Fargo native and Y Combinator grad Jonathan Dahl has been building a startup in stealth mode for the past year, but now the word is out and investors are taking notice. Introducing Mux, a software that provides video performance monitoring and a Netflix-like platform for streaming video.
Dahl and his team are no stranger to the world of online video. Dahl built and sold a video encoding software platform, Zencoder, for $30 million in 2012. He and his team also built the video.js player used by Twitter ad Instagram.
His work in the online video world has only proven how much room there is for improvement, Dahl said. He points to the success of companies like Netflix as an example of how people enjoy watching video; customized to their wishes and served on a nice stream-y platter.
“Companies like Netflix have invested thousands of engineer hours in building their video platforms. But most companies can’t do that,” Dahl said. “A lot of big companies are struggling…with giving customers a good experience.”
Instead, most video broadcasting companies are focused on content and software. There’s no room to focus on a streaming platform – not to mention the data analysis that is required to create a polished user experience, Dahl said.
“The reason Netflix and YouTube and some of the other really big publishers do a good job with high reliability and optimizations is they have a huge amounts of data on what users see and do, and they optimize everything from that data,” Dahl said. “Most publishers have no data on what happens when they stream out video.”
With Mux, he said, “we want to give that insight and data to everyone else.”
The Mux platform hosts and processes video on behalf of companies, with the goal of minimizing buffering and loading. It also gives the publisher the ability to track how their video is streaming, showing reports on if their video failed to load, how it functions on different browsers, and how viewers interact with ads.
“I do think it’s becoming more clear to everyone across the whole software world that data is critical to making software better and running a mature software platform,” Dahl said. “If you can’t measure and monitor what’s going on, it’s hard to do a good job with whatever you’re doing.”
Data, it seems, really is king.
Dahl and his team presented Mux at Y Combinator’s Demo Day in late March. The presentation got them mentioned in Inc.’s, “4 Cloud Startups to Watch from Y Combinator“, as well as TechCrunch’s “Top 8 Startups from Y Combinator’s Winter Demo Day.” For the latter, TechCrunch interviewed investors on what they found most interesting from the 60 startup presentations.
“Online video is exploding, and Mux could let less tech-savvy content producers harness the trend,” writes TechCrunch’s Josh Constine.
Dahl sees Mux best used by traditional broadcasters like ESPN, media companies like The Onion or Buzzfeed, online education like Coursera, and anywhere else where video is “an important part of their offering,” he said.
Mux is currently in beta mode, and Dahl said they are close to closing on their first round of fundraising. The product is slotted to launch this fall.
“It’s in my blood.”
This is not Dahl’s first time through the startup hustle. His entrepreneurial journey goes way back, to when he was studying theology and philosophy in undergrad and graduate school and began teaching himself programming. Post-graduation he started to work on a series of projects; one, a startup called Tumblon that provided “a secure online baby book,” gained some traction and investments from local investors. Eventually the money ran out, but it’s an idea “I still believe someone could do well,” Dahl said.
He found success with Zencoder, which he sold to Brightcove and then worked there as vice president of technology. In the meantime he also began startup consulting and angel investing with Dahl Heavy Industries. It wasn’t long, however, before the wheels began turning once again with the idea for Mux — which, by the way, gets its name from the term multiplexing, which means sending multiple signals to a device.
Why do it all over again? Perhaps it’s because Dahl’s entrepreneurial roots run deep. His father is Howard Dahl, founder and CEO of Amity Technology, a manufacturing company that provides agricultural equipment worldwide. One of his biggest customer bases is in Russia, where he’s spent over 70 trips building relationships with the local farmers. He was one of the only American businessman to survive through the fall of the Soviet Union — a story featured in Inc Magazine.
Dahl Sr., who’s father was also an entrepreneur and one of the co-founders of Bobcat, said he sees the entrepreneurial line continuing in his son. He’s got “it,” he said.
Dahl Jr. said the same.
“It was never a conscious decision,” he said. “It was in my blood.”
Judging by the look of it, it doesn’t seem he’ll be slowing down any time soon, either. Even with the launch of Mux, Dahl said, the world of online video is only in the infant stage.
“There’s still a lot of opportunity in the world of online video,” he said. “It’s still really early days for where online video is going to go.”
Photos courtesy of Zach Davis Photography.