There are two types of people interested in new technologies: geeks who enjoy the technical high of being an early adopter or writing the early tutorials and books, and those who are looking for how to make a million dollars or more off the idea. Some of us are both, and even the most altruistic geek out there wouldn’t mind making some money off their skills.
So how will you make a million dollars off WebRTC? The question itself may be flawed, but let’s examine a couple recent success stories.
There have been two prominent acquisitions of WebRTC based companies in the last six months.
Million Dollar Method #1: Use WebRTC to reduce costs
PeerCDN was started by a group of Stanford students, and provides a WebRTC DataChannel based application for peer-to-peer sharing of web site content. It’s a distributed CDN (Content Delivery Network), essentially free to use. If someone else on a WebRTC-capable browser is on the same website as you, PeerCDN would try to serve up some of the static content (like images) from that other visitor’s computer. This means less load on the company’s servers since they have to serve fewer static assets, which translates to lower costs. For larger sites that use a commercial CDN like Akamai, the use of PeerCDN can reduce the amount of assets the site needs to visit. Even though WebRTC is not available on all browsers yet, moving just a fraction of traffic off a large company’s servers or CDN can make a big financial impact.
Which is exactly why Yahoo bought PeerCDN in December 2013. A classic case of talent and technology acquisition. Although the terms of the deal were not publicly disclosed, it should be safe to assume those Stanford grads are smart enough to be millionaires now.
While PeerCDN has some definite geek wow-factor, what ultimately led Yahoo to buy them is that their innovative use of the DataChannel can save Yahoo a lot of money.
If you can save someone millions through an innovative use of WebRTC, then they will happily send you a million-plus dollar check.
Million Dollar Method #2: Make expertise an asset
The second recent acquisition came last week when it was publicly announced that SnapChat purchased WebRTC API vendor AddLive. Presumably this was also a talent and technology acquisition. The purchase apparently happened months ago but is just now becoming public, again for undisclosed (but presumably million-plus) amounts. SnapChat has become a popular provider of private chat, but all the images and content have been static up to this point. With the addition of AddLive’s WebRTC expertise, SnapChat can offer live video conversations as well.
While I’m sure SnapChat will want to use as much of AddLive’s code and API’s as possible, the real asset that the AddLive team has to offer is proven expertise. SnapChat will need that expertise as they expand into video calling.
Million Dollar Method #3: Video as a value-add
Just trying to build a better Skype will not make you a millionaire by itself. Skype, Facetime, and WebRTC based services like Appear.in have made free video chat by itself a commodity. Most people are not going to pay for it.
But if you have an already valuable service, and you add video chat to it, that can increase the value of the service. A good example is the recent announcement by HipChat that they have added video chat to their very popular (and profitable) chat tool. HipChat does a lot more than just text chat. By connecting your chat room to GitHub for messages about code commits, and to Continuous Integration servers for code quality and build reports, HipChat provides a tool that allows development teams to centralize their communication in a single place for everything relevant to their project. Did someone make a code commit that broke the build? The HipChat window will show the code commit, the subsequent build failure, and the team can discuss remedies all in the same chat window.
With the addition of video chat, now the development team can also communicate more richly than a text chat offers. Although I don’t know if HipChat is using any WebRTC technologies in the application, this shows how bringing in video chat to an existing application can increase the value of that tool to users.
Million Dollar Method #4: Make the communications relevant
HipChat is owned by Atlassian, a company that makes a number of development tools, including the very popular issue tracking tool Jira. Since Atlassian already invested in building video chat into HipChat, should we expect a tighter integration between Hipchat and Jira, or maybe even the addition of video chat directly into Jira?
I believe the value that WebRTC will add in most situations is in-context communication. Our team uses Jira and Hipchat extensively, but when we are using Jira for a scrum planning session, we always have Skype of GoToMeeting open. Somebody has to send around the GoToMeeting link, or start the group conversation in Skype. All conversations start with what I jokingly refer to as “manual handshaking”, where there is a long string of “hello’s” and “I’m here” in the skype window before a call starts.
We pay a lot of money for our Jira license, and I would feel better about it (or maybe even pay more), if we could start our meetings directly from Jira. After all, we’re all going to be discussing the agile board during the meeting, so why not integrate our video chat and maybe even screen sharing directly in Jira?
Find the problem, then you’ll find the profit
Back to our original question: So how will you make a million dollars off WebRTC? The question is flawed because you won’t make money off WebRTC, you’ll make money by solving someone’s problem or making their lives easier.
As others have said, WebRTC is just a means to an end. By itself, it has very little value. But if you find a WebRTC-enabled way to cut costs, increase efficiency, improve revenues, or make happier customers, then you too can make a million dollars with WebRTC.
Or you can just prove expertise and get someone in San Francisco to buy that knowledge!