This Twitter alum’s startup can help content creators launch their own Netflix, Amazon Prime-like platform
Laminar co-founders (L-R) Narendra Nag, Tirthraj Singh, Kumar Shorav, Shanyang Yin, and Raheel Khursheed
Raheel Khursheed was Snapchat’s first employee in India, hired to lead the Santa Monica-based disappearing messaging application’s operations in the country. But six months into the gig, bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, he quit.
Before Snap Inc (Snapchat changed its name to Snap in 2016 when it introduced video-sharing sunglasses), Raheel was the head of Twitter News for South Asia and South East Asia, and one of the San Francisco-based micro-blogging platform’s first employees in the region. At Twitter, he led the conception, development, and rollout of several prominent civic tech products such as Twitter Seva and SmartFeed.
In August last year, along with four of his friends and former colleagues, Raheel started working full-time on Laminar Global, a startup that aims to provide end-to-end tech solutions for anybody who has “high-quality” content and wants to monetise it “seamlessly” by building their own platforms.
The founders of the startup — Kumar Shorav, Narendra Nag, Shanyang Yin, Tirthraj Singh, and Raheel — met each other over the course of the last 20 years in different contexts.
“As a content creator all you need to do is focus on producing content, we’ll take care of the rest,” says Raheel.
Commenting on the competition, he admits that there are other players out there, but insists that no one else provides a “complete end-to-end solution” and that the current solutions were built five to 10 years ago and the tech is outdated.
Your own Netflix, Amazon Prime-like platform
The startup believes it can help content creators build platforms and experiences similar to what leading OTT platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime offer. OTT, or over the top, refers to film and television content provided via a high-speed internet connection instead of a cable or satellite provider.
“Think of us as Shopify for video streaming,” says Raheel.
Canadian ecommerce company Shopify helps entrepreneurs create, scale, and manage their own online stores. “Sell in multiple places, including web, mobile, social media, online marketplaces, brick-and-mortar locations, and pop-up shops. Manage products, inventory, payments, and shipping,” the company’s website reads.
The startup, which has its eyes on the global market, is looking to make inroads into what is a competitive market with several players already present.
Boston-based Brightcove, for instance, which recently tied up with India’s largest online ticketing platform BookMyShow, is a leading technology platform that helps businesses stream and monetise content online with their technological expertise in professional grade video management, distribution, and monetisation.
In 2016, New York City-based video hosting, sharing, and services platform Vimeo, acquired VHX, a New York startup that provided a platform for OTT content with the tagline “launch your own streaming video service.”
The booming video streaming market
But the market is large and ever growing, offering promise to newer entrants like Laminar. The video streaming media market is booming worldwide, as audiences across the world are increasingly moving away from traditional modes of video consumption and switching to consuming video on a device of their choice, at a time of their choosing.
“As a result, content companies are launching streaming services — but the tech required to run a global streaming service is complex and fragmented. Content companies are being forced to become engineering companies — a tough task that requires large, and on-going, capital investments,” Raheel says.
According to market research firm, Prescient & Strategic Intelligence, the global video streaming market was valued at $245.3 billion in 2018, and is projected to reach $688.7 billion by 2024, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 19.1 percent during the forecast period (2019–2024). In a research report published last year, the Delhi-based research firm estimated video streaming to account for over 80 percent of the total internet traffic by 2020, with Netflix consuming 15 percent of the total downstream volume of traffic globally.
Since Laminar soft-launched its first client on May 20, it has crossed $100,000 in revenue, according to the startup.
“We soft-launched KBITS Live four weeks ago and he (the client) has already made more money since, than in all the time he’s been on,” says Narendra, CEO and Co-founder of .
The client Khawar Butt, or KB as he’s called, for the last three decades, has been teaching people how to become Cisco networking experts. KB charges $3,000 for his live sessions - weekly classes spread across three months
“When we spoke to him (KB) for the first time earlier this year, we started to get a sense of the real tyranny of aggregation platforms like YouTube and Udemy. We learnt that world-beating content creators like KB are handing over their audiences, their content and between 50 and 70 percent of their revenue to folks who provide tech and reach. It’s a pretty good set-up,” Narendra says.
The CEO says KB was perfect for the startup to test out a key hypothesis — are people willing to pay the content creator directly for online classes, or will they insist on going through a Udemy or Coursera?
The startup seems to have found the answer with KB’s early success with the platform. Since its May launch, the platform (currently in MVP or minimal viable product phase) itself has seen the gross merchandise value (GMV) cross $70,000, and has served over 5,000 live video hours, along with 1,500 on-demand video hours to more than 450 subscribers globally.
No upfront cost for content creators
Narendra believes the only thing standing in the way of a creator and revenue is the up-front cost of setting up world-class tech.
“For anyone who wants to launch a subscriber-led video streaming service, at any scale, we give you everything you need at zero upfront cost and an extraordinarily reasonable share of revenue or a flat fee per paying user if you’re going to get hundreds of thousands of subscribers,” says Narendra, explaining the business model of the startup.
Laminar is a platform as a service that lets a content company or a creator launch a global streaming service, “with everything that that entails”, Raheel says.
Talking about its target audience, he says, “Our definition of a content company is very broad. It can be anyone - a university, a hospital, movie studios and traditional broadcasters with large video libraries with a large video library, a creator who wants to move away from current platforms to assume full control of their content and so on.
“Our objective is simple — to let content companies or creators do what they do best: create content and delight audiences — while we manage the engineering and infrastructure for them. Think of us as the Amazon Web Services (AWS) or WordPress of streaming.”
Eye on the global market
Which geographies Laminar is looking to focus on? “We are a global firm but our natural strategic preference is to focus on high Annual Revenue Per User (ARPU) regions of North America, Europe, and the Middle East. Having said that, in the first couple of years, our aim is to be opportunistic regarding business development and to rely on the extensive networks of Laminar's founders and advisors,” Raheel says.
The startup bagged its second client last month, but is not ready to reveal the name yet. “Our second client is a new kind of think-tank / information and consulting firm being born out of the coming together of a 100-year-old media house and an existing, established consulting firm with marquee clients. They plan to provide very high value content to subscribers around the world interested in key changes in the South Asian market. Think The Economist meets Brookings,” says Raheel.
Shorav, the head of engineering, is the in-house “video geek”. He has over 15 years of experience, building products across the media landscape. He built and scaled ZEE5, Zee Enterprise’s OTT offering, to 150 million monthly active users (MAU) across 190 countries.
Narendra, the “geek/entrepreneur”, has over 20 years of experience at the intersection of media and technology. He’s helped launch TV channels, multiple digital offerings, and led global digital transformation efforts in Asia and Europe.
Shanyang, the “map maker” and head of data science at Laminar, has more than 15 years of experience, building data and intelligence systems for “all kinds of customers around the world”. He has built maps to navigate complex landscapes for some of the world’s largest telecom companies.
Raheel, the “growth accelerator” has over 12 years of experience, helping global tech firms grow exponentially, in short periods of time. He has helped launch some of the world’s most popular tech firms in some of the world’s toughest markets and comes with a powerful global network.
Tirthraj, the “Bayesian thinker” and head of finance and operations, has more than 12 years of experience leading strategy and high-efficiency programmes at some of the world’s largest banks, across global markets. Merriam-Webster defines Bayesian as “being, relating to, or involving statistical methods that assign probabilities or distributions to events (such as rain tomorrow) or parameters (such as a population mean) based on experience or best guesses before experimentation and data collection and that apply Bayes' theorem to revise the probabilities and distributions after obtaining experimental data”.
Tirthraj and Narendra have known each other since high school. Raheel and Narendra met in the CNN-IBN (now CNN News18) newsroom, where both worked as journalists, in 2006. Shorav and Narendra met at the news channel, NewsX, in 2007. Shanyang and Narendra met and started working together in 2014.
Apart from them, Laminar has a nine-member engineering team working on the product out of Wroclaw, Poland, a location “carefully chosen after a global search for talent”. The co-founders are spread across the map, with Shorav dividing his time between Poland and Delhi, Narendra being London-based, Raheel in Toronto, Shanyang shuttling between Singapore and Poland, and Tirthraj in Hamburg.
What’s under the hood?
Laminar’s platform has four major layers:
ZeroT: Its content engine aims to improve operational efficiency by automating the content preparation and licensing process for video streaming.
10X: The business engine that enables a service to charge its users through various models like subscription, pay per view, ad-driven, etc.
Confluent.UX: The patent-pending frontend engine is the third layer of its system, which enables a business to customise the user experience and content placement across multiple devices and ecosystems with the “click of a button”. “A process that currently takes months and costs companies hundreds and thousands of dollars in revenue,” Raheel says.
Deep.Strata: The final layer is the data engine. Raheel explains, “Think, a traditional data engine like Conviva, Google 360, and 3X. Unlike these off-the-shelf data systems that only produce insights, Deep Strata provides insights, and the ability to convert those insights into actions in real time.”
Laminar was initially self-funded by the co-founders. Recently, Poland-based ARCSoft made a pre-seed investment into the startup, which will cover its engineering costs for the remainder of 2020.
The startup is currently raising a $1 million investment round, says Raheel without giving out further details. “Laminar's video streaming platform is global in nature; as a result, we are focused on finding strategic investors with a global vision and thesis unencumbered by geography,” he adds.