and triumphs of five startups as they take part in demo competitions and seek funding. Among them were: Aboutone.com, LiquidSpace, POPVOX, Supergiant Games, and Toronto mobile app firm Guardly Corp.
The movie can also serve as an example to technology companies of how to market their brand without turning off their intended audience with in-your-face promotion.
Ctrl+Alt+Compete had a flowing plot, a compelling story, moments of tension and humour and best of all it connected with its audience – tech startup owners.
Mark Relph, senior director of Microsoft’s startup and venture capital team, admits the film is meant to promote the company’s various cloud technology products such as cloud platform Windows Azure and startup technology and service program BizSpark.
“We wanted to show people we know the cloud and that we’re there. But we focused on the startup aspiration,” Relph told ITBusiness.ca. “We screen the movie in Microsoft-sponsored events not to trumpet our products but to start a conversation among our audience.”
And so, while the movie featured tech pundits such as Tim O’Reilly, successful entrepreneurs like Zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh and tech journalists speaking about cloud technology, the stars are the startup owners who talk about their real-world challenges.
So when the characters speak lines to the effect of: “I’m pretty much resigned to not being paid for the next few months and convinced my family that it’s actually good for me,” or “I’ve sunk in every penny I’ve got in this venture,” or “I’ve been working 20 hours straight for days and haven’t gone home,” or “what are you willing to put on the line,” or “the essential entrepreneur has to have big balls and the healthy appetite of getting them kicked often,” the audience respond with nudges to their seatmates and knowing smiles and nods.
“I think the movie captured the day-to-day essence of being an entrepreneur,” said Chris Coulson, principal of Visigo Software Consulting Inc., of Mississauga, Ont.
“It was reality-time. They’re speaking of our reality,” said David Rodela, a Toronto-based app developer.