Airtime

Shawn Fanning And Sean Parker Talk About Airtime And “Smashing People Together”

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The last company Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker started together was Napster, over a decade ago. Now they are teaming up again to create a new startup called Airtime (previously codenamed Supyo). The two have completed an $8.3 million series A financing from Founders Fund, Accel Partners, Andreessen Horowitz, Yuri Milner, Ron Conway, Marissa Mayer, Ashton Kutcher, will.i.am, Scott Braun, and TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington.

Fanning will be CEO and Parker will be executive chairman. Parker will be spending more time in California to take an active role in the company, and changing his position at the Founders Fund from Managing director to a general partner. “I had to figure out a way to step back from the venture fund in order to dive full time into this,” he tells me. Parker also has a “quasi-operating role at Spotify,” where he is a board member and helps with everything from product design to negotiating with the music labels and its recent Facebook integration. The third founder is CTO Joey Liaw. The company has about a dozen employees already and is looking for a founding engineer with experience in scaling a high-availability site that can handle a ton of realtime, concurrent users.

Inspired by Chatroulette, Airtime will be random, realtime and include a live video chat component. Fanning and Parker are still vague on specifics, but don’t expect it to look too much like Chatroulette. Parker originally helped recruit Fanning from Path, where he was CEO, to work on Chatroulette at the behest of Yuri Milner, who is now one of Airtime’s investors. “They lacked a clear vision and a management team. Yuri asked me where would you take this thing and who should run it,” says Parker.

The collaboration with Chatroulette’s young founder Andrey Ternovskiy didn’t work out, but it got Fanning and Parker thinking about a larger problem. “With all due respect to Andrey,” says Fanning, “it was just scratching the surface of what it could be—a universal host that is introducing people, smashing people together.”

“It was fascinating to watch in the sense that it was not a virally engineered product,” says Parker. “Here you have a product growing through organic word of mouth. It looked like Napster in 1999.” Chatroulette also eliminated the anxiety of meeting new people by randomly pairing users. It ended up being too extreme and attracting a lot of naked dudes, but there it was obviously tapping into something essential.

“We are trying to address the problem of what has happened the last 10 years of social media,” says Parker, who was also the founding President of Facebook. “Your social network has become more rigid and constraining.” Airtime, it seems, will be more about meeting new people. “Facebook is about identity, the people you already know,” says Parker. “It has little to do with people you don’t know.”

So how will Airtime help you meet new people? Fanning and Parker won’t say. But if I had to guess, I’d bet that it will be around interests. Think about it. If you combine the random smashing together of people that Chatroulette was so good at with an interest graph that matches up people based on topics and activities they care about, you’ve got the beginnings of an online party with Airtime playing the host. The name Airtime, though, suggests that it could also be a platform for personal broadcasting as well. Will these live video chats be one-to-one, group chats or public broadcasts like on YouNow, a live video startup that launched at Disrupt SF? Stay tuned.