In case you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last week, a Meerkat is a Twitter app allowing livestreaming video from your IOS device.
As it streams, followers can comment, but when the livestream stops, all that remains are the comments — the video itself disappears (somewhat like Snapchat texts).
Launched last Friday, the Meerkat app quickly became the “darling of Product Hunt“, gaining 15,000 users in just a few days. TechCrunch calls Meerkat, “the livestreaming app Twitter should have built”. Just like those cuddly darlings living in Meerkat Manor, Meerkat captivated the imagination of users and validated the $3 million investment by the Israeli venture fund, Aleph.
Here’s how Yuliya Chernova, staff writer at the Wall Street Journal described the Meerkat app in the WSJ blog earlier this week:
When a user starts recording video via Meerkat, his or her Twitter followers are notified with a tweet and can click on the link to watch the video. Any comment they type appears both in the Twitter feed as a reply and on the user’s video screen, so they can respond live. Mr. Rubin said in a post on Product Hunt that he wanted to make live video from events such as the recent Ferguson, Mo., protests spread faster.
Problems in Meerkat Manor
All is not perfect with Meerkat, despite its initial success — or maybe because of it. Initially, the quick uptake caused Twitter to momentarily ban the app; but conversations between co-founder, Ben Rubin, and Twitter resolved their differences and the app went right back up.
But, more sinister forces may be at work.
Twitter recently announced it’s in talks to acquire a Meerkat rival, Periscope. Not exactly the best news for Rubin and his team at Meerkat, especially since he redeployed is entire 10 person team to focus on the app after its initial success.
But, Rubin is philosophical about the future of Meerkat.
In an interview, Rubin said this about Meerkat:
I’m hearing ‘Don’t believe the hype’ in loops in my head. Just because everyone signs up for a product doesn’t mean it will continue to grow (See: Ello, Secret, Yo). It can be tough to tell what will stick around.
And, he’s probably right. Getting initial traction and gaining sustained users are two different challenges. Just ask Rubin, himself. He closed out an earlier app, Yevvo, despite garnering over 300,000 users because he didn’t feel he’d hit on the right combination for sustained growth. Meerkat is his second pivot and represents a little side project coming from development of Air, a permission-based video sharing app. With the initial uptake on Meerkat, Rubin pulled his entire team onto the Meerkat project, leaving the future of Air, up in the air.
Sure, it’s interesting to learn about a successful startup and launch like Meerkat, but what does it mean for startups and innovation, in general?
I think you can learn a few things from the experiences of Rubin and his team.
1. Stay agile
Rubin pivoted twice leading up to Meerkat. It’s a story I’ve heard before. In talking about Adobe, Charles Geschke, talks about pivoting from his original idea of bundling his software with hardware and credits his pivot with the ultimate success of Adobe.
2. Choose the right partners
I guess this is a corollary to staying agile, since having the wrong partners can stifle creativity and force a company to remain committed to a course of action destined for failure. Anyone familiar with the story of Apple and the ousting of Steve Jobs, knows the perils inherent in over-committing to something — in the case of Apple it was Lisa. In management, we call this “escalation to commitment” and it features a bunch of sunk-cost arguments that don’t make rational sense.
In the cases of Meerkat and Adobe, investors were willing to deviate from the original plans when opportunities arose. In the case of Adobe, Geschke credits investors with encouraging him to ditch his original plan.
3. Deploy resources wisely
Yevvo was gaining traction and had a large installed user-base. Yet, Rubin knew it wasn’t where he wanted to go and it was consuming resources he needed for something he thought had greater potential.
You just can’t do everything, so focus on the future, not the past.
Meerkat is an interesting case study for startups. It’ll be interesting to see how the case evolves over the next year.
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