Jerod Venema, LiveSwitch: “the pandemic took live video collaboration and broadcasting to a whole new level”

When going to a business meeting or catching up over a cup of coffee wasn’t an option, video chatting and live streaming provided a much-needed escape for those stuck at home.

Over the past couple of years, businesses were working hard to adapt to the new environment and secure their employees working from home. While most organizations focused on equipping their workforce with devices and VPN solutions, less attention was placed on choosing communication tools, which lead to employees using a variety of unmanaged apps. Experts emphasize that when teams are based all over the world, communicating solely via email or text messages is not only inefficient but can also pose security risks.

Today we are talking with Jerod Venema CEO and Co-Founder of LiveSwitch, a company providing live video streaming solutions that keep the workforce connected, no matter where employees might be.

How did the idea of LiveSwitch come to life? What has your journey been like?

Today, LiveSwitch provides an enterprise-grade live video streaming platform that allows businesses to incorporate interactive video in their applications and business processes, but that wasn’t always the case. We have always been involved in “collaboration services,” but we started with streaming text-based data like live chat services and stock tickers. This was back when Google Docs didn’t exist, and we were pushing the bounds of what web browsers and servers could do.

Over the years, we had a number of customers ask us about streaming images, which we simply didn’t do back then. We kept at this until roughly around the time iPads were being previewed. At that time, I was travelling a lot, and I had also just had my first child. I was looking for ways to spend time with him, and, since he had shown interest in colouring books, I wanted to find an online, collaborative colouring book where I could colour with him and talk to him on video at the same time. Unfortunately, nothing to do that really existed, so I talked to Anton (my brother and co-founder) and we decided to create an audio/video streaming software development kit (SDK) that could be embedded in apps, like colouring books, to keep people connected.

Just as we were launching that SDK, WebRTC was announced by Google as their open-source software package for real-time voice and video on the web. We pivoted quickly and adjusted our SDK to be WebRTC-compatible, launching the first WebRTC SDKs for iOS, Android, Windows and macOS (and Internet Explorer…it was a long time ago).

After riding the wave of changes to WebRTC and the inconsistencies that came with new technology, we expanded to server-side capabilities – larger scale, integration with additional protocols like session initiation protocol (SIP) for telephony, recording and so forth. That launched LiveSwitch Cloud and LiveSwitch Server, which are our flagship products.

The pandemic took things to a whole new level and use cases for live video collaboration and broadcasting that we never dreamed of started cropping up, and in the last couple of years, we brought on some major companies such as Logitech, Adobe, and Deutsche Telekom, and LiveSwitch is being used to back everything from online gyms to the virtual fan experience for the NBA All-Star Games.

Can you tell us a little bit about your streaming products? What are their key features?

Our flagship product is LiveSwitch, which is made up of a set of SDKs for a huge range of platforms such as iOS, Android, Windows, Linux, browsers, etc. and a set of server components such as gateways and media servers. We are unique in a few ways.

First, we have an incredibly flexible SDK. If you want to build anything with real-time video, it’s possible to do it with our SDK, so we’re as close to future-proof as you can get. That can mean added complexity, but it also means we get to solve some pretty amazing problems. A Fortune 100 company recently selected us after exhaustively reviewing our competition and realising we were literally the only SDK with the flexibility to stream at the high quality and rate they were after. That was a pretty cool moment.

We also allow for multiple deployment options, including our Cloud SaaS platform and (uniquely) an on-premise option, which is extremely useful for our customers that have regulatory, commercial, legal, or other types of restrictions on how they deploy their streaming services.

What would you consider the main challenges surrounding live streaming?

Technical knowledge and developers! Many people assume that if they can build a website, they can build a streaming platform. That couldn’t be further from the truth. There are a ton of complexities in standard video streaming to start with, and then you remove any support for buffering or delay in the system, and put together something that has to work globally, handle terabytes of data at any second, and work on everything from poor wifi configurations to 3G networks, and do it all in under 300 milliseconds. It’s extremely challenging work.

How did the recent global events affect your field of work?

We were in the “unfortunately fortunate” group that ended up benefiting from the global pandemic. It has pushed our industry forward by a good three years, encouraging innovation and forcing productization in a market that has been dominated by engineering solutions. We’re proud of our handling of the situation, though we have definitely had some growing pains along the way.

Recently, maintaining creativity has been a serious struggle for some organisations. How can companies foster creativity and innovation when the majority of employees are working remotely?

I’m sure there are many good ways to keep the creative juices flowing, but for us, one major improvement was to make communication simpler. We have a completely distributed team now, and we use Slack for text-based communication, but we use our own WebRTC-based solution + a Slack “bot” to fire up meetings (our bot simply is /meet me, which creates and shares a link to our SimplyOn meeting app). By reducing the friction as much as possible for starting a quick ad-hoc meeting, everyone feels like they can grab a couple of team members for a few minutes.

What are some of the best practices companies should follow when developing software or applications?

I feel like there are a thousand mistakes I’ve made here, so I’m not sure I should really even comment on this one, but the best advice I could give comes down to four things and they really aren’t even about software development specifically. First, hire smart people. Second, hire people that take action and get things done. Third, get rid of any egos or “brilliant jerks.” And fourth, empower people to make decisions on their own. You’ll notice that it’s all really about the people. The strategy, tactics, development plans and so on, are necessary, but if you don’t have an awesome team, none of that matters. We have an awesome team.

Talking about average Internet users, what precautions do you think everyone should take to keep their communications secure?

Use WebRTC! We build LiveSwitch on a core that is using the same foundational technology that the security of the entire internet relies on, so at least if it ever fails, we’ll all know we’ve failed together. Oh, and I like having one of those little covers on my webcam.

What predictions do you have for the future of communication technology?

I really think the future is integrated communication. We’re seeing many companies taking the step of adding collaboration as a first-level capability in their platform, so the communication doesn’t take place outside their applications, but instead fits right into their user workflow. This does two things: 1) For the company providing the integrated solution, it drives brand value and stickiness, since the end-users never leave their platform. 2) For the user, it provides a more seamless experience, since they never have to leave the application, so the challenges of context-switching are reduced. It also seems to increase the likelihood of collaboration in the first place (by making the collaboration simpler), but that's purely anecdotal.

Would you like to share what’s next for LiveSwitch?

Wait and see, we’re taking things to the next level…

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