In our latest episode of Product Management Confessions, Wizeline Product Director Matt Pasienski talks to Ooyala co-founder Sean Knapp. Prior to founding Ooyala, Sean was an engineer at Google where he developed and launched iGoogle. As Ooyala’s CTO, Sean led the development and scaling of Ooyala’s video solutions and partnerships.
Currently serving as Ooyala’s Executive Vice President and Chief Product Officer, Sean reflects on his eight years with the company:
- Identifying the market need was the easy part, but the execution and delivery of the vision is constantly evolving
- How technological trends allowed for online media to rival or even surpass the viewing experience of traditional media
- Why it's important to understand what time horizon the business is being optimized for and making strategic bets based on that horizon
Check back for the rest of Sean's interview soon!
Matt Pasienski: Just know that we've started already.
Sean Knapp: Okay, cool. Are you guys having a baby?
Matt Pasienski: No, no, no. Just ...
Sean Knapp: Okay. No?
Matt Pasienski: Not yet.
Sean Knapp: Do you have any plans of that?
Matt Pasienski: Ready to go?
Sean Knapp: Yeah.
Matt Pasienski: All right. I'm here with Sean Knapp, the EVP and Chief Product Officer of Ooyala which is a very successful video ... how do you describe it?
Sean Knapp: A really good way of kicking off is, we are very successful. No, Ooyala is a ... We provide a suite of technology services and products to the TV industry, broadcasters, cable operators, telcos, really to take their products online and reach their consumers through what are really now the modern-day devices, the Ipad, Android devices, their Chromecast or Apple TVs, and well as their PCs.
Matt Pasienski: You guys have been at now, eight years, seven years?
Sean Knapp: Eight years now.
Matt Pasienski: Eight years, thanks for reminding me. You've taken the long way, and one of the things I wanted to talk with you about is, you've obviously wrote, probably the first line of code at the company. Now, you're chief product officer. How has your understanding of what the company's mission changed, and what were the key milestones that allowed you to transition from something that was, "We've just got to survive" to now shaping how industries and large telecom businesses are ... ? They're coming to you with questions about how they should run their business.
Sean Knapp: Yes. It's a really good question because especially when you start, you're often times growing from fundraising event to fundraising event, simply to keep the business alive. To your earlier part first, one of the really big drivers behind us, and I very much believe in this philosophy, is that the founding ideals of a business are more often than not, correct. We started Ooyala, for example, based on the premise that the existing TV industry would very much struggle to make this transition, and this migration from a broadcast world to a broadband or online world. That's really ... When we started to look at the unit economics of an online world back in 2007 when we started Ooyala, it just didn't pencil out. The whole industry would've collapsed on itself from just a pure economic perspective, so that's why we started the business. Now, how we actually go about delivering on that value, or helping to facilitate that migration for the industry, that always changes.
Matt Pasienski: You have a big vision which is based on, maybe the simplest economics?
Sean Knapp: Right. Another way I put it is, when we identified the market need ... I would contend, often times, that's what the easiest part is, identifying the market need for the market it was. You were going from this old adage of analogue dollars to digital pennies. It literally was. You were making a buck offline, and you would make three cents or four cents for that same unit of consumption online.
Matt Pasienski: What are the key technological trends? For instance, obviously the price of delivering content just from a CDN perspective, has dramatically decreased. Then you also have the growth of all of these advertising platforms that turn it from maybe digital pennies or dimes, into maybe quarters, or even dollars.
Sean Knapp: Right. There's a whole host of trends. Some of these are technological, some of them are environmental or I'd say more commercial in nature. The technological trends, I would say, are heavily skewed at getting us towards parody from an online distribution model, to what we've seen with the traditional TV industry. Though everybody may say they don't like their cable provider, the system itself, generally works. You get really high-quality content, but you get what you want, when you want it for the most part. For online, we're seeing a lot of the technology trends are around, how do I get 4K video streamed to all my different devices? We're starting to see really cool tech that even let's us provide more compelling experiences than what I could get from my cable TV provider.
Matt Pasienski: What were some of the challenges over the past eight years of building up this company, and the suite of products where you really had to respond in ways that weren't comfortable, but you found a way to break through?
Sean Knapp: Yeah. I'd say probably the biggest challenge you always have is, what horizon are you optimizing your business for? As we were talking about, you're essentially making decisions on, am I optimizing to make it to the next fundraising event? Am I willing to invest my RND resources on something that a really big customer needs today, but may not drive as much value long-term as something else? For example, when we founded Ooyala eight years ago, and ever since then, we've had a really big focus on data and analytics. It's been, really a large part of the high ground that we can take in the market to really help our customers.
That's a very long investment cycle, and that's a very long play to drive a lot of value that we realize nowadays, but I would contend five years ago. We were very much leading the market, but we weren't extracting as much value from that as we are today. You have to make really specific and strategic bets where you say, "I'm willing to devote 20-30% of my resources to something that, I may not see the fruits of this labor for a couple of years, but it's a bet on some tremendously long-term value for the business.