Aussies are taking the valley by storm! Recently there was a great article in the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) about the Brain drain: why young entrepreneurs leave home. The article points out that Australia is still not the best place to get grow a technology business with financial support from investors. Aussies are leaving their home land and making impact here in Silicon Valley where talent, investors and an environment famous for innovation & technology thrives.
This week I got a chance to speak to an Aussie founder based out of Palo Alto (Silicon Valley) re-inventing communications for a connected world. Their product meetings.io is backed by top investors including Y Combinator, Yuri Milner, SV Angel, Starling Ventures et al and out of Beta as of April 2012.
What is Meetings.io?
A Skype killer! Meetings.io allows you to meet face to face with anyone (+1 people) from around the world within your web browser all wrapped up in a sexy interface. No messy software installations. No registration requirements. But if you do register you get access to additional tools to plan, schedule & access your history of meetings. And did I mentioned it is free!! Try it out => meetings.io
Who’s behind Meetings.io?
I got a chance to speak with Denis and extract some wisdom from him on what it takes for an Aussie to kick-start a killer disruptive product product in Silicon Valley.
Interview with Denis Mars
Bitplay Inc – creators of Meetings.io
What service / product does your company provide?
We’re in the business of transforming everyday human interactions into wonderful online experiences by changing the way we fundamentally communicate with each other at work, at home, or on the go. Looking into the future, we believe humans will be spending more and more time communicating and interacting face to face online in much the same way we interact and communicate today but in person. Our job is to create products that allows us to conduct these rich interactions online whilst keeping the fidelity and productivity of an in person interaction.
What role do you play?
I am a co-founder and the CEO, but titles aside, my day to day role is to do anything necessary for the company to succeed in achieving its goals. So right now I’m spending lots of time hacking away writing code and when I’m not coding, I’m either designing, sketching ideas in my notebook, networking, strategizing, solving problems, recruiting, or dreaming of the impossible and then figuring out how to make it possible.
How long have you been running / working on your product / service?
As a company we’ve been at it hacking up concepts and exploring opportunities since 2010 where as a YC company we built and launched our first product called Embedster which was an amazing service that let users monetize their videos that they upload to services like YouTube and Vimeo. We had 50 cent (the rapper) use the tech on his Ning social network and it just exploded from there. Unfortunately some in the industry didn’t like the idea of us democratizing the monetization of user generated content and as such we were forced to shut the service down later that year.
After a few weeks of feeling crap and wondering what are we to do next, we got back up and started experimenting with browser based P2P technologies thinking this could be an amazing technology to do some really cool things with. We built a video accelerator that enabled P2P distribution of live and on-demand video within any browser and we ended up being re-YC’ed in 2011.
Being an Australian and travelling back and forth to the US we had to use lots of video conferencing services such as Skype and WebEx to stay connected and to work remotely on a daily basis. After a while we started asking the question, why are all these video conferencing services so crap, why can’t someone make a simple video conferencing solution that has no hurdles to use it and doesn’t force you to add people as a contact, and while we’re at it why can’t it just run on your browser, why do I have to install more crap on my machine? That’s when we said, screw it, let’s utilize this cool P2P technology we have and just build one for ourselves. We then set out to scratch our own itch and build a video conferencing solution that we’d love to use ourselves and the output of that was Meetings.io which we officially launched to the public in April 2012.
What personal hardware are you using?
I use my iMac for all my design work and long hours coding which I tend to do mostly between midnight to 7am. Now and then I need to drag myself away from the iMac at which point I use my iPad to do some web browsing and emailing. When outdoors I use my Mac Air to do hacks on the run but I prefer doing all long hours and zen coding on the iMac.
What Solution Stack is your business built on?
What decision(s) lead you to go with that Solution Stack?
We go with whatever is best suited to solve the problem at hand. With that, we’ve had to learn a bunch of new languages but that’s all part of being a hacker. I personally love having the opportunity of learning new things and the best way to learn is to build.
Top 3 Favourite online services you couldn’t live without?
- Meetings.io – we use it all day at work to collaborate or to run meetings with. Yes it’s our product but even if it wasn’t we’d still be using it everyday.
- Gmail – use it all day but now it’s becoming more and more of a distraction with so much noise mail coming through. Someone needs to solve this problem too.
- Flipboard – it just makes getting all my news and info so effortless. There is so much information overload on the web and Flipboard does a great job of filtering things and getting the good stuff over to me via a wonderful experience.
What made you come to Silicon Valley?
As an engineer I love building things. And for me the best place to build things is Silicon Valley. The exceptional people that come from all over the world, their collective pool of knowledge, the access to capital and an appetite for risk taking is what makes Silicon Valley such an amazing place, and for me there is no other place I would rather be. It’s analogous to being in Florence as an Artist during the Renaissance period.
What are 3 Top Challenges you faced upon arrival in Silicon Valley?
- Getting a visa – plan A was to go for an E2 Investors visa which would enable us to build a company here and stay for many years without too much fuss and plan B was to go for the E3 visa which is more readily attainable. I ended up getting the E2 which was a challenge but one well worth the time and effort.
- Starting from scratch again – while I’ve had some successes in Australia I quickly discovered that what I knew from these experiences back in Australia was not very applicable to how things worked in the Valley. I had to start again and it was a challenge to try to undo what I knew worked in Australia and to freshly learn how things worked here. Fortunately Silicon Valley is full of resources and one of the them that I attend to on a regular basis is the Stanford ETL (Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders) lectures which is open to the public and available online. It is a wonderful way to learn from some of the best leaders and innovators from around the world.
- My Aussie accent – it took some time for me to adjust my Aussie accent so that Americans can understand what the heck I was saying, especially when talking on the phone. I figured out that if you speak a little slower and emphasised the R more people can understand you better.
How about Visa or finding a place to live?
I went for the E2 Investor Visa which is a challenge to get but well worth it if you can pull it off. The visa process is a painful one but that’s just another day as a startup so you get used to jumping hurdles that pop out in front of you. Finding a place in Palo Alto was really tough and very competitive, there are people lining up to rent in Palo Alto so come prepared with all your references and documents and a check to sign for a deposit on the spot should you find a place you really want. You gotta be quick.
What resources did you turn to overcome these challenges?
Bay Area or San Francisco to settle?
San Francisco is great but I love the sunshine and being close to Stanford University so for me its Palo Alto all the way.
In terms of office, chances are we’ll probably need to set up shop in San Francisco soon as we’re growing our team and most of them are located in SF, but for now I like the fact that Palo Alto has less distractions so you can spend more time focusing on building your startup.
1 word of advice for our Aussie entrepreneurs wanting to come to Silicon Valley and start their own business?
If you are thinking about coming to Silicon Valley, then my advise would be to stop thinking and just come here. While you can build successful companies anywhere in the world, there is something very special and unique that only Silicon Valley offers and as soon as you are here you’ll experience that for yourself. It’s an exciting time to be in Silicon Valley with so many individuals from all over the world all working on their Mona Lisa’s and in the process changing the world forever.
Thank you for doing this interview Denis. And for sharing these golden nuggets of experience with the readers of The Road to Silicon Valley.