Wednesday, May 10, 2006
Interview with Anthony Batt, Co-Founder, Buzznet
My interview this morning is with Anthony Batt, who is a co-founder of Buzznet (www.buzznet.com), an online music, video, and photo sharing web site based in Los Angeles. I talked with Anthony to get a better idea of where the company fits into the increasingly crowded community/sharing web sites, and how the company is trying to get above the noise in that space. Anthony also told me a bit about the company's recent VC funding and plans for the company.
Ben Kuo: Tell me a bit about Buzznet?
Anthony Batt: I am a real, real big believer in giving publishing tools and open access to end users to publish anything they want on the Internet. You may think we're sort of in the social networking space. We've sort of got one foot in the social networking space, and another foot in the media space. We don't really put ourselves in the social network category; we put ourselves in the social media category. We allow members to come visit Buzznet, create their own page, get their own URL, and they're able to post any media type they want. We give most of our members a lot of room to post photos and videos. All that content is then available for visitors to view. We have a lot of visitors viewing our member's content. We are trying to create a shared space for people to upload that content, tag that content, and everyone can become part of that tagged content community.
BK: How did you come up with the idea?
AB: I have been following the blogging space since 1999, back when Dave Winer produced a piece of software called Radio. I was an early user of Radio, and Evan's company Blogger back in the day. No one was really doing photos. So my partner, Marc Brown, and I decided we wanted to do photo blogging. That's where the root came from. We focused on allowing members to blog using photos, and we continued to extend that into using video, and of course text. We're about nine people, located in Los Angeles, California.
BK: How have things been going—there seems to be a lot of people in the next MySpace/tag/photo space?
AB: We're less focused on people signing up – with the social networks, they're very focused on people signing up, you don't have a business if no one's there—we're really looking to build a quality community and continue to track people who are less likely to want to join a social network, dating site—and more likely to want to self-publish their media—video, audio, photos, and text. We're kind of going after a completely different user. We think our kind of user has been missed by products out there now. We're seeing growth in all areas, specifically, we're seeing our page growth growing twenty percent each month. We're in pretty good shape. At a high level it's hard to see the differentiation, but if you study our pages you'll see the differentiation right away. We're very much not about shouting out or hooking up, we're really about creating social media generated by the member.
BK: So you're closer to a YouTube or something like that?
AB: Well a YouTube is a media categorization and sharing system. You look at YouTube carefully, there's not a lot of community around the content. We're about creating social media, that's the story here. The current story is really “let's be the next MySpace”. I think that's great, let people chase that. What we're really trying to do here is change media. We're at a sea-change of how media will operate, and that's where we're at. People create their own media, remix their own media, and they want to share that in a more meaningful way than a file system. We've created that capability. For example, if you're a fan of a band, say My Chemical Romance, and you have photos of them, you want to contribute your photos to a place that has all the photos and the community My Chemical Romance. The members create their own photos, and we customize that template for them, and we create the social media space for a band. That's far different from a social network. We're less about the hooking up and more about bringing your media into a social space and letting the community enjoy it. Our whole angle is different than the noise out there. That's the story we're trying to get out. Brands – meaning television stations, newspapers, bands – really respond well to our model. Because it's less about the individual user “hey I'm 18 and live in Long Beach and want to hook up” and more about “I'm 17 years old, I have these photos from the Coachella Music Festival”, so that they can contribute to a larger gallery. People go to events, and they create their own media—they can put it on YouTube of Flikr, but there's not anybody there looking for that content. We have a certain voice, a certain angle, which says bring your content here, go ahead and put it elsewhere, but put it here because there's a community of people here interested in your media. And around that media, create a social network. Those social networks become more meaningful, are more substantive than “you're cute, add me to your friends list”. That is so burnt. So what we're doing is offering a whole social media. To get the message out above all the noise out there, and it's a little more difficult—with Buzznet we bring the community together around your media. We've been pretty successful with that.
BK: So do you have deals with the bands and others you are creating content around, or does that depend more on what the users want?
AB: It's a combination of things. For example, Coachella Music Festival, we had a specific deal with them. They looked at all the providers of social networks out there, and they ended up partnering with us, because of our focus on the media, rather than the individual user looking to get hooked up. We built them a front end into Buzznet, branded it Coachella, and people who went to Coachella had a code on their ticket and they were able to get into the community and add their photos. So the brand still had marketing around that, and when users shared their photos and videos they were in a Buzznet/Coachella area. So for the brand, they don't lose their identity working with us, but actually maintain that identity. It brands very well.
BK: Is that part of your revenue market, or are you ad supported?
AB: A good chuck of our revenue is driven by ad revenue, but in addition we have this whole other business of working with brands and helping them to build their community, by using the Buzznet platform. That's where we're totally differentiated. Name a social network—they don't do any deals with brands like that. We've been able to successfully work with many brands, and many things for publishing firms like Knight Ridder Digital—we do a lot of work for them—and we have a revenue stream from there as wel.
BK: Interesting. Tell me a bit about your funding?
AB: We bootstrapped the company ourselves for quite a long time. We recently brought on million or so dollars from local VCs and some private money to grow us. We'll probably be going out for a B round at a very good valuation in the next couple of months. We brought that money in Q4.
BK: What's next for you, how are you going to grow the company?
AB: First of all, we have been working with record labels for awhile. They're becoming more receptive around media. It's been growing around people using search engines around their favorite bands or celebrities, and finding we have their photos or videos. They can go other places and find stuff as well, but the other places may have everything under the sun. For example, you might go to YouTube and see that have a huge international content base. With Buzznet, when you think of Buzznet.com, you have to think of pop culture, 18 to 34 year old, North America content focused. When you think of the other guys you think worldwide focused, content is sort of hit or miss. The content in Buzznet is being brought in by trainspotters and trendsetters. The members who are joining Buzznet usually trainspotters and trendspotters. The content that bubbles up is really pop culture-y content, and is really about what is going on. We attract the very unique user. It's a much higher quality community. I don't want to sound like I'm putting down other social networks, which provide a useful service, but if you compare what we do to magazines, our magazine is upscale a bit. We're going to continue to grow that by having the right content, and growing that through membership, and retention is key to our business, and we have lots of plans there. When we raise more money we'll be doing more marketing and reaching out to do some more larger scale media deals and partnering to provide community services to them, and piggy backing on their success as well.
BK: So it sounds like the hard part here is really getting above the noise?
AB: Exactly, we think that is sort of turning right now. A lot of people have been exhausted by hearing about the next MySpace slash YouTube. But wait a second, here's a company in Southern California that has been doing this for quite a long time, has developed an extreme expertise in bringing content in, and what's their story. There's been a shift, and we're getting lots more calls in, media profiles, and things like that—and I think our message will get out.