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Summary:

Two video chat programs launched to the public this week, but Airtime premiered with Snoop Dogg and JImmy Fallon, while Nyoombl barely made a splash. The two strategies pose an interesting question for the startup world — how much initial buzz do you need for success?

airtime launch

Celebrities pose at the Airtime launch, which came to mixed reviews, but highlighted a particular launch strategy for new startups.

You might not have noticed, but two different Facebook-integrated video chat clients opened their virtual doors to the public this week.

Both services allow users to sign in through Facebook, hold video chats with friends, and search the internet for strangers to talk to. Both make it easy for new users to sign up and get started, and both use Facebook data to match random users who might want to chat. Their goals are the same: to prove that video chatting isn’t just for creepy dudes on Chatroulette.

But which product can you name? Chances are good it’s Airtime, Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning’s video chat service that launched Tuesday amid plenty of buzz. The Napster founders filled their launch party with celebrities like Jimmy Fallon, Snoop Dogg, Olivia Munn, Joel McHale, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Ed Helms and Jim Carrey, who all attempted to video chat with each other through the new service.

Airtime received mixed reviews, with critics noting the shaky product launch and lack of mobile apps. But the upside, for Parker and Fanning, is that Airtime got plenty of positive reviews, and you’ve probably heard about it. You and your friends might even go check it out.

On the other side of the launch spectrum is Nyoombl. The service, pronounced “nimble,” also opened to the public this week, but without any celebrity chats or splashy debut. Founder Oladayo Olagunju, who wants to create a platform for recording and archiving conversations between people, actually launched the service last November. Olagunju has been testing and releasing Nyoombl slowly to work out bugs before widespread public use.

“I’m not a star. I’m not an billionare. I don’t know Ashton Kutcher,” Olagunju said.

The dual launch raises an interesting question: How much does startup launch buzz affect long-term success? Can a service like Nyoombl, which appears at least as useful and intresting as a service like Airtime, challenge the more hyped competitor?

Obviously there are success and failure stories for both launch tactics.

When it comes to buzz-worthy launches, plenty of celebs have successfully translate their stardom to product success. There’s Beats by Dr. Dre, the incredibly popular headphones. There’s Jessica Simpson’s clothing line, which is much more ubiquitous than her pop songs. And the Justin Bieber-approved social video-sharing app Viddy is gaining users and funding.

But plenty of celeb startups are just as likely to flop as those from unknowns:

  • There was the Ashton Kutcher-promoted Ooma, which promised high upfront hardware costs in exchange for unlimited web calling. The service didn’t exactly catch on.
  • There was MC Hammer’s “DanceJam,” a website with slow-motion dance tutorials and social media components. It was to be “like MySpace without guardrails,” the company told Wired in 2007. The website now notes that DanceJam has “come to an end.”
  • There was Robo.to, the video status message system publicized by Justin Timberlake in 2009. It seems users weren’t totally into video statuses.

So what does this mean for someone like Olagunju, a passionate enrepreneur without Snoop Dogg at his launch?

Slow-growing, surprise social media hits like Instagram and Pinterest have shown the possibility for word-of-mouth growth. And DanceJam and Ooma prove that it doesn’t matter who’s promoting your idea — if consumers don’t like the product, it’s probably not going anywhere.

Over time, the best products tend to stand out from the crowd, and one nice thing about technology is that passionate early adopters help winnow that field relatively quickly. But first impressions are still important, and choosing a name that’s difficult to pronounce and harder to spell probably doesn’t help anyone understand why your product is as cool as the one Snoop Dogg uses.

  1. Drew Brahams Friday, June 8, 2012

    This is stupid f*cking hype. Is this a party or some real business? Why all these celebs anyway? I’m rooting for the small guy. Go nyoombl Go!!!! WooWoo.

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  2. Jocelyn Chien Friday, June 8, 2012

    I respect the guys at Nyoombl very much. Except for the name (which I have kind’a gotten used to), these guys seem to be very deliberate about how they’re approaching this market. Looks like they are building something that will remain for a long time not just a fad. Impressive work! Looking forward to seeing more!

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  3. I like Big ideas.

    People often create startups with a goal in mind. ‘I want to sell for X!’ or ‘we’re going to go public in 201x!’; really the battlecry seems to reflect the VC economy that so permeates the valley.

    There’s nothing wrong with venture when value is created. The exchange of ideas has tremendous value. It is the ethos we attempt to tap into when we write poetry or type a blog entry. I have a thought that I want to share.

    It’s that simple idea that’s spawned Empires. Now, do I want to chat with a random stranger or listen to an exceptional debate? Frankly there are times for both, but I think the latter has much more societal value.

    I think airtime is tinsel and Nyoombl is a forum for thought. One creates value and the other extracts it. I personally would love to see Nyoombl form partnerships with companies like Quora and distribute the conversations to a wider audience.

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  4. Oladayo S. Olagunju Saturday, June 9, 2012

    the nyoombl name is funny but unique. btw, this article appears to me like it is focused on the celeb startup. take a look even at the pictures. haha. the tech world will use nyoombl as a scape goat. you think they can win? actually, maybe…but it’s ginna be hard.

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  5. Right now regardless of the celebrities, Airtime clearly wins over Nyoombl simply due to the brand name. The latter is extremely difficult to remember, spell or say properly. Airtime clearly understands the importance of branding and telling their company story, regardless of whether big name stars are involved. Nyoombl needs to change their name to simply have a chance for success.

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  6. nimble wasn´t even my fifth guess for how that was pronounced

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    1. Nick Peterson Wednesday, June 13, 2012

      I thought it was ok. The two eyes in the spelling were silent to me. Moreover, they are very characteristic of the video conversation.

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  7. Nick Peterson Wednesday, June 13, 2012

    I think Nymbl or Nyoombl is much more educational than Airtime. They service different functions with similar techniques.

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  8. Nadim Hossain Thursday, June 14, 2012

    Love this quote: ‘“I’m not a star. I’m not an billionare. I don’t know Ashton Kutcher,” Olagunju said.’

    But seriously, it’s way too early to say who’s going to win. I like the fact that both Airtime and Nyoombl are pushing the envelope. Each will make the other stronger. Products will ultimately decide winners. I reject the notion that a high-profile launch equals success (Cf. Color vs. Instagram).

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