Sprague student has high hopes for his app

Twenty-year-old Josh Hill of Sprague started working on the concept for his new iPhone app called Cinematic while at Montville High School, intrigued by reports of billion-dollar buyouts in the industry and challenged by the thought that his product could be the Instagram of videos.

"I was at dinner with my Dad and saw something on TV about Instagram," Hill said, referring to a popular photo-sharing service that Facebook bought earlier this year for $1.1 billion. "I thought, 'I haven't seen something like that for video.'"

Hill, then a junior, did some basic market research and found there were a few other video-sharing apps but none as intriguing as what he had in mind. A self-taught web designer, Hill spent much of his spare time in high school - including independent-study hours that counted toward computer-programming credits - designing and programming the app.

About a quarter way through, he suddenly realized that the project would require far more manpower than he ever imagined, and Hill eventually brought on board five other developers from as far away as England to contribute their expertise to the project. Hill's main job then became coordinating, using the online video-communication service Skype, the various programmers of the app and to integrate each of the facets on which they were working.

Cinematic allows video footage up to 30 seconds long to be edited using stylized filters, with a built-in music library to enhance the effect with sound. The app allows videos to be shared with friends on Cinematic or on any of the major social networks, while providing a way to explore others' videos as well.

One of the unique features of Cinematic, according to Hill, is that videos can be played backwards at the touch of a button, creating comical effects. Hill said the target audience is 16- to 32-year-olds, who are expected to use the app on an almost daily basis.

"Some of the best things in life are really a little bit obvious ... and that's what Cinematic is ... an obvious, easy way of sharing your life through video," Hill said in a promotional piece about his project.

"It's like a remote for your life," he added during an interview this month at Muddy Waters cafe in New London.

But Hill said development of a new app was hardly easy or obvious. It became so stressful to juggle the app's development with studies at Worcester Polytechnic Institute that he sought - and the school graciously allowed - a one-term leave of absence halfway through his freshman year.

"I was juggling academics and working on Cinematic at night, going to sleep at 2 a.m. and getting back up at 5 or 6 a.m.," Hill said. "WPI was really great with giving me the leave to work on this full time."

Hill figures the app's development costs wound up being "close to six figures." Hill's father, Jeff, an attorney at the New London law firm Suisman Shapiro, is his main financial supporter, and helped him secure a copyright and trademark for the app.

"I way underestimated the time and money it would take," Hill said.

As for how to recoup the investment, Hill said he had a few choices but eventually decided on the riskiest but potentially most financially rewarding route: try to develop a large user base and then hope for the offer of a buyout. This is how Instagram, YouTube and other popular social-media sites got started, and several have seen $1 billion-plus buyouts.

Hill is working with the Corum Group, based in Washington state, which specializes in mergers and acquisitions in the software and information-technology field. He plans to demonstrate his app during trade shows around the country this summer.

Hill, who started as a freelance web designer in eighth grade and taught technical workshops as a sophomore in high school, said he quickly decided that any video app had best be aimed at the mobile-device market, which seems to have a larger upside than personal computers. The 30-second limit for videos fit with usability studies showing young people don't have patience for videos that are too long.

"Today, we're moving more toward a mobile market," Hill said.

And with more than 700,000 apps available for download these days, it's a quickly evolving market with lots of competition. Hill said he is hoping that a positive review in a publication such as Mashable that tracks social-media trends will help turn attention to Cinematic, but expects word of mouth will be the most powerful marketing tool.

"That's a challenge - getting noticed," he said. "This, I really think, does so much more than any other video app out there."

l.howard@theday.com

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