Today, Startup Lowdown is pleased to be able to introduce a startup we’ve been extremely excited for over the last many months. Meet Rabbit, a new company working to revolutionize video chat by creating more fun and intuitive social interactions online. With their application, you can watch movies, listen to music, and share almost anything with other participants in your custom (private/public) chatrooms. These chatrooms are also unlimited in size, meaning you can talk to as many of your friends as you’d like, all at the same time. Rabbit’s application is designed to emulate real life interaction by allowing user to seamlessly move between conversations with different groups of people, as if they were at a party.
We had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Stephanie Morgan, co-founder, designer, and producer of Rabbit. With video gaming backgrounds from companies like Sony Online Entertainment, Acclaim Entertainment, Activision, and ngmoco, Stephanie and her fellow co-founders bring in an unparalleled focus on user experience, which is clearly reflected in their product. In this interview, Stephanie shares about the formation of Rabbit, the company’s values, and news from the recent launch of Rabbit’s private beta. She was also generous enough to give all Startup Lowdown readers a chance to test the product (read to the end to find out how to download it)! Enjoy!
StartupLowdown: Thanks for taking the time to speak with Startup Lowdown! We’re very excited to have this opportunity to chat with the team behind Rabbit. For those of our readers that don’t already know, could you explain what Rabbit is?
Stephanie: Rabbit is a totally new app that lets you video chat and share movies, music, and more with your friends. You can chat with as many people as you’d like. Rabbit supports conversations with just you and another person, but also scales to allow an unlimited number of people to chat together.
Even more than just video chatting, one of Rabbit’s coolest features is that it lets you share whatever you want with the people you’re chatting with – all in real time. So, you can watch movies or listen to music together with your friends, even if you aren’t in the same physical place.
I’ve been using it a lot to watch TV shows with a friend of mine who lives in NYC. It’s awesome to be able to spend time together and do fun stuff, even though we live 3,000 miles apart from each other.
StartupLowdown: How did your team come to this idea? At what point did you know that this was something you had to pursue?
Stephanie: When we first started thinking about Rabbit, we were all living in different cities, so we were talking together a lot using video chat. After trying out a bunch of them, we realized that there really wasn’t the software out there that did everything we wanted.
To start with, there are four of us founders, and we learned pretty quickly that many solutions wanted us to pay to video chat with more than one other person. Then, it was tricky to share stuff easily (and with a decent framerate) without using a supplemental sharing solution like join.me. Even then, if we wanted to share something with audio, there wasn’t a way to do that, at all.
And, while everything we tried out did let us video chat, none of the software really felt good to use. The designs were all kind of utilitarian, they didn’t make you feel like you were having a true conversation together.
We all come from video games, and we thought there had to be a way to re-think video chat to be friendlier, easier to use, and, well, more fun.
This was in the summer of 2011, and we started prototyping and exploring on both the tech and design fronts. We didn’t filter out any idea, no matter how crazy it seemed. After several months of iteration and experimentation, we decided that we had a really special idea and kicked off a true dev later that Fall.
StartupLowdown: How has the founding team team members’ background in video games and music played a role in Rabbit’s development?
Stephanie: One of the biggest differences between games and what we see in other types of software development is that games place the user and their fun-factor at the core of the experience.
In game development, you don’t start from a function or feature-driven perspective. Instead, you think about the core compulsion loop – really, what are the activities that players will want to do – then you design mechanics and interactions around them, tune the experience so that it grows and evolves over time, and refine the controls so that they’re seamlessly in the background. The moment any player has to think about the controls, you’re basically dead in the water.
This seems quite different from what we see in other types of software, including the video chat space. Simple stuff like creating a new conversation or adding someone to an existing conversation should never require you to scour through menu options.
Ultimately, in games, the whole approach is one where the technology supports the user and their experience (rather than expecting the user to adjust for the tech).
And, I think you can tell from your very first moments in Rabbit, that we built it from the ground up with that same user-centric philosophy.
StartupLowdown: What is your strategy to make Rabbit a more appealing option than the likes of Google Hangouts, Skype, Facebook Chat, etc.? Do you have any shareable insights on video-chatting that you believe will give your team a leg up against the competition?
Stephanie: So much of what’s in the video chat space right now is coming from that same old utility-driven focus that we were just talking about.
By taking a different approach and thinking about how subtle design elements tie together, we’ve been able to create an experience with Rabbit that looks and feels completely different from anything else.
For example, in Rabbit, you can actually make eye contact with the people you’re talking to. You can move effortlessly from conversation to conversation, just like you would at a party. And because Rabbit builds on Facebook, you can instantly connect to the people and things that are important to you, right from the get go.
Subtle touches like that have a big impact on the types of connections and conversations you can have in Rabbit. By creating a more natural and resonate experience, you are suddenly doing more than just video chatting. You’re actually spending quality time with people and doing things together that you care about.
StartupLowdown: What does your team believe are the top three things to “get right” in order for Rabbit to achieve success?
Stephanie: While there are many different aspects to creating a successful app, our only real goal is to make it fun and easy for you to have meaningful, real-time interactions with other people.
That can be anything from listening to music and chatting with your best friend while you’re working on homework, or giving a presentation to hundreds of your co-workers.
When you’re in Rabbit, we don’t want you to need to think about the tech or the UI – you should be able to just enjoy your conversation and the experience. We’ve worked hard on the design and tech so that they blend into the background.
As long as you’re having fun chatting with your friends, that’s success for us.
StartupLowdown: You guys recently launched your private beta; what’s the initial feed been?
Stephanie: We’re so excited to have people using Rabbit, and the community has been amazing by sharing their thoughts and feedback with us!
Aside from helping us figure out some intriguing issues (for instance, did you know that Verizon FiOS blocks both UDP and RTCP? We do now!), our beta users have also shared ideas for several new features – many of which we’re working on now and will be released over the next couple weeks.
Overall, the response has been incredibly positive, and we consider ourselves lucky to have such an awesomely engaged group of people helping us make Rabbit even better.
The private beta is available on Mac OS X 10.7 or higher, and anyone in the US can sign up for an invite at www.rabb.it
We’d love to have the Startup Lowdown community join us in Rabbit!
StartupLowdown: Any idea when we might be able to see this on PC or mobile?
Stephanie: While we definitely want to be on other platforms, we’ve a fairly small team of about 10 people. So, right now, we’re really putting all of our focus on the private beta and listening to our community of users.
StartupLowdown: How’d your team come up with the name “Rabbit”?
Stephanie: I think naming a new company is one of the hardest things to do, period. You’re still in the process of figuring out who you are. Yet, somehow at the exact same time, you’re supposed to find a name that will both explain who you are now and evolve into what your company will become.
Not an easy task
We knew our name needed to uniquely capture the spirit of who we are and what we were building. It had to be fun, playful, and joyful – and, believe me, it turns out it’s surprisingly tricky to capture that in one single word.
We tried a couple different names on for size, but none of them were truly us. And, then, one day, someone suggested “Rabbit” and – bam!
We’d found ourselves at last
StartupLowdown: That is awesome! Stephanie, thank you once again for sharing so much about Rabbit with the Startup Lowdown community. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed hearing about your story and insights; Rabbit looks like it’s about to make some serious waves in the video chatting scene. Thank you so much for your time!
If you’d like a chance to be one the first to experience Rabbit:
1) Follow @LetsRabbit on Twitter
2) Share this post on Twitter with the hashtag #GetRabbit
The first 50 people to do so will get an invite to Rabbit’s private beta.
Are you as excited as we are for Rabbit? Is this something you’d use? Let us know in the comments below or tweet us @Startuplowdown!