For this magician turned video producer, finding his expertise meant learning how to become more efficient.
Ever since he was a child, Matthew Stokes was always interested in figuring out how things worked. It fed into his interest in TV production (how were his favorite TV shows made?) and his later career as a stage magician. “Yeah, I was the wannabe David Copperfield,” he says from his backyard in Fleet, UK. “I was cutting people in half and making them fly as you do.”
These days, his tricks are of a more practical magic: Stokes can look at you—as he did with me during our Zoom interview—and rattle off facts about fabric manufacturing (Apparently, to produce just one cotton shirt like the one I was wearing requires approximately 2,500 litres of water) and sales (2 billion t-shirts are sold worldwide every year).
It’s a skill he’s picked up as founder of Captive8 Media, a corporate video production company. Much of his work—a good 70%, he reckons—comes from filming businesses working the floor at trade shows.
"Making videos was always the thing that I was good at."
“I’ve become an expert in all sorts of niches,” he says. “Every single type you can imagine. There’s a trade show for every single thing, you know.”
While Stokes is quick to say he’s a jack of all trades and a master of none, that’s not entirely true. He’s been in business since 2005, weathered the Great Recession in 2008, and is now navigating the aftershocks of COVID and Brexit during an ongoing cost-of-living crisis in the UK—”a perfect storm of things that just makes business challenging,” he says.
In that time he’s mastered something that has helped Captive8 stay in business: how he’s mastered the art of operating efficiently, and turned to tools like Dropbox Replay for help.
A staggered beginning
Stoke’s interest in operating as efficiently as possible is so entwined with the story of Captive8’s founding that you can’t tell one without the other.
Before Stokes became the guy you’d want on your pub trivia team, he worked at a software distribution company with his brother while he was in university. The company was a bit of a detour: His passion—and what he was learning in school—was TV production.
“Making videos was always the thing that I was good at,” Stokes says now.
But, as it would turn out, he was also good at managing things at the software company. The company grew really quickly, attracting big-name clients like Symantec, Microsoft, and McAfee; the brothers soon found themselves working hard to keep momentum building.
“We had 18 staff, we were turning over millions of [British] pounds,” he recalls, “but the work that I was doing was so far away from what drives the business. We were having to run people and health and safety and buildings and all the other stuff that goes with that, rather than actually the thing that we enjoyed doing.”
Part of Stokes’ role was bringing his marketing expertise to clients and fielding their questions. Video was increasingly becoming a necessity for businesses rather than a nice-to-have. Clients wondered how they could harness video’s powers. Stokes wanted the answer to be him. He had both the business background and the video production chops to pull it off. He just needed the time.
So Stokes worked it out with his brother: He would wind down his time at the company so he could ramp up what would eventually become Captive8 Media in 2005.
“I was very, very lucky to be able to make the slow progression that I did, and very thankful to my brother for enabling that because I wouldn’t have been able to do it without that flexibility,” Stokes says.
Small company, big impact
Captive8’s first client was a recycling company, which had learned about Stokes from some charity work he had done for a local church. The company wanted a video that followed recyclables circuitous path once they left people’s homes.
“It was pretty scary,” Stokes says. “Definitely kind of like being thrown in the deep end. Not that they knew that. I put things in place to make Captive8 feel and look bigger, and be really efficient.”
The resulting video turned out so well, the company wanted to work with Stokes again on another project. And so it began.
Nowadays, Captive8 does everything from drone work to event videos and animation—but small-business case studies are still the company’s bread and butter. After his experience wrangling a larger company, Stokes has no intentions of growing Captive8 Media beyond where it is right now.
”I’ve always wanted it to be quite a maneuverable company,” he explains. “I want to speak to customers, I want to be involved in the shoots, I want to see the edits, and I want to see the end results. But to enable that, I have always embraced and used technology as best I can. So using the right technology has always been really, really important.”
Creating efficiency and reliability
Stokes chooses tech to handle the annoying, unavoidable things that come with running a business, as well as to support him in doing the work he loves and learning all those niche facts.
And the more that those pieces of tech talk to each other the better. It’s part of why Stokes has used Dropbox “pretty much since day one,” he says. Quickfile, his accounting software, keeps him from having to chase people for payment, and it has a Dropbox integration so he can seamlessly capture receipts on the fly. And using Dropbox Replay to review and leave feedback on videos was an obvious choice for his team.
“Everything we do goes on Dropbox anyway,” Stokes says. “You don’t have to transfer anything. You just press the button and it is in Replay.”
“People can be unreliable,” he continues. “Systems generally—fingers crossed—aren’t. So with things like Replay, it means you don’t have to rely on people putting in the wrong time code with their feedback or getting things mixed up. It’s all there.
"Everything we do goes on Dropbox anyway... You just press the button and it is in Replay.”
Stokes remembers the days of having to mail flash drives and SD cards, so Replay has been a massive improvement since most people on his small team works remotely. He’ll either shoot video himself or work with crew members stationed all over the world for the gigs he can’t get to. While other production companies film with a crew of five, Stokes says Captive8 can still capture quality video with one person, making the service more accessible to small businesses in particular.
Captive8’s work happens on a pretty quick turnaround, making efficiency even more important: Raw video is captured and immediately gets uploaded to Dropbox. Stokes’s editor will then take that footage, edit the video down to a rough cut, and pop it into Replay. They’ll go back and forth leaving feedback on edits before a cleaner video is created and ready to be shared—again, via Replay—with clients who are just as widely dispersed as Captive8’s team.
“I don’t have to tell people how to use it, it’s self-evident,” says Stokes. “‘That’s where you put your feedback, you press submit, it appears there, job done.’”
Replay’s ease has become integral to Captive8’s creative process and customer service. The company has amassed a perfect 5-star score on Google Business with nearly 200 reviews. (“In fact,” he says, “we’ve got a review last week and someone specifically said, “We love the review process.”)
By creating a simple wash, rinse, repeat system for his work, Stokes has created a lot more breathing room for himself than he had when he was at the software company with his brother.
“I could probably be richer and the company could be bigger, but the most important thing to me is work-life balance,” he says. “Captive8 is going to continue doing good stuff with good people in a good way, and keeping a smile on my face and a roof over my head.”
Visit Dropbox Replay to learn more.