Archives

Written by Josh Constine

Josh Constine leaves TechCrunch for VC fund SignalFire

How do you leave the place that made you? You figure out what it made you for. TechCrunch made me a part of the startup ecosystem I love. Now it’s time to put that love into action to help a new generation of entrepreneurs build their dreams and tell their stories.

So it’s “TC to VC” for me. After 8.5 years at TechCrunch and 10 in tech journalism, I’m leaving today to join the venture team at VC fund SignalFire. I’m going to be a principal investor and their head of content.

I’ll be seeking out inspiring new companies, doing deals (when I’m eventually up to speed) and providing pitch workshops based on countless interviews for TechCrunch. Thankfully, I’ll also still get to write. We’re going to find out what founders really want to learn and produce that content to help them form, evolve and grow their companies. I’m doing my signature bounce & smile with excitement.

Where to follow my writing

You’ll still be able to follow my writing as well as my journey into VC on my newsletter Moving Product at constine.substack.com as well as on Twitter: @JoshConstine. No way I could just suddenly shut up about startups! If you’re building something, you can always reach me at joshsc [at] gmail.com

On the newsletter you can read a deeper explanation for why I picked SignalFire . I also just published the first real issue of Moving Product on how quarantine is “loaning” concurrent users to startups that will help the new wave of synchronous apps snowball to sustainability, plus commentary from top product thinkers on Facebook’s new Rooms.

Why I chose SignalFire?

I was drawn to SignalFire because it’s built like the startups I love writing about: to solve a need. Entrepreneurs need tactical advantages in areas like recruiting, where they spend most of their time, and expert advice on specific problems they’re facing.

SignalFire CEO and founder Chris Farmer

That’s why SignalFire spent six years in stealth building its recruitment prediction and market data analysis engine called Beacon. It can spot deal opportunities for SignalFire’s new $200 million seed and $300 million breakout funds while helping the portfolio hire smarter. Then SignalFire assembled more than 80 top experts, like Instagram’s founders, for its invested advisor network. Traditional funds need partners to exhaust their social capital asking for favors from friends to help their portfolio. SignalFire’s model sees its advisors share in the returns of the fund, so they’re sustainably motivated to assist.

SignalFire’s founder and CEO Chris Farmer was also willing to invest in me, figuratively. I’ve written about thousands of startups but I’ve never funded one. He and his team have offered to mentor me as I learn the art and science of investing. They also accept me for my opinionated, outspoken self. Instead of constricting my voice, the plan is to harness it to highlight new ideas and proven methods for building companies. I wrote this post on my newsletter with a deeper look at why I picked SignalFire and how its modernized approach to venture works.

What makes TechCrunch different

Of the 3,600 articles I’ve written for TechCrunch, this was the hardest.

TechCrunch gave me the platform to make an impact and the freedom to say what I believe. That’s a rare opportunity in journalism, but especially important for covering startups. TechCrunch writes about things that haven’t happened yet. There are often no objective facts by which to judge an early-stage company. Whether you decide to cover them or not, and the tone of your analysis, depends on having conviction about whether the world needs something or not, if the product is built right and if the team has what it takes.

If you rely on others’ signals about what matters, whether in the form of traction or investment, you’ll be late to the story. That means editors have to trust their writers’ intuition. At TechCrunch, that trust never wavered.

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 04: (L-R) Snap Inc. Co-founder & CEO Evan Spiegel and TechCrunch editor-at-large Josh Constine speak onstage during TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco 2019. (Photo by Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

Eric Eldon, Alexia Tsotsis and Matthew Panzarino put their absolute faith in our team. That gave me a chance to write the first-ever coverage of startups like Robinhood before its seed round, and SnappyCam before it was acquired by Apple and turned into iPhone burst fire. My editors also never shied away from confrontations with the tech giants, like my investigation into Facebook paying teens for their data that caused it to shut down its Onavo tool, or my exposé on Bing suggesting child abuse imagery in search results that led it to overhaul its systems.

I met my wife Andee at a TechCrunch event. [Image Credit: Max Morse]

I’ll always be indebted to Eric Eldon, who gave a freshly graduated cybersociologist with no experience his first shot at blogging back at Inside Facebook. Editors like Alexia Tsotsis and Matthew Panzarino helped me develop a more critical voice without sterilizing my personality. And all my fellow writers over the years, including Zack Whittaker and Sarah Perez, pushed me to hustle, whether that meant pontificating on new product launches or exposing industry abuse. If my departure from journalism elicits a sigh of relief from the companies in my cross-hairs, I know I did my job. The TechCrunch business and events team have turned Disrupt into the tech industry’s reunion. I appreciate them giving me the chance to learn public speaking, from the most heartfelt moments to the cringiest. And really, I owe them the rest of my life, too, since I met my wife Andee at a Disrupt after-party.

Treating writing like a sport to be won kept me cranking all these years, and I’m grateful for Techmeme offering a scoreboard for extra motivation. I’ll unhumbly admit it’s nice to hang up my jersey while ranked No. 1. My gratitude to Jane Manchun Wong for furnishing so many scoops over the years, and to all my other sources. It’s been fun competing and collaborating with my favorite other reporters, and I know Taylor Lorenz, Casey Newton and Mike Isaac will keep a close eye on tech’s trends and travesties.

But most of all, I want to extend an enormous thank you to…you. To everyone who has read or shared my articles over the years. I woke up each day with a sense of duty to you, and felt proud to say “I fight for the user” like Tron. What makes this industry special is how the community refuses to treat it as zero-sum. We grow the pie together, and everyone knows their competitor today could be their future co-founder. That makes us willing to share and learn together. I believe no recession, correction or bubble-burst will change that. 

BERLIN, GERMANY – DECEMBER 12: Group Photo on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin 2019 at Arena Berlin on December 12, 2019 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

So I’ll leave you with a final thought that’s made my life so fulfilling: If you have the privilege or create the opportunity, turn your passion into your profession.

Specialize. Learn. Then make what you want. If you can find some niche you’re endlessly interested in, that’s growing in importance, and at least someone somewhere earns money from, you’ll become essential. Not necessarily today. But that’s the beauty of writing — it teaches you while proving to others what you’ve been taught. No matter what it is, blog about it once a week. In time you’ll become an expert, and be recognized as one. Then you’ll have the power to adapt to the future, however feels most graceful.

Keep up with my writing on my newsletter at constine.substack.com, stay in touch on Twitter, and reach out at joshsc [at] gmail.com

How Freight master Flexport’s Ryan Petersen learned to CEO

I didn’t know what the term ‘freight forwarder’ meant until a year into starting the business.” Considering his shipping logistics startup Flexport was last valued at $3.2 billion, that quote from my first interview with CEO and founder Ryan Petersen back in 2016 seems even more surprising now.

But it also hints at why he’s one of the most talented and exciting executives in tech: He learns. Humbly. Relentlessly. About whatever the role requires as it evolves.

Right now, it means learning that 3 million medical masks can fit in a pasenger plane if you strap boxes to the seats like they’re people. Flexport has delivered around 62 million pieces of personal protective equipment, with delivery of over 7.7 million of those funded by the company’s non-profit arm Flexport.org. Petersen and Flexport meanwhile helped create the Frontline Responders Fund that’s raised over $7 million for COVID relief.

Flexport.org packed 3 million pieces of PPE into a repurposed passenger plane to get them to frontline responders

“He’s one of the most impressive founders I’ve known” said fellow FRF leader and Science co-founder Peter Pham . “Ryan just wants to solve problems without ego.”

In this profile, TechCrunch charts Petersen’s growth across our six interviews with him over the past four years as he raised $1.3 billion and reached hundreds of millions in revenue.

Overcoming Shlep Blindness

Petersen soon found out that ‘freight forwarding’ means coordinating all the shipping and hand-offs to get pallets and containers of goods on one side of the world, through trucks and boats and planes, to a retailer on the other. By then Flexport was going through Y Combinator in 2014, preparing to take on the trillion-dollar freight industry.

Ryan Petersen

“I thought the problem was too big, and that I wouldn’t be able to solve it” he recalls. “How am I going to fix global trade? Only much later did I realize that, well, let’s try it! It can’t just sit there broken forever.” Somehow, freight forwarding was still being organized with faxed logs and paper manifests, or Excel files and email if a client was lucky.

Freight forwarding had plagued plenty of founders but none had tackled it because it seemed so insurmountable that it engendered ‘schlep blindness’, as YC’s co-creator Paul Graham termed it.

“Schlep blindness is something so hard that your brain won’t think about it. I think it’s a necessary feature of our brains. Otherwise we’d sit here contemplating our mortality all day and never be able to do anything” Petersen explains. “Anyone who ever sold anything on the internet pre-Stripe went through this terrible process. 100% of internet entrepreneurs saw that problem and then went about their way.” With its 100 year-old shipping incumbents and endless regulatory acronyms, who’d want to wade in?

“Ryan is what I call an armor-piercing shell: a founder who keeps going through obstacles that would make other people give up” says Graham, who donated $1 million to Flexport.org’s COVID-19 relief efforts. “But he’s not just determined. He sees things other people don’t see. The freight business is both huge and very backward, and yet who of all the thousands of people starting startups noticed?”

Flexport gettyimages robuart shipping factory

Petersen. What really irked him was that the big freight forwarders didn’t want those clients to learn what influenced prices and timelines to keep them in the dark about how sub-optimal their routes were. “They just made money off the fact that I didn’t understand how it all works. And I assumed at the time that that was just something about entrepreneurs who are new to this space but it turns out even the biggest companies struggle with this stuff. They’re afraid forwarders are trying to take advantage of them.”

But Petersen wasn’t so naive. He’d actually been in the freight business his whole life.

From Slinging Soda To Founding Startups

“Maybe without her realizing it, she was training us to be entrepreneurs” Petersen reflects. He and he brother David grew up with a biochemist mom who ran her own food safety business while their dad did the company’s programming. “All of our childhood conversations were around using software to make government regulations more accessible.” When would Flexport would eventually be jumping through the hoops of the 43 different US trade regulators, it felt natural for its CEO.

Ryan Petersen back in 2015 before Flexport had its own planes

Petersen exudes a kinetic energy that subtly coveys that he’s always itching for the next knot to unwind. “At the time I was terribly bored by everything”. So his Mom put him to work. “She paid my allowance as a kid by having me deliver sodas to stock their office. My dad would drive me to Safeway to buy sodas for four bucks a case and sell them for nine.” With a laugh, he considers, “It was potentially a way for her to make my allowance tax-free.”

Soon Petersen was moving bigger items longer distances, buying scooters in China and selling them online in the States. By 2005, Petersen was living in China to get closer to the supply chains. The next year, he co-founded ImportGenius with his brother and Michael Klanko. They’d realized there was a ton of valuable information locked up in paper shipping manifests, so they began scanning and selling the data to importers and exporters so they could keep tabs on competitors.

Petersen’s first moment in the spotlight came in 2008 when he accidentally butted heads with Steve Jobs. ImportGenius had identified that Apple was shipping a large number of “electronic computers”, a new classification for the company. “We scooped the launch of the iPhone 3G with our public manifest data. Steve Jobs called US Customs, who called me” he told me back in 2016.

Though ImportGenius eventually plateaued, Petersen had accumulated the knowledge to lift the veil and pierce his schlep blindness. “I realized the largest problem was staring me in the face. Global trade is too hard, and there’s not software to manage it” he remembers. “I thought there was no software for SMBs. What I discovered was that there’s NO software.”

At first he wanted to build what would become Flexport inside of ImportGenius, but it was tough to get existing investors to stomach the risk. It’d be scary, but also exciting to start something separate. “My brother is my best friend and my best advisor” Petersen tells me. They’d always pushed each other with a jovial sense of competition — Ryan’s Twitter handle is @TypesFast. David’s is @TypesFaster.

So David made the first move, founding BuildZoom, which has gone on to raise $23 million to coordinate the logistics (are you sensing a pattern?) of hiring contruction contractors. In 2013, Ryan lept. “I think part of me wanted to go out on my own and prove myself . . . to prove that I was capable of running the show. It was a really, really challenging to do it. Then the day I did it, it was the most liberating, awesome feeling ever.”

They Laugh At You, Then You Raise $1 Billion

It took a few years to get all its regulatory approvals and develop the basis of the Flexport product. But with early capital from Founders Fund, Petersen built the freight software he’d spent so long pining for. Still, “Senior execs at big companies were making fun of us. One of them compared us to Doc Emett Brown [from Back To The Future] and his ‘flex capacitor’ but we he missed is that Doc invented a time machine and it worked.”

By 2016, Flexport was serving 700 clients across 64 countries. I described it as the unsexiest trillion-dollar startup, attacking an enormous industry that was so boring that it repelled earlier innovation. Oversaturation in consumer startup verticals was pushing investors to look to where tech was evolving previously untouched markets. Flexport raised a high-profile $110 million round led by DST at a $910 million post-money valuation in 2017, and Silicon Valley was starting to take notice.

Flexport Dashboard

The Flexboard Platform dashboard offers maps, notifications, task lists, and chat for Flexport clients and their factory suppliers.

Luckily, the freight big-wigs were still laughing despite Flexport moving 7000 shipping containers per month for 1800 customers. “I don’t worry about startup competitors. I worry the big guys will stop thinking of us as such a joke” Petersen said that year. Soon incumbents like 25-year-old Chinese private delivery giant S.F. Express were allying with Flexport, leading another $100 million round in 2018. Meanwhile, Flexport was trying to sound more like its older competition. Petersen told me “We’re trying to retire the word ‘startup’. [Our clients] want a company that will help them grow, not the fly-by-night startup.”

At that point, Petersen didn’t care if freight was appealing or not. “I never thought it was sexy or unsexy. I just thought it was a backstage pass to the world economy” he’d later say. Yet SoftBank’s Saudi-backed Vision Fund felt the attraction. Flexport was vertically integrating, adding freight financing so retailers could pay factories for good they’d sell months later. It was also chartering its own plane and building its own warehouses where it could experiment with next-generation logistics, scanning the physical dimensions of everything that came through its doors to optimize future shipments.

Flexport CEO Ryan Petersen

By then, Flexport had plenty of exit options. But Petersen was enjoying the ride. “I’m just having fun. You have a purpose. You get invited to interesting things. Once you sell your business, you’re just another rich guy. I never want to sell the business.” Luckily, the potential to grab more of the freight forwarding profits convinced SoftBank to invest a jaw-dropping $1 billion into Flexport in early 2019 at a $3.2 billion post-money valuation.

“It was controversial with our board. They thought it was a lot of dilution to take on but I convinced them that, this was going to go up and down and we wanted we to have cash to ride out the cycles. My view is that the world’s uncertain. You should be prepared for all outcomes” Ryan explains. As long as it could weather the storm, “we’re going to win on some time horizon.”

That strategy soon paid off. When trade with China effectively halted as COVID-19 exploded in the country and Flexport had far fewer containers to coordinate, it didn’t have to execute mass layoffs like fellow late-stage startups. It proactively cut 3% of its staff or around 50 people on February 4th, centered in recruiting that it plans to slow. “It’s painful to disappoint people” Petersen reveals.

Flexport chartered its own plane for several years to ship freight

Transitioning to a recession-era CEO and learning to reduce headcount with empathy became Petersen’s new objective. “I wanted people to know that I take personal responsibility for it. I wanted people to know that there’s transparency here” he tells me, his voice straining under the gravity of the situation. “If people feel fear and then they look at the leadership and they think the leadership is not feeling fear, then the fear amplifies. Whereas if people feel fear and they see, ‘oh the leaders are feeling fear also? Then okay, they’re going to behave appropriately.’”

Taking decisive action before COVID-19 spread widely stateside kept Flexport’s momentum strong and its runway long. Petersen is proving he can guide the company through bust as well as boom.

Flexport’s Tricks To Management

“My big learning in the last 18 months or so is that you can’t do everything. You can do anything you want, but you can’t do everything” Petersen outlines. “I see good ideas and I say ‘DO THAT!’” he tells me with a wry smile. “Soon, you’re spread pretty thin. You need some top down discipline to say ‘no’ to things. We really lacked that in the early years.”

The quest for discipline led him to develop and lean on two major frameworks for prioritizing customer needs and preserving company culture. They’re crucial now that Flexport has grown to 1800 employees across 14 offices and 6 warehouses, and 10,000 clients including Sonos, Kleen Kanteen, and Timbuk2.

Ryan Petersen whiteboards his management frameworks

The first framework is from Petersen’s mentor and American business mogul Charlie Munger. It lays out the six stake-holders or ‘customers’ a business must satisfy to succeed. Here’s how Petersen describes them:

  1. Clients: The people who pay you money. For Flexport, we have both importers and exporters
  2. Vendors: The people you pay. For Flexport, who own the planes, ships, and trucks
  3. Employees: Make sure they’re treated well. It has to be a win-win trade.
  4. Investors: They deserve a return on their money. They took a risk
  5. Regulators: They decide who to give licenses to. For Flexport, there are 43 regulators in just the US who take an interest in imported products.
  6. Communities: Where you operate. Maybe one day that’s global society

“If you don’t have at least a B grade in everything and ideally an A, you’re probably not long-term sustainable” Petersen explains. It’s a smart lens for anyone assessing companies, whether that’s ones to work at, invest in, work with, or one you’re leading and trying to improve.

Take Airbnb for example. Clients generally love its alternative to hotels, they’ve been able to continuously recruit employees effectively, and investors have offered it billions and kicked in to help it survive COVID-19. But its vendor hosts and their neighbors have struggled with disruptive guests, and communities and their local regulators have clashed with the startup over its impact on housing supply. The six customers concept identifies where Airbnb needs to work harder.

The second framework Petersen developed himself for how to ensure a company’s core values persist as it scales. It lays out the six culture questions:

  1. Why?: Why do you exist? What’s your purpose, mission, vision, and impact?
  2. Who?: Who do you hire and what values and behaviors do you look for?
  3. What?: What are you focused on and what metrics do you use to measure success?
  4. How?: How do decisions get made and how do you shorten the feedback loop for improvement?
  5. When?: When should things get done and when should you ship your product?
  6. Where?: Where does your team feel like it belongs and how do you become more inclusive?

Petersen likens these tenets to addressing a medical condition. It’s easier if leaders build them into their culture early than trying to fix them later. “If you were to get these things right in any company, you’ll outperform” he believes.

To execute on these, Petersen built a team close to him that just “makes sure our OKRs (objectives and key results) are clear, that we’re running inclusive meetings with good documentation, that we’re holding people accountable.” The method is heavily influenced by Amazon’s corporate style. As Petersen told me last year, “The English language lacks a positive word for bureaucracy.”

Ryan Petersen

Taking process seriously has made the CEO a hit with his employees. “Working for Ryan accelerated my career at least a decade. He has the uncanny ability to push people to their peak performance” said Flexport’s long-time former VP of product Sean Linehan, who went on to found Placement. “Ryan is building the playbook for operationally-intense tech businesses. Building a global logistics behemoth from scratch is an insanely complex job. But Ryan thrives in complexity. Where most entrepreneurs fall apart, he hits his stride.”

With the economics headwinds we’re facing, Petersen will need that drive if he wants to bring Flexport public. As you might expect, he’s learning about it. “I like reading annual reports. It’s like a hobby of mine, particularly with my competitors” Petersen says.I want to go public. But I don’t want to go public until we’re profitable because I don’t want to be at Wall Street’s whims. If you’re losing money and you’republic and Wall Street doesn’t like your stock, you can get into this death cycle.”

Being the CEO of a company that outperforms has opened doors to new mentors too, like executive coach Matt Messari, and Microsoft’s Satya Nadella. Petersen asked Nadella “How can you make learning and development measurable?”. Redmond’s head honcho answered “You don’t have to measure everything.” Petersen took the note. Sometimes, you just do what you think is right.

The Wartime CEO

Leading with his heart has steered Flexport to join the coronavirus relief effort in huge ways. “We were not put on this earth to lay in bed staying warm under the blankets. It’s time to step up and do something for the world” Petersen tweeted.

Flexport’s response started in Januarury with multiple blog posts per week laying out how COVID-19 was impacting global trade, how aid organizers could navigate supply chain issues, and how governments and private companies could help. Then it launched the Frontline Responders Fund and began routing all Flexport.org contributions to the cause, massively discounting freight forwarding costs to help get PPE wherever it’s needed.

Flexport.org launched the Frontline Responders Fund

“100% of your donation to this cause will go directly toward shipping masks to people on the front lines as fast as possible. I give you my word that we won’t waste a penny of your money” Petersen tweeted. Despite his business encountering its own troubles with global trade and demand disrupted, he shifted to spending his full time running Flexport.org and promoting the FRF. With the help of celebs like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Edward Norton, it’s raised over $7 million. The FRF has delivered over 6.9 million masks, 240,000 gowns, 1,000 ventilators, 155,000 gloves, and 250,000 meals for vulnerable populations.

Petersen hasn’t been shy about rallying more leaders to the cause, writing this expansive guide to the major bottlenecks blocking relief. “Philanthropists should also step up, lending money to organizations that have received purchase orders for PPE, but that can’t afford to buy the equipment unless they are paid upfront. Because they’ll get their money back when the pandemic subsides, this is one of the highest impact forms of philanthropy out there right now.”

That willingness to get involved has inspired his employees to roll up their sleeves too. “During a crisis, leaders really show the values they embody” says Susy Schöneberg, head of Flexport.org. After the COVID-19 outbreak, Ryan immediately offered us more resources to support our commercial and nonprofit clients. Over the last weeks, my days started and ended by talking to him – no matter what time is was.”

Ryan Petersen

From his vantage point, Petersen also has special visibility into who is trying to exploit the crisis. “Effective immediately Flexport will not ship personal protective equipment unless the customer can demonstrate which hospital system or other frontline emergency responder they are being provided to” Petersen wrote. “There are global shortages of these products, and it is immoral to allow war-profiteering from entrepreneurs looking to make an easy dollar.”

In the absence of proper federal crisis management, Petersen has become a defacto general in the war against coronavirus. “Given the scale of the problem and the complexity of the market failures outlined above, there’s no way for the US government to solve this on its own. But it can and must provide leadership, breaking down obstacles and coordinating the response of the private sector.” Until then, Petersen’s learning as fast as he can to become the wartime CEO needed right now.

Paraphrasing Kobe Bryant, Petersen concludes, “When you know what your goal is, the entire world is your library.”

For more of this author Josh Constine’s thoughts on tech, subscribe to his newsletter Moving Product

Facebook launches drop-in video chat Rooms to rival Houseparty

Facebook is co-opting some of the top video chat innovations like Zoom’s gallery view for large groups and Houseparty’s spontaneous hangouts for a new feature called Rooms.

Launching today on mobile and desktop, you can start a video chat Room that friends can discover via a new section above the News Feed or notifications Facebook will automatically send to your closest pals. You can also just invite specific friends, or share a link anyone can use to join your Room.

For now, up to 8 people can join, but that limit will rise to 50 within weeks, making it a more legitimate alternative to Zoom for big happy hours and such. And more importantly, users will soon be able to create and join Rooms through Instagram, WhatsApp, and Portal, plus join them from the web without an account, making this Facebook’s first truly interoperable product.

“People just want to spend more time together” Facebook’s head of Messenger Stan Chudnovsky tells me. One-on-one and group video calling was already growing, but “Now in the time of COVID, the whole thing is exploding. We already had a plan to do a bunch of stuff here [so people could] hang out on video any time they want, but we accelerated our plans.” There’s no plans for ads or other direct monetization of Rooms, but the feature could keep Facebook’s products central to people’s lives.

Facebook Embraces Video

The launch of Rooms comes alongside a slew other video-related updates designed to shore up Facebook’s deficiency in many-to-many communication. It already owns the many-to-one feeds and has emerged as a leader in one-to-many livestreaming, but “the middle piece needed way more investment” Chudnovsky says.

Here’s a rundown of the other announcements and what they mean:

  • WhatsApp expands group calls from four to eight max participants – Encompassing larger families and friend groups makes WhatsApp a more viable competitor to Zoom

  • Facebook Live With returns – It’s tough to be the center of attention for long periods, so being able to bring a guest on screen during Live calls keeps them interesting and low pressure
  • Donate button on live videos – This makes it much easier for musicians, activists, and normal people to raise money for causes during the coronavirus crisis
  • Live via audio only – With more musicians bringing their tours to Facebook Live, now you can listen while still going about your day when you can’t watch too or want to conserve data, and you can use a toll-free number to dial in to some Pages’ videos
  • Instagram Live on web – You can now watch Live videos and comment from desktop so you can multi-task during longer streams

  • Live on IGTV – Long live videos won’t have to disappear since they can now be saved to IGTV, encouraging higher quality Instagram Lives meant to last
  • Portal Live – You’ll now be able to go Live to Pages and Groups from Portal devices so you can move around while streaming

  • Facebook Dating Video Chat – Rather than going on a date where you have no chemistry, you’ll be able to video chat with matches on Facebook Dating to get a feel for someone first.

The Uncopyable Copier

The genius of this launch is how it combines three of Facebook’s biggest strengths to build a product that copies others but is hard to copy itself.

The ubiquity of its messaging apps and web compatability make Rooms highly accessible, without the friction of having to download a new app.

The frequency of visits to its feeds and inboxes where Rooms can be found by the family of apps’ 2.5 billion users plus Facebook’s willingness to bet big by sticking Rooms atop our screen like it did with Stories could unlock a new era of spontaneous, serendipitous socializing.

The social graph we’ve developed with great breadth across Facebook’s apps plus the depth of its understanding about who we care about most allow it to reach enough concurrent users to make Rooms fun by intelligently ranking which we see and who gets notifications to join rather than spamming your whole phone book.

No other app has all of these qualities. Zoom doesn’t know who you care about. Houseparty is growing but is far from ubiquitous. Messaging competitors don’t have the same discovery surfaces.

Facebook knows the real engagement on mobile comes from messaging. It just needed a way to make us message more than our one-on-one threads and asynchronous group chats demanded. Rooms makes video calls something you can passively discover and join rather having to actively initiate or be explicitly pulled into by a friend. That could significantly increase how often and long we use Facebook without the deleterious impacts of zombie-like asocial feed scrolling.