BuddyTV’s Andy Liu on the One That Got Away, and What He’d Ask the God of Business

Andy Liu knew something most people didn’t. When I asked him to name his favorite Seattle-area company that he’s not involved with, he said “Picnik” without hesitation. “That’s the one I’d want to be in,” he said. “I’m a big fan.”

That was on February 26, three days before Picnik, the photo-editing site, announced it had been acquired by Google in the biggest story of the year in the local Web startup community. But then again, Liu would know about these things ahead of time. He is a noted entrepreneur and angel investor, and the CEO of Seattle-based BuddyTV, all at the baby-faced age of 33.

BuddyTV has been a darling of the local Internet scene as well. Founded in 2005, the startup was backed by Charles River Ventures, Gemstar-TV Guide, Madrona Venture Group, and others. Its TV fan site draws about 6 million visitors a month, and has been ranked in the top three fastest-growing websites in the U.S. for the past few months, by comScore. BuddyTV offers TV-related news, articles, games, videos, and fan gossip.

“Our grand vision is to build the most compelling fan experience for any TV show,” Liu says. That means if you’ve just watched an episode of “24” or “American Idol,” say, you’ll go to BuddyTV.com to hang out and chat with other fans and read posts about the shows.

Yet this is clearly a challenging time—and a crossroads of sorts—for the startup. To date, its business has been 100 percent dependent on advertising revenues. In the current recession, the company has been forced to look at other revenue streams—things like virtual currency, virtual gifts, micropayments, subscriptions, and lead generation. In short, getting users to pay for something they’re used to getting for free. (Sounds familiar to the struggles facing journalists on the Web.)

“We’re at a place where we don’t need financing,” Liu maintains. “We can choose our own destiny.”

To understand what that destiny is, though, it helps to know Liu’s background. A Seattle native, he worked at AT&T and Boeing (and a few other places) before he founded and ran a startup called NetConversions for five years, through the Internet boom and bust. He turned the company profitable and sold it to aQuantive in 2004. The price was several million dollars, and he made enough to embark on a new career as an angel investor. But before doing that, while still in his late 20s, Liu took a break to travel the world. While he was in Peru—he doesn’t know “if it was the mountains, the altitude, or the beer”—the idea came to him for BuddyTV.

Liu and his co-founders had a thesis: people were watching TV in a different way from ever before, and the social Web was starting to take off. “Let’s do something super different. Let’s be in a space with slow-moving competitors,” he says. Thirty days after leaving aQuantive, in 2005, he started BuddyTV.

The first year was rough. Liu says the group’s thesis was probably correct, but the … Next Page »

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One response to “BuddyTV’s Andy Liu on the One That Got Away, and What He’d Ask the God of Business”

  1. His question to the business Gods is an extremely important one. Even without having been directly involved in a publishing model, I have a strong intuition that

    1) Non-advertising monetization is definitely possible for publishing sites. I think Consumer Reports is a golden example of how to make it work today. They provide something of real value, they charge a reasonable fee for it, and people pay that fee. Of course, this is predicated upon your ability to generate data that someone else can’t or won’t generate at a lower cost (assuming comparable quality).

    2) People hate typing in their credit number into a form. Hell, in 2010, people hate even typing in their email address into a form. We’re just done with that. I think that the emergence of a clear winner in the micropayments space is a prerequisite for the direct monetization of published content. Once that is in place, then sure, I’ll sign up for it and pay $0.25 to read an article that sounds potentially interesting. If this kind of model were in place, I’d probably end up paying at least $20-$30 month on published content, or more in the realm of business content. In turn, I’d expect the quality of business journalism to be higher than what I receive for free, but I think that’s entirely possible, if journalists had the same resources that, say, ecommerce sites have.