Listen to this article
Two days before the glitch-filled unveiling of his much-hyped video chat site, Sean Parker sat at his desk in his New York home, popping a vitamin then opening a can of Red Bull energy drink.
“My stress level is pretty close to the max in terms of what I have experienced before,” said Mr Parker, first president of social networking site Facebook and co-founder of music file-sharing site Napster. “Somehow, it always magically comes together at the end.”
The New York launch event on Tuesday was a debacle. After starting about 50 minutes late, the site suffered a series of technical glitches as a parade of celebrities, including comedian Jimmy Fallon, rapper Snoop Dogg, actor Jim Carrey and actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus, tested it out and mocked its shortcomings.
“We really have no business being in the technology business right now,” Mr Parker said at the event. “We totally failed.”
Mr Parker said that the demonstration did not feature the live site, which he said in an interview would “create this better, more Utopian social reality, where the conversations are actually deeper and richer”. The actual site appears to work more smoothly.
Airtime is a video chat site that connects with Facebook, allowing users to video chat with people they already are friends with or meet on the site, based on interests listed on Facebook profiles – such as punk-rock music, magic tricks, ballet or gourmet cooking. People also can share videos with other users and watch them together.
The expectations are high. Mr Parker, 32, has a reputation for disrupting business that transcends beyond Silicon Valley to pop culture. Napster, for instance, is credited with upending the music business. Mr Parker was played by Justin Timberlake in The Social Network, the film based on Facebook’s early days, as a calculating, self-assured entrepreneur.
He reconnected with Shawn Fanning, 31, co-founder of Napster, to launch Airtime. Mr Parker is Airtime’s chairman. Mr Fanning is chief executive.
“They changed the whole face of music forever,” Mr Fallon said at Airtime’s launch event. “What they are launching today is going to be just as huge.”
Airtime has raised a total of about $33m in funding from investors including venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, Google’s venture arm, actor Ashton Kutcher and pop star Will.i.am. Bob Pittman, media veteran and chief executive of radio company Clear Channel, recently joined Airtime’s board.
Mr Parker said during the interview that the company needs to ignore the hype. “One of the problems that goes wrong in the careers of creative people, whether they are musicians or entrepreneurs or filmmakers is that first of all, they believe the hype. Dangerous,” he said.
“They also become afraid to take risks, and they start taking safe bets. The fact is that I have done so many of these in such a short period of time. I have great confidence in my ability to build the right product.”
Airtime’s roots lie in the early days of chat rooms, where people could use anonymous user names to connect with one another based on shared passions. Mr Parker and Mr Fanning met in an online chat room for Internet security, which Mr Parker calls a “euphemism for hacking”.
Airtime allows people to chat anonymously and recommends other users to chat with based on shared interests, proximity and whether they are friends of friends. “Had we met now, it would have been on a product like Airtime,” Mr Parker said.