Alain Rossmann's Klip: Social Video on Smart PhoneSeptember 28, 2011
San Francisco Chronicle
by Benny Evangelista
During a mid-1990s meeting with representatives of a wireless company, Alain Rossmann made the then-bold prediction that people would eventually be using their mobile phones for e-mail.
“The carrier, who will remain unnamed, said, ‘Why would you want to do that?’ ” Rossmann said. “We faced a lot of skepticism.”
Time, of course, has proven the veteran Silicon Valley entrepreneur correct. And over the last three decades, Rossmann has participated in the beginnings of several technology shifts, including Apple’s Macintosh, online video streaming and tablet computing.
“That’s sort of my skill, to see the future correctly and architect myself to go chase it and have the determination and the patience to get there,” Rossmann said during a recent interview to promote his latest startup, a Palo Alto social video firm called Klip.
Last week, Klip released an iPhone app designed for organizing, discovering and sharing video. The app finds popular video being viewed online or clips being shared by the user’s friends.
The free app displays video thumbnails that can be previewed with a swipe of a finger and then easily shared through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or e-mail.
Rossmann believes the app is just the start of an online social video community that taps into a market that, according to one estimate, will include 7.1 billion Internet-connected mobile devices by 2015.
A lofty vision
And a social video network can be “completely disruptive” to traditional broadcast video media because it is distributed to millions of people, and “everywhere the traditional media can have one camera, you can have 5,000,” he said.
That may sound like a lofty vision of the future. But consider that in a 1989 interview with the San Francisco Examiner, Rossmann said he looked forward to the day when digital pictures on a computer screen would look as crisp and vivid as a printed photograph, and to the time when video on a monitor would rival the image on television.
In those days, monitor resolutions and digital compression weren’t good enough for such multimedia presentations. Rossmann was then vice president of operations at C-Cube Microsystems, the Milpitas firm that created the first single computer chip that could decompress photo images down to a size that could fit on the old floppy disks of the day.
Sea change in video
These days, digital photos have all but replaced traditional photography and online streaming is causing a sea change in video.
“We’re there,” Rossmann said. “We also sold the first chips to the satellite TV guys and we sold the first chips for the DVD player. That certainly had an impact.”
Rossmann was an Apple evangelist under Steve Jobs during the development of the first Macintosh computer. That’s where he learned about Jobs’ “passion” for perfection.
“You may not get there, but at least you believe and you try like crazy,” Rossmann said. “We redid some of the Mac screens 50 times until the pixels were right. It was an extreme, detailed view of how consumers perceive technology.”
Rossmann and other members of the Mac team co-founded computer hardware maker Radius in 1986.
Longtime Silicon Valley technology analyst Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies Inc. of Campbell, remembered when Rossmann showed him a new rotating computer monitor that automatically adjusted from landscape to portrait mode, a function that is now commonplace on mobile devices.
“He’s showed me stuff at every level that introduced something new, and every time, he was on the cutting edge,” Bajarin said.
Tech analysts at the time were looking for meetings with technologists who could “make us more futuristic in our thinking, and he was one of the guys that helped,” Bajarin said.
In 1992, Rossmann became chief executive officer of EO Inc., a Mountain View company that received a lot of attention for its “personal communicator,” a wireless device that used an electronic pen instead of a keyboard.
The device, which vaguely resembled today’s tablet computers, was designed to send and receive faxes and e-mail, with an optional cell phone.
But the devices cost as much as $4,000 each and fewer than 10,000 were ever sold. Rossmann decided to sell the company to the majority investor.
“I concluded it would be easy for a giant like them to make it into various vertical markets,” he said. “You probably couldn’t do a broad consumer play, which was their dream because the technology was not there yet.”
Still, AT&T shut EO down in 1994.
Rossmann then founded Unwired Planet Inc., a Redwood City firm that made mobile Web browsing technology. He became known as the “father” of the wireless access protocol, or WAP.
Unwired Planet later morphed into Phone.com and eventually Openwave Systems Inc., which went public in 1999. He stepped down as chairman in 2001.
HD movies on Net
In 2005, he became chairman of Vudu Inc., a Santa Clara firm that marketed a TV set-top box that delivered high-definition movies over the Internet. Rossmann steered the company away from selling boxes and to developing its software.
Retail giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc. bought Vudu for a reported $100 million in 2010.
Rossmann said he is happy that his latest venture turned out to be a mix of all of his previous companies.
“To see that whole world converge into mobile and tablets and video is a huge thing for me,” he said. “It’s all my interests converging into one. And it’s serendipity. You can’t plan it. It just happened that way.”