The following is a message from Christopher Deutsch, describing his background in entrepreneurship, what he is working on now, and including a challenge at the end. Deutsch graduated from Vassar in 1997 with BA in Economics and is a “serial entrepreneur” who has worked with several high-tech and ecommerce startups for over 15 years. He is currently Co-Founder of EventMob and on the Founding Team of OnCam.
Before I start, I’d like to thank the amazing student leadership behind Vassar Venturers. I’ve had the honor to speak with the founder of VV, Charlotte Yang, as well as several energetic members. I graduated from Vassar in 1997 and at the time, there was nothing even close to this fantastic organization on campus. This group’s efforts will undoubtedly enable countless Vassar students and alums to explore their entrepreneurial aspirations. I wish VV was around when I was starting my computer graphics/web development business in 1995 from my dorm room in Cushing!
I’m going to share a little bit of my background, discuss what I’m working on now, why I’m so passionate about these two projects and offer a challenge to you.
During my sophomore year at Vassar, I founded CD Graphics. This consulting business was the perfect vehicle to learn more about computer graphics, web development and tech entrepreneurship while being a student. It afforded me the opportunity to network with other techies on campus, learn by doing and gain invaluable experience. I worked on dozens of projects from setting up first-ever web pages for departments (remember, this was ’95 and economics dept. was one of them) to CD inserts for a local rock label to covers of the Vassar Spectator (campus publication). One such project was with fellow student entrepreneur Cheyenne Ehrlich (’98), which would become the first of many ventures that we would collaborate on together. By the way, you can take a peak back in time by going to cdgraphics.org if you’d like to see the original site I built back in 1996. It hasn’t changed at all in 15 years. Please remember, this was cutting edge back then.
After graduation, I spent a year in Chicago providing Internet consulting services and then moved out to Scottsdale, AZ in 1998 to join an exciting new startup. I joined the founding team of an ecommerce platform called Vstore, which we later rebranded Vcommerce. The focus initially was basically a Hotmail for ecommerce – enable anyone to build their own ecommerce site in five minutes with no products or web development knowhow. It was dubbed the “affiliate killer” by an industry magazine and we raised tens of millions of dollars from blue chip VCs such as Benchmark, CMGi and others. Once we realized that the true value of our platform wasn’t to give consumers the ability to sell to their friends (initial model was 10 years too early), but rather to power ecommerce operations for enterprise-class retailers, we rebranded the company and began powering sites such as Target.com, Overstock, MTV, Comedy Central and a slew of others. The company was acquired in 2009 after I had moved onto my next startup.
I’ve been founder, co-founder or founding team member of several other ventures including a Facebook game (Vatican Wars, with Cheyenne), an early price comparison service (ClickTheButton, with Cheyenne), a lacrosse recruiting organization (Lax Scout), a joint venture with Taser (RouteCloud/Protector) and an accelerator (C9 Innovations, name came from my town house at Vassar), among others. The diversity of projects I’ve worked on has provided me with a wide range of skills and relationships with hundreds of business leaders in various verticals. There is a huge push for specialization and focus, but I’ve taken the road less traveled and have diversified. The biggest reason is simply following my passion. I discovered early on in life that if I’m not passionate about whatever I’m working on, then I’m going to either fail or produce mediocre results. You would think that this should be self evident, but for many, it’s not.
Currently I’m working on two projects that both gravitate around an idea I call Rich Synchronous Social Experiences. Communicating with friends on Facebook and Twitter are social experiences. Talking on the phone is a synchronous social experience. But if you want to REALLY connect with someone, then you bring it in for the real thing and engage face-to-face, ideally in person, but if that’s not possible due to geography, then via video (i.e. ONcam or Skype). I refer to in-person and video engagements as rich synchronous social experiences because you’re able to read body language, feel passion, gain greater empathy and moreover, connect on a deep level. The importance of engaging with people in person is obvious, yet many people are falling victim to “social” media and losing touch with their close friends. My two current ventures, ONcam & EventMob, focus on enabling, creating and facilitating rich synchronous social experiences. My intent is to bring people back together to share meaningful experiences and hopefully gain new perspectives from others.
EventMob (eventmob.com) is a mobile app that helps you be more spontaneous with your social planning by making it super fast and easy to create and share events. Notable features include an RSVP Countdown (drives action), Mobs (auto-groups friends based on past events) and Copy (use prior events as templates for new ones). Additionally, paid events enable you to collect money from your friends for — say — a football game or concert before you front the cash for everyone’s tickets. This features saves the headache, social awkwardness and wallet drain of attempting to collect after the fact (if you would even bother). EventMob’s goal is to simplify the process of organizing impromptu events and physical activities with friends. As of just a few days ago, the iPhone app (alpha release) is now available in the App Store, so please feel free to download it and let me know what you think. And of course, a five-star rating would be greatly appreciated as well (thanks!).
ONcam (oncam.com) is Twitter for Video Chat – a disruptive interactive video broadcasting platform enabling people to share live experiences at mass scale – reinventing TV, collaboration and commerce. Picture nine people from around the world chatting together via webcams, while thousands watch and dozens of others cycle in and out to interact live ONcam as well. Initially, ONcam is driving Hollywood 2.0 by empowering celebrities and brands to host live interactive events with capacities of 10,000,000+ participants, record and publish these events to social media, mobile and TV channels, and monetize these events via pay-per-view, sponsorship and ecommerce. Launch partners include leading entertainment brands VEVO, Bunim/Murrary Productions, Disney and Untitled Entertainment. At our recent launch at DEMO Fall 2012 in Silicon Valley, Erick Schonfeld (former editor-in-chief of TechCrunch) tweeted that “ONcam is Google Hangouts on steroids” and other publications such as Venture Beat, PC Magazine and Financial Times had similar reactions.
In addition to the recent success in Hollywood, entities in other verticals including politics, retail and education are exploring potential applications for ONcam as well. For example, I am currently working closely with dozens of groups at Arizona State University (largest university in the US and tied at 5th with Yale and Berkeley for Fulbright student scholarship winners) to explore which applications are the best fit in the college setting, and then replicate this model across other institutions. Athletics, academics, alumni and “ONcam clubs” are emerging as the winners. The ONcam club is an interesting model. It’s basically a new take on the old student run radio station (i.e. WVKR). In the ONcam Club model, students get to host their own weekly live video-based shows on whatever topics they’re passionate about (i.e. lacrosse, indie music, politics, etc.) and can ask guests (celebrities, professors, friends, etc.) to join them virtually. The “ask” to join virtually radically drops the barriers to participation and increases the probability of a student scoring Mark Cuban to join her next episode of the Sports Biz Show. If you’d like to watch a live ONcam event, you’re welcome to join a chat with two ASU football players on Wednesday, December 5th at 3:00 PM eastern at oncam.com/TheSunDevils (more info on the event at http://www.thesundevils.com/sports/m-footbl/spec-rel/112812aab.html).
As you may have noticed, I have a strong passion for entrepreneurship. The idea of creating something from nothing is exciting and invigorating. But that isn’t enough. I frequently encounter students that are passionate about entrepreneurship, but lack passion for the project or venture that they’re working on, and in some cases, these are even the founders (yikes). This is a fatal error. An entrepreneur has to constantly endure (and overcome) extreme obstacles, adversity and hardship in order to achieve the end goal. Unless you’re so deeply invested in the mission that it is literally hard to sleep or remember when to eat, then the ugly truth is that failure is likely.
So, my challenge to you is this, don’t settle. Don’t settle for a startup that you can’t get excited about or a team that doesn’t fire you up. All entrepreneurs face challenges every day. That’s the startup life that we opt into. And the only way you’ll be able to roll out of bed after just a few hours of sleep and bruises from your last tussle with your team is if you are driven by your passion for the collective vision of what you and your friends are building together. So, follow your passions, surround yourself with talented (and passionate) people and enjoy the ride with your pals as you endeavor to change the world.
I’d love to hear from anyone in the Vassar community that has questions, comments or ideas. Feel free to reach out anytime and I’m happy to chat ONcam together as well.
Christopher Deutsch ‘97