Business planning, Growth

Sean Parker’s Airtime faces downtime amid “toxic” start-up climate

Michelle Hammond /

Tech entrepreneur Sean Parker has described the current climate in Silicon Valley as “the most toxic time ever” for his latest start-up Airtime, which is struggling to take off.

 

Parker – who founded Napster and was the first president of Facebook – launched Airtime with fellow Napster founder Shawn Fanning earlier this year.

 

Airtime is a live video platform, which draws on users’ Facebook information to connect them with other users. In addition to chatting with friends, Airtime allows users to meet new people.

 

It pairs them with other users based on the information in their Facebook profile and the criteria they select. Once a user has been paired with someone, they can see shared interests and friends.

 

In addition to raising $33 million from various venture capital firms in Silicon Valley, Airtime has acquired a company called Erly, which allows users to build and share web pages.

 

But despite Parker’s reputation and expertise, Airtime has struggled to get off the ground. It’s been reported the site has attracted just 10,000 monthly active users so far.

 

In an interview with All Things Digital, Parker was quick to point out it’s still early days.

 

“It’s only 12 weeks from launch [and] I’ve only been running the company since March,” he said.

 

“We are iterating on our approach. Airtime is finally getting around to some of the bigger ideas that got me interested in this project in the first place.”

 

According to Parker, live video chat is only once aspect of the service. There are also plans for multiparty, asynchronous and collaborative conversations.

 

But according to Parker, it’s a tough time to be a tech start-up.

 

“Now is the most toxic time ever in Silicon Valley,” Parker said.

 

Parker said people start companies in the hope of being acquired, rather than out of passion. The comments come less than a year after he said small start-ups are “ridiculously overfunded”.

 

“The market is ridiculously overcrowded with early stage investors… A lot of these early stage investors will fund literally anything,” Parker said at a technology conference.

 

Meanwhile, Airtime is also dealing with internal issues, namely the exit of tech lead Eric Feng, while Fanning has taken a step back from the company.

 

But Parker insisted the issues the company is facing – including changes to its management team – are all part and parcel of the start-up scene.

 

“Running a start-up is like eating glass. You just start to like the taste of your own blood,” he said.

 

“Start-up teams are always in flux, so, like all start-ups, we’re always talking to candidates for various key roles. At this point, nothing definitive has been decided.”

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