There’s been a race on over the last year among mobile video sharing apps, many of which have sought to replicate the same type of success that Instagram had with photo sharing. We’ve seen a number of startups — like Socialcam, Viddy, and Klip — trying to attract new users by providing a platform for shooting interesting videos and then sharing them out to other social networks. Well, it’s not the same billion dollars that Facebook paid for Instagram, but Socialcam is one of the first to see an exit, as the app and team were just acquired by software company Autodesk for $60 million.
The Socialcam app launched about 18 months ago, then as part of live streaming startup Justin.tv. Then, last August, it spun out from the larger organization, taking CEO Mike Seibel with it and operating as an independent startup with just a handful of employees. Over the past year, the lean team has continued to iterate on the product, first adding Instagam-like filters, and later giving users the ability to add themes and soundtracks to their videos.
Despite fast growth, Socialcam entered the Y Combinator startup accelerator earlier this year. It was actually Seibel’s second time through the program, as he had previously participated with Justin.tv. Not long after Demo Day, it raised a seed round of funding from a group of angels that included Tim Draper, Yuri Milner, Shervin Pishevar, Ari Emmanuel, Laurene Powell Jobs, Ashton Kutcher, Brian Chesky, Paul Buchheit, Alexis Ohanian, among others.
By all accounts, Socialcam is one of the leaders in the nascent mobile video sharing category, it’s growing fast, and with just four employees, it was operating pretty efficiently. So why sell out now, with a huge market opportunity ahead?
Well, to hear Seibel tell it, the acquisition will ultimately will provide more freedom and flexibility to go after mobile video users. Socialcam will operate out of the consumer products group of Autodesk, with Seibel reporting to Consumer Group VP Samir Hanna.
Socialcam will continue to operate independently, it will have its own office, and it’ll hire a few more people — although Seibel says he plans to keep the team pretty lean. In other words, the acquisition will still allow the team to develop the product, but it will have more working capital and corporate backing to accelerate growth.
Autodesk is best known for its design, engineering, and 3-D rendering software. It plans to help the Socialcam team scale up their platform and integrate some video tools into its apps. “We’ll take the best of what the pros have and be able to bring those tools to everyday people,” Seibel told me via phone. Autodesk also sees an opportunity to pitch the Socialcam application to some of its entertainment clients as a way to better engage with their viewers and customers.
For Autodesk, the acquisition continues a string of seemingly random purchases by its Consumer Products Group. Last Summer the company acquired photo editing and sharing service Pixlr, and followed that up a month later with the purchase of popular DIY community Instructables. Hanna said that the Socialcam buy will help it in the consumer video creation and sharing space, where it currently lacks a foothold.
With Socialcam going to Autodesk, Viddy will likely be the largest independent mobile video sharing app out there. It recently raised $30 million from NEA, Goldman Sachs, Khosla Ventures, and Battery Ventures. There are others, like Klip and Mobli, but they haven’t reached the critical mass that the Socialcam and Viddy have.
The big question is if it’s even fair to make the analogy of “Instagram for video.” There was a pretty big hype cycle when Instagram was bought for like, a billion dollars, but lately expectations for a similar outcome have cooled. Video’s not like photos, Seibel admits, but there isn’t the same type of instant gratification when sharing. Perhaps more importantly, people aren’t yet used to videography, and there’s a considerable learning curve to making video look good — you can’t just add a filter and call it a day. Even still, there are plenty more players who are willing to give it a go and chase that dream.