A Q&A with Rabbit co-founder Stephanie Morgan. The San Francisco-based company was founded in 2011 and just closed a $3.3 million Seed funding round in late February. Investors include Google Ventures, CrunchFund, and Bebo founder Michael Birch.
SUB: Please describe Rabbit and your value proposition.
Morgan: Rabbit is a completely fresh approach to video chat that lets you not just have conversations with other people, but also share literally anything with your friends in real time. You can watch movies and TV shows together, listen to music, share photos, documents, and more. If you can access it from your computer, you can share it in Rabbit.
SUB: Who are your target markets and users?
Morgan: We designed Rabbit to be incredibly flexible for all kinds of users. The fact that you can share any type of content makes Rabbit particularly powerful—you can do everything from watching a TV show together to giving a presentation. Research shows that the most active users of video chat are typically in their late teens to early twenties, and—like everyone these days—they’re juggling a million different things simultaneously all of the time. Not only can you share any type of content, but Rabbit also scales to allow you to spend time with just friends or to have an experience more like a party, with an unlimited number of people video chatting together. No other app lets you do all of that, let alone lets you do it all for free.
SUB: What differentiates Rabbit from the competition?
Morgan: Rabbit is doing something incredibly new, and while there are many options in video chat, none of them lets you do everything that Rabbit does. And, maybe more importantly, none of them places your needs at the center of their software–instead, they take a utility-driven approach where video chat is essentially just video conferencing, which isn’t fun. We all come from video games and, thus we took a totally different approach with Rabbit than you typically see in traditional software development. We focused not just on a groundbreaking feature-set, but on making video chat a truly social experience, something that looks and feels completely different from anything else. For instance, you can actually make eye contact with the people you’re talking to. You can move effortlessly from conversation to conversation, just like you would at a party. The entire UI and UX is instinctive and contextual–we don’t think you should ever have to dig through menu options to do simple stuff like creating a new conversation. Seemingly subtle elements like that have a big impact on the types of connections and conversations you can have in Rabbit. By creating a more organic, natural experience, you’re not just video chatting—you’re actually spending quality time with people and doing things that you care about together.
SUB: When was the company founded and what were the first steps you took in establishing it?
Morgan: We formally kicked the company off in the Fall of 2011, and in those early days pretty much all we did was talk to existing video chat users and prototype, prototype, prototype. We knew that our ideas were radical and challenging to implement from both a technical and a design perspective. Being able to share movies, music, or anything from any source—whether it’s the web or a file on your computer—had never been done in a single app before. And, being able to allow an unlimited number of people to video chat together had also never been done. So we were definitely forging new ground and that meant a lot of experimentation and talking to real users to refine our approach and technology.
SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea for Rabbit? Was there an ‘aha’ moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?
Morgan: There are four of us founders, and we were all living in different cities, so we were video chatting a lot together. We experimented with pretty much all the video chat apps out there, and we quickly realized that none of them did everything that we wanted. Many solutions wanted us to pay to video chat with more than one other person. And, it was complicated to share things easily and with a decent frame rate. Oftentimes, we ended up using special screen sharing software combined with a separate video chat app. And, even then, if we wanted to share something with audio, there wasn’t a way to do that at all other than emailing links or files to one another. We realized there had to be a way to make a video chat app that not only did everything we wanted, but also that was easier, friendlier, and more fun to use. Since we launched Rabbit in private beta last month, we use Rabbit all of the time now for everything, including business meetings with people offsite. And, it’s awesome to see other people using it as avidly as we do, too.
SUB: You just raised $3.3 million in Seed funding. What are your plans for the funds?
Morgan: Right now, we’re really focused on our private beta, which launched a few weeks ago, and working with our community to continue making Rabbit an even more amazing experience. But, ultimately, we’ll be using the funds to expand out of private beta and bring Rabbit onto other platforms, as well. Rabbit is currently exclusive to Mac OS X.
SUB: What are your goals for Rabbit over the next year or so?
Morgan: I think our biggest goal is just to be surprised and delighted by the unexpected and incredible ways that people are using Rabbit to connect together online. We’ve already gotten a taste of that during the private beta, with people doing everything from holding movie nights with friends to running fantasy sports leagues in Rabbit. We love learning from our users, and we’d love to hear what the StartUp Beat community thinks about Rabbit, too. Rabbit is available on Mac OSX 10.7 or higher, and anyone in the U.S. can visit www.rabb.it to sign-up for the beta. Really, there’s nothing more incredible than having real people using your software, and–as we continue to grow the private beta and onto other platforms over the course of the next year, we can’t wait to see what else people do as they Rabbit together.
Rabbit – www.rabb.it