Photo: Michael Seibel
Socialcam is a mobile video app that lets users make and share quick films. It launched 15 months ago and received 1 million downloads in its first six months.Now Socialcam has about 8 million daily active users—more than 8X the size of its closest competitor, Viddy, which raised a round of financing at a $300 million+ valuation.
Between its website and its app, more than 75 million people use Socialcam.
We spoke with Socialcam cofounder Michael Seibel. He told us how Socialcam has kept up its explosive growth and how it has utilized Facebook’s Open Graph.
Here are the key takeaways:
- Socialcam was able to scale to 75 million users by utilising both its website and its app. Unlike Instagram, where the site merely encourages app downloads, Socialcam has a fully-functioning website where users can view videos people have made. The 75 million users are either people who use the website, people who have downloaded the app, or both
- 12-15 per cent of people who have downloaded the app (13 million) are using it every day.
- Socialcam’s website is already one of the most trafficked video sites in the world. Alexa ranks Socialcam.com as the 139th site in the U.S.
- Facebook timeline and Open Graph integration have helped make Socialcam explode. Whenever a user watches or creates a video on Socialcam, the activity appears on their Facebook feeds.
- Socialcam has grown so quickly, it’s had to scale from 15 servers to 150 servers in the past 45 days.
Here’s our lightly-edited Q&A with the cofounder of Socialcam, Michael Seibel:
How did Socialcam come to be?
MS: I was the CEO of Justin.tv and my cofounders were senior engineers there. We came up with the idea at Justin.tv in the fall of 2010.
We had an iPhone app that allowed people to stream live videos, and all of our users said the same thing: “We use your app to stream video clips, not live video.” They said they tried using the YouTube and Facebook app to stream clips, but all of them failed.
We thought, “Why are we working on live video for the phone when no one has solved the problem of video for the phone?” We got to work on Socialcam and launched in March 2011. It got its first 1 million downloads in six months, so we decided to spin it out of Justin.tv.
How big is the Socialcam team?
Four people — three cofounders and one community manager.
Why did Socialcam go through Y Combinator when Justin.tv is already a well-known name?
There were three reasons we did Y Combinator. The first is everyone who goes through YC can’t help but speed up. We wanted to make sure we instilled a startup pace at Socialcam.
Now we push code as fast as humanly possible. We have 2-4 week development cycles and even faster cycles on our website.
The second thing was advice. YC sees soooo many companies and understands a lot of potential issues startups will confront. We wanted access to the amazingly smart group of people.
Last, I’d been through YC before with Justin.tv, but my cofounders hadn’t. It was a perfect opportunity for them to get the YC experience.
For a while, you and your competitor Viddy were neck and neck in terms of downloads and traffic. Now you’ve blown past them by 8-fold. How are you keeping the momentum?
MS: We’re almost three times bigger than our next biggest competitor in terms of monthly traffic. In terms of daily, we’re 8 times bigger.
There are three big factors in our continuous growth. The first, which is hard to ignore, is Facebook. Our integration with Facebook has been ridiculously powerful. Users can share the videos they’re viewing on Socialcam, and that has been huge for us.
The second thing is the fact that we allow people to take videos without any limits. We hear time and time again that people who have tried other apps come to us because we have no time limits.
Most people don’t take videos. So when they’re using one of these apps, it’s a new experience. We have a theory that most people who create mobile videos are documenters, not directors. If you’re a documenter you’re taking a video of something in the real world you want to capture. If you’re a director, you’re trying to create something in the real world.
Imagine a birthday party. You’re going to take a video when everyone sings happy birthday. You can’t tell everyone, “Sing really fast because I have to get it in this video!” So Socialcam doesn’t have time limits.
The third is scaling. Socialcam had to scale from 15 servers to 150 servers in the past 45 days. If my cofounders, who are the engineers, weren’t able to pull that off, it wouldn’t matter how viral we were or how well we were serving our customers. Everything wouldn’t work.
Being able to keep up with this level of growth wouldn’t have been possible five years ago.
How has Facebook specifically accelerated your growth?If you look at one of our competitors [Viddy], it got one of Facebook’s first video timeline integrations 45 days before we did. It was actually featured in a blog post by Facebook.
We use Open Graph to allow people to share the videos they’re taking and allow people to share videos they’re watching, similar to Spotify’s integration. It’s a powerful platform and solves one of the classic problems in video creation — you’re going to get way more usage on the consumption side than the creation side.
If you look at a photography startup like Instagram, you’re going to get enough creation from people to build viral flow. If you look at a video product, there’s much more consumption than creation even though we do have a huge percentage of users who actually create videos.
The Facebook integration allows people to share videos they’re watching, which has been great for us.
What kind of engagement and user numbers does Socialcam have?
We’re at approximately 75 million users. That number falls into two camps: people who use Socialcam from their websites and people using our mobile app and our website.
Our mobile app has been top 10 in the App Store for the past 30-45 days. We have about 13 million app downloads. Of the 75 million users, about 13 million use the website and app. The difference just use the Socialcam website. The website has been a huge driver for new downloads.
Unlike Instagram, where the website only advertises the app, our website allows users to watch videos people are creating and see the most popular videos created via a complete feed of all the people they’re following. It also allows users to follow new people and follow featured people, like celebrities. You can do everything on our website you can do in the app except create videos.
We’re getting approximately 12-15 per cent of total download base using the app every day.
Some Socialcam users have more than 1 million followers. How does that work?
When someone posts a Socialcam video, all of their followers get an instant notification. MC Hammer is number 2 right now on the Socialcam leaderboard. He has over 1 million followers. When MC Hammer takes a video, 1 million people’s phones get notifications around the world.
Users opt into this. They can also turn off alerts.
What’s next for Socialcam?
We have some big new features coming out soon, but I can’t really talk about them yet. Our goal right now is to really educate people about the mobile video movement. We think there should be 1000X more video creators than there are right now. And we think the technology is there to make that happen, all we need to do is build the product.