An in depth look into the new startup Airtime
On June 5th 2012 the secretive startup Airtime (Sean Parker & Shawn Fanning) released their much-anticipated video application. On opening day, users could have potentially been matched via video with people like Jessica Alba, Mark Zuckerberg, Sean Parker and other top names. During launch day, users familiar with tech, shared negative responses concerning the usage of Flash. (security vulnerabilities)
However, this article isn’t created to discuss the Adobe Flash controversy, or even talk about Sean Parker & Shawn Fanning. No not-at-all, they get too much publicity anyway, especially Parker. My intention is to share insight into what Airtime is, the great team, the money behind it and the possible evolution behind Airtime as a company, brand, and application.
Airtime is a live video platform that allows you to connect with strangers who share the same likes and interests as you, and like Skype, lets you video chat with your current friends. Airtime is built on Facebook and uses your information from there to discern who should be connected to you by video. From what I understand, you can also select a criteria that is used in the matchmaking process as well.
Some of you may be aware of a similar app in the past called ChatRoulette which didn’t succeed due to being a place largely used by perverts sharing their genitalia. Airtime used ChatRoulette’s mistakes to learn from to ensure that perversion is eliminated. They do this by using Machine Learning algorithms. These algorithms are specifically using customized technologies such as Facial Recognition, and skin’s hue/luminosity detection. This helps the system understand if penises are being shown on-screen. However, since it is a learning process for “machines” sometimes actions like fingers pointing or waving can be mistaken for a small penis. That’s why large amounts of stored visual data (Big Data) will be used to learn from for accuracy purposes. The evolution of Machine Learning and Big Data in the recent years allows products like Airtime to be safe but fun. (I’m a huge fanatic of the relationship between Big Data and Machine Learning)
The safety and ingenuity of Airtime couldn’t have been possible though, without an all-star lineup to help it become a reality. Since you have two Co-Founders who are mainstream media icons and a brilliant “change the world” type of idea, backed financially by large VC’s, you have the ability to create a solid team. As I looked through the LinkedIn profiles of each key player, I couldn’t help but think, these are the upcoming tech Rock stars, who could be the next millionaires if they stick with this startup.
Lets take a look at the Airtime team:
*Chris Piro and Gareth Aye did not share a photo via LinkedIn, but they did share a Facebook profile and blog as links on LinkedIn. So I decided to carry the photos over so that way the above picture looked fuller.
*Also, some of you may be wondering how I was able to get the last names of all these employee’s even though I’m not connected to them. It’s actually a little recruiting trick, using a loop hole in Linkedin. For instance, if you were to go to Ebby A.’s profile, on the lower right it would show “People also viewed this profile” and then it would give the full names of the employee’s, when normally it would just show Name then last name initial. Thought I would share. :)
Along with Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning we have another Co-founder who stays out of the medias focus. Joey Liaw, is the Chief Technology Officer at Airtime. He went to Stanford university in 2002-2005. It’s possible that his first time being connected with Sean Parker was when he accepted a role as a software engineer at Causes (startup by Sean Parker) in 2007. Who knows though, they could have met even earlier via IRC. When reading Joey’s profile I noticed he is a power user of a cool programming language called Erlang, just a cool fact.
Mark Jen (VP of Engineering), has an attractive work history. A graduate of University of Michigan with a B.S in Computer Engineering. He comes from a solid list of technology companies. In his earlier years he spent time at IBM, Microsoft, and Google which he got fired from, due to his personal blog posts, read it here. Then two months after being fired he was picked up by Sean Parker’s start-up Plaxo. In 2007, after ten months of Plaxo, Tagged acquired him. At Tagged it looks like he seen a lot of promotions due to excellent performance. After a little over three years it looks like his old buddy Sean Parker hit him up again, about Airtime.
Software Engineers Benjamin Stover, Ebby Amirebrahimi, and Chris Piro seem to be the core developers underneath Mark Jen who probably spent time building up the backend, the inner guts of Airtime. It’s possible that Benjamin Stover could have played a role on the front end development with the acquisition of Larry Chen of Erly.
As far as Emma Zhou and Gareth Aye goes, my intuition tells me they may have been both acquired at the same time by Airtime for a specific reason. The reason behind my thinking is because Gareth mentions he started to work for Airtime in May 2012. That’s two months before the actual public release of Airtime as a web application. Both Gareth and Emma come from an ambitious startup called Rapleaf. A statement taken from Rapleaf on LinkedIn: “IT company that builds innovative products to compile and analyze large amounts of information.” This is important when it comes to Airtime. They will have databases stored with terabytes and beyond, and it requires you to have engineers like both Emma and Gareth. Because in time as this application becomes more robust with users, it will be storing videos and screen shots so that the algorithms will have a sufficient amount of data to learn from. Not to mention what types of new custom technologies they may be able to create due to the learning taking place.
It seems that Larry Chen a creative front end designer and Rosa Wu a product manager both play a part at Airtime, but also at the social platform start-up Erly (Acquired by Airtime 5/2012). More about Erly later on.
That leaves us to Tony Onorati. Tony is quite the character. I mean this in a good way (down to earth, teddy bear type of guy). He seems to be the most open about his life and his experiences via his blog. It looks like Tony plays the server monkey role, with a cool title to go. In his own words “You name it, I do it when it comes to IT. From networking architecture to day-to-day problems, I get it done. And with a swanky title to boot.”
Before Tony came into Airtime to do the day-in-day-out IT work, there was an Site Reliability Engineer by the name of Devin Murphy, who spent six months with Airtime. You may be wondering why only six months? Did he get fired? I don’t think so. I think he was brought on for the short-term to bang out large system deployment and once accomplished I think he was paid buku’ money(urban Rhode island slang for large amounts of dough) and bounced. A job well done!
A month later Tony takes over.
One more person I wanted to share, and I’m mainly sharing this for the brilliant software engineers out there who may want to work for Airtime. She is the head of recruiting over at Airtime. She goes by the name of Lisa Rogers. She looks like a strong senior recruiter who has loads of experience, and for her to be the head of talent at Airtime means something. So if you’re looking to get your foot in the door, she is the person to talk to. It would be your best interest to have a strong resume, and a quality Github profile ready, because Airtime takes interest in Open Source contributors. It gives you an X-Factor against your competition.
This concludes the strong team behind the scenes doing what they do best. They get paid to do what they like and while they’re doing it, they’re bringing us a world-class product and service that could potentially change the world, or at least how we share ours selves to others. A great team like this cost a good amount of money. That leads us to our next section. The funding behind Airtime.
Two years ago in September 2010 Shawn Fanning who was an adviser for ChatRoulette and Co-founder Joey Liaw raised 200k in funding for Supyo Inc which is now Airtime. A year later when Sean Parker is known to be a Co-Founder, Airtime begins it’s Series A funding.
Airtime’s Series A funding is backed by large names in the Venture Capitalist industry. They received 8.3 million in funding from Founders Fund (Parker now a General Partner), Accel Partners, Andreessen Horowitz, Yuri Milner, Ron Conway, Marissa Mayer, Ashton Kutcher, will.i.am, Scott Braun, and TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington (CrunchFund), among others.
I’m pretty sure some of that money was used to create the elegant Airtime Headquarters in San Francisco. HD pictures on Facebook
Fifteen days before initial launch date Airtime was able to gather $25 million in funding from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Andreessen Horowitz and Google Ventures. I’m sure this money will be used to scale Airtime’s technology, infrastructure, number of employees, the large not-so-great launch party, and to pay for the acquisition of Erly (5/23/2012).
Erly was founded by former Hulu CTO Eric Feng (Prior partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers). Erly is a new social platform for organizing and sharing your personal content. Erly also goes into detail about something they call the Experience Graph. In my personal opinion, I feel the idea of the experience graph is what can set up Airtime to be a potential powerhouse.
Currently Airtime uses Facebook (friend graph) as the platform to connect individuals. This matchmaking process is based on your likes and interests. For example, we both like Dexter, so Airtime connects us.”Great, you like Dexter, now what?” Do you see how elementary and unexciting that is. So the inevitable question should be: Is Facebook the best platform Airtime could be using? The short answer is no.
In the short-term, it’s fine for Airtime to use Facebook as its platform to be a matchmaker. This gives them the opportunity to bring it to the public, build up a user base, and bring in large amounts of data for learning material. However, like I said above. The current state of Facebook is not Airtime’s best platform for the long-term. That is why they used Series B funding to buy out Erly.
Erly understands a key principal of the human psyche, it is:
Researchers have found that we tend to retrieve memories in two ways – by people and by experiences. Sometimes you think about a person you were with first and then about what you were doing with them, and other times you think of what you were doing first and then remember who you were with.
Erly’s about page continues on stating how a friend graph is certainly powerful, but sometimes building around an experience can be more efficient.
Here is another clue:
you can quickly browse along any of those to find other experiences you might be interested in.
Relate this to Airtime. Wouldn’t it be awesome to start a conversation with a random stranger who has experienced something you haven’t, but it totally interest you? And that person has something of substance they can talk about, and maybe while you’re talking, you’re looking at that persons public event/experience pictures? Oh boy! now that’s powerful! This could be a potential Generation-Y matchmaking heaven, in a positive way. Bye match.com! Real friendships and even relationships can spawn off this Video Platform + Social Platform.
I think this was a right move by the founders of Airtime, and I think we will continue to see an audience grow to like Airtime. I believe Erly will continue to develop and mold into something that will work hand-n-hand with the video application. In a couple of years, we could possibly see the use of Facebook as a matchmaker eliminated and substituted with something much more intimate, more humanized via Erly. I wish both start-ups a healthy and growing network, and I can’t wait to see what it will be like a year from now, five years from now, and then ten years from now.
I hope that my readers enjoyed this in-depth company profile and recruiters out there should stay tuned because I will be writing a new installment answering the question, “What does the use of Airtime mean to a Recruiter?”