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Picture 4Back in June, I wrote about the startup media service, Boxee (Boxee CEO Avner Ronen on Funding in a Challenging Economy, June 17, 2009), and today the news is buzzing with the story that Boxee has secured $6 million in a second round of fundraising from venture capital firm General Catalyst Partners. Boxee has become a darling—and a demon—of the tech/media world as it has developed. Brad Stone from NY Times’ Bits blog describes Boxee as “a free service that draws in a wide variety of video from the Web and presents it in an interface designed for viewing on a TV screen and navigating with a remote control. The company is perhaps best known for its cat-and-mouse struggle to add Hulu.com to its lineup, which also includes the Netflix streaming service, YouTube and MLB.com.” The open source format that Boxee uses is considered a threat to the traditional mainstream media outlets who are in a struggle to control their content.

Another Merge favorite, venture capitalist Fred Wilson, has been heavily involved in the earlier round of funding for Boxee and continues to serve on the company’s board. Check out the post Wilson wrote on his blog about the funding news in which he lays out the strategic priorities for Boxee in the next stage of growth.

While there is certainly much to celebrate here with a positive bit of news around an innovative startup venture, the interesting piece of this item to me is how BIG a story it apparently is over such a relatively small amount of money. In the pre-recession days, news of $6miilion in funding for a business with this potential would have been underwhelming to say the least. But venture capital has dried up so much in the last year that even this relatively modest sum is now drawing a disproportionate amount of scrutiny. Indeed, CEO Avner Ronen has gone out of his way to explain how lean an operation he is running in these early days (he must hold a record for the use of the term “bootstraps” in a single interview).

Without a doubt, Boxee has massive potential. I strongly believe that the next wave of important tech/media breakthroughs will come in the form of products and services that allow us to aggregate and organize the overwhelming flow of content we are currently drowning in, which is exactly what Boxee proposes to do. Boxee is currently in Alpha testing, with a Beta release due very soon. It will be fun to watch this story develop in the months ahead.

Here’s a promotional video about Boxee that gives a pretty good overview of the offering:

Here are links to a few other postings on this story:
Washington Post TechCrunch
CNet News Digital Media column
TechSpot

Picture 31When you read about “what’s next” in the online media space, there is much discussion about convergence. How will the many innovative social media platforms—Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn—come together and begin to speak to each other, rather than existing in separate silos as they mostly do now? Likewise, how will the fractured media environment—network TV, online video, gaming, etc.—converge into a single primary stream? And ultimately, how will it all blend into an easily accessible platform?

Thankfully, there are smart people like Avner Ronen pondering these questions. Ronen is the CEO of Boxee, an online portal and aggregator of media, which seems to be at least slightly ahead of the pack in the race to develop a common platform that will facilitate the “holy grail” of cross-functionality.

Boxee recently received $2 million in VC funding from Fred Wilson’s Union Square Ventures (see my earlier post on Wilson), which is an impressive accomplishment in itself given the outrageously tight economy and correspondingly tight funding environment. Avner Ronen speaks candidly in the video below from TheDeal.com about the challenges of securing funding in today’s market, and specifically about the early stage of funding. Ronen describes how “angel” investors may previously have been a realistic resource for that $50,000-200,000 needed to build a concept through the prototype or beta development stages. Now, however, it is important for entrepreneurs to be able to “bootstrap it” through that process without external financing, and show some signs of growth and momentum before funders will be willing to take a risk.

While many designers considering entrepreneurial ventures are playing on a different field than Avner Ronen and Fred Wilson, I think it’s extremely useful for us to be aware of how this process happens on the broader scale as we build our business vision.

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