Student profile: Chris Backofen
Name: Chris Backofen
Location: New York
Job title: CEO, CastCloud
It was on the set of “The Wolf of Wall Street” that a new business idea hatched in the mind of Chris Backofen, but don’t worry — his plans don’t involve stock fraud, and he’s not motivated by obscene amounts of money.
Rather, Chris is a hardworking entrepreneur building his company, CastCloud, carefully and thoughtfully with input from real customers. CastCloud is a cloud-based solution for managing movie and television extras’ paperwork. Unlike, say, the brash character played by Leonardo DiCaprio in the movie, Chris isn’t looking for shortcuts to fame and fortune, and he’s happy to take advice from those with more experience. For now, that means running pilot programs with select customers before launching CastCloud to the world.
After graduating from college in Florida with his degree in business administration, Chris interned at a consulting firm, then moved up to New York and worked in software sales. At the same time, he was feeding his lifelong love of acting, and living in New York opened up many more opportunities for Chris to develop this “hobby.” He did additional training, networked at industry events, and approached a movie casting director who was looking for extras. In the back of his mind, he always dreamed of bringing these two sides of himself together by starting a business or building a mobile app with a Hollywood connection.
Back to “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Chris got a part as an extra playing a (what else) stockbroker. “I went on the set for fun but also to gather insights into the industry,” Chris recalls. That’s where he witnessed the “costly bottleneck of manually managing paperwork for background actors,” as many as 500-1,000 individuals every day. “The money and time spent was immense,” and Chris saw an opportunity to develop a more efficient solution. A second assistant director on the production is now Chris’ business partner.
As Chris threw himself into creating CastCloud, he occasionally found himself tackling tasks and making decisions in areas where he had little or no experience. He likes to call upon advisors and mentors for help, but sometimes he needs answers more quickly. Chris was an avid follower of Chris Haroun, a well-known author and business coach and highly regarded figure in the tech startup world, and had read Haroun’s column for Inc.com. That’s how he found out Haroun also offers courses on Udemy, including “An Entire MBA in One Course.”
“Seeing someone of his caliber on Udemy was incredibly valuable,” Chris says. Udemy delivered learning “literally at my fingertips. I could get onto a whole different playing field in a matter of days. [The course] was geared to exactly what I was looking for, and I got so much useful information out of it.” It was also a much better experience than digging through blogs and articles from unfamiliar sources. Video was much easier to consume, and having access to a hero of the VC world gave him immediate confidence in the material. “[Haroun] was engaging and charismatic, and that kept me focused,” Chris says. From that course, he learned what investors look for, how to present and package his ideas, and what security and legal structures he needed to have in place before taking pitch meetings. He also learned how to put together an advisory board that would go over well with potential investors.
Once he put Haroun’s advice into practice, Chris saw results for CastCloud right away — he received a tangible offer from an investor “because I diligently implemented what [Haroun] said in the course. I was able to secure that funding because I knew what investors were looking for in a first-time entrepreneur. We added advisors to our team with key business and strategic experience, and that ultimately led to us getting funding.”
Chris might still get his MBA, but “now is not the time.” He’s focused solely on launching CastCloud and getting real-world business experience, and he’s thrilled that he can learn what he needs to know on Udemy. “I really like that it’s geared to practitioners, so I can do things like this without registering for a college class.” He plans to take more of Chris Haroun’s courses, such as “101 Crucial Lessons They Don’t Teach You In Business School” and “Intro to Business Law For Entrepreneurs,” as well as courses around financial modeling and accounting topics.
A problem-solver by nature, Chris sees Udemy as the answer to his ongoing learning needs. It’s letting him accelerate his plans for CastCloud and has given him even more belief that his startup can offer the entertainment industry a better way of managing background actors. Chris says it was “luck or fate” that he discovered Udemy. Either way, to paraphrase another Hollywood movie, it’s the beginning of a beautiful learning relationship.