BitTorrent Inc. co-founder Ashwin Navin is leaving his post as president of the company to form an incubator-like endeavor with a group of other tech executives that includes YouTube co-founder Steve Chen. Navin announced the news via email and said he would remain with BitTorrent in a new role as board director.
Navin was the guy who originally convinced Bram Cohen to turn his widely used BitTorrent technology into a business four years ago. Up till recently, he has been the key spokesperson for the company. We had heard rumors of Navin’s departure for months but he repeatedly denied them.
Meanwhile, it’s been a tumultuous time for BitTorrent as the company has struggled to find traction. It has shifted strategic directions more than once, going from torrent search engine to consumer store to B2B delivery to embedding its software into devices like routers to its latest move into video game delivery.
BitTorrent hired a new CEO and CTO in October of 2007. Shortly thereafter it was discovered that Comcast was actively blocking the BitTorrent P2P protocol. The two sides made nice and agreed to work together (instead of throttling BitTorrent, Comcast just implemented bandwidth caps).
In August, the company laid off roughly 20 percent of its staff; in September, it went on to hire a new V-P of engineering and a new CFO, and raised another $17 million in funding, bringing its total to $46.4 million.
Navin’s new venture would give him a fresh start. He says that along with Chen he has partnered with Aber Whitcomb of MySpace and Jim Young from HotorNot to purchase a small building in the Mission District of San Francisco. The building will be a workspace for tech entrepreneurs to get their ideas off the ground, a sort of alternative to working from coffee shops. Sounds like an incubator. How very dot-com boom.
We had heard rumblings of this venture recently and pestered Steve Chen about whether he would leave YouTube, but Chen insisted to us he has no plans to leave the company he founded. His job at YouTube currently involves spending a lot of time overseas.
With reporting by Liz Gannes.
The full letter follows:
I am excited to share some news regarding some personal changes at BitTorrent. Back in March, I indicated to my Board of Directors that I’d like to resign from BitTorrent in order to focus on a new venture. I felt comfortable moving on after we as a Board had recruited some strong leadership including a new CEO, CFO, and CTO, and agreed to a transition plan for me. As of several weeks ago, I officially transitioned from Co-Founder & President to a Co-Founder & Board Director.
My BitTorrent tenure certainly didn’t feel like four years, but time flies when working among good people, world-changing ideas, and great fun!
What attracted me to BitTorrent in the first place (and what is still inspiring to this day) is its ability to provide people true digital freedom. BitTorrent exemplifies market principles, tends toward decentralization, and operates on principles of meritocracy — all great virtues in my book! There have been few technologies in the history of mankind which have had such a massive impact on so many people, giving them the ability to communicate and benefit from each other. For its direct and indirect benefits, I believe BitTorrent sits among the handful of important technology breakthroughs such as the printing press, broadcasting, and the Internet itself. Why? Today’s publishing technology (like blogs, bittorrent, and video sharing sites for example) quite directly forge a level playing field for creativity. And indirectly, these tools force large media companies to realize that there is no longer scarcity or a stranglehold on distribution that locks people out of self-expression. Anyone can speak to the world in any format, without filters. Freedom of Speech has never been so available to the masses. How these large corportions respond to this fundamental realization will benefit many many millions of people–creators and consumers alike.
I am excited to continue contributing to BitTorrent as a Board member. The last four years have been a true adventure. We somehow managed to start the company amidst intense competition in the BitTorrent client space and we now have a great executive team focused on the BitTorrent client, DNA and SDK, reference-able partners in each program, a lucrative toolbar deal, and a massive and growing userbase with leading market share. The company is poised to continue its long march to success. Principal among our strengths is an extremely great set of people and trusted network of partners. You’ve all been tremendously good and gracious people to work with; thank you for that!
What’s next for me? A few possible directions but most notably, my friends Steve Chen (from YouTube), Aber Whitcomb (from MySpace), Jim Young (from HotOrNot) and I purchased a small building in the Mission District of San Francisco where we intend to build a physical environment conducive to innovation, collaboration and company formation. We all spent a fair amount of time in cafés as we were fostering and growing our own companies, and there will definitely be a caffeinated element to our new venture. More than that, we want to invite the next generation of tech entrepreneurs to use the facility as their initial base of operations. We intend to invest our time and money among this group trying to hatch the next few big ideas. I invite any of you to stop by and get involved. We intend to have many events there and if you’re feeling the itch to start something of your own, come on down and do it with us!
If you’d like to hear more about my next venture, drop me a note. I’d love to hear from you, and I’ll be sure to keep you updated.
Wishing you all the very best,