Emily Forbes is the founder and CEO of Seenit, an app and platform which helps brands and organisations co-create video with employees, fans, journalists and experts from around the world.
Forbes founded Seenit at the start of 2014 having spent five years working in production, starting out in feature film at London firm Working Title. After moving to South Africa to become a producer she had a go at creating her own short documentary. It was here that she first came across the power of UGC. She arrived to film a protest and quickly realised a smartphone generation were readily documenting everything they saw. Their footage was personal, current and opinionated.
In early 2018, Forbes was revealed as one of the shortlist of six female business women for the prestigious, Veuve Clicquot Business Women Awards. Forbes, along with only one other woman, has been shortlisted for the Veuve Clicquot New Generation Award.
The awards continue to be synonymous with unearthing and celebrating exciting new female talent in the UK. It recognises the success and vision of female entrepreneurs between the ages of 25 and 35, with the winner reflecting the core attributes that Madame Clicquot exhibited in her formative years, such as a fearless approach and innovative thinking to achieve her goals.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
I founded Seenit in January 2014 and am now the CEO running the business day-to-day with my team. I don’t have a tech background – I started out in film production at Working Title, before working on film sets and then moved into advertising in South Africa where I created behind the scenes films focused on the country’s wildlife. I got the idea for Seenit when I went to film a protest. I saw that everyone was already filming it on their smartphones, but the difference was that their footage was real, personal and authentic. I thought, how could I do this and share it?
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
No, I certainly didn’t. I think it’s good to plan, but I have always followed my passions and grabbed opportunities when they have come around. This has enabled me to do what I love with Seenit. When I left art college I knew I was passionate about film and wanted to work at Working Title so that’s where I went. Since then my plans for my career and business have constantly evolved.
I was always nervous about the question “what do you want to be when you grow up?”. I panicked as I didn’t have a straight answer, I thought I was going to get lost. But I’ve since learned that if you’re driven, excited and passionate about what you’re doing, that’s really all that matters.
Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?
Starting a tech business with no tech background was the biggest challenge I faced. I studied at the Chelsea College of Art and, while I think the art background has certainly helped me, not having that technology background meant I had to get comfortable early on in asking for help. A big part of this was building a team of trusted people around me who could help me bring my vision to life. Asking for introductions to people who can help my business doesn’t scare me now.
What advice would you give to someone who is in two-minds about going to university?
Whatever route you decide to take, you have got to be fascinated by it and also eager to learn. I had to pick between going to university or going to art school – I picked art school because that’s what I was passionate about. It didn’t give me the traditional business or tech skills I needed for my business but it did help me think bigger and, frankly, weirder.
Employers don’t look at CVs in the same way they used to, they are more interested in someone’s experiences so focus on that.
Do you have any advice for any budding entrepreneurs?
Research! Read, keep an eye on the industry and get feedback from industry experts. I didn’t do that enough to start with as I was worried people would take my idea, however the benefits of getting invaluable advice will outweigh the prospect of someone taking your idea. It’s important to talk to people and get that vision down.
You also need to be optimistic. There are inevitably going to be bumps along the way and you have to believe in your idea to the point that you wouldn’t want to be doing anything else. It’s really hard work starting your own business, you can’t go into it lightly.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
Having the belief that I could do it. I’m proud that I took the jump to start a business and had the determination to get it to where it is today. It’s also incredible to be recognised for this by being shortlisted for the Veuve Clicquot New Generation Award. I really hope this will help put creative people on the map as entrepreneurs; so many of us are put in the box from having an art school background and told you can’t go into business but hopefully I’m showing that the opposite is true.
With Seenit, I’m proud of how we’re changing how some of the largest organisations in the world are looking at video. Recently, we’ve been working with BT Sports, our first move into broadcast TV, and have also been working with a US publisher to report authentically on the shootings in Florida, recording survivors diaries behind the scenes to tell a real and powerful story.
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
We are expanding into New York which is exciting; with this the challenge is ensuring we have our culture bottled up, so we can expand in a way that’s truly Seenit. We’ve doubled in size since last year already, we have nearly 40 people, and no day is the same. The focus now is getting ourselves ready to scale and expand internationally. I’m incredibly excited about where we’re going and am prepared for what I’m sure will be yet another bumpy ride!