In our final interview with Ooyala co-founder Sean Knapp, Wizeline Director of Product Matt Pasienski digs into how Sean’s role has evolved in his eight years at the company and what’s next for online video.
Sean talks about what he’s learned about the following:
- Understanding one’s value and impact when transitioning from an individual contributor to an executive role such as Chief Product Officer
- Motivating engineers and connecting the big picture impact to the people who work on the product every day
- The data advantage of having 200 million users on a monthly basis
- What the future of video looks like
Did you miss the earlier interviews? Check out Parts 1 and 2.
Part 1: Ooyala’s Sean Knapp on Product Strategy & Execution
Part 2: Sean Knapp of Ooyala Talks Timing, Acquisitions, and Product Strategy
Matt Pasienski: The fact that you're using hiring as this metaphor for building a business, and the individual as a metaphor for the company, right, that you have to have a lot of... you have to have a driving foundational kind of core value system, but then you have to have differentiating skill sets that actually allow you to come into any company and deliver value immediately.
You went from an engineer-
Sean Knapp: Yes.
Matt Pasienski: At Stanford and Google, and then you started Ooyala but now you transitioned into this verified chief product officer who sees kind of everything, and I think maybe that's the biggest switch within a tech company is going from someone who is you know, worried about microseconds to someone who's worried about years on the top and what's that transition been like and what would you say are the most important things that have allowed you to be successful that you could recommend to other people?
Sean Knapp: Sure, and I think it's, you know a lot of it's always rooted back into this notion of how do you deliver on the highest amount of value to the business, right? I'm a very big believer in you have a market driven company, company driven product, product driven technology, right? It's fun to go geek out and build really cool technology for technology sake, and you know, I'll go do that at home, I have a fully automated home security system, and I'm sure it drives the dog sitter crazy, but-
Matt Pasienski: Does it have turrets?
Sean Knapp: It does not yet have turrets, so I'm working on the rotating cameras.
Matt Pasienski: All right, watch yourselves criminals.
Sean Knapp: I do get notifications anytime anybody enters the house, and I know who, so I'm working on automated the text messages to really creep them out too.
Matt Pasienski: Okay, so you're still a nerd?
Sean Knapp: Yes, I'm still a nerd, absolutely. But you know, ultimately, it's how do you drive value, right? You know, one of the core tenants of happiness for example, in fulfillment of life is understanding the effort you make on a day to day basis and the impact it has on the world around you, right?
Back when I was the tech lead for Google's front end web search team, you know we had the benefit and advantage of getting to impact hundreds of millions of people around the world, and one of the goals that I had for every new hire that joined my team was by the end of the very first week, you have to have something visible on web search. Something that is seen by tens or hundreds of millions of people, which is core, right? You know, you take some 23 year old kid, fresh out of college, and it could just be some small text page on the homepage, right, that really was a single line of code that got pushed out. But if it's something that really hammered home for them, look at how many people you can impact and you can influence with your contributions on the day to day basis.
As we start to think through, even in an enterprise company right now out of Ooyala, that's really important part, right, for us, it's not search and discover, or web search for example, and organizing the world's information, but for Ooyala, it's actually changing the way people can consume and engage with story, right, with media. How do we help this entire industry make this evolution to have a truly personalized world where it's no longer 200 TV channels, but a world of billions of TV channels, one for each and every single user.
Matt Pasienski: It's really interesting you guys have up on the walls, every single place on earth that someone's playing in, like you can see in real time the number, that's a motivating for an engineer.
Sean Knapp: Exactly. One of the things that I tell folks when they start here is you know, look, look around the table, none of you are normal, not in an offensive way, but all of you are early adopters. All of you have been using Netflix for the last five years and you were streaming video way before anybody else was. We're not building product for you guys, we're actually building product for your parents and your grandparents, and your kids, and your friends back home. We want to build product for the mainstream users that we can help the entire industry make this evolution and experience all the benefits and the advantages that we already on a day to day basis enjoy.
Matt Pasienski: So it sounds like as you've progressed and the scope of what you're dealing with as a professional increases your job is to continually connect that larger scope back to the people that work with you to build it, even if they're down at that smaller kind of more granular level in driving technological decisions.
Sean Knapp: Exactly. Ultimately every single day when you wake up in the morning, you should know, well, one, you should know what you should be doing that day and two you should know why it matters, right? How's it going to move forward and impact the lives ideally of somebody around you that doesn't even work for the company, right, but you know the person that you, you know, when I was at Starbucks this morning the person that I bought my coffee from, right or the person that you passed when you were walking by the bus station, right? The closer that you can get to that, I think the more motivational it is for what you do and the more happiness and fulfillment that we really drive from those engagements.
Matt Pasienski: Now that you guys have moved... the industry has moved so far towards everyone watching TV on your phone, it's not even something that's odd anymore to watch Game of Thrones on your phone or to watch live video or to watch any of these different formats and that was something that you guys three or four years ago were pushing as hey this is the future, and now it's here, that must be very give an extra bump to people and they're able to watch their favorite shows on their own player.
Sean Knapp: Yeah, and now we have really cool customers that are all the mainstream brands. You know I think the last number I heard was we're now hitting and powering the video consumption experience for over 200 million users on a monthly basis.
Matt Pasienski: Wow.
Sean Knapp: Which is an incredible amount of reach and is really exciting, right, and you look at what that then, how that flows through, say all the way down to say the engineering side, right, is you know we get to work on massive petabyte plus data stores and we get to do queries across massive volumes, you know, my weekend fun is honestly, I'll go play around with hive queries on our cluster to go do random research on our user base, right?
Matt Pasienski: Right.
Sean Knapp: That's when you can go geek out, but it's still tied to all the people around the world that we're really impacting.
Matt Pasienski: As this company is ... you say you have a few year plans, I want to maybe just close up here, think about what is next, because I think we have finally got to that point where the promise that everyone had been talking about since like 1998, whenever Mark Cuban-
Sean Knapp: Online videos..
Matt Pasienski: It's going to happen, it's going to happen, well it's here. It finally is 2015, it's definitely here. We've got to parody with the existing experience that people are expecting. What's next, and maybe not just from like how you're going drive ads or the things that your customers are obviously always have to contend with, but for the consumer, what can people expect of video that the haven't seen before in the next three to four years?
Sean Knapp: I think what we're really going to see, and one of the most impactful ones will be this true personalization, right? It's the thing that we're just on the tip of, okay, I can recommend some content to you, but you're still going to get the same ad as everyone else who watched that piece of content or the same number of ads or even the same price point for that piece of content if you're buying it. We're going to end up being a much more data driven market and a much more data driven industry over the next few years and when you turn on your iPad, for example, you will get an entirely different experience than I did. Even if we were doing the same thing two hours ago.
Matt Pasienski: How is that going to change content?
Sean Knapp: What we're going to find then is we'll find that for really the high value, high value content, we will be driving a lot more users to the right piece of content. I think it will be incredibly valuable for a back catalog content. In content that right today is very hard to discover. I think the hardest part will be honestly how we solve this challenge of in a now fully online world, there's so much more content being created and so much more content that's even just available. Content that comes out of international markets or out of the multi channel networks that just never existed before, right? Just like, remember call it seven years ago, remember when Facebook started to get really popular and your feed went from like you know a handful of things from close friends to just like a ton of noise and then Facebook did some incredible innovations to really sort of filter through that and now you see probably less than 10% of the data.
Matt Pasienski: Do you think we will have a noise phase where it' just going to be this explosion of content before we get to the true high quality kind of future?
Sean Knapp: I think we're already getting there, right? I mean if you look at it today, there's a ton of content on YouTube and Hulo and Vevo and all the other sort of properties out there on top of everything you get from your traditional cable provider and it's all very disparate, right? In reality, right? I just want to turn on a device. I want to turn on, I don't care if it's my TV or my Apple TV or my Chromecast, but I just want to be able to turn on and experience and just find content.
Matt Pasienski: You just want to sit back on your couch and be entertained.
Sean Knapp: Yeah, exactly.
Matt Pasienski: All right, well that sounds like an enjoyable future.
Sean Knapp: It is.
Matt Pasienski: Thank you very much Sean.
Sean Knapp: Thank you.