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February 07, 2013 at 00:39 AM EST
With $2.3M From Vint Cerf & More, Tech Pioneer Judy Estrin Unveils EvntLive, The Web’s New Interactive Concert Hall
You may not be familiar with her name, but Judy Estrin has quietly become one of Silicon Valley's most successful serial entrepreneurs and executives. She began her career working with Vint Cerf's research group at Stanford University -- the same one that played a central role in the development of the Internet. Since the early '80s, she has founded seven technology companies, has served as the CTO of Cisco Systems and held board positions at FedEx for 20 years, Sun Microsystems for eight years, and currently sits on the board of The Walt Disney Company (a position she's held since 1998). Oh, and she's also the author of "Closing the Innovation Gap" and led the team that developed one of the first local area networks.
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You may not be familiar with her name, but Judy Estrin has quietly become one of Silicon Valley’s most successful serial entrepreneurs and executives. She began her career working with Vint Cerf’s research group at Stanford University — the same one that played a central role in the development of the Internet. Since the early ’80s, she has founded seven technology companies, has served as the CTO of Cisco Systems and held board positions at FedEx for 20 years, Sun Microsystems for eight years, and currently sits on the board of The Walt Disney Company (a position she’s held since 1998). Oh, and she’s also the author of “Closing the Innovation Gap” and led the team that developed one of the first local area networks.

While it’s been years since Estrin last paid a visit to Startup World, this past year she stepped out of retirement with the help of her son, David Carrico. In 2011, Carrico and Alex and Jonathan Beckman co-founded a startup called EvntLive, an online music service set for launch later this quarter. Estrin tells us that, initially, she had only planned to advise the team during the early stages, but over the last year, her commitment has grown.

While the family connection no doubt provides that extra incentive, the veteran Silicon Valley exec now finds herself as the Executive Chair of EnvtLive (and one of its early investors) — roles she wouldn’t have assumed if she didn’t believe in the mission, and the potential of its business.

That mission, by the way, is an ambitious one: To create a scalable platform to stream live concerts ranging from sold-out arenas to intimate clubs, backed by a curated library of shows fans may have missed, integrated with social media, behind-the-scenes video and eCommerce.

Based on this mission (and with help from Estrin), the startup has recruited music industry talent like Troy Carter, who is acting as an early advisor and investor to EvntLive. Carter is a well-known music manager and the founder and CEO of Atom Factory (a music management company) that represents Lady Gaga and John Legend, among others. He’s also an investor in PopChips, Uber and Backplane, to name a few.

In preparation for launch, EvntLive has raised $2.3 million in seed funding, as Carter is joined by an impressive roster of investors, including “Father of the Internet” and Google exec, Vint Cerf, Mayfield Fund partner and Glooko Chairman, Yogen Dalal, former Intel exec Dave House, Silicon Valley Connect Managing Director Ellen Levy, Tapjoy President and CEO Steve Wadsworth, Former Summit Partners director Walter Kortschak, Judy O’Brien, Jack Lasersohm, Roberta Katz and Amal Johnson, among others.

Of course, while the startup’s leadership and its list of investors may be impressive, that talent means nothing if the business itself is a dud. Plus, it’s not as if the backdrop doesn’t have its own set of challenges. The music industry today is a shade of its formal self having been totally upended by digital technology. The industry, and the record labels that once defined it, have a long road ahead as they attempt to adapt and rebuild. What’s more, while Estrin believes that a dedicated, destination platform for live music and concerts hasn’t been attempted at the scale at which EvntLive hopes to operate, the startup is hardly alone in eying the potential of the live, online events space.

YouTube, Livestream and Ustream, for example, each offer streaming concerts to some degree and are clearly interested in expanding their presence in the market; however, at this point, concerts are just one piece of their broad, streaming video services and far from being their only focus. Meanwhile, smaller companies like Concert Window, StageIt and Qello have also been finding traction in the space, particularly the latter.

Qello, for example, offers access to a growing catalog of high-definition (mostly rock) concerts across platforms, but most notably through awesome iOS, AppleTV and Android apps. That said, it’s really been focused on building a platform around archival concerts, not so much on the live side of the business. The EvntLive executive director sees these startup platforms as being more “niche focused” and that by offering bigger artists, bigger venues and by combining social, interactivity and telling the story behind the show, EvntLive has the opportunity to build a more appealing experience for fans and artists.

She also believes that EvntLive can also benefit from some macro changes that have begun to take place in the music industry. In particular, with the scale of digital distribution channels, it’s easier than ever before for artists to get their music into the ears of listeners and tap into new (and potentially much larger) audiences. With music moving towards free, revenue growth (and profits) for both artists and businesses are increasingly coming from live performances and touring. Of course, there are limitations to this growth, as artists can only play so many venues and, in turn, venues only have so many seats.

Expanding touring online can remove some of those limitations and allow the industry and its artists to add another revenue stream. In the big picture, Estrin says, the music industry has finally realized that it has to embrace digital models instead of fighting them tooth and nail, which is slowly beginning to work in startups’ favor. Of course, it’s still early in the digital live performance space and it remains to be seen whether or not the timing is right for a platform like EvntLive. Naturally, EvntLive thinks it is and that it can help tilt skeptical artists in their favor by creating a business model that allows each party to earn their fair share of the platform’s revenues.

Considering the flux of the industry (and the noise in consumer tech), the team has also made a conscious decision to take its time. Rather than launch early and push an MVP into customer’s hands right away and iterate, the team has been developing the platform for over a year now. The company’s web services technology is the product, in part, of its acquisition of Nubo9 — a software company founded by Bharat Welingkar and Matt Gloier, who previously helped lead cloud services engineering at Barnes & Noble (specifically at Nook). Nubo9 built a software platform to help develop and operate mobile APIs at scale, which EvntLive acquired last year and has since become the core of its backend technology.

While Estrin and company aren’t ready to divulge all the details of what a fully-launched EvntLive product will look like, the team was willing to give us a sneak peek of what’s in store. The highlights? Of course, Estrin herself happens to be particularly proud of the technologies working behind the scenese. At launch, for example, the platform will be a “true web-based service,” she says, using HTML5 and a “100 percent de-coupled front and back end.”

The platform will distribute processing to maximize performance, she added, which means that it will be able to more easily run complex algorithms in the cloud — processes that traditionally consume precious resources on the client. On top of that, EvntLive has built a cell-driven cloud architecture that aims to optimize reliability and enable efficient scaling up or down based on demand, along with cost-effective implementation that leverages both open source and pay-per-use utility computing.

For the non-technical, these are all important optimizations that will enable EvntLive to stream hours of live music content from dozens of artists — or at least that’s the idea — in turn allowing artists to add as much or as little content (and complementary services around that content) as they need. And, of course, building the architecture to enable this kind of support doesn’t happen over night.

But what will the average user find when they arrive at a fully-launched EVNTLIVE.com, you ask? The core mission for EvntLive is essentially to create a destination platform that will allow anyone and everyone to watch concerts — anytime, anywhere. EvntLive will support tablets and smartphones through HTML5 on mobile browsers (at launch) and will be developing native mobile apps down the road.

The platform will offer live and on-demand concerts, some of which will be free and some of which will come with typical pay-per-view prices. Really, the goal is to not only give the user a platform-agnostic music channel, but a customizable music experience in which they can tailor their own viewing experience with different camera angles and feeds, for example.

Each artist will have their own profile page, which fans can follow to find more information on their albums, their upcoming tour dates, and eventually the startup wants to allow users to buy tickets directly right from their pages. Each concert will have its own event page, which will obviously include the streaming footage, different angles and so on, but allow fans to engage in conversation during the feed, drill down into more information on the band and plan meetups for after the show, for example.

To complement its streaming options and provide more value, EVNTLIVE also wants to become an archive for concert footage. So, while you’ll be able to go watch The Rolling Stones live from MSG, you’ll also be able to check out footage from past tours.

Naturally, there’s only so much one will be willing to pay for a live streaming concert — both in cash, money, flow and attention. I’m not going to sit on EVNTLIVE and watch a 2-hour concert from my laptop. Sure, that has appeal, but it’s likely the edge-use case. The more it’s able to build out a library of high-quality, on-demand concerts from top artists (and not just the last two shows, but go back years), the more stickiness that platform will have.

Plus, the more it can provide the synchronous, social experience of addictive music apps like Turntable.fm, allowing users to tweet, like and chat with their friends and others watching live shows or recorded footage, the more engaging it becomes. And the same goes for the presentation and amount of supplementary artist data. If EVNTLIVE offers you great concert video, AllMusic-like data resources, the ability to follow and get updates and alerts on your favorite artists (when they’re coming to town for example), purchase tickets (for an actual live concert) from the platform and engage with friends the better.

And, on the band side, the more services they provide, i.e. the easier they make it for artists to throw their music at them and see supplemental revenue, increased engagement and interest without having to manage it themselves, the higher the value proposition.

Estrin tells us that the platform will be targeting the big, well-known names in music first to help create awareness and brand recognition, but long-term sees EVNTLIVE as an awesome resource for indie artists, the mid-sized bands that can’t fill out big venues but have engaged, core fan bases already built. If it were to integrate with Backstage/Sonicbids and provide those marketing services for those mid-level bands on top of that, EVNTLIVE could become an exciting destination for both fans and bands.

The platform is currently in private beta, with a full-scale launch to come in the next few months. So stay tuned for more. Find it at home here.


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