Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Interview with Abdul Khan, ibeatyou
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
Santa Monica-based ibeatyou (www.ibeatyou.com) is a web site focused on online competitions, whose founders include NBA star Baron Davis and Hollywood producer Cash Warren. The firm raised a seed round of capital in September from Prism VentureWorks, Baron Davis, VCs from Crosslink Capital, Seagate's Steve Luczo, and Ronnie Lott. We spoke with the firm's CEO, Abdul Khan, about what the idea is behind the site and its many connections.
What is ibeatyou all about?
Abdul Kahn: What the company does, is we have built a platform for competitions. What we've set up is a platform that people can upload content and compete with other people online around things that interest you. There are three kinds of content on the site. The first is video content -- for example, you might have a competition about how many free throws you can make in a minute, where people can upload videos of them making the free throws. Then, there are picture competitions -- for example, this might be a competition around the best picture of you wearing sunglasses, or the best picture of you in the air. Then, there are text-based competitions -- like, give us the meaning of life in six words or less. Anyone can create a competition, and other users join if it's interesting. The creator of the competition sets the parameters and sets the duration of the competition, and how the competition is judged.
How did the site get started?
Abdul Khan: We started the company in September of 2007. Before we started, some of my cofounders got together in a room and just started thinking of ideas. My cofounders include Cash Warren, who comes from entertainment; Baron Davis, the basketball player, and also have Chad Gordon. We were the primary ones who came up with idea. What we decided, as we were sitting in a room and thinking of ideas, was that we were competitive people, and competitions are very interesting. We spent some time looking around at the landscape of competition sites out there, and turns out there are not lots of user-generated competition web sites out there. What we've done is take what YouTube has done one step further--which is enable people to take what you are good at, and compete with other people. The difference--and we love YouTube--is we have a platform for competition, whether that is picture, video, or text based. The other thing is because we're a platform, we can cater to all different kinds of categories of competition: athletic competitions, talent competitions, pet competitions, kids competitions--whatever category you can think of, we can set up within the site, and do those kinds of competitions.
What's your background and how did you get into this?
Adbul Khan: Before I had done this, I was a venture capitalist for four years. I was at Crosslink Capital in the Bay Area, based out of San Francisco. I headed up the consumer Internet area, and was responsible for our investments in Pandora, Omniture, and Ancestry.com, all consumer Internet companies. Before that, I was an investment banker doing digital banking at UBS. I kind of went backwards -- I started in later stage, and moved on to pretty early stage investments.
So what made you decide to start an Internet company?
Abdul Khan: One of the reasons we came together, was I wanted to do a company with my co-founders. One of my other co-founders introduced me to Cash Warren, we got together, thought this made sense, melding both technology and entertainment, because the team's background is in technology and entertainment. Cash brings interesting relationships to content partners, such as Jessica Alba. We've also got relationships with people like Steve Nash and Gilbert Arena. We've actually have four technology people on our team, people who I knew from my venture days, who left their jobs and came over to do this. We've got the best of entertainment and technology, and built the site off of that.
We understand you have some funding?
Abdul Khan: Back in September, when we started, we went out and raised some venture capital. We raised a seed round from Prism VentureWorks, we also have Baron Davis, and two of the former partners from Crosslink--Jim Feuille and Mike Stark, and we've also go the Chairman of Seagate, Steve Luczo, and Ronnie Lott--as well as a few other individuals we know. We raised a seed round of just under a million.
Where's the site now in terms of launch?
Abdul Khan: We raised the capital in September, started in October 1st, and launched publicly a month and a half ago, on March 24th. We had a soft public launch. We've been very pleased with the traction since then. It's still early, but we're really pleased with the metrics.
What's the ultimate business model for the site?
Abdul Khan: Right now, we're focused on the consumer experience, but the business model is advertising and being ad supported.
Can you describe the celebrity connections to the site and your content?
Adbul Khan: A good example would be Jessica Alba. We've created some pretty funny competitions with her. For example, a competition around the best hand trick. She can do these strange contortions of her hand in an interesting way. People love the fact that she's a big movie star, but she can do these pretty funny things as a regular person. People love interacting with that, so we created the competition to see if you can do something funny with your hands. The thing the celebrities like is they can actually upload content, and seem as if they're just a regular person, not a celebrity. It brings them into a new light as well. Fans aren't used to seeing them in this light, they're used to just seeing them upload content to blogs or just being on TV or a movie screen. Here they are real people. People love seeing that element.
There's been a lot of talk about the convergence of technology and entertainment, and you seem to be in the middle of that. What's your opinion on how this works?
Adbul Khan: What's interesting here is part of the founding team is from entertainment, and the other from technology. We're not taking what is a pure entertainment company and outsourcing the technology, or vice versa. At the end of the day, we're a technology company. One thing that we found, was in the beginning we were not sure how people would react to the concept, and what it would take to get the talent to compete with us. At the end of the day, it's been getting people to believe in the product, and we've been able to get people interested in our product. Our talent providers, like Jessica Alba, etc. love competing with other people as well. We have Romney Malco--he was in the 40 Year Old Virgin--and he loves competitions. It's a way for celebrities, and athletes to interact with their fans in a new type of way.