Periscope to Slack: Lessons from the Past for Today’s Hottest Communication Platforms

This is the Part 1 of a two part series with Bhaskar Roy, Chief Product Officer at PlayPhone. We chatted with Bhaskar to learn about the topics that he knows best — early product management, and communication products. You can listen to the entire conversation on the ‘What I Know Best’ podcast, be sure to subscribe to learn from other experts across the Quibb network in coming weeks.

All the way back in the early 2000s, Bhaskar Roy was working on live communication products for the web. He’s been a part of Oracle’s live teleconference products, worked on Skype, saw Microsoft’s process for their live meeting product, and founded a mobile livestreaming product… in 2006. He’s been in the space for almost his entire career, with a current diversion into the world of mobile gaming, with his role as VP Product at Playphone. So why is Bhaskar still so bullish on the mobile and communication products, and why is he bearish on the potential of Periscope? We chatted with Bhaskar to find out.

Communication Products = Exciting

Working on communication products led Bhaskar to some of his most exciting moments in his career working on product. Knowing that you’re helping people interact with and collaborate — across massive distances, across time, across languages — is compelling. The space is also growing, with the number of channels through which people use to communicate expanding every day, while also expanding beyond the traditional voice experience. A technologist at heart, the space maintains its allure also due to the fact that it’s technically challenging to build a really good communication product today.

“It is also very challenging, because there are just so many devices, so many disparate forms and different disparate services that people use to communicate. How do you unify all those things, right?”

Working in product, with a technical background, Bhaskar has found his career to be forever challenging and rewarding. His most rewarding endeavour to-date was in founding Qik — a livestreaming mobile product that was a well before it’s time. the company was backed by some great investors (e.g. Ben Horowitz, Marc Andreessen, and Marc Benioff), and had over 5M users. Skype saw massive potential in the product, and bolstered by Apple and Facetime’s confirmation of the market in 200X, acquired Qik for over $150M.

Online Chat Fail — Skype vs. Slack

Hindsight is 20/20, but it’s slightly crisper when you’ve actually worked in the space, and then had the added advantage of working at a large company in the same space. During his time at Skype, it became obvious that people still preferred to chat via text, not video. However, skype was determined to spend a lot of time and resources on building out the video chat features of their product. In doing so, Bhaskar believes they misallocated their resources, and missed out on the massive market that’s now dominated by Slack — enterprise messaging.

“They had text, they had audio, they had video, and they had a good quality product on the desktop. They just failed to capitalize on becoming that one platform. It (could have been) easy to just become a very strong messaging app, too. They just didn’t focus enough on it. They focused so much on video that they lost out on the messaging side.”

The spots on our homescreens where Messenger, Kik, WhatsApp, and Slack are all now battling? Bhaskar believes it could all have belonged to Skype — they had the installs, a good product, and the space had almost no competition at the time. Even today, the business video conference space has no clear winner, a massive space Skype could have built into.

People Don’t Watch Livestreams Live

As a Co-Founder running product at a livestreaming startup from 2006–2011, Bhaskar learned a lot about user behavior as it relates to live video streaming. Their product actually started as a completely different type of communication product, and Bhaskar spent time working on a desktop video product, a 2-way video communication product for mobile, and livestreaming.

The Qik team

By far one of the strongest understandings that Bhaskar walked away with after his time founding Qik and then at Skype was that people aren’t really that interesting. Livestreaming needs to be focused on the person creating the content, and unfortunately not that many of us have super interesting lives that others want to pay attention to and watch — let alone at the same time that anyone may choose to make that content available live. At the time of the Periscope acqusition by Twitter almost one year ago, Bhaskar wrote up some of his thoughts on the space, and how he doesn’t believe livestreaming is really a mass-market utility.

“If I am, as a person user, broadcasting, the only folks who would be interested would be my family, most likely, and my close friends. No one else cares about it. It still is a very niche market from that standpoint, whereby the people who really care about viewing your live streams will be small, unless and until you’re a celebrity or someone, you really want to, which will have a big following. I still think that part of it has not changed yet. Until that changes, I don’t see how this tipping point happens where all of a sudden this becomes huge, where everyone is live streaming, and everyone is viewing live streaming.”

Bhaskar and his team found that people did watch the livestreams of their friends… but at a time much later than the broadcast happened. If anything, that may provide some insights to today’s livestreaming apps (Periscope, Meerkat) on how they can get their users more views on the content they spend so much time and effort creating. It’s a space that people have been trying to crack for a while now — one of Meerkat’s investors, Josh Elman of Greylock Partners, chatted with Bhaskar via Qik back in 2009 about why he was (still is?) bullish on the product category.

Communication Platforms of the Future

Working on communications products has led Bhaskar to an exciting and successful career. He’s still excited about what comes next, looking to understand what might happen as more and more products are built for the ever expanding ecosystem of platforms and devices — from cars to VR. The number of endpoints is increasing so quickly, anyone today can still create a communication platform that may well be the winner in it’s category in only a few short years. The experience across those devices and platforms is also really early, with a lack of consistency and user understanding, that itself offering someone working in the space a lot to think about and build.

“I still think that there are ways to go forward, for both from a consumer standpoint and business standpoint, in order to really make communication or these solutions become ubiquitous.”