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Fireside chat with Holly Stephens, Co-founder and CEO of Subly

Who is Holly Stephens?

I am the co-founder and CEO at Subly, bringing energy to our users, customers and investors. I’m the one who had the problem with subtitling videos, and now we are all here at Subly helping hundreds of thousands of creators and businesses with the same problem I experienced. I’ve dabbled in starting businesses, leading senior marketing positions and launching products into new markets. Subly is the most significant accomplishment I’ve had, and I get to wake up every day to a remote team of people worldwide who are incredible at what they do. 

What’s the story behind Subly?

Subly was born out of a problem I experienced with sharing my videos online in my previous marketing and leadership roles. We needed to share accessible content across social media and YouTube. Sometimes we’d even need to translate them. I also knew that subtitles were crucial to ensuring engagement online. The issue was that I couldn’t find a simple way to do either task. Or at least a way that didn’t take 17 steps, and either a day of my own time or a chunk from our budgets for freelancer time.

Given that 85% of content online is viewed sound-off, I couldn’t believe that it was still so complicated, time-consuming and costly for creators and teams to create accessible and engaging content.

The experience frustrated me, so I launched a landing page asking if others were experiencing the same problem. I pitched a product that could add subtitles to videos in 3 simple steps and also translate. It turned out that there were thousands of people just as ready for a solution as I was!

What was the most challenging part of your experience in the early beginnings?

In the very early beginnings, you get used to trying to do it all. Ideas and visions are big, but the team and budgets are small. As the company grows, it becomes crucial to hand parts of the business over to more experienced team members to focus on the things you’re best at. This leads me to the next difficult part, which was learning how to pitch and build models and be comfortable with failures along the way. 

What are you most proud of regarding your business?

I’m most proud of having the courage to start and the determination to keep going. When I began Subly, it was the biggest step I’d ever taken in my career. It was a leap of faith into the idea. And despite the moments when the going gets tough, you find resilience and the determination to keep going. And ultimately, the ability to persevere through the highs and the lows is what makes me proudest, not just for myself but for our team. 

It’s one thing to show up by yourself, but knowing that your whole team believes in what you’re working on and they too show up every single day. That makes me most proud of the work we’re doing.

What is your vision for the future of Subly?

To make all content global. We launched with the intent to make subtitling easy for everyone, but it has become much more than that. Seeing how our customers are using Subly and how much they need it to communicate externally and internally has highlighted the larger global barrier to content. 

From those 466 million people worldwide who have disabling hearing loss to those 75% browsing the web in their native languages, to the 85% scrolling with sound-off, our vision is to bridge that gap. To make all content global whilst being accessible, simple, efficient, innovative and with the help of our growing community.

We’re simply put, helping others to style, edit and repurpose video and audio content with a tool that takes what is usually a time consuming and costly content process to just 4 simple steps.

What’s your advice for the businesses that are trying to adapt to this economic climate?

We launched Subly during one of the most unstable times. In February 2020, it mattered for us to stay focused, find our niche and stay consistent with our customers. 

Building a business takes time, but once you find your ‘Subly’, you need to be flexible with your long-term plans and be comfortable shifting if it means staying relevant and giving your customers what they want in your product.

And, of course, believe in yourself. You need to believe in it and yourself. The only regret you will have is that you didn’t try.

Please name a few technologies which have the greatest impact on your business.

I love finding great tools that free up my headspace and help me get some time back. My days are busy and sometimes very fast-paced, so anything that restores balance is valuable. After all, it’s why I started Subly. 

Some of the tools I’ve loved have been Slack to communicate easily, JIRA to help us stay on top of our project and task management with creating tickets and executing our roadmap. And notable mentions are, of course, AWS and the resources and technology they offer to help our team build and LinkedIn, where a large chunk of our community live. 

What books do you have on your nightstand?

I geek out on reading about health and lifehacking. Any way I can extend my health and do things better, from fasting to habit stacking my day. I recommend these books for anyone interested in this: The Body by Bill Bryson and Atomic Habits by James Clear.

Because of the current economic climate our publication has started a series of discussions with professional individuals meant to engage our readers with relevant companies and their representatives in order to discuss their involvement, what challenges they have had in the past and what they are looking forward to in the future. This sequence aims to present a series of experiences, recent developments, changes and downsides in terms of their business areas, as well as their goals, values, career history, the high-impact success outcomes and achievements.

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