The Forrest Four-Cast: September 29, 2016
What to do when your SXSW-launched startup gains massive media attention and is quickly overtaken by much-better-funded competition? For Meerkat (the darling breakout app from March 2015 in Austin), a conscious pivot away from the spotlight may be the ticket to more organic growth and long-term success.
As reported this week both by The Verge and Engadget, Meerkat has reinvented itself as Houseparty. Video is still the main focus here — except that the new version of this social media service bets that a lot of users will opt for privacy with friends over public attention from unknown followers. As company founder Ben Rubin told Casey Newton: ”We don’t see the category of live media breaking out as we envisioned it last summer. Everybody felt like this is going to be the next big thing. And we did scratch the surface. But what we ended up with is that live is a great feature on top of an existing network. It’s not quite yet in a place where it can justify a whole new medium and a whole new set of behaviors where everyone is doing it on a daily basis.”
While Houseparty has flown largely under the radar with older users, it has not gone unnoticed by its target audience. Launched less than a year ago, the app now has close to a million users, mostly 25 and under. Meerkat’s current leadership feels these teenagers and twenty-something users are ready for a little less exposure. According to chief operating officer Sima Sistani, “Everything in this new generation is trying to come back to what feels real. So we’re making a bet that live video is as real as it gets.”
Most founders wants buzz for their new projects. But high excitement and high expectations can also be a death sentence for innovation. The braintrust behind Meerkat is banking that less attention makes for more sustainability. Although now that the secret is out, less may not be less for too much longer.