Exclusive: The scope with Periscope's Kayvon Beykpour
App of the year
Invention is borne out of necessity and it was with this very notion that catapulted Periscope into reality. It's now been just over a year since the app was first launched and since then, it's become 'App of the Year' at the Apple App Store, with ten million users signing up to get the "scope". Here Buro 24/7 speaks to Persicope Founder, Kayvon Beykpour, the 27-year-old entreprenuer, who talks startups, the atmosphere in his newly established San Francisco office and his very surreal year...
When you see your product used by celebrities including Lady Gaga and Serena Williams or when you see your name in Fortune's prestigious 40 Under 40 list, what goes through your mind?
It's surreal. Just yesterday Ice Cube and Kevin Hart were in the Twitter office in New York and they were Periscoping. My parents called me and left me a voicemail saying: "Did you watch it? Did you see Ice Cube?" My parents have never even pronounced "Ice Cube" before! So, I watched it because my parents were so blown away and I thought to myself: 'These guys are using something that we made!" Every once in a while we have a moment when we sit back and go, "wow, this is pretty cool!" However, if we keep stopping to think about how crazy this is, we probably wouldn't get any work done. Overall, it is pretty amazing to think where we've done in such a short period of time!
When was the last time you used the app?
Just this morning! I did an interview with some reporters in Germany and I private-broadcasted it, so that they could watch from Berlin. It's great to use your own product to do that – imagine an interview like this, but with a few people being able to ask me questions in person. Then I'd send something and they'll respond with a bunch of hearts. So yeah, I just used it an hour and a half ago and obviously every day to watch.
How do people usually interact with the app – is it as addictive like some of the other social networks?
One unique thing about Periscope is that it's relevant to you. For example, your family gets a notification that says you are alive, so in that sense I think it's very convenient. It can also be addictive and fun because you can see what's happening around the world. That's where Periscope gives you a different perspective compared to other apps. There are apps out there that let you see what your friends are up to like Facebook. But you might be missing your home, so you can see what's going on there. Simply zoom into the city and see everything that is currently live or things that happened 10 minutes ago.
How did Periscope become so huge in some countries and not so in others? Was it down to marketing?
It's not about marketing because everything is organic. We don't have an explanation as to why it's happened the way it has.
Obviously live streaming has been around for years and isn't news any more. So what are the advantages of Periscope when you compare it to television?
We made it really live. On television you get anywhere from 45 to 80 seconds of delay, but with Periscope it's two seconds.
TV is passive, and you get what you get – entertaining and informative content, but with Periscope you can actually affect the experience. For example, I'm watching a German journalist cross over the border into Serbia and talk with Syrian refugees, I can ask questions and he can immediately respond. It's an interactive, two-way experience.
How did you build a large Periscope community so fast?
There's no recipe! We got lucky having built a product that people love using.
The power of Twitter probably also played a key role in Periscope's success. How big will the growth be following your recent integration with Twitter?
It's going to be really significant. Up until January 12, people were limited to watching other people who had the app on their iPhone or Android device, or maybe used the Periscope Web site on their desktop. That's tens of millions of people but it turns out that Twitter has a magnitude more of users. Now when you go live, anyone who's in your Twitter timeline can see native videos with hearts and comments. This content comes alive, which is really magical. It's also powerful for the broadcasters; the ceiling for their audience now is all people who follow them on Twitter, which is almost always a higher number — except for in my case, as I have way more people following me on Periscope (laughs).
Since we're talking about Twitter, did you ever think about selling the app so early on?
We had no interest in selling, and we certainly didn't reach out to anyone ourselves. You just can't reach out to a company and suggest the arrangement that we have now: "Hey, we'd like to have this perfect situation where you buy our company, but we run our own business." It worked out because it's a symbiotic relationship. We were just in a really fortunate place where Twitter believed in what we were doing and wanted us to continue running it separately. At the same time, we depend on Twitter for many things: legal professionals, communications, technological experts...
So, which three words would you use to describe your past year if you were writing a #2015in3words tweet?
I'd say surreal, special and sleepless.
Were you worried that something would go wrong when Stephen Colbert was demonstrating Periscope on national television?
Of course I was! Why do you think I was leaning over to see his phone? I couldn't control it, but I don't think that there could have been a more perfect demo. One reason is that he showed the power of the map by stumbling upon a random broadcaster in Florida, which she immediately noticed and read his comment. It was special. It totally demonstrated how live the experience was, and that you can have a conversation with a random stranger.
Colbert jokingly called you a threat to his talk show with everybody now having a tool to potentially steal his thunder. How big of a disruption do you think Periscope is going to cause for TV?
I do think Periscope is disruptive, but I certainly don't think it will displace Stephen Colbert's job. If anything, Periscope is a phenomenal tool that these organisations can use to augment their businesses. ESPN is a perfect example. Every night during Sports Center they use Periscope by asking viewers what they thought about the last segment, what they want to hear next and what random word they'd like to hear right after the commercial break. What do you think that does? Everyone who's watching them on Periscope turns on their TV to get Sports Center to see whether the anchor uses the random word.
What have you learnt this past year following the controversies around the app?
There's no single big lesson but rather a ton of different things. Firstly, it's important to pursue what we care about, with conviction. I think that we are building something that people love to use and it's gaining traction. However sometimes in the process of doing that, feathers are ruffled. If they weren't, then it was probably not that interesting of an idea anyway.
Another important lesson is that we have learnt to communicate with organisations. We've actually formed really healthy relationships and lot of people, who saw Periscope as a threat, now use the product to derive value for their organisations. A lot of that is just us sitting down at a table and saying: "Here's what we care about... Tell us what you care about."
Let's talk about your team and atmosphere in the office. Every successful startup has a certain culture that contributes to the creation of a worldwide phenomenon. What is it like to work at Periscope?
It's chilled and our dogs are a calming force. We have three dogs, who are all listed on the company's site as team members. Scotch is what we call the Chief Canine Officer, he's the most responsible dog. We've also got some interns, Pablo and Lolo. We hang out with our dogs during the day, cook together, go get coffee and play loud music. It's really nice that you can walk in at 9:30am in the morning and see a very chilled, respectable workplace but at the same time we never forget to have fun.
Of course we do have sleepless nights. When we launched the Twitter integration, there were probably six of us who stayed awake all night just because we wanted to be up for the launch. We pressed the button around midnight and people in Europe started seeing the integration.
How did Periscope end up in an office that looks more like a designer's loft? What are some of your office rituals?
We got lucky. All of the furniture here is mostly from the previous owners. We do care about every detail – what's in our fridge, the chairs we sit on. If you're going to spend that much time in one place, you want to make it comfortable and happy.
As you can imagine there's a lot of Periscoping in this office and the tradition is, is that before you start to broadcast you yell: "Fire in the hall!" Just in case someone is working on something private that we aren't yet ready to release to the world.
There's also no dress code and if it weren't so gloomy outside you'd see flip flops and sweatpants. We have happy hours every week, we try and go out to coffee every day in the morning and at around 2pm.
Who usually pays?
I do. That's why people wait for me to come to the office.
With this insane schedule how do you find the time for friends and pets?
I've had Scotch for over a year-and-a-half now and obviously I wouldn't be able to have him if he didn't come to the office with me. He is, in fact, an important part of the office. I'm also very fortunate to be able to work with many of my friends. We still spend a lot of time together, and I wouldn't trade it for the world.
Which Periscope broadcasts do you watch yourself and who do you follow?
Some of my favourites include the German journalist Paul Ronzheimer from BILD magazine. He's an incredible journalist and storyteller who spends a lot of time covering the refugee crisis. Then there's Mark Stone, a journalist for Sky News who lives in Belgium. In terms of entertainment, Jamie Foxx and Kevin Hart just know how to entertain an audience even when talking about the silliest things.
How will Periscope surprise its users in 2016?
We recently announced that we now have over 100 million broadcasts. So when you have that much content, discovery of the best gets really important, so we're definitely focusing on that. Also, we are working on tools for creators; there's nothing to watch if people aren't creating, so the more tools there are to be creative, the more we can encourage people to broadcast and broadcast for longer. Right now you basically have two tools that you can control: your voice and your camera. We think there are certainly other levers, which are coming very soon. You'll also see us do more clever things with Twitter.
What would be your top three tips for somebody who wants to start broadcasting on Periscope?
1. Engage the audience – that's the single most important thing that's key to Periscope and what makes it special. You can be doing the most mundane thing ever but if you are engaging the audience, you are making them feel like they're a part of the experience. Suggest that they ask questions, make them feel like you know that they are there.
2. You are on camera! Hold your camera still!
3. Keep in mind that people are watching what you are showing.
Periscope if downloadable in the Middle East from the Apple App Store.