Thursday, May 27, 2010
Interview with Kieve Huffman, Dather
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
For this morning's interview, we have an interview with Kieve Huffman, the co-founder of Dather (www.dather.com), a new Los Angeles startup which has created a tool which helps to aggregate social networking web sites and media. Kieve has previously been GM and VP of Sony BMG's Global Digital Business Group, and VP of Media Content at InfoSpace, and his partner, Scott Boyd, who was most recently GM at Buzznet and also was Managing Director of AOL Music. The firm has some notable deals to power the web sites of musicians and celebrities, but is also looking to apply its service to everyday users.
What is Dather?
Kieve Huffman: Dather is an event-based, multimedia timeline. What it does, is it solves the problem that lots of people have, which is they have too much content in too many places. They've got Facebook updates, Flickr photos, YouTube videos, blog posts, and tweets, and it's really hard for people to connect all of those and bring them into context. For example, my personal problem is that I now have a 20 month year old son, and have wanted to share photos and videos and other information with my family and friends who aren't in SoCal. So, I've been sending them deep links to Flickr and YouTube, and trying to convince them to sign up for Facebook. It's really challenging, and that challenge is exaggerated going back in time. Good luck trying to share those first birthday party or newborn pictures, especially if you're using Facebook and Twitter, which are great for real time but really challenging for finding tings that happened in the past. What we're doing with Dather, is we're creating a single source to be able to assemble photos, updates, videos, blog posts--all those multiple content types--into one place, where you can have a two way engagement with friends and family. We support any content they have and want to share, and link it all to that event, so you have one cohesive place for all of it to live.
Is this meant as a personal tool, or a corporate tool--it looks like you've got a number of entertainment clients adopting your tool?
Kieve Huffman: My background, and that of my business partner is digital entertainment and digital media. When we were putting together the idea of what Dather would be, we know immediately that it would solve lots of problems for people in the world. Our early business clients and partners are integrating Dather into their sites, to encourage fan engagement and collaboration. We'll be going live with our first paying client very soon, with the superstar artist Rihanna. We are quickly following that up with Madison Square Garden, where we're doing a couple of integration projects with them, and we also have the John Lennon Educational Tour. There are probably close to twenty other deals at different stages, ranging from parenting and baby sites, to major news sites, to political organizations, ad agencies, event promotion companies, TV networks, and record companies. The reception has been phenomenal.
What's your background, and how did you start Dather?
Kieve Huffman: I have a direct marketing background, and got my start at a company called Columbia House, the old CD and record club from the 90's. From there, I was doing a lot of my own music management, managing bands, doing lots of work with film companies doing music supervision for films. As it became more and more apparent was the direction things were going, I became the new media guy at Columbia House. I helped launch Columbiahouse.com, which started my career path in a whole new way. I started new media at RCA records, and ran the entire digital business group for North America for BMG. We then merged with Sony, and by the time I had left the music business, I was General Manager of Sony BMG's Digital Music Group. At about that time, I got married, and was looking for some new challenges to whet my appetite, and looking for an entrepreneurial pursuit. I had been in New York, so I came out to LA a little over four years ago, with the goal to work with earlier stage companies. I ended up working at Infospace, running the content team for the mobile group, and after we sold that division off, I worked with lots of early stage tech companies with a media focus, including Champion Gaming Series, where we built a sports league model. About a year ago, my business partner, Scott Boyd, came to me with the idea for Dather, which he had for awhile. He was most recently General Manager at Buzznet, and before that was a Managing Director at AOL Music. That's where our paths had crossed before, when I was working with a tech startup in San Francisco called Songbird. I had presented Songbird to Scott when he was at AOL, and he came to me with this idea, and one thing led to another, and a year later we're now doing really well. We have been really excited to be part of the startup community here in Los Angeles.
Lots of companies have traditionally used agencies to develop these kinds of functions for their sites. How much of this is custom, one-off work versus out of the box functionality?
Kieve Huffman: There are really two paths. One version of this is an embeddable, an iframe version of the site. That pretty much matches the look and feel of the site, but allows them to run Dather directly on their site. Our initial partners are going with that option. We're also in discussion with several partners about much deeper integration, where we would be much more baked into their sites. We'd have shared sign-in, and really have the look and feel seamlessly integrated into their site. It's mostly out of the box, with some tweaks we can make for customized integration.
Are there particular customers who you are targeting with the product?
Kieve Huffman: We've got several key verticals, initially, which we're focused on. Those would be parenting and baby sites, which is getting back to the original reason why I wanted to do this, to solve my own problem. I know there are lots of new parents who have a similar problem, which is it is very difficult to pull things together and share it with family and friends. Obviously, entertainment companies are another, and we see that entertainers, musicians, TV networks, and celebrities are all looking for a better way to engage with their fans. They've been looking for a better way to let professional or official content live alongside user generated content. It's also a way to promote engagement above and beyond a specific event that has taken place. That leads into where we have another key focus, which is with political organizations throwing events, club promotion companies, and venues. It's for branded entertainment and event campaigns, because one of the key problems they have, is the throw these incredible events, but then they lose contact with those people, because there is no reason to maintain engagement. By having one place to house all these photos and videos and content, they now have a place where the attendees can offer up a version of what happened, which all lives in o ne place. We've got lots of early business traction in those verticals, and there are a number of other verticals that make lots of sense. We'll expand beyond to other verticals as we start to grow.
How is the firm funded?
Kieve Huffman: We've been privately funded to date, and are active in the process of raising our next round. Our initial family and friends round was used for initial buildout, to show that we could get it build and that business clients want this, to get it launched to the public, and show demand for this from the general public.
Finally, as almost a refugee music industry--since you are now focused completely on the Internet, what's your opinion on what's going on with the music industry?
Kieve Huffman: I think what I am seeing, is that lots of the more forward thinking industry executive are doing more entrepreneurial things, things which are helping to define the next generation of business models around music. I think it's an interesting time, but the unfortunate reality, is most of my former music industry colleagues were entrenched doing their thing, and don't necessarily have transferable skill sets. Those working in traditional record companies are in for a rough time. It's not that the music business is dying, it's just in transition. It's actually as exciting and interesting as ever. But it's the record business which is dying, and a business I wouldn't want to be in.