Two former Apple engineers, Ben Keighran and Sam Roberts, waded into the crowded and choppy waters of live online broadcasting with yesterday’s broader launch of Caffeine. Caffeine aims to take on the likes of Twitch (which was acquired by Amazon back in 2014 for $970 million) and YouTube Gaming, a streaming service from Google-owned YouTube.
To say the least, it requires a fair bit of chutzpah to challenge two of the biggest companies in tech, running two of the most popular services in the video streaming space. So what does Caffeine have that the others don’t?
For one, $46 million in venture funding from Andreessen Horowitz (often abbreviated “A16Z”) and Greylock Partners, closed in a round announced yesterday. (Youtube raised from Sequoia and Artis Ventures before its acquisition, and Twitch raised from investors including Draper Associates, Thrive Capital, and Bessemer Venture Partners before its sale to Amazon.)
Although Caffeine quietly launched their product last year, and closed a round of funding back in March 2017, yesterday’s announcements constitute the company’s formal debut.
With fresh capital comes new additions to the company. A16Z co-founding partner Ben Horowitz and John Lilly, a partner at Greylock, will join Caffeine’s board of directors. Keighran and Roberts also brought on Anna Sweet, a former executive at Valve and Oculus, to lead Caffeine’s business development and content strategy. According to her LinkedIn profile, Sweet also joined Sequoia Capital’s rather secretive deal scouting program, as of January 2018.
For another, Caffeine aims to provide an easier, more seamless user experience for more casual streamers. Caffeine has close to zero latency for most users, allowing streamers to broadcast in real-time. Most services – including Twitch – have a built-in delay for streaming videos.
The company is initially targeting video game streamers, people who broadcast their video gameplay to an online audience. Its software – available for PC desktop download from the company’s website and in the iOS app store – also helps broadcasters share their streams on Facebook and Twitter, and prioritizes conversations between streamers, their close friends, and endorsed (read: “highly upvoted”) members of the Caffeine community.
Keighran told TechCrunch “There’s sometimes a toxic community that comes from the fact that if you put everybody in a stream on Twitch – and there are 2,000 people all just anonymously talking over top of each other. There’s no surprise that chaos is going to reign, The best experience needs to be simple, friendly, and welcome to a diverse audience.”
To this end, the company aims to fulfill a wide variety of use cases beyond gaming. Ben Horowitz said in a statement that “Caffeine is masterfully designed to enable creators in all fields to connect with their audiences in the best way possible.” Which other fields are next, after video game streaming, isn’t quite clear yet.
The window of opportunity in the gaming market alone is narrow, but not impossible to pass through. If through clever design and strong cultural guidelines Caffeine can succeed in providing a more positive atmosphere for streamers and their audiences alike, they may be the David to Twitch and YouTube’s collective Goliath.