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.