“It's both terrifyingly interesting and interestingly terrifying”
According to VICE, TNW Conference is quite the event
TNW: First of all, congrats on the deal. We understand the financial terms of the deal are not being disclosed, but is today a happy day for you and every one of your investors? (see CrunchBase for details on Seesmic’s financing)
Thank you Robin. While I cannot comment on the financial terms, it is a happy day indeed.
TNW: What is going to happen with Seesmic and its business-oriented and consumer-focused products, specifically?
TNW: Can you tell us how many users Seesmic has, currently?
The numbers that are being reported by some sources are all widely underestimated as they don’t take into account our mobile footprint.
Seesmic for Android alone has 300,000+ active users!
I can’t disclose the exact numbers but we have hundreds of thousands of active users, millions of installs and 1 million+ sign-ups; it is significant.
TNW: What role will you play during the transaction and after the completion of the deal? What will happen to the rest of the team?
I am not joining HootSuite and will not be involved more than helping the transition and advising HootSuite on a friendly basis from now and then if they need me.
I have a huge respect for Ryan and his team and I still love the social space and I’m a daily user of the tools HootSuite and Seesmic built. HootSuite and Seesmic are currently reviewing how the transition will happen with regards to the team.
TNW: Are you staying in the United States, moving to Canada where HootSuite is headquartered, or considering a move back to France?
I am not going anywhere and I am staying in San Francisco.
TNW: In an interview with TechCrunch, HootSuite CEO Ryan Holmes said today that the acquisition was mainly a way for them to gain more enterprise users, rather than for the technology or consumer users.
Is that the same way you look at it?
HootSuite has always been focused on business users, it’s a fantastic choice they have made from day one and a huge success. HootSuite is very interested in our business users and they will in turn love the Hootsuite suite, so yes.
TNW: Seesmic was originally launched in 2008 as a way to enable online video conversations. Do you remember how you came up with that idea at the time?
I still have the same vision that one day we will have conversations on the Internet which are much closer to the real-life experience, the vision was simple. The original Seesmic Video idea created deep relationships between our users and many friendships, I still hear about the Seesmic Video users almost on a daily basis and how nostalgic they are.
My mistake was that it was too early 5 years ago, most people are not ready for public video conversations, some are shy, not comfortable online in video or they don’t like how they look and I understand that.
I am pleased to see that Sean Parker launch the exact same idea as Seesmic Video 5 years after me with Airtime and Google Hangouts have many points in common with the original Seesmic Video.
I’m an almost daily user of Google Hangouts which is the closest to my original vision and love the product. The technology wasn’t quite ready 5 years ago …
TNW: You raised funding based on the video conversations model, but it didn’t take that long for Seesmic to change course with a lot more focus on social networking, more specifically enabling people to engage in social media sites from their desktop or mobile browser, as well as dedicated mobile apps.
Then followed another refocus, or pivot if you will, turning Seesmic into a full-fledged customer relationship management tool with a big social layer on top.
Why did those changes of direction occur, and how do you look back at those decisions today?
For “human” reasons and not technology reasons, Seesmic Video never took off above a few hundred of thousands users. I have always been very ambitious in building a major success. We were just starting and raised significant funding, we discussed at the board level if we should stop and return the funding, or pivot into something else and we decided to bet the whole company on the Twitter ecosystem.
Twitter was just starting five years ago and I looked at it as a huge opportunity for us. They had a very supportive approach to developers and their ecosystem, I remember presenting all our plans and future apps with pretty much the entire Twitter team in the room, and meetings with Jack advising me how to build the best Twitter iPhone app (they had none at that time) as well as meeting with Biz and Ev, good times.
Twitter then changed strategy and acquired Tweetie, then Tweetdeck, and our #1 partner became in an instant our main competitor, a huge challenge, we had to pivot again, immediately. That was probably the most difficult challenge I had to face in my entrepreneurial life.
I understand why they changed strategy and I am still friends with the Twitter founders, Dick and his team and I am happy for them they succeed the way they do, Twitter is a fantastic company. Now of course if I could have predicted what those changes, I would have rather invest our funding and efforts on other projects.
They did not know themselves at the time so no one could predict.
TNW: When you recently turned 40 years old, you wrote a heartfelt Facebook post with some reflections. You were honest enough to note that Seesmic hasn’t been been what you’ve hoped for, and that you were struggling.
Are you happy with the fact that you can soon turn the page and likely engage in new entrepreneurial activities?
I am very happy that Seesmic joined Hootsuite and I am very happy that I will be able to focus entirely on other projects. I wanted to build a huge success with Seesmic with tens of millions of users and change the way people communicate online in video, then in real time.
That did not happen but I am proud of trying everything we tried and immensely thankful for my team and investors for all their incredible efforts and support. That’s what I meant by “Seesmic wasn’t what I hoped it would become” but I am still happy of the outcome and, most importantly, of trying things no one else tried.
Entrepreneurship is about trying and pivoting all the time until it works.
TNW: Why sell now? Was this the best possible exit for Seesmic?
Hootsuite is a great company.
TNW: It’s been quite a journey for Seesmic. More in general, what are some of the mistakes you made as an entrepreneur that you will never make anymore?
I make mistakes every day, that’s entrepreneurship. I could write a full book about my mistakes and learnings, one day maybe. Let’s save this for another post :-)
TNW: It’s been almost 5 years since you’ve moved from France to Silicon Valley to make it as an entrepreneur there. Can you still look at the Valley with your ‘French eyes’, and if yes, what do you see?
I see the most fantastic place on the planet to be a tech entrepreneur, many many fantastic friends, and that is the main reason why I am here.
Europe is, however, very active and I am pleased to see that we get about 1,000 startup candidates for LeWeb startup competition each time.
That is very promising, but Silicon Valley is the center of the world for technology and that is unlikely to change anytime.