Creativity: unleashed

Combined Locks tech startup aims for animation made easy

Posted on Nov 30, 2017 :: Small Business Spotlight
Jessica Thiel
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

With two successful launches already to his name, Craig Doriot knows what it takes to get a tech startup off the ground. His latest venture puts creativity at the fingertips of even the most unartistic soul, and some say it could be a billion-dollar innovation.

Doriot’s animation company, dodles inc., aims to break down barriers to creativity, giving users a simple way to create their own content with animated characters and content. The free app, set to launch by the end of the year, works with all devices and is compatible with the major social media platforms.

Social media has grown from a tool that at first gave users only rudimentary ways to express themselves with posts and pictures, Doriot says. Today, it’s progressed to allow for more dynamic content such as memes and gifs, and Doriot sees animation as the next evolution.

“This is something that really opens up that creativity and brings it to a different level,” he says.

Faith plays a defining role in Doriot’s life. He runs his business out of Wellspring at the Cross church in Combined Locks, and the company’s unconventional name came to him and co-founder Joie Pirkey after praying for guidance about the venture. Doriot launched his first startup fresh out of college in 1996. He co-founded Spanish-language search engine Yupi, and for a time it was the No. 1 search engine in South America. The company eventually sold to Microsoft.

From there, Doriot became a software developer for California company Fresh Water Systems, where he led a technology transformation that took it “from nothing” to a $10 million company. Moving to the Fox Cities, he launched, and eventually sold, mortgage search company Loan Sifter, which partnered with online real estate database giant Zillow. He wrapped those proceeds into launching dodles.

The dodles executive team, which includes Doriot, Pirkey and her son, Zeb Pikey, who serves as vice president of marketing, sees enormous potential with the technology. Companies can produce creative content for themselves, and casual users can express themselves in a more imaginative way.

“Walt Disney said that animation is the way you can express yourself undaunted,” Joie Pirkey says. “If you think about it, you can express anything through animation. You’re not held back by anything.”

The app is designed to provide a simple user experience for casual users while offering more robust tools — for a fee — to more sophisticated users. Drawing software is expensive and carries a steep learning curve, Doriot says. This is designed to provide people those kinds of tools in an easier, less costly way.

Molly Proffitt, a designer and project manager who works for dodles part-time in Atlanta, says the app provides users an easy way to animate without drawing.

“I’m really excited about the potential this has,” she says. “I think there are people who are going to use it in ways I can’t even think of.”

Zeb Pirkey says the app removes “gatekeepers.” With dodles, businesses can produce on their own what they traditionally had to pay an agency hefty sums to create, as well as yielding creative control, he says. A business could purchase an asset from dodles, which will offer premium packages with more features and functionality, and produce their own content, saving a lot of money, Zeb Pirkey says.

Dodles provides free as well as paid content from artists. The company has already cultivated relationships with 100 artists. The artists set their own prices and retain ownership of their work, and dodles digitally tracks the use of the art, ensuring artists are paid and get credit. The company is wrapping up beta testing, and the full app will launch by January 2018. When it’s unveiled, it will be the culmination of two years of work for Doriot and his team, which includes 15 full-time, part-time and contract workers throughout the state and country.

Doriot says the company approached all the venture capitalist groups in Wisconsin in search of funding but had no luck and instead sought support outside the state. The company’s first angel investor is from Seattle and worked for Microsoft and Amazon.

“The perspective (in Wisconsin) is just very different and traditional, which has to change for this state to support tech startups,” Doriot says.

With kinnektor and the recently announced gBETA initiative, Doriot says he sees an uptick in support, which provides reason for optimism. Doriot envisions eventually selling the company to a social media platform. Zeb Pirkey points to Facebook purchasing startup poll app tbh (“to be honest”) for around $100 million.

“We’re building patent-pending technology,” Zeb Pirkey says. “To say dodles is one day going to be a billion dollar company, in my heart it doesn’t feel far-fetched. Getting there, that’s the process.”