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Sean Parker’s Airtime fails to take flight

Friday, 3 August 2012 | By Michelle Hammond

Napster founder Sean Parker’s high profile doesn’t appear to be working its magic with Airtime, amid reports the start-up is struggling to attract users.


Parker – who in addition to founding Napster was the first president of Facebook – launched Airtime with fellow Napster founder Shawn Fanning earlier this year.


Other companies Parker is, or has been, involved in include The Founders Fund, fbFund, ooma, Causes, Plaxo, Yammer, Asana, Element Payment Services, and Spotify.


Airtime is a browser-based video chat service, allowing users to talk with their friends and other people who share their interests. It uses Facebook Connect to ensure people’s real identities.


In addition to raising $33 million from a host of Silicon Valley venture capital firms, Airtime has already made its first acquisition – Erly – which allows users to build and share web pages.


At Airtime’s debut in New York, Parker said he and Fanning are building a network service that is “very different from a consumer software product”.


“It’s not something you can hold in your hand – the value is all in the connections between users,” he said.


“We don’t want to reinvent the social graph. We don’t want an application to download – that’s an archaic model.”


“We want to bring serendipity back to the internet. Everyone is a participant, and this is an environment for live performance.”


With an estimated net worth of $2.1 billion, combined with his experience, Parker seems well placed to accelerate any start-up forward.


But a report by The New York Times suggests Airtime is failing to take off.


Eugene Wei, vice president of product management and marketing at Airtime, told the newspaper a “bunch of users” are on the site, but declined to provide any specific numbers.


According to AppData, which collects data about sites and services that connect with Facebook, Airtime has around 20,000 daily active users.


It appears the service may have sparked the interest of web users after its release. In early July, the site had around 200,000 daily active users, but that number has gradually tapered off.


While Wei would not confirm whether the AppData figures are accurate, he did say the company is working on a series of updates to “broaden the experience”.


“We’re going to release some updates that will help us head in the direction of a communication platform,” he said.


Mark Cracknell, co-founder of Brisbane-based live video network Kondoot, told StartupSmart in June he doesn’t see Airtime as a competitor.


“Their product is focused around giving users the ability to video chat and interact with each other, even if they’re not previously friends,” Cracknell said.


“Kondoot is more focused around larger scale video, with users connecting with not one but thousands of fans and friends around the world, while still having the ability to video call and chat on a one-to-one basis.”