Video Chat Startup Rabbit Raises $3.3 Million From Google Ventures, CrunchFund, And Bebo Founder Michael Birch

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Just a few weeks ago, we told you about Rabbit, a new video chat app that launched in private beta. Separating itself from other video chat services, the company seeks to enable persistent, always-on connections between users. To do that, the Rabbit team raised a round of seed funding worth $3.3 million.

The funding comes from investors that include Google Ventures, CrunchFund*, and Bebo founder Michael Birch, among others. With the money, Rabbit is investing in engineering — it now has a headcount of 12, with three-quarters of those employees working on code, according to founder Gregory Fischbach.

The funding was actually raised before the company made the app available to users, rolling it out in an invite-only private beta to make sure everything scales. The company started letting users download and connect to its video chat service just about three weeks ago, and according to co-founders Fischbach and Stephanie Morgan, initial reaction to the app has been incredibly positive.

It’s received more user requests than expected at this point in its launch, and those users who have been let in to try it out seem to be taking to the service. Morgan said the team is very happy with the average session length that users are spending on Rabbit so far, and that there’s a nice pattern of growing daily usage among them.

Rabbit_SharePad

So what are those users doing? While Rabbit was launched with the idea of allowing users to meet one another in various public rooms — kind of like wandering through various different conversation circles at a party — it’s found that early adopters tend to be communicating with close friends in private rooms.

Media sharing, like watching short- or long-form videos together, is a key feature for Rabbit, and users have taken to consuming content together. There’s also just the idea of persistently hanging out together. For this reason, Rabbit has added a few new features — like private messages — that allow users to directly communicate with one another more easily.

While video chat has been around for a while, few companies have been able to convince users to embrace the technology in the kind of persistent, always-on model that Rabbit envisions. In fact, most recent video chat companies — including Sean Parker’s Airtime — have had little luck converting Facebook users into big video chat junkies.

But the Rabbit team hopes that its alignment of circular video chat windows, which makes you feel like you’re talking directly to someone, as well as its mix of media sharing and ease of connecting with their existing social graphs, will get users talking to one another. And maybe leaving the app on in the background all the time.

Fischbach was the founder and CEO of Acclaim Entertainment, and was there during its rise to prominence. But he thinks that the opportunity before Rabbit is more exciting than his experience at the game maker. “It’s better than rock and roll,” he told me. (He wouldn’t comment on how Rabbit stacks up against sex or drugs.)

For now, it’s letting people in on a first-come, first-served basis. The app is available for Mac OSX version 10.7 or higher, and users can sign up at facebook.com/LetsRabbit.

*Disclosure: TechCrunch founder and current columnist Michael Arrington is a general partner at CrunchFund.