It may be the “in” thing to be an overnight success these days, however most businesses with any longevity are founded upon years of research and foundation-building. Seattle visionary Todd Weaver has been working diligently since 2005 to bring live television to the internet, and launched ivi Inc. in 2007.
Despite some recent kicking and screaming from major networks who are not internet-friendly just yet, Weaver remains confident in his plan. His team officially launched the ivi.TV service on September 13, 2010. The company isn’t as focused on those of us attached to our home theater systems as it is on the next generation that was born hooked on wireless technology.
As he prepares for an appearance at New York’s AdWeb conference on Wednesday (October 6), Todd Weaver is fighting the good fight to keep his company moving forward. The Emerald City entrepreneur took a few moments to tell UrbLife.com about his company goals, overcoming challenges and balancing his life’s work with real life.
How long have you been working on ivi TV?
Todd Weaver: We started in 2005 as proof of concept to solve the technological hurdles of distributing live TV through the internet. So we incorporated in 2007, and brought on some more individuals behind the effort. Then we worked in 2007 to bring the product into what it is today and to launch that to the public on September 13th of this year.
How do you feel your company has been affected by or benefited from the recession?
TW: Fundraising was certainly harder, but any entrepreneur who subscribes to a lean company [meaning they can manage cash flow effectively], if they bring on really talented people with the upside of what the company can become, those things aren’t affected by the recession. While we did seek to go out and raise money, it was a very difficult time – that was the major way we were affected. But the individual drive and available talent pool are all positive, and we’re not affected by any downturn at all.
Even though the internet hit a boom phase over the past few years, there were still people skeptical about how far it would take over our entertainment. Why do you feel like putting television in an internet capacity now will benefit a consumer?
TW: The internet is still the ideal transactional communication means for anything whatsoever. You have the ability to deliver something to an individual, and it’s going to continue to grow because it answers all of those pieces. One of the things about entertainment – and primarily live television – is that it doesn’t benefit from the transactional piece, meaning if I distribute to one person on the internet or 100 people, the cost continues to grow per person.
One of the things to overcome is the ability to create the broadcast costing model on the internet. When television began and they established putting the antenna in the ground, if one or one million people watched it would cost the broadcaster the same. The same applied once they laid the cable infrastructure, it was distributed to all of the households, the same applied with satellite once we shot that into space. The internet is not the broadcast model, it’s very much transactional.
A major thing for us was figuring out how to distribute video payload to consumers that are spread around, and have that broadcast costing model, but also keep that transactional piece so that people can subscribe to things and interact with the players. Those were very difficult things to overcome, but in overcoming them we get the benefit of distribution over the internet, which is only growing.
With television and cable, the entire cord-cutting phenomenon is an absolute reality. The youth don’t even establish cable in their home, they take their laptop or cell phone don’t ever establish cable. They’re so big behind the transition to putting everything on the internet that anyone who brings anything to your home, it’s really going to be data by way of an internet connection.
Companies like ours, Netflix and Skype all provide on the internet to who individuals are, to take that one step beyond is the same parallel to the land line and the cell phone industry… that’s what the cable and satellite industry is. You used to have a physical wire that would come to your home that was attached to your physical address, and [you can take]cell phones with you.
With our service you can sign up, download it to your laptop, watch live TV on your laptop and take that subscription with you to the coffee shop or to your friend’s house or on vacation. Anywhere you go. It’s the exact same philosophy behind the cell phone and the cord-cutting with the land line.
The main channels on your site are Seattle and New York. Does that mean that someone in New York can go to Missouri and watch the same channels if they subscribe?
TW: Absolutely, that’s exactly right, and we’re adding more markets as we go. The next market will be [Los Angeles], but right now anybody who signs up within the U.S. can get the broadcast channels. If you’re in L.A. and you sign up for $4.99 a month, you can get ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, CW, and PBS out of New York and Seattle. You can take it to a friend’s house if you subscribe to the premium channels, we’re going to continue to add premium channels.
They can be a la carte, or part of the general package like an entertainment package. Right now we have a package called ivi Air with all of the channels out of Seattle and New York, and a new market probably every 45 days or so.
Outside of the actual technology, what would you say has been the biggest challenge in building your business?
TW: As an entrepreneur, fundraising is a hard one. The critical piece to longevity is not to overpromise or under deliver. It’s very common for an entrepreneur to fail if they over promise and under deliver. As you’re fundraising it’s very hard to make sure that you’re upfront, because those who put in upfront will likely need to put in later to continue to grow the business. Especially with the recession, fundraising was really hard.
Besides that, managing and hiring very talented people is something that takes effort. The entire strength behind us is the team that we have. They’re unbelievably nimble and brilliant people, and that goes so far for the start of a company.
Looking back at your life, what’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
TW: Probably just not to ever give up and to continue pushing forward for what you believe in and what you know is right when things get tough. That’s something we try to hold true with everything we do with the company.
When you’re an entrepreneur, there’s no such thing as 9-to-5 anymore. How do you balance a personal life with your career?
TW: The way that we built our company is entirely virtual. I have talented individuals out of the Ukraine, Russia, the east and west coast, ones who travel and ones who are just down the street. By creating a virtual environment and leveraging virtual schools, that allows the ability not to have to go to a physical place from 9-to-5 where everybody else is.
On one hand it’s tremendously beneficial, because I have the ability to break away and take my kids to preschool or to the park, but then at midnight when one of our developers will jump on from Russia, I’m working with them to see how they are and how they’re coming along, and what they’ve innovated since I last spoke to them.
It’s a juggle, but the ability to have it be virtual and have the tools where we can jump up, connect, grab a bunch of people from all over the world into a room and have a chat about what’s going on, it makes things nimble and ends up allowing for the ability to manage my personal time in a way that traditionally wouldn’t have been there.
We only hire people that take ownership of something rather than being a task-based worker. That helps with the business being nimble and able to make mass improvements over a short period of time, because nobody has to be micromanaged and told what to do for the day.
When everybody takes ownership of their particular brand of expertise, then the outcome of the whole is remarkable and that lends itself to being able to save time and have fun. If I had to micromanage everyone, I wouldn’t have personal time to invest into anything else. Every single person involved is extremely happy to be working for our company. In the hiring process, the number one thing I look at is ownership and excitement.
If your child wanted to start their own company, what advice would you give them?
TW: I would tell them they have the ability to do it and it’s something they should work extremely hard at. Most importantly don’t give up, and follow your dream.
Find out more about ivi at ivi.tv