Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Story of LiveOn

How the one of the Midwest’s fastest-growing startups killed it by taking risks, engaging the experts and being able to think big


In Kansas City, where the aroma of the Rivermarket’s fresh produce and bustling energy of downtown seem to collide, there lies a modest building on the intersection of 7th and Walnut.  From the outside, it doesn’t seem like much.  Standard red brick, numerous hazy windows, and a Thai restaurant sign are the only embellishments on the building’s exterior.  But the inside of the building is a different story.  It houses one of the Midwest’s fastest-growing startup companies—LiveOn.

LiveOn is a Kansas City startup born from the entrepreneurial mind of Jonathan Whistman that has an ambitious vision for capturing, celebrating and sharing life across multiple generations.  In order to do so, LiveOn has created a web application that helps users share their most important moments, while keeping those memories alive and safe for future generations.  In other words, it’s an online time capsule...with a little “oomph.”

If you’ve ever watched your child take his or her first steps and wished you could capture the moment with your camera and show it to them when they’re older, LiveOn can do that.  If you’ve ever wanted to share video from your college graduation with your great-great grandchild, LiveOn can do that.  If you’ve ever wanted to pass down memories with your future children, future grandchildren and future generations, LiveOn can do that.  LiveOn captures, displays and archives all of the most treasured moments in a life and allows them to be shared for generations to come. 

A funny thing happened at a funeral
LiveOn was born from a simple thought during a funeral.  Ironic?  Maybe not.  A few years ago, entrepreneur Jonathan Whistman, founder of the LiveOn, was attending a funeral for a family friend’s young son.  Although it was a time of sorrow and remembrance, it was also a time of awakening for Jon.  While attending the ceremony, he realized that the funeral had virtually nothing to do with the kid’s life.  Jon thought to himself, “There has to be a better way to tell a person about your life.  Why can’t we continue to share and enjoy things so that they can live on?”

What if you could rewind your life and watch it back?
Jon continued to ask himself this question as he began to develop the percolating ideas of LiveOn.com.  He knew that he wanted to create a place where memories could connect users with the families and last virtually forever.  But what else could LiveOn do? 

Jonathan began raising funds and hiring developers with help from Tony Karrer, former CTO of eHarmony, who was a huge help in LiveOn’s technological architecture and selecting the first Kansas City based developers. The first line of code was written on March 20, 2011 and the company executed a soft launch a few months later on November 1, 2011.

LiveOn experiences growth, change and money
With additional funding, LiveOn is growing very quickly.  Now numbering twelve employees, the company is looking to double its number of employees (more specifically, looking for a systems administrator, mobile developers and front end developers) and is finding new ways to expand its services. 

In addition, LiveOn has begun to further develop LiveOn Rewind. When the vision is complete, Rewind will be located in a “clean room” on the second floor of the LiveOn office building.  LiveOn Rewind takes old photos and videos that users send in and digitizes them.  Users can ship videos and photos, watch the LiveOn tech experts scan and digitize them via website, and record their voices over each picture in order to capture the moment accurately. 

 LiveOn: Inspired by Apple
When asked what company Jon admires most, he couldn’t help but sigh. 

“The answer is obvious,” he said.  “Just look at our offices.” 

And it’s true.  In every cubicle sat one hard-working LiveOn employee coding and punching away on a giant Apple screen.  LiveOn’s simplicity, creativity and consumer-awareness truly does have an Apple-esque essence.  But what other companies does the startup inspire to emulate?

“It’s the people in certain companies that inspire me most,” says Jon.  “I love looking especially at the 3-4 person companies.  They believe in what they’re doing the most out of anyone.” 

From the words of Jonathan Whistman himself
Starting up a successful company like LiveOn is not easy.  Just ask Jonathan Whistman about the business venture.  The funding didn’t just fall into his lap, the employee applications didn’t come pouring in and the business didn’t create itself in a day.  It takes a lot of effort to make a startup work—especially when it comes to believing in the idea.

“The hardest part of starting up LiveOn has been dealing with the mental challenges,” says Jon.  “I am in a new field, I need tech-capable people, there's no guarantee.  In the beginning I constantly asked myself, ‘Will I be able to do this?’  Finally, I just took a chance and did it.” 

But many potential entrepreneurs tend to ask the same question to guys like Jon over and over: why did you choose entrepreneurship and how do you know when to start the business?  Jon’s answer is quite straight-forward: 

“Why?  I don’t like working for other people!  People often view entrepreneurship as a danger because there’s no job security.  I believe that the secure corporate job is just an illusion of security.  I have learned that in entrepreneurship, I get to know exactly how many days I am away from being broke.  And then I get to actually do something about it.  In the corporate world, I never knew how many days away from broke the company was and therefore, I had no control.”

“Listen to the experts, but in the end, trust your gut”
If Jonathan Whistman has learned one thing from starting up LiveOn.com, it would be to go with his instinct.

“Always listen to the experts,” he says.  “But in the end, trust your gut.  And remember: there is a difference between advice and counsel.  Advice is something you can get from people who haven’t been through entrepreneurship.  Counsel comes from people who have lived through it.  Always seek counsel.”

How does LiveOn Think Big?
When asked how he Thinks Big, Jon replied with the following statement: “I believe anything is possible if people are willing to challenge conventional thinking.  I think people really do create their own destinies.” 

Follow me! @AllisonThinkBig

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