How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Video Chat

November 27, 2013


When I interviewed at TokBox (using TokBox) four years ago, my laptop didn’t have a built-in webcam. That’s how long ago it feels. My USB webcam choked.

Despite inauspicious beginnings, I joined – mostly because the office was warm and endearing, and the woman I’d be working for was even more so. The problem I was tasked with was well-defined and interesting: go see if we can make something of this API people keep asking for.

Our warm and endearing office on Music Hack Day SF

Turns out it’s hard to sell something I’m not 100% sold on myself. With every customer, I dug deep for some thread to hold on to, so I could say: I don’t video chat much myself, but you! For what you’re doing, yes I can see how that could work -— and mean it. When I couldn’t find that thread, I’d tell them the product was not for them and send them on their way. If that made me a poorer salesperson, well there it is. At least I slept well at night.

Not sleeping so well at night

Actually, that’s not true. I stayed up many, many nights worrying about all the mistakes I made, and letting down everyone who was counting on me to prove we made the right bet.

(No violins please; my schpiel when interviewing was that I wanted to feel like my work counted for something. The universe listens. )

The unglamorous but comforting truth was that it was never about Me. The team was all in it together, whether it was pulling off a big demo or crashing a high-profile launch for an important deal.

First light on iOS

First release of the TokBox hoodies

Looking back, it’s not the outcomes I remember clearly, but the moments: Swartzy hosting an impromptu video talk show during testing; Andrew and I dashing for the gate at LAX because we always cut it too close; Ed closing his first deal; Ankur debugging in a stormtrooper costume, Lauren sweetly strong-arming a vendor into a discount; Mike calling me on my bullshit with “data”; Jon Wade explaining why he feels like Mountbatten; Charley eating cereal at my desk every morning; Manas threatening to beat up the guy who mugged me; Song showing off our new LED wristbands like a kid at Christmas; Amrik chain-smoking the night/morning we launched OpenTok; Ian dropping us all off at home at 3 a.m. that same day; Melih winging it at SFNewTech after a demo fail; Hoang explaining that it’s “HIPAA” not “hippo” privacy; making sure Sander made it in one piece to a customer site to save the day; RV playing whack-a-mole with DDOS-ers; Badri driving around aimlessly one night as we talked over a difficult decision; Jonathan telling me at a very low point that everything would be ok.

Many hours of this…

…to get this.

It’s OK

…and more -—  and more, and more. It wasn’t just our tight-knit TokBox family, but also the people we met along the way.

Developers pushed us beyond our limits and shaped our future. Other API players and startups in our space were generous with insights. Executives at large companies took leaps of faith in us, and were demanding but kind.

Early Adopters


High-powered executives

Last year,the smart people at Telefonica acquired us and pretty much left us to our own devices — aside from giving us an extended family of adorable and excellent engineers.

Adorable and excellent engineers

After the acquisition, I told some friends that I was tired and wanted a break. (The irony of whining to the Firebase founders about being tired is not lost on me.) I wasn’t sure I had another startup in me, I said, TokBox took a lot out of me.

But I got it wrong.

When I started at TokBox, I shrugged off the product and told myself that it was all about the people. That’s the truth, and I stand by it. But the other truth I’ve learned is that when you work intensely with people you love, it’s impossible not to grow to love your baby.


Meet Me Under The Mistletoe

For four years, my team and customers taught me more about realtime and video than I ever thought I’d care to learn. My reward was seeing it for the first time in action, then as something beautiful, then as something thousands of people use, then as something that made a real difference in some people’s lives — and then, to my amazement, as something that made a real difference in mine.

Double Robotics

I got much more out of TokBox than I put in: an unexpected passion and a family to share it with. It’s the best deal I’ve made yet. As soon as I catch my breath, I’ll be back in the rodeo (and saying to some one: “this ain’t my first rodeo…”).

TokBox won “Best in Show” at the WebRTC Conference & Expo last week. It’s a long, long way from the Flash app I couldn’t get up and running when I interviewed. It feels like the right bookend.

Happy Thanksgiving, TokBox! Thank you for everything and good luck on the next leg.

– ps: TokBox is hiring. Join the family!

Our engineers are rockstars