Jeff Fluhr (ENG’96/W’96) knows a thing or two about entrepreneurship. Honored as one of Sports Business Journal’s prestigious “Forty Under 40” and Entrepreneur’s Magazine’s one of the 24 Best and Brightest young entrepreneurs in America, he co-founded StubHub Inc. (purchased by eBay for $310 million) and co-founded Spreecast, Inc., a social video platform that raised a cool $7 million in Series A funding last year.
Jeff recently came back on campus to speak to aspiring entrepreneurs during an event organized by the Founder’s Club. We sat down with him to discuss the exciting future of live content, his early fundraising experience, and what’s next for Spreecast.
You’ve experienced huge success as an entrepreneur. What were the major challenges from building and exiting StubHub?
Starting a company is a lot of work. I would say the biggest challenge in the early years was getting enough early traction to attract investors and customers. Over time, we had challenges integrating new senior executives onto the team. We found that a significant percentage of new senior hires did not work out.
And tell us more about Spreecast.
Spreecast is a social video platform that connects people through conversation. You can find people talking live on Spreecast about interesting topics such as sports, news, business, entertainment or politics. Many big media companies, such as ESPN, CNN, the Wall Street Journal and USA Today use our embeddable player to create live content on their own sites. The vision is that 5 years from now, people will be on Spreecast talking about newsworthy, relevant, timely topics across a broad range of categories and a broad range of geographies.
How does Spreecast position itself against Youtube or Google Hangout?
Spreecast is more like Hangouts than YouTube because our content is focused on live, interactive conversations. But we are different from Google Hangouts in three ways. First, Spreecast is platform-agnostic allowing users to sign in with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or any email address. Hangouts, on the other hand, require a Google+ or Gmail account. Second, Spreecast offers more robust moderator controls that enable the creator to choose the attendees who go on screen and the questions, videos, pictures or slide decks that get displayed. Third, Spreecast allows for anyone in the audience to participate by joining on camera, text chatting or asking questions. Hangouts do not allow this type of interactivity for the audience members.
How much more value do content creators place on getting a live audience vs. hits on recorded videos?
There are some key advantages to live audiences. First, the audience tends to be more engaged around live content and thus advertisers should be willing to pay higher CPMs [Cost Per Thousand Impressions]. Second, certain categories such as news and sports lend themselves to live content. If USA Today wants to talk live about an unfolding news story, they will be much better served by doing live content than by doing a recorded video. Also, Spreecasts are recorded so they can be watched after the live Spreecast is over. You can also create clips on Spreecast and share short pieces of archived content.
Sports content appears to be one of the most sought after content on Spreecast today. How does Spreecast plan to engage content creators from the sports media side, especially those that include influencers and athletes?
We have a business development team who is reaching out to sports media entities and showing them the benefits of Spreecast. ESPN has been an active content creator and we’re also seeing sports content from SNY and USA Today. We have many smaller long tail sports content creators as well. Celebrities, including actors and pro athletes tend to come on Spreecast when they are promoting something or when they want to engage their fans in new ways.
Talk to us about your early fundraising experience.
I’ve prefer to raise capital from a diversified group of angel investors instead of going to traditional venture capital firms. I’ve found that doing this allows me to tap into more rolodexes and to keep more control of the companies I start. I had success with this strategy at StubHub and have replicated it at Spreecast.
Was there a particular moment that really accelerated the growth trajectory of Stubhub?
The key thing that allowed us to hit an inflection point was paid search. Prior to experimenting with paid search, we were focused on cobranded partnerships with media companies and sports teams; we were not focused on building a consumer destination site. But once we saw success with paid search, we invested in growing the StubHub brand and increasing traffic to the consumer site. This strategy worked very well and led to accelerated growth.
You were pursuing your MBA at Stanford right before starting StubHub. Do you still stand by your decision to leave?
Yes, I have no regrets about leaving Stanford. It’s a great institution and I met some great people. But the StubHub opportunity, like most opportunities, was temporal and required immediate execution. If I had waited to graduate, the opportunity may have been ceased by another startup.
What are your thoughts on the lingering stigma against MBAs in the world of startups?
Generally speaking, I don’t think an MBA is required to be successful in most startups. What makes people successful at startups (and most other companies) is their drive, creativity, intelligence, curiosity and work ethic. I don’t think you can learn these things in an MBA program.
What advice do you have for Wharton/Penn founders when pitching to investors?
Show passion and have a technical co-founder.
What’s next for Spreecast?
We’re very excited about the opportunity we have to connect people with interactive video. We’re experimenting with some really exciting new technologies that will enable improved