BitTorrent, seeded, now waits for VC funds

28 Comments

Ashwin Navin has the self satisfied look of a cat that just licked a pint of cream. His eyes gleam, when he talks about BitTorrent, where he has a lofty title of chief operating officer. Navin, an investment banker-turned-Yahooligan doesn’t need a jolt of Starbucks double shot, when exulting about the future of his little start-up. In the ephemral world of digital content, Bit Torrent is as close to a sure thing, you can get.

All he has to do is mention Bram Cohen and Bit Torrent. In the ever mutating peer-to-peer networking universe, Cohen is like New York Yankees’ short stop, Derek Jeter. In less than two years, their client software which allows users to share big files such as video clips with remarkable ease through smart technology, has been downloaded nearly 45 million times. That’s about 100 million less than claims by Skype folks, but its only getting started. In less than a year, Bit Torrent has gone from being an illegal file sharing network to being the network that is being used to distribute legal content. “We are now in a position to promote free, or paid content,” says Navin. And that explains why MPAA and RIAA are both responding nicely to Bit Torrent’s overtures.

The Bit Torrent search engine, and soon a torrent directory service will bring the company one step closer to becoming an even more legitimate part of the broadband world. Navin explained that distributing video games, short video clips, ancillary audio information and software are key areas of focus for the company. Blizzard, Linspire and a slew of other companies have used Bit Torrent for content distribution over the Internet in recent past. [ If I am C/Net’s Download.com, I need to be worried, for Bit Torrent can quite easily replace their digital download directory. (Yahoo, how about stepping in, and buying this before it gets too expensive?)]

For now thanks to advertising dollars, donations from users and other projects, the company has enough to pay the bills, keep seven employees well fed, and hire another 13 by end of the year. How about more venture capital? I have heard rumors that Doll Capital might have invested in Bit Torrent. Navin says the company hasn’t taken any VC money thus far. “But we are opportunistic,” he says. Not that opportunity is not knocking on their door. A recent San Jose Mercury News article resulted in over a dozen VCs reaching out to the company. Bit Torrent could be one of those start-ups, that VCs can go nuts about.

Think about it. In today’s Silicon Valley, there is so much cash sloshing around, that some of the smartest money managers on the planet, the guys who have turned more pennies into dollars than I can even dream off, aka Sequoia Capital and Kleiner Perkins, are ready to pump in $8.5 million into a promise of an aging hipster’s ability to turn podcasting into a mega-business. Or that, another equally pennywise bunch is ready to invest a few million more, in another Podcasting start-up, Odeo.

If those companies can snag millions, then Bit Torrent is definitely worth a lot more. Let me put it in the old world terms. The podcast start-ups of today are like Wine.com, while Bit Torrent is Cisco of the digital content revolution. It has actual technology that will help grow the open media. It has the technology that will help distribute the “video content” next generation bloggers will create or whatever. It is infrastructure – and we know who makes all the money. That explains the cat who licked the cream smile on Navin’s face.

28 Comments

John Furrier

Om,
Podcasting startups like Wine.com – give me a f*in break. PodTech.net vision is not even close to a wine.com model.. Bittorrent is great but it’s a different animal than some of the media apps being developed.

A better comparision might be podcasting (apps/operating environments) is Microsoft and Bittorrent (plumbing / transit) is Cisco…

Key about podcasting is to differentiate between a standalone podcasting shows verses emeging podcasting (media) platforms…

PodShow like my PodTech.NETwork is about building a platform for media developers.

Gary Lerhaupt

The way to monetization is what Prodigem is already doing. Re: psych, it is all in the management system and making it easy to publish. See prodigem.com for our take on it.

Damian

Remember, also, that many people are trying to monetize this area – RedSwoosh comes to mind, and so does Kontiki. While I think both of them have had success (Kontiki powers the video download of Gamespot, for instance, and RedSwoosh powers some portion of iFilm downloads), I don’t think either of them have become giants. Then you’ve got companies like Akamai going for the same prize. The trick, of course, is that Bit Torrent needs to provide a higher quality network at a lower cost – something I think they’ll have a hard time doing. Even if they do, I don’t see them as a giant in any case.

And as for the podcasting stuff – Om, I couldn’t agree more….

Psych

oh and torrents can’t be used for streaming, so live video with minimal bandwidth isn’t going to happen.

Psych

re: chad
i don’t see how the bittorrent company can use advertising or subscribtion for it’s services. i agree that selling its content distribution system (and mangement of?) to companies that need to send out huge amounts of data to lare amouns of people in short time is the way to go. it’s bandwidth management at it’s finest. say goodbye to server’s cracking under th eload of some hot new trailer/game/program :)
however, bittorrent is open source, there’s no reason the company can’t use bittorrent to distribute nythng now, and not pay a penny. maybe advertisements would be included in the official client, well there are many advertising-free alternatives already., and people are on a advertising, popup, spyware weary stance at the moment anyway.
all this rambling, makes me think its the managememt system that could be worth the money. free for personal use, companies pay… a way to provide creation and mangement of torrents for your website, perhaps a web based client, secure tranmission, etc.

broadbandito

Om,

Mssrs Cohen & Navin were also looking for $100mm (not a typo) PRE-money valuation for their A round. Do you think anyone bought in at that price? sleuth away.

Chad Williams

I’m pretty sure around 1999 or 2000 somebody was wondering how Google would ever make money. Well, they found AdSense and now they’re a juggernaut. The point is, anybody who becomes an important distribution channel for content that millions of people rely on on a daily or regular basis, can monetize that attention in tons of ways.

From a practical standpoint, they can do advertising, subscriptions, or both. What if they said ‘use us to publish your content. Low fees. How much do people like victoria’s secret pay right now to multi-cast video on the internet? OK there’s your business model.

Matt

as mentioned above, bittorrent is open source software and there are many clients (and servers) that support it. So what advantage does Bittorrent the company have? Is their name really worth anything? If someone like download.com switched to using Bittorrent (the protocol, not the company), what possible advantage would Bittorrent (the company) have over them?

brian

As I recall bittorrent is open source software, so I do not think it (Bittorrent the Company) has any inherent advantages over other bittorrent clients like Azureus which are much more robust platforms. And search engines are a dime a dozen these days.

Tom

Monetization?

Cisco makes money off its products. Bit Torrent hasn’t shown in any way how it can make a sustainable profit off its technology. The free nature of the open source software is a fundamental aspect of its success.

I do not deny Bram his recent fame (he was a high school classmate) but so far, there’s been little indication that Bit Torrent will create a profitable business from its technology success. The protocol standard fundamentally belongs to the net at large at this point given how many implementations are around; attempting to monetize it through search or directory systems will not have any fundamental advantage over the existing players in those spaces.

Richard

A lot of podcasters are looking at bittorrents as a vehicle to cut their bandwith costs. We are developing bit torrent plugins for our podcasting software to enable podcasters to put their media out there via torrents.

So in a way bit torrent and podcasting are linked to eachother. Which one deserves more funding? only time will tell..

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