A Q&A with Speeksy co-founder Barry Cassidy. The San Francisco–based company was founded in mid-2011.
SUB: Please describe what Speeksy is, and the value proposition you bring to social media.
Cassidy: Speeksy is a real time social discovery tool that enables users to find new friendships based on common interests and mutual friends without compromising the privacy of their Facebook friendship network.
Facebook is built on privacy and is primarily about keeping in touch with people you already know. Speeksy is a real-time social discovery application that connects like-minded users through a social video chat experience. Speeksy leverages Facebook’s interest—what people like—and social graphs—who people know—combined with a many-to-many social video environment, dubbed “Live Social Venues,” to create new friendship opportunities for users. These social venues employ a variety of social ice-breakers—including a jukebox that streams music from SoundCloud—that catalyze casual conversation amongst users. Users who have established mutual interest in each other can elevate the conversation through a 1-on-1 video chat, ultimately leading to an exchange of contact information.
Speeksy is differentiated from other social video sites in that it places a heavy emphasis on reputation. Each interaction with other users in either 1-on-1 video chat or many-to-many video allows users to provide feedback on other users. This information all feeds into a user’s social reputation. As in the real world, poor social reputations provide other users with an up-front warning and may additionally lead to not being admitted to venues.
SUB: What are your target markets?
Cassidy: Our primary market is singles age 18-to-35.
SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition?
Cassidy: Although there is not much public information about Airtime yet, their public statements make it sound like they are thinking along similar lines. Other competition includes Shaker and Turntable.fm.
SUB: What differentiates Speeksy from the competition?
Cassidy: Our key differentiators are a social reputation model [which] filters poorly behaving users [and] rewards positive social feedback; the many-to-many video environment provides a more natural meeting place as opposed to other social video applications that push users into a series of “blind” 1-on-1 video chats; asynchronous + Synchronous tools—we provide users with a way to find people in real time, but we also want people to be able to discover new people using asynchronous tools; real time synchronized music through a shared jukebox that allows Turntable.fm style voting; and no avatars—real people in real time.
SUB: When was the company founded and what were the first steps you took to establishing it?
Cassidy: The company was founded in the middle of 2011. We initially boot-strapped the company as I was building a prototype of the product and Tom was developing the business plan and strategy. After we built the prototype we then sought a small amount of Angel investment to get the product to market in beta.
SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea for Speeksy? Was there an “aha” moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?
Cassidy: I would say the concept was developed gradually, but came from some insights we had been aware of for some time.
The original inspiration for Speeksy came from the fact that social networking had become a much more private experience over the last five years. The original concept behind Friendster, for example, was to provide new friendship opportunities through mutual friends, but that concept had been lost as Facebook became “the” social network. Facebook has done a great job of providing a tool for communication with the people you already know, but its privacy restrictions disable social discovery opportunities.
We looked at other sites that allow users to meet new people online and we didn’t feel that any of them did a particularly good job. Online dating remains an overly direct and contrived approach that alienates 85 percent of single people. Social Video sites like Chatroulette are magnets for exhibitionist or voyeuristic behavior. We wanted to develop a product that was the online equivalent of going out to a bar, club or any social venue.
SUB: What have the most significant obstacles been so far to building the company?
Cassidy: As with any startup, getting a critical mass of users in one place at one time is always a challenge. Also, developing a product that emulates real-life social interactions took a great deal of thought. While the concept of meeting new people online based on common interests isn’t new, our take on it is. Drawing from our own social experiences online and off, combined with feedback from our user base, we are constantly refining Speeksy and remain heavily focused on building the best user experience possible.
SUB: You just launched earlier this month. Why was this a particularly good time to launch?
Cassidy: It is no news that video consumptions in a social context is on the rise and has been for some time. While users are becoming very familiar and comfortable using video to express themselves and interact with one another, there are very few services that leverage the concept of reputation as an enabler for safe and fun real-time interaction and social discovery. We saw a gap in the market and decided to go after it.
SUB: Do you plan to raise outside funding in the near future?
Cassidy: Yes. We are actively talking to investors. Trying to find the right one that shares our vision.
SUB: What are your goals for Speeksy over the next year or so?
Cassidy: Over the next year we want to: 1.) iterate on the real-time social experience to up the entertainment value and provide users with more tools to make that initial connection to new people; and 2.) launch our mobile application.
Speeksy – www.speeksy.com