We had the good fortune of connecting with Emily Craven and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Emily, putting aside the decision to work for yourself, what other decisions were critical to your success?
Success rarely comes from the path most travelled, so when an opportunity outside that path turns up, diversify your skillset, and take it.
The genesis of Story City came from a time when I was trying to build a career for myself as a writer. The standard path was to write as many books and short stories as you could, submit them to multiple competitions and publishers, and wait to be picked. Write enough, do enough courses, network enough, and you could build a semi-okay career as a writer – maybe in 20 years make a living off of it.
At the time, getting rejection after rejection for very few publishing opportunities, I thought ‘there has to be a way to get off this path and get ahead in this industry’. I did a deep dive into digital and independent publishing. Through that I discovered QR codes which lead to myself and a couple of friends running our first interactive choose your adventure through city streets using QR codes on posters. Then cities started reaching out to us asking if we could do this for their creatives, with their public spaces because they were struggling to get young people and families using the spaces. And they were willing to pay.
Do you stay on the ‘known path’ or make your own? It was my decision to say yes to building out a production and publishing house for these interactive experiences (rather than the solo writer route) which has morphed into a tech platform, resulting in me being one of the few people from my creative group of friends who has a full-time creative career so young.
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
Why just go to & from work when you could be a pirate looking for pirate treasure? Or a Private Investigator trying to solve a mystery? At Story City, we transform streets into Adventures, creating new ways for people to interact with cities via our platform. We are a Canva style platform for interactive storytelling, building the future of interactive entertainment for non-gamers via a no-code platform and app for location-based content & games. Currently content creators are locked out of this AR market lacking the tools to create for this new and large global market. Our platform makes creation possible for your average creator unlocking both gaming & non-gaming audiences with this larger pool of talent. But more than that, we’re excited to be building a platform that can be used for interactive education, activism, underrepresented voices, and non-profits attempting to put people in the shoes of those they wish to help.
I started Story City because I was a struggling writer trying to build a career and opportunities in my own city. Even though I lived in a capital city of 1.5M people, the opportunities for emerging creatives were non-existent. Anyone who wanted to ‘make it’ in a creative career had to move to cities they couldn’t afford, hoping they could network and volunteer their way to the top of the submission piles. 91% of creators remain undiscovered, with creators earning 30% less than 20yrs ago. While self-publishing via Amazon Kindle 5yrs ago created $100k careers, now you now need to be a savvy marketer also, spending 20-30% of your revenue on marketing to even reach the same numbers of readers.
Story City was created in part because I saw how vital stories and creative talent was to a city’s vibrancy and economic/mental-health stability, and how many cities were struggling to stop their talent and culture from draining away. We’ve built a platform that wants to provide a digital layer over cities that allows that vibrancy and storytelling fabric to thrive. That brings communities together, that can bridge cultural divides, that makes sure underrepresented voices and local stories are not lost.
I think one of the greatest things we had to realise through this whole process is that people don’t need the high cost AR to be entertained – what they want is the story, an experience. And by making things so technically complicated, by needing a whole team of developers to be able to produce an experience, you cut out the majority of creative people who are also interested in exploring and creating in the space. That’s why we’re so determined to be an open platform rather than a closed solution for enterprise, we realised the majority of our challenges stemmed from the fact that we DON’T need to be the taste-makers, the public will determine what they do and don’t love, our job is to make sure as many adventures find creators and stories to fit them.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
We’re based out of Edmonton, Alberta in Canada – the province of Canada’s beautiful rocky mountains and home to North America’s largest River Valley.
1. First thing’s first, a Story City adventure!
Perhaps you want to connect to the land in Edmonton’s gorgeous River Valley, via an immersive, indigenous musical journey? Or explore identity in a spoken word stroll through Old Strathcona? Or peek in on the imagined lives of residents via an audio theater experience through one of Edmonton’s most vibrant neighborhoods? Let’s download the Story City app and head off: https://www.storycity.com.au/about/download-story-city-today/
2. Let’s talk food
The Old Strathcona area is full of some great food places such as Made by Marcus Ice Cream which does a multitude of creative flavours, both gourmet (Lemon Saffron Coconut Sorbet) to the odd (dill pickle peanut butter).
Or Dokrinku with it’s delicious Japanese cuisine, Tokyo decor, and interesting dishes like Udon Noodle Cabonara.
Or by not try one of the other food ‘avenues’ in the city like 124th Street with its viking food, delicious bakeries (Duchess Bakery), or breakfast pizza (Tiramisu Bistro)?
3. Edmonton’s River Valley
Whether it’s winter, summer or somewhere in between, the interconnected trails of the River Valley are perfect to explore with a rented bike, Lime Scooter or a pair of cross country skis!
4. High Level Tram & Old Strathcona Farmers Market
Edmonton has trams from across the world (from Japan, to Australia, to Edmonton) which take a jaunt during summer from the Old Strathcona Farmers Markets on a Saturday to downtown across the High Level Bridge giving you a beautiful view of the river valley.
5. Take a weekend getaway
Only 4 hours from the Rocky Mountains, you can visit the fabulous Jasper for some wildlife and spectacular scenery, or in winter take a 3hr drive to Abraham Lake where methane bubbles get frozen in ice creating crazy circular trails frozen in time. Or why not take the 45min drive to the dark sky preserve that is Elk Island National Park to see if you can catch the northern lights?
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Shoutout to mentors with decades of experience who selflessly gave time; from writing mentors like Isobelle Carmody or Sean Williams (who’ve written a collective 100+ published works) who have had decades long, decorated careers and still found time to advise a fledgling writer and publisher, to publishing industry mentors like Kate Eltham who championed funding and awards for alternate storytelling formats and creative careers which allowed our platform and experimentations to go from a one woman show to a startup team, to startup mentors like Peter Ball of Greater Outcomes who believe so strongly that even entertainment startups can make a positive social impact on the world.
Artwork pieces from choose your adventures: Multiarmed alien by artist, Sarah Boese, dragon by artist, Ken Best.