/// "Like Eating Glass": Sean Parker on Airtime’s Bumpy Launch, Exec Departures and More

October 2, 2012  |  All Things Digital

Photo credit: Ben Baker This is how Sean Parker — the famous and sometimes infamous entrepreneur whose legendary credits include Napster, Facebook and Spotify — described how his newest high-profile venture, Airtime , is going so far: “Running a start-up is like eating glass. You just start to like the taste of your own blood.” If that sounds very painful and a bit twisted (as well as vintage Parker), as it turns out, it’s a pretty accurate description of the state of the situation at the much-touted, heavily-funded next-generation communications platform. Along with executive turmoil — including the upcoming stepping back of tech lead Eric Feng and also Shawn Fanning, Parker’s Napster co-founder, who was the CEO and driving force behind Airtime while Parker was focused on Spotify last year — there has also been a very weak launch in getting Airtime off the ground. Since it debuted in June with more than $33 million in funding, the site has only 10,000 monthly active users so far. To Parker, it’s all just part of the always tumultuous birth of any notable start-up. “We are iterating on our approach,” he insisted in an interview at Airtime’s office in San Francisco on Friday. “Airtime is finally getting around to some of the bigger ideas that got me interested in this project in the first place.” As usual for Parker, Airtime is a significant idea, which he is now describing as a next-generation Skype that will be “transforming communications.” It will include a plethora of new innovations to come that will further make it clear that big things are on the road ahead. “Now is the most toxic time ever in Silicon Valley,” explained Parker, because people start companies without conviction about their ideas, just to get bought by Facebook or someone else. Not him, apparently. But first there are the many bumps, especially the worrisome changes in leadership at Airtime. First, there is Feng, who will be leaving the company soon, marking a quick exit for the high-profile acqhire who was formerly the founding CTO of Hulu and a partner at powerful venture firm Kleiner Perkins. After Airtime bought Feng’s start-up Erly in March , Parker and Feng fired members of the existing Airtime product team, ripped out the technology that had been built over the past two years — which apparently broke under the strain of just 100 concurrent users — and rebuilt the site in time for the June launch. Eric Feng Parker, Feng and Airtime investors maintain that Feng’s role at Airtime was always set up to be temporary, to help Airtime through its initial public launch. The Erly acquisition was “frontloaded,” they say, so that the rewards for being bought came upfront rather than after years at the new gig. And for his part, Feng has not yet left Airtime and said he is not sure what he is doing next

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"Like Eating Glass": Sean Parker on Airtime’s Bumpy Launch, Exec Departures and More

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