Pivots

Meerkat Was Just a Side Project. Here's How it Became a Viral Sensation.

Meerkat Was Just a Side Project. Here's How it Became a Viral Sensation.
Image credit: Meerkat
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A sudden and serendipitous pivot by Israeli tech firm Life On Air has resulted in one of the most buzzed-about apps on the market today.

Meerkat, an eight-week-old side project, exploded on Product Hunt, ignited the Twitterverse and garnered 15,000 users in a matter of days, according to The Wall Street Journal. Ultimately, the buzz surrounding the live streaming video app became so unstoppable that Life On Air’s co-founder and CEO, Ben Rubin, announced on Tuesday that he was diverting his entire 10-man team away from its main project -- another app called Air -- to focus on the runaway phenomenon.

Meerkat is an iOS platform enabling users to stream live videos over Twitter. With a single click, users tweet out a video link to all of their followers, whereupon audiences can tune in and comment live. Comments left through Meerkat simultaneously appear as replies on Twitter.

Related: You Can't Afford Any of These 4 Mobile App Design Mistakes

While streams can be scheduled in advance in order to entice viewers, videos can only be watched live, according to The Financial Times, in order to appeal to users’ FOMO (fear of missing out.)

Meerkat

Life On Air’s prior focus, Air, while similar to Meerkat, is an invite-only app letting users broadcast videos to a close circle of friends. And Air is the successor to yet another live streaming app by Rubin called Yevvo, which went similarly viral in 2013 until interest faded and he decided to pull the plug

Now, Rubin hopes, the timing is right. As online video has become more deeply entrenched in our mobile lives, Meerkat was born of a desire to share video content in the heat of a moment, Rubin wrote in a Product Hunt post. “Whether it’s civil rights issues being protested in Ferguson or musicians interrupting each other at an awards show, we kept wondering if we could get access to these moments in an easier way.”

Related: As Online Video Explodes, a Look at 5 of the Industry's Biggest Trends (Infographic)

Nevertheless, Israel isn’t necessarily known for consumer apps or startups that can pivot so nimbly, noted Eden Shochat, founder of Aleph, the venture capital firm behind Life On Air. “Many startups, including Twitter, came out of such decisions -- pivot points in the company’s life,” Shochat told the Journal.

And while Meerkat may show enormous promise, Rubin is cautiously optimistic. "People get excited by the novelty of live streaming, but it wears off,” he told Gigaom. “I’ve seen my product go through word of mouth before and I’ve seen it wear off. I know what that feels like in a week.”

Twitter, for its part, is taking heed of the phenomenon. Techcrunch reported yesterday that the social network was in talks to purchase a Meerkat competitor called Periscope in a deal that could be valued at $100 million.

Related: What Makes Israel a Hotbed for Startups?

Edition: December 2016

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