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Neil Mandt of CrimeDoor: ” True Crime needed its own platform, and that is what we made”

The first step in creating a large digital community is to find out if there is a need for this to even happen. In the case of CrimeDoor, the answer was a resounding yes. Our subscribers have been on the hunt for a True Crime community since the creation of the internet. There aren’t any […]

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The first step in creating a large digital community is to find out if there is a need for this to even happen. In the case of CrimeDoor, the answer was a resounding yes. Our subscribers have been on the hunt for a True Crime community since the creation of the internet. There aren’t any apps or websites that offer fans of unbiased, high quality True Crime news and content organized for free. This is not the case with other verticals like sports, news or gaming; I can find many places like ESPN, CNN, and Twitch to service those content needs. True Crime needed its own platform, and that is what we made.


As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Neil Mandt.

Neil Mandt, creator and CEO of True Crime News platform CrimeDoor, is a five-time EMMY Award-winning Producer, Director and Tech Entrepreneur. For the past three decades, Neil has overseen the production of more than 3,000 television episodes, 2,000 pieces of 360° video and has created content for some of the world’s biggest brands. A creative thinker with an extraordinary breadth of experience, Neil frequently advises a range of corporations, from Fortune 500 companies to innovative start-ups, helping them realize their ideas in ways that resonate with digitally-native audiences.

Since 2015 Neil has been a pioneer of content creation in Augmented and Virtual Reality, creating over 20 original series in the immersive space, winning a Clio and has won two EMMYS for immersive content.


Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

When I was ten years old, I walked onto the set of a CBS movie of the week and I asked a grip to point out the producer to me. It turned out the producer was none other than Alex Karras, former Detroit Lion and the father on the TV show Webster. With as much swagger as I could muster, I demanded to be told how I could get into show business. Karras looked around desperately for some help and then immediately summoned the casting director. Six weeks later I was in SAG making national commercials for Buick and Bubble Yum. From there I moved through the media as a news reporter, then a television and film producer and director, before entering the Immersive Media space in 2015.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

My focus over the last 5 years has been to make something awesome in AR or VR. The industry has barely started, yet we are at the end of a huge opportunity for this space, the chance to be the first at things will be gone very soon. Few non-tech people have had any significant experiences with AR, so I focused my efforts on identifying a genre of content that would make sense for my specific use of AR technology on a mobile phone or tablet. I wanted to create an experience straight out of a science fiction movie, yet it would take place in your living room. The user could use a smartphone or tablet to open a virtual Doorway that can be walked into and is interactive in 3D. One night my wife (who is a supreme True Crime fan) suggested recreating real life murders scenes in Augmented Reality. By allowing a user to explore crime scenes exactly how they were when the police took the original photos, would give them an opportunity to properly inspect a crime scene and potentially solve a crime. That’s our goal.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

The first night I arrived in Hollywood back in 1990 my car was broken into and everything I owned was stolen and I didn’t know another human west of Chicago. From there I went apartment hunting, only to find anything remotely safe was out of my budget. I settled into renting a shared mattress in a house that had bed sheets hanging between rooms, so the landlord could pack in more renters. You could taste the desperation of the many Hollywood hopefuls that had crashed and burned in this pad over the years. It felt like I was in a 1920s Singaporin opium den. Open suitcases, random shoes, and smoldering cigarettes were strewn across the floor, as I tiptoed over people rehearsing their lines and sketching storyboards.

From there I never looked back. I never thought of quitting, failure was not an option. I had no other option. I am a creative entrepreneur, that’s what I am, I can’t do anything else. It’s important to find out who you are and be that person. I learned that I can never give up and I never want to go back to that super strange house. 30 years later I have forged a career that I am proud of, despite a few cigarette burns along the way.

So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

I always find the positive, learn from the crap and move forward fast! Do not delay in your decisions. Say yes to crazy stuff and say no to the boring. Ferris Bueller knew how to live life and he did it by figuring it out one day at a time and doing stuff adults said were outside of his bounds. I’ve lived my life similarly, saying yes just enough to go to 120 countries.

There are no rules in entertainment or tech…or in anything for that matter. There are historical trends and existing business models and corporate structure, but don’t listen to anyone that says things have to be done the same way, just because that’s the way it was done. I see this in a very simple way; the person who says it can’t be done better watch out, because they are about to get run over by someone who is doing it!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

Despite being from Michigan, with zero connections in the entertainment business, three of the four kids in my family went on to produce movies and TV shows. My brother Michael and I have been partners in our production company Mandt Bros. Productions, while my late sister Maura was the longtime Executive Producer of the ESPY Awards. As you could imagine, we would all collaborate on projects together from time to time. In 2003 Jamie Foxx was hosting the ESPYS and the writers, my sister and Foxx were working on the script from a resort in Cabo. At the time I had been responsible for directing and editing the comedy short films starring Foxx.

It’s important to say that I was in one of those positions with my sister where I was instructed to not be seen or heard from, unless absolutely necessary. This was her gig and I was only there to help, not make any waves, be funny or interesting, just edit. No problem I told myself. All was going great, I would share my cuts with Maura and the team, take notes and make changes. On the last night I went walking around the town to see what Cabo had to offer. I poked my head in and out of a couple of bars, and eventually stumbled into Senor Frogs, where Foxx and his posse were holding court. He called me over to join them for a drink. We exchanged pleasantries and I headed back out to continue my jaunt around town. The sound of jazz caught my attention down an alley and when I entered the room, I walked right into Queen Latifah. This where things go bad.

I stuck up a conversation and casually dropped the word about Foxx hanging out at Senor Frogs, which made her light up with excitement! FOXX IS HERE??!!! Yea, he’s just down the block. Her enthusiasm grew and she told me to expect to see her soon at Senor Frogs. Wow! So, I walked back to the club, went straight to Foxx and told him about my encounter. WHAT???? Latifah is here??!!! He got up and bolted for the front door. All 11 people in his party stood up and sprinted out the door to follow him, and none of them knew where they were going! I ran up to the front of a fast-moving pack and people were demanding for me to tell them where we were going, I said to see Queen Latifah and they all got really excited. That was until I opened the door to the jazz bar, now occupied by a single tumbleweed. After death stares from the entire group, I was left to contemplate how I would face my demise from my sister. I would not live through the weekend if I did not produce Queen Latifah and FAST! Over the next hour I crisscrossed Cabo until I found Ms. Latifah and politely escorted her to hang with Foxx and friends. I breathed a sigh of relief when Jamie gave me a wink of approval, but I learned never to get that close to my sister’s wrath again. As my dad would say, no harm no foul. Phew!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I don’t have one single mentor or a story. I can tell you I have great respect for successful senior people in life and business. It really doesn’t matter to me what their industry has been, leaders are leaders and I try and learn as much as I can from their experiences and examples. Strangely, I’ve developed some of my closest and most honest relationships with retired octogenarians.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Approximately how many users or subscribers does your app or software currently have? Can you share with our readers three of the main steps you’ve taken to build such a large community?

The first step in creating a large digital community is to find out if there is a need for this to even happen. In the case of CrimeDoor, the answer was a resounding yes. Our subscribers have been on the hunt for a True Crime community since the creation of the internet. There aren’t any apps or websites that offer fans of unbiased, high quality True Crime news and content organized for free. This is not the case with other verticals like sports, news or gaming; I can find many places like ESPN, CNN, and Twitch to service those content needs. True Crime needed its own platform, and that is what we made.

Once we had an MVP, it was about getting the feedback. This process took the most time, longer than it took to build the final app. We had a demo and we tested it for almost a year, and we learned a lot. People loved the product, but it needed some explaining, as no one had ever seen the kind of AR we are offering. We knew our hurdle was to make the tech frictionless, that’s what made Pokemon Go such a hit, even grandma could play with the kids.

We were able to make it simple and have quickly connected with the passionate True Crime audience. The result has been amazing. Our average user engages with the app for 3.7 sessions per day.

What is your monetization model? How do you monetize your community of users? Have you considered other monetization options? Why did you not use those?

Our monetization model is directly tied to the quality of content we make for the app, which is a tiny amount of the app’s overall content library. More than 99.9% of the content in CrimeDoor is free to the consumer. No advertising, just free. A user can consume tens of thousands of hours of hand-curated videos, articles, podcasts and more, without spending a penny. The only way we make money is by selling our premium Augmented Reality CrimeDoor experiences for 1.99 dollars per AR Doorway or 4.99 dollars per month.

CrimeDoor is a True Crime News platform that is custom designed to activate AR content. We have partnerships to co-produce Augmented Reality CrimeDoors with podcasters, TV shows, news organizations and more. These groundbreaking experiences organically add value to their existing content and create additional loyalty with their customers, not to mention it keeps them up with the times. We hope to grow our community by delivering quality and accurate information. People appreciate quality and CrimeDoor is handmade.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

CrimeDoor is that movement. People will use our Augmented Reality to solve crimes. Missing persons cases will find resolutions and murderers will be brought to justice using our incredible technology. I can’t think of a better movement than organizing an army of online sleuths to quell the pain of grieving family members. Sign me up for that!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

https://www.instagram.com/neilmandt/?hl=en
https://twitter.com/crimedoor/
https://www.facebook.com/crimedoor/
https://www.instagram.com/crimedoor/

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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