VChatter, the “Safe” Alternative to ChatRoulette, Doubles Down

1/20/11Follow @wroush

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kicked Bunker and Kennedy out of the company, Bunker says. Ticketmaster CEO Barry Diller, the media mogul, “had this weird rule where if you make liquid money out of a sale, he wouldn’t let you stay,” he says. “I guess he was the only rich guy who could work there.”

Since then, Bunker has tried his hand at everything from catfish farming to cookbook wikis to online study aids. (Spending three years at flash card site Yoyobrain “got my programming skills back up to speed,” he says.) After moving from Dallas to Silicon Valley and watching the ascents of friends “who worked no harder than me but had better ideas,” Bunker says he decided to get “more critical about my idea generation.” He located a co-founder, Hitesh Parashar, who was willing to help him revive an idea he’d been thinking about since the OneandOnly days—video-powered online speed dating.

“Back in the 1990s the network speeds weren’t there to support it,” Bunker says. But it was still a good idea, he argues, and was simply awaiting the spread of technologies like webcams, broadband Internet connections, and Adobe’s Flash video platform (the latest version of which has built-in, peer-to-peer video chat features that make life for startups like vChatter infinitely simpler). “How does a kid with no money [i.e. 18-year-old ChatRoulette founder Andrey Ternovskiy] get to 30 million users so quickly? There’s got to be a compelling underlying human need there,” says Bunker.

As an entertainment network, vChatter has two major ways to earn revenues, in Bunker’s view. One is advertising: every fifth or tenth time a vChatter user presses the “next” button to call up a new chat partner, they might be shown a short video ad instead. But the company will need to attract 20 to 50 million users before ads will be a major revenue provider, Bunker says.

Meanwhile, the startup is also testing virtual goods sales. In one variation, users can pay a small amount to create a still image—a sort of photographic calling card—enhanced with an animation effect or a seasonal skin such as a “happy new year” message. “It’s all about either showing off, or trying to entice the other person to communicate with you longer,” Bunker says.

Most of the newly raised funds, Bunker says, will go toward the software engineering needed to perfect such features. “When we started this, neither of us knew how to program in Flash,” Bunker says. “I’m of the ready, fire, aim school: if there is a big enough demand, you don’t have to have a great product. But now we’re finally getting people who know what they’re doing.”

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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