Q&A with Cage founder Sandip Patel
Sandip Patel is the founder of the Oklahoma City-based company Cage. Through Cage, the Oklahoma native is trying to help creative teams solve their biggest challenge and gain more of their most precious resource: time. Cage is a media collaboration and project tool built for designers, agencies and in-house teams. Cage was recently awarded a grant through the prestigious Adobe Fund for Design.
VeloCity recently sat down with Patel for a two-part interview. Part one, below, focuses on Cage and the impact it is having on the creative world. Coming soon, part two will focus on Patel’s background and his passion for entrepreneurship in his home state.
VeloCityOKC: In your own words, what is Cage?
Patel: You’d think by now I could tell you in the fewest words possible, but I just seem to ramble about it. To best understand what Cage does it’s often easier for me to help you understand the problem we are solving. We believe, "Your time and your attention are your most valuable resources and our goal is to help creative teams make the most of those through a set of unique tools."
We’re on a mission to help teams collaborate better. We’re doing this by our giving customers a unique toolset that fosters better collaboration with contextual conversations around the work your doing, gets people out of their inbox and having discussions and sharing ideas in one place, planning and forecasting if they’re on track with their project and who’s working on what, and allows them to professionally package the work they are sharing with customizable and branded pages – that lets them weave a story that shares insights into design decisions and seamlessly gather feedback and approvals with one click — without writing any code.
So for example, we give you tools where they can draw on top of a video and it leaves a range-based annotation. That lets the editor make those changes quickly. Traditionally, a client might e-mail you and say, "Hey, there’s a Pepsi can that we need to remove." You’re now playing a game of “Where’s Waldo” since you have no context for their feedback. With Cage, they can draw directly on the video which gives you exactly where in the video the change needs to happen and lets you make revisions faster. That means your team is doing fewer revisions back and forth, and they are starting the next project sooner.
How did Cage come about? Were you in Marketing?
The original idea for Cage came from a past partner we had. We soon expanded on that original idea and it’s now manifested into an entirely different product with paying customers from around the world. Our customers tend to range from agencies to in-house design or creative teams. We’ve been really fortunate that early on we attracted some noteworthy customers like, Best Buy, Johnson & Johnson, Sinclair Broadcasting Group, UPtv, Doosan, Fujifilm, Unilever, Electrolux, Loreal, SXSW, Leo Burnett, Oath and more. These teams may have used other products before switching to Cage, but almost always, it’s a hodgepodge of email, spreadsheets, in-person meetings and homebrew tools that get replaced by using Cage.
Yes, my background is in marketing but a little all over the place too. I graduated with majors in Marketing and Finance and early on I was the COO of an E-learning startup. So my experience has been in marketing, but also in product, design, sales, business development, building teams and running a small business. At the E-learning startup, we had many of the same process problems there that our current customers do now. We would do creative dailies each morning and a mix of agile project management for all the teams. But there was always a sense of not understanding the basics everyone needs to know, like: where are we on things, who’s working on what, do they need help, are we on track or do we need to shift things around, and knowing all of these without shoulder-tapping people to death.
I think I’m attracted to collaboration because it’s a people problem, and I just think that is a really unique challenge in and of itself. We’ve been iterating on Cage ever since early 2012 when we launched an early beta version. Since that time, productivity and workplace collaboration tools are now a multi-billion dollar industry.
Cage seems like a tool that is pretty adaptive to the unique needs of each team.
It is but still very much tailored for creative and production teams. Cage supports more than 150 file formats. People could upload and collaborate directly on Photoshop or Illustrator files, multi-page PDFs, video, audio, really most of the assets you’d generate for web, broadcast, games, print, or mobile. We are pretty file agnostic and focus on the process. We care about what kind of projects you are working on and we want to build the best home for you to collaborate within that project.
We also have to keep in mind a lot of people who use Cage are not our clients. They are our client’s clients. Those users don't need to be in Cage all day, and they may not need a login to Cage, but we allow our clients to package up work to share in a branded experience that feels like a screening room. Sort of rolling out the red carpet for them versus the traditional email with attachments.
That is interesting. Do you think the fact your end-user is not always your direct client has actually helped the product?
Yeah, and I think one of the hardest jobs our team has is breaking down what is traditionally very complex and making it simple. The litmus test for us is how do we continue to build something that we think is simple enough that my mom can use with ease.
You have some major, big-name clients but it sounds like Cage is equally valuable for smaller teams.
The big names are great but the bulk of our customers are smaller companies. They are small, obscure companies that you would never know existed. That is the real bread and butter of our business. Our sweet spot is teams of less than 50 people. We do have bigger customers like Best Buy who have hundreds of folks using it and plenty of other household names you’re familiar with like Loreal, Unilever and Electrolux but the bulk of our revenue comes from smaller companies - often times the unsung heroes in the industry.
Attracting and keeping talent, especially in the tech world, is extremely important right now. You’ve got a team that has mainly been together since day one. How have you been able to do it?
Great question! Probably a mix of luck, timing and building a culture of trust and accountability. I’ve been fortunate to meet the people I’ve met at the right time. I also work hard to make sure I can do what I can to ensure things at work aren’t stressful. We can work remotely, you can take off time when you need to, and we prioritize mental health so that we avoid things like burn out. I also try hard to make sure we celebrate the wins, do team lunches, and take care of everyone the best we can.
Cage was recently selected for a grant by the Adobe Fund for Design. That comes with a monetary value but I am sure there is a lot more to it than that.
You’re totally right. Our recent investment from Adobe is proof that we’re building something special and meaningful. It’s the best kind of affirmation we can get when an industry juggernaut is willing to give us capital in addition to the support we get from their various teams. Over the years we have gotten an enormous amount of support from them, from being featured at their annual conference, Adobe MAX to promoting Cage in their trade show booths, to getting access to their engineering and marketing leadership. It’s humbling for a small team like ours.
And speaking of Adobe, we’re about to release our new plugin for Adobe XD (their newest product for UI/UX designers). This gives everyone with XD a version of Cage that can live directly inside XD, so they no longer need to access it on the web - this means less context switching for the team and more productivity. A version of this same integration will be available for After Effects, Premiere, Photoshop and Illustrator soon too.
Be on the lookout soon for part two of our interview with Patel to hear more about his thoughts on tech and entrepreneurship in Oklahoma City.