Matthew: Hi, this is Matthew Wise with FounderLY.com. We empower entrepreneurs to have a voice and share their story with the world, enabling others to learn more about building products and starting companies.
I’m really excited today to be with Michael Seibel. He is the founder and CEO of Justin.tv which is the largest online community for people to broadcast, watch and interact around live video. With more than 41 million unique visitors per month and 428,000 channels broadcasting live video, Justin.tv is the leading live video site on the web.
With that said, Michael, we hope you can give us a brief bio so our audience can see who you are.
Michael: Thank you for having me.
I grew up on the east coast. I was born in Brooklyn and my family moved to Jersey. I went to school at Yale University, and that’s where I met two out of the three co-founders of Justin.tv. A year after graduating I spent working for a political campaign. I was in Baltimore working for the [inaudible 1:09] committee for U.S. Senate campaign. Unfortunately, we lost by three percentage points, which was a sad day. I was the head fundraiser for the campaign.
After that, my plan was to go to D.C. and start working on a presidential race, but my friends from college were starting a new startup and they asked me to join. I essentially thought to myself, “When’s the next time your friends are going to ask you to help work on a company with them?” I moved to San Francisco and this is four and a half years later.
Matthew: Excellent. What is Justin.tv? Who is it for and why are you so passionate about it?
Michael: The Justin.tv that everyone knows is the largest live video site on the web. There are really two opportunities that we are really excited about that had been born from what we were working on at Justin.tv.
The first has been mobile video. One of the things that we realized as we started empowering more and more people to broadcast live video, and as we started moving to allow people to broadcast live video from a mobile phone, was just how underpowered and feature-lacking your mobile phone is for video. We saw over 4 million people download our live broadcasting application. We dug in and almost all of them were using it for sharing video clips. Digging in further, look at the camera app, look at the Facebook app, and sharing video from your phone, it’s just really hard.
We looked at that problem and saw this was a really big opportunity here. Before we solve the problem of live video on the phone, someone’s got to solve the problem of just straight video on the phone. So that’s how Socialcam was born, and that’s one of our biggest products.
On the live video side, one of the areas that we’re most excited about is actually gaming. The gaming community on Justin.tv, people broadcasting, competitive video gaming, has been popular for years. I would say it’s also been fairly neglected by us for years. Recently, within the last couple of months, we’ve started to invest a lot more time and energy in that space, and we learned a lot more about that space.
Essentially, what we saw is that there is a huge community of people who play games in America. I think the community is around 210 million people. There are a bunch of competitive games and competitive gamers, professional gamers, and there are a bunch of advertisers who want to pay a lot of money to put their advertisement to this audience and against this gaming content, and there’s no one in the middle. There’s no place for all these people to meet up and essentially watch the newest live competitive gaming. This whole industry is called eSports, but we realize that there’s no ESPN for eSports. There’s no ESPN for gaming, so we want to take Justin.tv in a live video direction.
Matthew: Excellent. We covered your background and an overview of Justin.tv and Socialcam, which is your newest product. We want to dig into the story of what inspired you to start Justin.tv? Was it an ‘a-ha’ moment, was it a series of market research that identified that opportunity? How’d you guys come up with it?
Michael: There was no market research. The story of how Justin.tv started is kind of funny. Two of my four cofounders, Justin Kan and Emmett Shear, who I was also classmates with, they actually graduated from Yale and started a tech company called Kiko. It was a calendar program. They were actually in the first Y Combinator class. They ran their company for a year and they got bored with calendars, because calendars are fairly boring, so they decided to sell their startup on eBay.
That got a lot of press. They ended up selling it for about $260,000, made some money and gave the investors their money back, and then wanted to do the next thing. The next thing that they thought of was born of them having a conversation about what startup to start up. They thought it would be really helpful for other people in their position to be able to listen in. And this is the leap of logic, they thought, “What if all of our conversations were recorded?” Then they thought, “What if Justin broadcasted his life live, 24/7?”
They ended up pitching the Y Combinator investors on the idea, and I think that they thought it was just crazy enough to work. So the original idea was Justin broadcasting his life and creating a new type of reality TV show.
I would say that the reason why I got involved was a combination of really wanting to work with friends and realizing that most people just don’t have a fulfilling work environment because they don’t get to work with friends. The second was because I was young and pretty stupid. I thought, “Oh, they raised $50,000. They already sold a startup, they have a fourth cofounder and he’s going to build this great camera. How could it go wrong?” It’s a slam dunk. Nothing’s a slam dunk, but that’s how we all got hired.
Matthew: How long did it take for you guys to get from the idea to the product and when did you actually launch?
Michael: The original Justin.tv idea, the company incorporated in October of ’06. We launched Justin’s broadcast in March or April of ’07. By May or June we realized that reality TV was not a good business for us to be in, four engineers and a poli sci major. So by October of ’07 we had launched Justin.tv as the open site for anyone to broadcast live video.
Fast forward quite a bit. We launched mobile broadcasting on the phone in September of 2010. That was really funny because it was almost the complete turn-around, whereas when we started, Justin was broadcasting live video mobile but he was using this 25-pound backpack. By the fall of 2010 it had all condensed into an Android or iPhone which was pretty fun.
Socialcam, which is the next generation of what we were doing in mobile, actually launched about eight days ago, March 7th, and that probably took about three months to build.