Mobile Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Movie App Whatifi is Looking For Scripts

Sam Blake

Sam primarily covers entertainment and media for dot.LA. Previously he was Marjorie Deane Fellow at The Economist, where he wrote for the business and finance sections of the print edition. He has also worked at the XPRIZE Foundation, U.S. Government Accountability Office, KCRW, and MLB Advanced Media (now Disney Streaming Services). He holds an MBA from UCLA Anderson, an MPP from UCLA Luskin and a BA in History from University of Michigan. Email him at samblake@dot.LA and find him on Twitter @hisamblake

Mobile Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Movie App Whatifi is Looking For Scripts
Courtesy of Whatifi

The movie ends with the mother's severed head in the refrigerator. And it's in there because of the choices you made.

But you can return to the beginning, make new choices along the way and produce a different ending on Whatifi, a new, choose-your-own-adventure storytelling mobile app.

Mobile-first storytelling isn't exactly new. Nor is choose-your-own-adventure. But Whatifi founder Jaanus Juss believes his game plan to combine quality content, interactivity and socialization will make his app a hit, particularly with younger crowds.

"It's a new entertainment category that defines how the next generation will entertain themselves," he says.

Following a $10 million funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz, this L.A. and Estonia-based startup launched on iOS last week with two "branching story" titles. Adding the app to Android is one part of a "long product roadmap," the founders say.

"Anatomy of a Decision" follows 30 years of a man's life, starting with his parents' visit to a fertility clinic, and proceeds along 64 possible story permutations based on the seven different decisions viewers make along the way.

In "As Dead as it Gets," viewers make four decisions to determine which of 16 fates will befall the main character, who is on the verge of death and wants to return to the land of the living.

Although Whatifi's founders think these 80 storylines will keep their viewers busy for the time being, they are calling for writers and directors to help them build out their content library.

"Anatomy of a Decision" and "As Dead as it Gets" are the two movies available to watch in the newly released app.Courtesy of Whatifi

What If I Want to Watch?

Juss' background puts him and his team in a strong position to provide advice to creators.

As chief executive and founder of Creator City, an Estonian creative network, Juss and some experimental colleagues began exploring how to introduce interactive storytelling into live theater. At first the crowds were too shy.

"Estonians are introverted," he explains. "Then we gave them shots a half-hour before the show, and it worked great, but that obviously wasn't a sustainable model. So we injected technology."

The idea took off. Juss and his team ran over 1,000 interactive shows. Around the time he and his eventual co-founder Hardi Meybaum began discussing the possibility of bringing the format to film, Netflix released Bandersnatch, a choose-your-own-adventure format from the creators of Black Mirror. That was enough validation for Meybaum, who'd formerly been an entrepreneur, to leave his venture capital gig in Silicon Valley and join in on the Whatifi journey about a year ago.

"I thought this was a unique opportunity to build a large consumer company," he says.

While testing the product in New Zealand, Singapore and Sweden, the team watched to see whether users who finished one storyline would return to the beginning to try another route.

"If they don't do that then the whole premise of branching stories isn't successful," Juss says.

One decision point of "Anatomy of a Decision"

Courtesy of Whatifi

In those test markets they saw that 90% of users went back for another go, the founders say. And in the first week since launching in the U.S., that number has risen even higher.

Whatifi is targeted at a younger audience. They are more "native" to mobile, Juss says, and they were the audience segment who seemed to most enjoy the experience back in the live-theater version.

In addition to providing unique stories, Whatifi incorporates a social element. When users boot up the app, they enter a waiting room, where they can invite friends to join them in a viewing party. As the stories reach decision points, the movies pause and all the friends must vote. The story only continues if there's a consensus. Until then, friends must deliberate on which path to choose.

A key learning Juss took from the theater experiments was that the deliberation was often the part that was most fun.

And there's plenty more to explore.

"What we have so far is the simplest version that we've done in the theater," Juss says. "We can go much more complicated for telling the stories, but we'll ease into that."

Meybaum is enthralled by the possibilities.

"What makes Whatifi so cool and rewarding to work on is that, for us, there's content, social, the platform – it's all tightly coupled," he says. "When we are talking about the changes to come, they involve how to create content, the user experience, and also the social elements. It's the whole experience."

What if I Want to Participate?

July 7th is the pitch deadline. The company expects to receive applications primarily from "young and upcoming" screenwriters and directors, but Meybaum tells dot.LA that anyone can apply.

"You never know where the best ideas come from. We're excited to make it public," he says.

The contest has two parallel tracks: one for scripts only, and one for full productions. To help applicants get started, Whatifi provides a sample pitch, a story-mapping tool and a script template.

Up to 20 applicants will win $2,000 and qualify for the final round, for which they'll need to submit a full script – with a helping hand from Whatifi and its team of advisors.

Five winners of the full-production prize will receive $200,000 to turn their submissions into films for the Whatifi platform. Winners of the script-only prize will each receive $35,000, and the possibility that Whatifi will find a director to make the movie. The new films are scheduled to be completed by October 15.

Juss highlights one advantage the format provides to filmmakers: They need not suffer the pressures of having to make every decision themselves. That can be outsourced to the audience.

"Many writers probably wonder where their stories might have led, had they taken a different turn at a crucial point," says Johannes Veski, writer and director of "Anatomy of a Decision."

"The chance to see where all those potential paths lead should whet the appetites of screenwriters and filmmakers across genres."

Courtesy of Whatifi

Juss acknowledges that writing a script with multiple permutations can be a challenge. Veski agrees.

"Maintaining coherence is hard enough when writing one story," Veski says. "I aimed at 64 paths and outcomes that all begin at a single point. I had to make sure they'd all logically lead back to the beginning and still make sense in relation to each other. It felt like like building a house of cards and changing the laws of physics on the way."

But both Juss and Veski think the learning curve isn't too steep.

"We've seen that filmmakers can really get their heads around it," Juss says. "And once it's written it's not that different from a filming standpoint."

"Life is a single track of guesswork, projection, regret, and relief," Veski adds. "I'm intrigued by life as not one, but many possible paths. I see 'Anatomy of a Decision' as a mere mortal's chance to trick fate and try on all the couldas and shouldas."


Sam Blake primarily covers media and entertainment for dot.LA. Find him on Twitter @hisamblake and email him at samblake@dot.LA

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LA Latino/a Founders On Why Authenticity Matters in Tech

Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

LA Latino/a Founders On Why Authenticity Matters in Tech
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As one of the most diverse cities in the world, Los Angeles is home to almost 5 million people who identify as Hispanic or Latinx. Yet, many feel they still lack representation in the city’s tech space.

“I can safely say that last year’s LA tech week hosted all of the events on the west side, and very few were focused on telling Latino and Latina entrepreneurial stories,” said Valeria Martinez, investor at VamosVentures. “We wanted to change that this year.”

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LA Tech Week: Female Founders Provide Insights Into Their Startup Journeys

Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

LA Tech Week: Female Founders Provide Insights Into Their Startup Journeys
Decerry Donato

Women remain a minority among startup founders. According to Pitchbook, even though women-led startups in the United States received a record $20.8 billion in funding during the first half of 2022, U.S. companies with one or more female founders received less than 20% of total venture funding in 2022. U.S. companies solely led by female founders received less than 2% of the total funding.

The panel, titled Female Founders: Planning, Pivoting, Profiting, was moderated by NYU law professor Shivani Honwad and featured Anjali Kundra, co-founder of bar inventory software Partender; Montré Moore, co-founder of the Black-owned beauty startup AMP Beauty LA; Mia Pokriefka, co-founder and CEO of the interactive social media tool Huxly; and Sunny Wu, founder and CEO of fashion company LE ORA.

The panelists shared their advice and insights on starting and growing a business as a woman. They all acknowledged feeling pressure to not appear weak among peers, especially as a female founder. But this added weight only causes more stress that may lead to burnout.

“The mental health aspect of being a founder should not be overshadowed,” said Kundra, who realized this during the early stages of building her company with her brother..

Growing up in Silicon Valley, Kundra was surrounded by the startup culture where, “everyone is crushing it!” But she said that no one really opened up about the challenges of starting your own company. .

“Once you grow up as a founder in that environment, it's pretty toxic,” Kundra said. “I felt like I really wanted to be open and be able to go to our investors and tell them about challenges because businesses go up and down, markets go up and down and no company is perfect.”

Honwad, who advocates for women’s rights, emphasized the value of aligning yourself with people with similar values in the tech ecosystem. “[Those people] can make your life better not just from an investment and money standpoint, but also a personal standpoint, because life happens,” she said.

Moore, who unexpectedly lost one of her co-founders at AMP Beauty, said that entrepreneurs “really have to learn how to adapt to [their] circumstances.”

“She was young, healthy, vibrant and we've been sorority sisters and friends over the past decade,” she said about her co-founder Phyllicia Phillips, who passed away in February. “So it was just one of those moments where you have to take a pause.”

Moore said this experience forced her to ask for help, which many founders hesitate to do. She encouraged the audience to try and share their issues out loud with their teams because there are always people who will offer help. When Moore shared her concerns with her investors, they jumped in to support her in ways she didn’t think was possible.

Kundra said that while it is important to have a support group and listen to mentors, it is very important for entrepreneurs to follow their own thinking and pick and choose what they want to implement within their strategy. “At the end of the day, you really have to own your own decisions,” she said.

Kundra also said that while it is easy to turn to your colleagues and competitors and do what they are doing, you shouldn’t always follow them because every business is different.

“When I was in the heat of it, I kind of became [a part of] this echo chamber and that was really challenging for us,” Kundra added, “but we were able to move beyond it and figure out what worked for us [as a company] and we're still on a journey. You're always going to be figuring it out, so just know you're not alone.”