On the verge of being a failed startup

28 Oct 2014
| Last update: 05 Oct 2015

Airtime. Success or failure in the spotlight?


Lots of attention, stirring the news and a complete fiasco. This is how launched in 2012.  The demo event was celebrity-packed and this managed to save a bit the embarrassing situation. Even so, the video-chat website didn’t manage to keep it going and from overblown fuss that resulted into failure they’ve finally moved on to a quiet relaunch under the name of OkHello. So, if they were on the verge of having a failed startup, though being in the spotlight, it’s no wonder they prefer a little silence in 2014. It also seems to be more of a winning strategy.

A shaky launch-event

Erin Griffith writes a review of the 2012 Airtime’s demo-day and I tell you she has some nerve to question their future. 2014 has proven she trusted her intuition. While on the 5th of June 2012 the website appeared to be supported by all Hollywood stars and music pop-icons out there, who were present at the event: Jimmy Fallon, Olivia Munn, Alicia Keys, Snoop Dogg, Ed Helms, Jim Carrey, Joel McHale, Martha Stewart, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and you thought it’d sweep you off your feet, it didn’t. It was any other video-chat website( which stored your Facebook connections). It could well have been another version of Skype’s or GChat’s.

Erin Griffith calls a sword a sword: “Not exactly a revolution”. However, its founders: Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning believed in the breakthrough the app would be making on social media:“We’re trying to rewire the social graph,” declared Parker.

Even the good ideas didn’t matter proposed a few good ideas, but sadly it faltered along the way.

First of all, it was real time. Parker made a statement that finally there was real time Internet and it apparently remained unused. However, Erin Griffith amusingly considers this: “Methinks Twitter would disagree.”

The second good idea was the “Interest Graph”, which was relevant for the video chat. People that were already connected on Facebook could strengthen their relationships by talking about their common interests and discovering unknown hobbies that were shared between them. Also, when meeting up strangers, you only reached people that had similar interests with you.

Parker wanted for Airtime’s “Interest Graph” to be used to meet new random people, not only to focus on managing current contacts. He argued that the website’s random Chatroulette function, which allows users to video chat with random people selected by means of shared interests taken from Facebook, makes the Internet “interesting” again. He didn’t like that everything on the Web was filtered through the lens of your social group.

The third good thing was  that Airtime had “no penises” in the words of Erin Griffith. It was so designed as to detect porn and prevent it from using, assuring the website wouldn’t turn into a porn pit similar to Chatroulette. Thumbs up for this!

Despite the celebrities, these good ideas, the $33 million in funding the company didn’t manage to keep traction after 4 months.

How bad was it?

Even from the start off, things were tearing up at the seams. Erin Griffith puts it plainly:”when the demo went sideways, and the company froze several times, it was better to have comedians like Joel McHale, Olivia Munn, and Ed Helms cracking jokes to fill the awkwardness than the nervous Parker or soft-spoken Fanning.” The celebrity endorsement, however, didn’t seem to keep the website afloat.

The website, founded by celebrity stars was all about making a flashy buzz. It planned to reach millions of users through real time Facebook Chat invites to video calls. You could’ve given the link by Video Post to FB or Tweeter Feed. The problem was that private messages don’t go viral. After 2 months from the launch it hoped to grow by public video posts on Twitter and FB.

The problem was that this business didn’t follow the strategy of a lean startup. Yes, it was launched by celebrities, but it addressed people and it shouldn’t have aimed to buy people by its flashy image, but by what it offered: value and use. Nothing of a kind.

However, take a look at their ad from 2012, which was really the cherry on top of a creamy cake:

Hilarious Ad Features MC Hammer and Kurt Russell[VIDEO] writes Christina Warren for Mashable, who makes a review of the ad. She ironically adds: “Of course, it wouldn’t be Airtime without celebrities. The spot features cameos by Kurt Russell, MC Hammer, Gary Vaynerchuk and Ronnie Lott.” and she talks about the star of the video, Ian Pfaff, who is Portal A’s “creative jack-of-all-trades”.

Despite all this eye-catching endorsement,  AppData showed that the website only had 1000 daily and 90.000 monthly actives.

In October 2012 Anita Li writes for Mashable that after 4 months of staggering, Parker denied all rumors of failure. (Take a look at the interview with The New York Times). “This is a ridiculously early stage for a company,” he told the newspaper last Monday. “It takes six to 12 months to get things up ” and he suggested that AppData’s statistics were inaccurate. However,  analytics firms Nielsen and comScore both said Airtime’s traffic “was so small that it did not yet register on their charts,”(reported on The Times).

So what went wrong?

One important problem was that it was desktop instead of mobile, so it didn’t have so much flexibility.

As with many video chat websites, the problem lies with the actual idea. It’s easier to sit at your desk, hunch over your laptop and have a nice relaxed chat with your friends. You can do this in any clothes you want, while eating something, anywhere you want, even on your sofa, with the TV turned on, you can talk to your grandma meanwhile, and it’s ok. On the other hand, when you are on video chat all sorts of things matter: how you look (did you or didn’t you wash your face this morning?), where you are (so what’s with the pile of empty bottles behind you?), who’s in the room( is your sister there?), and your gestures and words(you can’t pick your nose in a conversation, not to mention yawn).

The guys from Airtime tried to solve this situation by offering you the possibility to give anonymous calls, but it’s not the same comfort we are talking about. What were you to do? Put a bag on your head and gesture at the screen?!

Solutions for a relaunched successful startup: OkHello

Ryan Tate thinks that a good option in video-chatting is to keep interactions short. That’s how Twitter’s Vine functions (6 seconds) and Instagram’s 15-second video service. The video becomes more of a still photo. (Read more…)

“Another option is to keep users in small private groups rather than flinging them into impromptu chats with strangers or asking them to share video with the entire world.” This is how Google’s Hangouts work. It’s better to bring together people who share the same interests.

OkHello seems to have found the recipe for success.

Erin Griffith writes for Fortune Exclusive: Sean Parker’s company has quietly relaunched as OkHello (and it’s actually working).

When it relaunched at the beginning of 2014, Airtime had been keeping the project silent for almost a year. OkHello has been live in the App Store since last April. It has been featured by the App store 46 different times in 28 countries, and it launched on Android. Because they didn’t want to stir waters, OkHello has carefully hidden any connection to Airtime.

OkHello is successfully working. It’s been included in the App Store’s top 100 social media apps, according to app analytics service App Annie. It has also hit top 10 on some occasions.

This time, the video chat system is on mobile  and its users can share photos, videos and text chats. There is texting, audio chatting and video chatting and stickers, which are adored by the kids.

In the end, I guess it’s better to keep it good and simple than letting all people know and failing lamentably. Do you think OkHello would’ve had more success if they promoted it more, like they did with Airtime or is it better this way?


Ligia Mangra
Follow me

Ligia Mangra

Content Writer at Squirrly
A passionate writer. I love seeing a full moon and I like to rock 'n roll in life. Can't wait till my first novel gets published. Thumbs up, it'll be a fantasy horror!
Ligia Mangra
Follow me