As eSports explodes to service the 2.6B gamers worldwide, live streaming has hit a critical inflection point. Maestro, the enterprise broadcast platform for content producers, is capitalizing on this surge in popularity by providing the platform to stream at scale. Providing personalized internet TV channels for content creators, live streamers, and brands, Maestro understands that the future of content is interactive and it has created the mechanism for audience and content providers to actually interact via live streams. Winner of the Mannat Digital eSports Startup Launchpad and a graduate of the Stanford StartX accelerator, Maestro is distributing insanely popular content across the internet and helping live-streamers engage their audiences in a way that has never been done before.
Today we chat with Ari Evans, Founder and CEO of Maestro about the future of the company’s origins, the future of live streaming, and Maestro’s most recent round of funding.
Who were your investors and how much did you raise?
We raised $3M in Series A funding led by Hersh Interactive Group, StartX and Rubicon Venture Capital.
Tell us about your product or service.
The Maestro platform enables a new category of live experiences that facilitates two-way interactions between streamers and their audiences. The days where a stream experience is simply a video with a chat on the side are coming to an end. In this new live stream era, “maestros” engage audiences to take action during key moments. Polls, commerce, contests, share prompts, and giveaways are triggered in real-time, which significantly increase watch time while capturing a robust set of user data to understand audiences and data-drive decisions. Maestro’s audience database system represents Nielsen for the cord cutter generation, trading estimates for actual user-level data augmented by engagement to provide a deep understanding of audiences. This first-of-its-kind solution creates experiences fans love while solving one of live streaming’s main challenges and in effect transforms the medium into a meaningful tool for business growth.
What inspired you to start the company?
There wasn’t a single inspiration we can point to that led to the founding of Maestro. The core began around helping content creators build stronger relationships with their audiences with the new advancements in web socket technology—specifically Firebase, which we were using in beta at the time on another project (now a major part of Google Cloud Platform). When we got the opportunity to rework that project into our first interactive live stream around Ultra Music Festival, we looked at the then-current experience as fans and thought that it fell flat in comparison to attending in-person. The amazing feeling of being in a massive crowd was lost. Moreover, the experience was simply a television broadcast on the internet. This was, in effect, dulling the internet, a two-way interactive medium, into a one-way broadcast. These fundamental observations led to the genesis of the concept of a Maestro whose job it would be to orchestrate the digital event. Soon after scaling up to other music festivals, we identified other markets that would benefit greatly from the platform, which led to us spinning Maestro out as its own product in January 2015.
How is it different?
The main difference in our positioning with other major destination platforms (YouTube, Twitch, etc.) is that Maestro is deployed on our client’s own domain or mobile apps. The product is aimed toward the underserved enterprise live streaming market. The Hub, which is the fundamental building block of our ecosystem, is skinned to look like an extension of their brand and offers them control over the experience, monetization channels, and audience data. All of this is made possible through the concept of a “maestro”—a new role that involves engaging audiences while they watch a live stream. We’ve productized engagement with a system that helps customers learn which levers drive their KPIs, which catalyzes the creation of robust, long-term strategic strategies around live streaming.
What market you are targeting and how big is it?
The company has focused on the rapidly growing eSports and gaming market of 2.6B gamers worldwide. Furthermore, many industry titans have already leveraged Maestro on their own custom-branded destinations: Sony PlayStation, Microsoft, Pokemon, Warner Bros. Games, Electronic Arts, Capcom, Wargaming, ESL, Dreamhack, ELEAGUE, and more.
What’s your business model?
We have three sources of revenue. Monthly software-as-a-service subscriptions, per-user data fees for community database and revenue share for commerce.
In the past few years how much damage has decentralizing TV had on networks?
So far, there have been pros and cons to the decentralization of TV. Today content creators still need to make a choice between control and audience. YouTube, Facebook, Twitch, etc. have major audience trump cards, but their business models thrive when customers become increasingly dependent on them to reach their own audiences. OTT and other similar concepts provide much more strategic long-term benefit, but eyeballs still drive the majority of the media industry. Consumers have more choice, but are overwhelmed with too many platforms lacking effective universal discovery tools or customized skinny bundle options. I think the key observation is that, in most cases, consumers do not have affinity to the network brand; their affinity lies with the content brand. The easier it is to find the content and connect with its associated community, the happier the consumer will likely be. On a long enough time horizon, we expect most networks to dissolve until a new network of decentralized channels emerges to reign over the next generation.
What was the funding process like?
We weren’t actively seeking funding at the time, but instead were having conversations to identify a partner who understood and believed in our vision and execution strategy. We wanted to find a group of investors who could be accretive to our growth and cared deeply about our space. Maestro sits at the intersection of many hot, buzz-wordy industries: live streaming, esports, and analytics, which made it harder to break through the noise. When Hersh Interactive Group found us, we fit their thesis and it was an ideal match, so we decided to start the process. Everything moved along pretty quickly from there.
What are the biggest challenges that you faced while raising capital?
A lack of deep understanding of the esports industry or the enterprise streaming market. I find it odd that investors rarely, if ever, ask to see the product in action. They usually mainly focus on the size of the market, team, etc., which are certainly important, but being a product-oriented founder, the capacity to execute consistently and at high quality with a tight feedback loop in my opinion, is the most critical trait in any early stage team.
Aside from that, we always get asked “Why won’t Twitch/YouTube/Facebook build this?” In this day and age, just about everything can be copied fairly quickly. But there’s a reason big companies become disrupted. I sometimes suggest these investors read The Innovator’s Dilemma, which documents this phenomenon in great depth.
Snap is a great example of how an extremely basic application that could have been copied by many major tech giants can become a $20B+ business. Entrepreneurs can easily be dismayed when they watch a Facebook or Google keynote, thinking “well, why should I bother building anything if they’re going to eventually do it all?” It’s important to remember that agility and focus are a startup’s secret weapons. It takes inordinate amounts of discipline to put them to good use effectively. The best startups succeed by creating a new category, marketing the problem instead of the solution, and having the industry crown the startup as their king. I highly recommend the book Play Bigger on this topic.
What factors about your business led your investors to write the check?
Video consumption is expected to continue its staggering growth and live streaming is one of the fastest growing sub categories, but the traditional tools on which the industry relies, such as Nielsen, are no longer keeping up with today’s demands. For enterprises, viewership is no longer solely about eyeballs; instead, it is much more about engagement and identifying the levers that drive KPIs.
What are the milestones you plan to achieve in the next six months?
Esports and gaming aren’t the only verticals embracing the cord cutting trend; enterprises across industries are actively seeking opportunities to create unique, authentic experiences for their audiences. The content analytics market is expected to grow to $4.37B by 2021, demonstrating the shift to data-driven content strategies. Maestro works with any video player, making it easy to layer into existing video distribution with major platforms. The company plans to use proceeds to continue expansion into additional categories of content, with customers such as Adobe, The GRAMMY Awards, and Coachella proving demand for Maestro’s solution.
What advice can you offer companies in Los Angeles that do not have a fresh injection of capital in the bank?
When we were in 500 Startups, my mentors Andrei and Matt taught us to determine and focus on the “one metric that matters.” This incredibly simple concept had completely transformative effects on our business. It creates a structure of focus for the entire organization to rally behind and a clear and measurable metric of success. The quicker you figure this out and determine the levers that drive it, the sooner you will accelerate your growth or evaluate if you’re focusing on the wrong opportunities.
Do you prefer hiking or surfing in LA?
Hiking. It’s important to routinely get exercise and be immersed in nature to refresh your mind, body, and soul.