Meerkat was the darling of SXSW in 2015. Here’s why it pivoted three months later and became HouseParty.

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HouseParty CEO Ben Rubin in 2015, wearing a Meerkat t-shirt

Founder and CEO Ben Rubin explains the livestreaming company’s extreme makeover on Recode Media.

Three years ago, the mobile livestreaming app Meerkat was the app of South By Southwest in Austin, Texas. But this year at SXSW, Meerkat’s founder Ben Rubin was happy just hanging out.

On the latest episode of Recode Media with Peter Kafka, Rubin reflected on why, just months after SXSW 2015, he pivoted the Meerkat team away from livestreaming into a different product, HouseParty. For starters, the splashy debut was not as carefully orchestrated as it may have seemed at the time.

“Two weeks before the conference, people were already streaming and talking about ‘Meerkat at South By,’” Rubin said. “But it was just me, a chubby guy with a yellow t-shirt that didn’t even know he was going to South By four days before that.”

The mobile broadcasting model — later mimicked by Facebook Live, Facebook-owned Instagram and Twitter-owned Periscope, among others — wasn’t good for making “meaningful connections,” Rubin noted.

“The amount of people who can make meaningful live content on a daily basis is very, very few,” he said.

Although Meerkat attracted millions of users, the company noticed that they would broadcast once or twice and then peace out — so, Meerkat became HouseParty, which lets multiple friends video chat with each other simultaneously (think FaceTime, but for groups). Rubin characterized that decision as a “pivot from courage,” rather than a “pivot from fear.”

“The pivots from fear always come too late, and three months before you run out of money,” he said. “A pivot from courage is the one where everybody’s shaking in the chairs in the board meeting. Everyone was afraid because I was this crazy guy who’d just raised $ 12 million.”

You can listen to Recode Media on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

On the new podcast, Rubin said the thing he cares most about HouseParty creating is a sense of “presence” among the app’s users — a technological fascimilie of hanging out in the same room with other people, including not-close friends. Half of the app’s users are under the age of 24.

“Everybody has two or three friends who they can FaceTime at any minute, out of the blue,” he said. “But there’s another 20 people who, ‘It’s gonna be weird if Peter FaceTimes me out of the blue, why should I answer this?’ With HouseParty, it’s actually okay to say ‘I’m around’ and for your friends to opt in, and their friends can join in.”

“That’s one of the beautiful things about the internet, the ability to have connections that you otherwise would not have,” Rubin added. “Everything became flattened into a two-dimensional feed. A real dialogue between people is bringing back empathy that I think we’ve been missing.”

If you like this show, you should also sample our other podcasts:

  • Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, is a weekly show featuring in-depth interviews with the movers and shakers in tech and media every Monday. You can subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
  • Too Embarrassed to Ask, hosted by Kara Swisher and The Verge’s Lauren Goode, answers all of the tech questions sent in by our readers and listeners. You can hear new episodes every Friday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcastor wherever you listen to podcasts.
  • And finally, Recode Replay has all the audio from our live events, such as the Code Conference, Code Media and the Code Commerce Series. Subscribe today on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

If you like what we’re doing, please write a review on Apple Podcasts — and if you don’t, just tweet-strafe Peter. Tune in next Thursday for another episode of Recode Media!


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This year’s SXSW was all about blockchain dreamers, cryptocurrency scammers, and everything in between

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Arriving roughly one hour into a full-day blockchain-themed event called “Initial Taco Offering,” I’m greeted by a sight familiar to many attendees of Austin’s South By Southwest Interactive Festival. There is a throng of badge-wearing, drink-craving conference goers — and there are free tacos.

The event, a play on the initial coin offerings that have turned digital currencies into some of the buzziest and most fraught investment opportunities on the planet, is being held at a steakhouse on Lavaca Avenue in downtown Austin. The organizers, a group called the Founders Organization, lured attendees away from more traditional sessions in the city’s convention center and nearby hotels with the promise of complimentary food and spirited…

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This week on AI: Apple’s March 27 event, WWDC 2018, Cue at SXSW & more

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The week began with Apple exec Eddy Cue making a special appearance at SXSW in Austin, but the biggest news was the announcement of a press event for March 27, and plans for WWDC 2018’s kick-off on June 4.
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VR escort film pulled from SXSW amid allegations of misconduct

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Two days ago, director Michael Jacobs described his first VR short, GFE (an acronym of "girlfriend experience"), to me on camera. The film is a "documentary fantasy," Jacobs said, with a focus on "demystifying escort work and bringing a sense of empo…
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Sony Mobile at SXSW WOW Studio Exhibit

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We’re here at SXSW and we all know it wouldn’t be the same without some of your favourite Xperia technology on display.

There’s plenty happening, but here are the Xperia highlights:

3D Creator

We don’t need to tell you about 3D Creator, you’ve heard it all before, you’ve got a 3D scan of half the contents of your home, from your fruit bowl to flowers – but there’s a littl

e something extra for 3D creators at SXSW – an Xperia XZ1 wielded by a robotic arm to create a complete 3D model of your head. Your scan will then allow you to star in a brand new game.

AI and Robotics:

Can you have a Sony tech showcase without everyone’s favourite robot dog? Don’t worry, aibo is on hand for petting and fetch, but we’re really flexing our AI muscles at SXSW this year with Xperia Hello! and also providing more details on the Sony Innovation Fund. 

Interactive message board, with Xperia Touch:

From AI to AR, the interactive Xperia Touch entrance message board really feels like the future, with Sony’s unique sensing technology, it recognizes touch and motions– think of the screens from Minority Report, but fun. At SXSW, you can get a taste of what this tech is capable of, by leaving a message or doodle as you enter or leave the WOW Studio – we’ve had close to 1000 each day!

So there you have it, if you’re fortunate to be at SXSW this week, drop by and join in, aibo is expecting you.

The post Sony Mobile at SXSW WOW Studio Exhibit appeared first on Sony Xperia Blog.

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How tech companies lured people to SXSW activations

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Thousands of people lined up at trendy Austin bar Icenhauer at SXSW 2018, but they weren't waiting for a refreshing handcrafted cocktail or finger food. Instead, they were trying to get into HP and Intel's "Digital Artistry House," where a handful of…
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Samsung’s C-Lab adds character to AI at SXSW

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Samsung's C-Lab has made a name for itself over recent years with a bunch of offbeat concepts . The in-house startup accelerator takes Samsung engineers' free-time projects and turns them into products. In the past we've seen speakers, wellness tech…
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YouTube CEO talks misinformation, creators and comments at SXSW

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YouTube's presence at SXSW 2018 extended beyond its Story HQ, a space where it turned ads into videos that feel more like art. The company's CEO, Susan Wojcicki, was part of a panel at the event titled "Navigating the Video Revolution in the Digital…
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Out of This World: NASA Funded Health Innovation Platform Announced at SXSW 2018

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News that’s out of this world is making headlines this week at SXSW.

On Monday, MMW learned that Rice University and Energizing Health have announced a new health innovation platform grant awarded from the NASA funded Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH).

The grant funds the Collaborative Health Innovation Platform (CHIP) which will enable users from government organizations such as NASA, academia, and industry to connect with a global network of entrepreneurs and researchers. CHIP matches technologies and qualified start-ups with healthcare organizations with defined pain points to personalize innovation outcomes.

“While startups affecting space-health may have the most inventive products, they may also be the most capital constrained. We want CHIP to help us find and fund technologies for space, but then connect them to healthcare organizations on Earth that can optimize and extend their reach,” says Dorit Donoviel, Director, Translational Research Institute for Space Health. “Eventually, we intend for CHIP to be a unique one-stop-shop of collaboration, investment, and incubation for all biomedical technologies.”

CHIP was introduced during SXSW to over thirty of the nation’s health innovation leaders at a private Sunday morning gathering. Prior to the announcement, several of the executives had already been reviewing how the CHIP platform could be leveraged on behalf of their healthcare organizations.

“Investors and funding organizations can use CHIP to engage with cutting-edge health technologies being developed by innovators in universities, hospitals, research institutes, or industry startups,” says Yael Hochberg, Professor of Entrepreneurship, Rice University. “The platform will allow for corporations and other large organizations to use the knowledge we have gained from this project to more easily identify and partner with startups.”

“The CHIP platform is not just about research – It has implications for the global health and medtech startup community,” says Brian Lang, CEO, Energizing Health. “Our research with Rice will arm us with better knowledge about the needs of startups and large organizations. CHIP can then integrate those insights in a constantly growing machine learning environment that can be made available to large organizations who are looking for startups with specific technologies or solutions.”

To learn more, click here.

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The World’s First AI Financial Advisor to be Showcased at SXSW

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MMW has learned today that Pefin has been nominated and selected as a finalist in the interactive innovation category under New Economy, which honors those redefining the exchange of goods and services, from the sharing economy, to virtual currency, to micro-finance, to mobile-device-payment systems, and beyond.

If you’re not familiar, SXSW was founded in 1987 in Austin, Texas and is best known for its conference and festivals that celebrate the convergence of the interactive, film, and music industries.

Pefin’s proprietary technology helps users navigate the important decisions that impact their long-term financial well-being — from buying a house to starting a new job to saving for a child and retirement. It also provides personalized, actionable investment strategies that are tied to specific financial plans. Pefin’s patent-pending AI platform provides the same level of intelligent guidance as a human advisor at 1/20th of the cost and is powered by over 2 million data points assuring that information is real-time. All of this for the cost of a few cups of coffee. Founder, Ramya Joseph, CEO, Catherine Flax and CTO, Jay Gopalakrishnan will be attending the festival and available to answer questions and provide demonstrations.

Pefin’s goal is to inform attendees at SXSW on how to help people live their best financial life, regardless of age, gender, income, wealth, financial expertise or past mistakes.

To learn more, click here.

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