Working in film production, Alex Kolodkin was frustrated by how tough it was to find the right locations in Toronto. If only, he thought, there was a model like Airbnb for his industry. One where you could quickly search for any type of residential space available to rent for a shoot.
It didn’t exist. Kolodkin did what many entrepreneurs do: identify a professional or personal problem, and create a company to solve it. In 2014, he founded Set Scouter, an online marketplace that connects production companies and brands with locations.
On the platform, homeowners list their spaces. Producers can browse for whatever they need – from kitchens with an island, to views of the city – and find it faster and cheaper than with traditional methods. “Under two hours vs. two weeks before,” says Kolodkin.
The concept received a lot of attention. 500 Startups, an early-stage venture fund and seed accelerator, accepted Set Scouter into its Batch 15. That’s reserved for startups that explore unusual markets.
Set Scouter now has the largest film locations catalogue in North America. It operates in Toronto, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami, and plans to expand into Vancouver, Montreal in Atlanta.
The company has attracted a long list on impressive clients: Disney, Samsung, Coca Cola, Unilever, Google, Amazon, Walmart, Vice, Universal Music, Johnson & Johnson, and many more.
If Kolodkin’s startup story was a movie, it would be a blockbuster. Then came the plot twist in 2020. Overnight, COVID shut down productions everywhere. Kolodkin had to figure out how to hustle and adapt. But that’s the path for any great entrepreneur: embrace the unexpected.
Before founding Set Scouter, Kolodkin was a corporate video producer, TV series broadcaster and video editor. He knows how much things can change in this demanding industry. The landscape evolves quickly, even in normal times – and these aren’t normal times.
So how do you re-write the script? Initially, Kolodkin took advantage of the down time by improving several of the Set Scouter features, like customer onboarding and booking.
“We automated most of the workflow, and did a year’s worth of work in three months,” he says.
Kolodkin knew that productions would of course need to take more precautions. As shoots ramp back up, clients can add services like cleaning, disinfection and garbage hauling when they book a Set Scouter location.
Still, that wasn’t enough for Kolodkin. He also saw an opportunity to become an advocate for safe production globally. In June, he formed Safe Sets International, a collective of industry leaders that’s providing resources that support health and safety on production sets.
That will be a key part of the industry’s revival, says Kolodkin. Safe Sets focuses on well-researched information, verified by medical community partners, so that productions can follow consistent protocols. Users get a certificate when they complete a course.
Earlier in 2020, Kolodkin had no idea that he’d become an expert in COVID safety. “That’s what being a founder is all about; you really don’t know what you’re going to be thrown into,” he says.
Pre-COVID, Kolodkin had been spending more time on things like investor relations, and welcomed the chance to get back to basics with getting a venture off the ground.
“The building phase is the most exciting,” he says. “We got Safe Sets up in three-and-a-half weeks. It reminded me that I’m an operator first. I see a void and want to fill it.”
Startup Revival Stories is a series of interviews with Canadian entrepreneurs who have pivoted and persevered during COVID-19. Tune in to learn how these founders navigated challenges and found new avenues of growth during the pandemic — watch the latest episodes on YouTube or at www.startuprevivalstories.ca.