Some thoughts on #Meerkat

Downloaded Meerkat yet?

It’s the new new thing.

The app is five days old and getting in with all the right names in the Valley.  (The company has been around for a few years, but this is a new product for them.)

It’s so new, we don’t even know if people are using it a second time, yet already it’s been in the Wall Street Journal.  (PS…   Yuliya is really becoming an asset to the WSJ’s tech coversage.  Future star to watch.)

In 2007, I was at the SXSW where Twitter blew up. That’s how I was able to get into the Hatching Twitter book, where, for some reason, Nick Bilton refers to me as short. I’m 5’11”, thank you. How tall is Nick, anyway?

In 2010, Foursquare hit it big in Austin not long after their funding, which I accidently kicked off with a blog post. If only I could have pulled that off with my own startup. [sad trombone]

In 2011, GroupMe seemed to be the winner. I had funded it out of a hackathon earlier that year.

So after being around all these apps, eight consecutive years of going down to Austin, speaking three times, judging a thing, hosting the first SXSW wiffle ball tourney, I’m feeling pretty darn qualified to weigh in on the ultimate future of a five day old app.  I’ve even used it a couple of times!

If you can’t tell, I’m being sarcastic…

You know the only answer VC’s should feel qualified to give on this one?


Here, however, are a few early thoughts:

1) It’s obviously the best live streaming mobile app we’ve ever seen. It’s stupidly easy and the quality is way better than technology could ever get Qik to be back in the day.

2) Yes, it is definitely going to be a huge thing at SXSW. Yes, those of us not at SXSW (which I won’t be this year… that’s another story… just too big), will find it completely insufferable. You think we didn’t want to see the Tweets and Instagrams of the parties… just wait to see how much we’ll hate the drunk livestream of the parties.

3) Yes, it will get funded with a lot of money, very soon. I might even say that the Meerkat funding is peak VC for this cycle… b/c there’s a chance that their next round is so big and so ridiculous that all the VCs just put the wire transfers down and step away for a bit. (How big? I’m thinking $25mm seed for 10% of the company… If only I was kidding.)

4) I keep thinking that it’s going to get popular among a 30’s and 40’s crowd of people that don’t quite get that this kind of production and consumption kind of already happens on Snapchat. Snapchat may not be “live” but neither really is Meerkat. There’s a few second delay… so what’s the real difference between a few seconds and the minute or two if you get the Snapchat notification of a story being posted. Is it the interaction? Well, I don’t think the comment interaction is that compelling. If you’ve ever sat in on a livestream (ustream, istream, weallstream…) and watched someone answer the comments, it’s about as exciting as watching someone peel the skin off their feet.

5) Meerkat’s UX is all about getting popular. The focus is on getting an audience. We’ve seen all that play out before in several mediums… and it just didn’t drive quality. In social, most people don’t want to popular, they just want to connect with their friends. It’s too much pressure, and most of us just aren’t popular or interesting–so it becomes a less than interesting experience for most of the users. If that’s the case, then it becomes a broadcast channel, but one where each broadcast must be watched right away. That’s pretty much the opposite of where TV is going. We don’t want to have to watch things right away. That’s a simple feature fix… let the streams last for even a couple of minutes. It’s just as relevant… and it will bring more people to the water cooler. Otherwise, it’s Youtube where you’ve got to watch the video as soon as it gets posted otherwise it disappears. I don’t see that gaining mass adoption.

6) This one will be a struggle to monetize. Who’s going to want to watch a branded Meerkat–and that’s where the big dollars are, in ads. Brands work better in places where agencies can produce great content. Agencies aren’t going to be able to produce great livestreams quick enough or fast enough to make the ROI worth it. Instagram is a lot better brand medium. If it’s all about premium ones, that’s fine, but that’s not a multi billion dollar revenue stream.

7) If you thought that the bandwidth issue was soon going to be solved, think again. Austin infrastructure is going to bust open at the seams at SXSW. Meerkat is going to create all sorts of issues, especially for venues. First, if it wasn’t clear before, free wifi has become table stakes. You just need it, like air conditioning, because the guy down the street has it. As quickly as they invent 4G, 5G, some hacker is going to create a mobile thing that sucks up a ton of bandwidth again. This creates the need for friendly network management. Venues won’t want Meerkat broadcasting the Fall Out Boy concert via their wifi–or will they? Some will, some won’t. Some might let you do it in exchange for something else (A premium purchase? Tweeting out the venue? A check in?). This is why people are starting to talk to companies like SocialSignIn–because they know wifi can be used for good and not evil (i.e. just a big cost sinkhole), but they don’t exactly know how. When everyone is Meerkatting, how can brands and venues leverage access to more bandwidth, a key component of livestreaming, to their advantage?

8) All this being said, I am finding the notifications pretty addictive.  I do want to see what people are up to… and some people are pretty cool, funny, etc.  If it gets critical mass, watching a series of streams live from news events could be amazing.  Clearly stream discovery will be key, but this could very much be the dream of see anywhere in the world, right now…. which a lot of people have been thinking about but no one has made easy. 

And that’s everything I know and think about Meerkat five days into the life of the service.

I reserve the right to be completely and unequivocally wrong about this whole thing, which, as a VC I tend to be about 50% of the time.