Ramu Sunkara, CEO, shared his experiences in starting Qik, a streaming video company, with University of Oxford MBA students at the Computer History Museum today. (Disclosure: My husband, John Mashey, is a trustee and he also gave the students a museum tour.)
1. Start in a garage.
After 10 years at Oracle, Ramu knew he liked working with CTO Nikolay Abkairov, a video expert. They started in Ramu's garage with 3 $300K checks from angel investors to create video software for PCs, then immediately realized that it would be better to develop software for mobile phones. (Hint: Oracle is a good training ground for startup CEOs).
2. Get noticed.
Qik has scrambled to work with major phone manufacturers to get them to adopt it's video streaming software. Take video with your cellphone and stream it to the world. Qik took its application to the World Economic Forum in Davos and used it to interview world leaders.
3. Focus on product development initially
Ramu hasn't time to meet the leaders - despite invitations. Qik's software is not quite ready for prime time, but it's taking off.
4. Attract customers
The race is on to gain market share as competition is likely to be strong. It took 18 months to get the first 1000 customers, another 6 months to get 100,000 and 6 months more to get to 1 million.
5. Build cohesive, cost effective global teams
Now a company of 30 people, with 10 locally and 20 in Russia, many Qik employees have worked together before. Their video streaming software helps build a cohesive team. Qik has reduced their burn rate from $500K/month when they were going for market share, to a more sustainable $220K/month.
6. Like and respect the people on your team
Ramu said that he really enjoyed working with Nik in Moscow and that had helped keep them going through tough times. "Sheer determination" he proposed had kept them on track. Ramu said "You don't want to spend 3 - 4 years of your life doing something that goes nowhere."
7. Don't be put off by naysayers
Ramu and Nik were absolutely committed to making a better video streaming experience. They know that there's competition and more will come. As Ramu said "a death blow comes almost every day". What happens when someone says "Apple could kill you?". Ramu's reaction is to race ahead, build a quality product and gain customers as fast as possible.
8. Get a good domain name
It only cost $5500 for Qik to get the domain name qik.com. If you can get a short memorable name for a reasonable price go for it.
9. Get the timing right for introducing your product to partners
Qik only went to cellphone manufacturers when they were ready. There are less than 10 large cellphone manufacturers and over 400 cellphone service providers, Ramu pointed out. If you do a good job with the handset manufacturers they have spent twenty years building relationships with the telephone companies and can lead you to the right people. I asked if Ramu had spoken to network architects in phone companies regarding how to handle peak loads - it's not time yet!
10. Support a wide range of platforms. Look out for video on the next Apple iPhone
Just like his mentor, Oracle, Qik is supporting a wide range of platforms from the start. It works on 3G and WiFi networks, not Edge. The next version of the Apple iPhone, due this summer, will support video capture. Currently users can take videos with jailbroken iPhones, but I don't recommend it. You can see Qik videos on many different phones.
Let's hope the networks - particularly the cellphone networks - can handle it.