Panopto was founded in 2007 with technology from Carnegie Mellon University. But the company is now growing its presence in Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood, thanks in part to a connection to Microsoft.
The company’s co-founder and CTO, former Carnegie Mellon researcher Eric Burns, previously worked on book and academic search technologies for Microsoft’s Windows Live unit. (Now Bing).
At Panopto, he’s now leading the charge to develop a video, audio and screen recorder that that helps individuals capture everything from city council meetings to academic lectures to concerts.
In the latest installment of Startup Spotlight, we chatted with Burns to get his take on what makes the company tick.
Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “Panopto makes it easy for big organizations to record and search all of their video content and presentations. Examples: a big software company creating a searchable library of presentations by experts, or a university recording and broadcasting every lecture in every classroom, forever.”
Inspiration hit us when: “Sometime in 2002, the cost of bytes on a hard drive became cheaper than the same bytes on a digital video tape. Once it became cheaper to store archival-quality video on a server than on a shelf, the system that became Panopto was born.”
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “VC. Venture funding from Saturn Ventures in Boston enabled us to transfer IP and technology developed at Carnegie Mellon University to a new, fully-funded startup. We’ve also benefited quite a bit from access to software, engineers, and business connections through Microsoft’s BizSpark One program for startups.”
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “By developing Panopto software for concurrency from day one, we’ve been able to scale up keep pace with demand. This applies to everything from more cores on consumer CPUs to elastic scaling of our search and encoding cluster in the cloud. More importantly, we’ve built software people actually like to use – three million users and counting in the three years since we launched the platform.
The smartest move we’ve made so far: “Two moves: first, develop an all-software solution in a market full of expensive production hardware, and second, commit resources to building a scalable cloud platform as soon as we could crawl. Panopto content creation was fueled by order-of-magnitude decreases in recording cost thanks to commoditization of video capture hardware, and our platform scaled to meet demand thanks to early-stage design decisions.”
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “Assuming that big channel partners are the experts. These companies have a lot to offer, having built large customer footprints with world-class products. But we will always be the experts on Panopto, and customers who are making a big commitment to our technology want to interact with its creators. Likewise, we learn the most from direct relationships with our customers. We had to find a balance, to fight the impulse to “turn things over” and expect everything to work out just because the partner is a huge brand. Too much can fall through the cracks.”
Would you rather have Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “Jobs. Whether you’re building iPads or digital libraries, user experience is king. Technology products should aspire to delight the user, and most software today – especially enterprise software – does just the opposite. To paraphrase Larry Wall, great software should make easy things easy and hard things possible.”
Our world domination strategy starts when: “The best way to learn about something is to PanCast it.”
Rivals should fear us because: “Everyone should fear exponential growth (especially us)!”
We are truly unique because: “Trick question: nothing is truly unique. However, we put best-of-breed technology together in novel ways and make it sing. Inspiring passion in your users may not be unique, but it is rare.”
The biggest hurdle we’ve overcome is: “2008. Hopefully needs no further explanation.”
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “Find someone who is good at something you want to be good at. Pay attention. Repeat as necessary.”