Q&A with Blue Jeans Network co-founder and CEO Krish Ramakrishnan about building interoperability into video conferencing and the market opportunity it presents
Blue Jeans Network has developed a video conferencing solution that works across multiple platforms—bringing an unprecedented level of functionality to the medium. The Santa Clara–based company was founded in 2009 and just emerged from stealth mode with $23.5 million in funding.
SUB: What is the value proposition Blue Jeans Network brings to the video conferencing market?
Ramakrishnan: Video conferencing adoption has traditionally been plagued by complex, incompatible, and expensive solutions, while the alternative, audio conferencing, is typically easy, open, and affordable. As a result, the vast majority of multi-site business meetings today use audio conferencing instead of video. According to Wainhouse Research, in 2010 alone, there were only 200 million minutes of video conferencing consumed worldwide, while there were 80 billion minutes of audio conferencing.
Blue Jeans Network is aiming to expand the video conferencing market for all players, by tapping into the 80 billion minute audio conferencing market. Our belief is that if we can make video as easy, open, and affordable as audio then it becomes a no brainer for a significant percentage of audio meetings to convert to video. Just converting 2.5 percent of the audio conferencing market would grow the video conferencing market 10x.
SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition?
Ramakrishnan: To our knowledge we are the only interoperable multi-vendor, multi-device, multi-party video conferencing service. We don’t really see any direct competitors at this point. In fact most companies in the video conferencing space are actually more partners than competitors who we work with on interoperability. In our view Blue Jeans Network is good for everyone in the industry. Today, all the different end point vendors are fighting each other for a slice of the video conferencing pie, but by providing a solution to make video conferencing as easy, open, and affordable as audio conferencing, we think Blue Jeans will expand the whole pie for everyone. We are endpoint agnostic and will let the endpoint vendors compete for their slices of that pie. We’re like the pan underneath the video conferencing pie. We just keep it all together.
SUB: What differentiates Blue Jeans Network from your competitors?
Ramakrishnan: Interoperability is the power of the Blue Jeans Network—it’s something no other video service provides. Other vendors in the video space like Skype group video conferencing (GVC), FaceTime, Google+ Hangouts, etc. only allow multiparty video calls between users within the specific service—i.e. Skype users can only talk to other Skype users. Blue Jeans Network helps extend the reach of these services beyond the original network by enabling meetings between people using different video conferencing solutions—someone using Cisco / Tandberg can meet over video with someone using Lifesize, Skype, etc. While networks like Skype have a large and growing installed base, we believe that there will always be a strong need to interoperate between these services and other video conferencing endpoints.
SUB: How are you marketing the service?
Ramakrishnan: We have a wide range of customers, including SMBs and enterprises, across a wide range of industries. While our value proposition is applicable for everyone, everywhere, our initial focus has been on business customers rather than general consumers. We find that many businesses already have a number of video conference rooms at their main site but are looking for a way to expand the reach of video conferencing to employees, partners, and customers that don’t have access to those rooms—e.g. telecommuters, employees at smaller sites, etc., but do have access to desktop and mobile video conferencing technologies such as Skype. Until Blue Jeans Network launched this past June, there was no solution to bridge consumer video solutions with high-end video conference set-ups that are found in many large companies.
SUB: As a new competitor in the videoconferencing space, what do you think about Facebook’s collaboration with Skype and Google Plus’s Hangouts? Does this present a particular threat to emerging services like yours?
Ramakrishnan: The video conferencing landscape is rapidly expanding and changing—we could not be more excited! Now, more than ever, there is a palpable need for a service like Blue Jeans Network to help make video meetings be as easy, interoperable and affordable as audio.
SUB: What was the inspiration behind Blue Jeans Network? Was there an “aha” moment, or was the idea longer in developing?
Ramakrishnan: Ask anyone and they will tell you that video meetings are better than audio meetings—unless you’re driving or in your PJs. Yet less than 1 percent of all multi-site meetings are conducted over video today. It’s because historically video conferencing has been complex, incompatible, and expensive, while audio conferencing is easy, interoperable, and affordable.
We noticed three fundamental trends taking place in the marketplace: penetration of HD video—customers and consumers are beginning to demand HD features in everything they do; increase of broadband worldwide; generation V entering the workforce—the GenV’ers have grown up using video and are extremely comfortable with it.
Additionally, we recognized that the video conferencing market was extremely underserved. In the business world, video conferencing was used as an intercom solution with limited reach and capabilities. For the most part, video conferences were used for internal company meetings between one office conference room and another office’s conference room. There was no way for other people in different offices or locations to “video-in.” We realized there was a huge opportunity for us to provide a service that brings interoperability to the video market while at the same time making it easy and affordable for people and businesses to use.
SUB: When was the company founded, and what were the first steps you took to establishing it?
Ramakrishnan: The company was founded in 2009. Our initial focus was on creating a video conferencing service that reached the masses. The first thing we tackled was determining the architecture to support video conferencing at this level.
SUB: You recently emerged from stealth mode, armed with $23.5 million in outside funding. Why was now the right time to emerge from stealth mode?
Ramakrishnan: A number of factors are aligning today to drive people to demand video conferencing: increasingly geographically dispersed business and social networks and a growing desire to collaborate within them; desire for travel avoidance—whether it’s based on time, money, fear, or carbon; the proliferation of video enabled mobile devices—smartphones, tablets, laptops; generation V entering the workforce; rapid growth of Skype.
You combine that with Blue Jeans’ ability to address the traditional complexity, incompatibility, and cost issues and the time is finally right for video conferencing.
SUB: Do you plan to raise more funding in the near future?
Ramakrishnan: We just wrapped up our Series B funding, so at this point we are well funded for growth and expansion for the foreseeable future.
SUB: What have the biggest obstacles been so far to building Blue Jeans Network?
Ramakrishnan: The biggest obstacle for us so far is finding the right people to help us grow our vision. We’re looking for people who have a fervor for startups, a passion for solving and improving the user experience, and an untainted view of the video conferencing world. We think it’s an advantage to be an “outsider.” We believe you can’t solve a problem with the same thinking that created it.
SUB: Where do you seen Blue Jeans Network in about a year from now?
Ramakrishnan: A year from now we hope to have transformed the idea of “video conferencing” form hardware focused to a cloud-based industry.
Blue Jeans Network – www.bluejeans.com