Avner Ronen is the founder and CEO of Boxee, a freeware media player software platform.
Before starting Boxee, Avner founded and sold Odigo, an instant messaging service to Comverse for $20M in 2002 but stayed on with Comverse as the VP Corporate Strategy & Business Development until early 2007 and started Boxee soon after.
I had a quick chat with Avner to find out more about Boxee and the story behind it.
Can you give you some background information about yourself, were you the entrepreneurial type growing up?
I wasn’t an entrepreneur growing up, but I was working at a young age. Since I was 12 years old I was doing odd jobs like delivering papers, cleaning buildings, work in kitchens or restaurants etc.
My first real entrepreneurial experience was in the Israeli Defence Force, when I started an Intranet project in my unit.
Tell me about your experience working with the Odigo team during its early days and some of the key thing you took away from that experience?
Odigo was a unique experience. I believe I learned many important lessons, but I don’t think I was necessary able to implement them when I started Boxee.
Like with any start-up however, I learned a great deal about product, focus, raising money, building a team, etc.
Tell me how the idea for Boxee came about?
My friend Tom Sella and I were playing around with connecting computers and xbox media center to our TVs and we realized we were watching more and more stuff from the Internet rather than from the cable box. Our setup was complicated and very geeky though, and we decided there must be a better, easier way to do it. That’s how the idea for Boxee came about.
What are you trying to solve with Boxee?
We believe many peoples’ video watching habits have completely changed. Today, people are much more active in their video consumption. We are more on-demand driven, watching videos on our computers, tablets and phones, and discovering what to watch via social media, by following friends and influencers on Twitter and Facebook.
Boxee is a product designed with this new consumer behaviour in mind. Rather than pay $75 a month for 200 channels from which you only watch 6-10, with Boxee you can get the major broadcast channels for free and then get the rest of the stuff you want to watch from the Internet, like Netflix, Vudu, YouTube, etc. It is a more relevant, more affordable and better experience than what you’ll get from your traditional pay TV provider.
Talk me through the first few months of running the business? What would you say was the hardest part of starting the business?
I think like with any idea, the hardest thing is taking the plunge and deciding to really do it; dedicating yourself to it. Probably 99.9% of ideas never pass the stage of talking about them with your friends.
The next major hurdle is assembling the initial team and then getting started on building the product, especially if you need to raise money at that stage.
How were you able to fund the business?
Initially I invested some of my own money and then reached out to friends & family to do a seed round. That phase took a long time until we got venture capital firms to invest.
How has your market changed in the past few years? How has your business changed to keep pace?
The market has really matured favorably in the direction of the Boxee product and vision. Today it is not a question whether TVs will be connected and there is no question that premium content is/will be available over the Internet - there is real consumer demand for it.
This also means there is much more competition and that as a start-up, we need to continue to innovate and build our brand and products.
Would you say the initial idea for the company, or that your business model has changed since starting the company?
The original goal or the vision has not really changed much, which may be a reason for concern.. We didn’t have a clear business model when we got started and I think today we feel much more comfortable about how we are going to build and scale a great business around Boxee.
What would you say has been some of the most crucial that you've done to build the company to this level now?
I would say the most crucial thing we have done was to have a vision for the product that we stayed focused on and executed on it to build a brand and a fan base without spending too much on marketing.
Is the business profitable? What is your business model?
We are not profitable. We are going to get to profitability by converting Boxee users to premium, paying users.
What’s been your most memorable moment so far on your entrepreneurial journey?
Hard to tell one specific moment, but I think the greatest joy has been making my mother proud and happy.
What pieces of advices could you give to aspiring entrepreneurs out there?
I feel anything I will say has been said before... there are many paths to success and you can easily get great, completely contradictory advice on almost every subject, so probably most important is to follow your gut/heart and try to have fun along the way.
What can we be expecting from you and Boxee in 2012?
We have big plans for 2012, but at this point they are all top secret ;) Stay tuned...