(Photo by Christopher Wink)
By revenue breakdown, Livestream is not a hardware company. But the prototyping and tinkering that is already happening in its new East Williamsburg headquarters can make a compelling case otherwise.
Most of the company’s $25 million in revenue in 2013 came from its software, which customers use to more easily send video straight to the cloud so viewers from around the world can watch it live. That’s why this relatively small New York tech firm spent $100,000 in 2009 to buy the domain that supported a rebrand from its original, clumsier Mogulus to, simply, Livestream.
But the company also has electrical engineers and other hardware craftspeople squirreled away inside rooms that once held classrooms for the celebrated-then-scorned maker space 3rd Ward, whose longtime home at the industrial and gritty 195 Morgan Avenue the Livestream crew is now leasing.
“The space here will let us be creative,” said Phil Worthington, the British-bred Livestream cofounder during a tour of the space this month. That means both its first-floor “Livestream Public” space where the company will host events and classes, and the product development rooms.
There, engineers are building the next generation switches and control panels for a favored sweet spot of Livestream clientele. Those are the mid-sized or larger events businesses with technical budgets and reason to want high-end live production at more attainable prices, often between $10,000 and $30,000 — think college sports programs, professional-services venues, mega-churches or membership conferences.
“The platform became a commodity,” said Worthington of streaming online video servicing. “The hardware helped create higher quality and gives us our differentiation.”
Livestream’s years-old Broadcaster device, which lets any HDMI camera shoot live video, was the company’s first piece of hardware, but, in fact, Livestream “makes no money on the thing,” said Worthington. It’s a way to make a more cohesive product.
From 7,000 square feet in Manhattan, Livestream now has 30,000 square feet in East Williamsburg, with an option for more, though a third of it is still being renovated. (The design, dev and administrative staff is compactly seated in an open-floor plan on the second floor.) Worthington and cofounder Max Haot appear most proud of the Livestream Public space, which features event space open to local, relevant usage.
Naturally, the main event space is fully equipped for live-streaming, allowing for on-site user testing and a chance for recruiting new talent, said Worthington. He hopes for a range of events, for example, Manhattan club LPR could host music events.
“We want to be welcoming,” said Haot, tall and blonde, between meetings, with his Belgian accent. He is married to Rachel Haot, the former Chief Digital Officer of New York City under Mayor Bloomberg.
That Livestream moved its 75-person team to East Williamsburg shows diversity in how a global tech ecosystem can blossom in Brooklyn — homegrown anchors like Makerbot, Huge and Etsy are being supplemented by inevitable Manhattan expatriates squeezed by the island’s generations-old battle for square footage.
That’s why cash-rich Kickstarter has made its home in Greenpoint and it’s why Livestream is jumping on this once empty makerspace. Together, they are building a de facto Brooklyn tech triangle of their own.
Perhaps even more than residential Greenpoint, where Kickstarter’s factory-turned-chic office is near to another fast-gentrifying neighborhood (which has led to community outreach), Livestream is a boon for a half-cooked Bushwick reawakening. Is Livestream worried about any neighborhood push back?
“3rd Ward was here for years. So though I still think we’re taking a risk moving our team here, we are not pioneers,” said Worthington. Still, Livestream Public has the additional value of being seen as a way the broader community might benefit from the company’s new offices.
“Neighborhoods have always changed,” said Worthington. “That shouldn’t stop growth.”
Much is discussed of north Brooklyn’s real estate squeeze, but the 3rd Ward space was empty when Haot found it, largely pointing to a facility that needed an anchor tenant. No doubt the intimate Fitzcarraldo restaurant that came in on the tail end of the 3rd Ward regime is buoyed by new customers — Livestream pays them to offer free staff breakfast and subsidized lunch options. It is open publicly for dinner.
There are signs that Livestream could do more. Looking across Morgan Avenue during lunch, Worthington motions to an unattached, battered two-story building across the street — which Livestream has optioned and is renovating. Maybe it could be an extension of Livestream Public, he said, a kind of coworking space catering to the creative and media professionals they know best.
“It seemed like an opportunity to do something good,” he said, noting they purchased it after hearing rumors an after-hours club was eying the location.
Much of the Livestream staff is Brooklyn-based but, as anyone who lives or visits Bushwick or its environs know, there isn’t much in the way of direct transit access from elsewhere in the borough. Some staff live along the L train, but many staff members are cycling, said Worthington.
“We’ll see what happens in the winter,” he said, noting one of those intangible challenges of team building. The firm does offer a car service to subway stops, he said.
Worthington may live in Manhattan but he has a real passion for neighborhoods. Is 195 Morgan in Bushwick, as it is so often cited, or is it really East Williamsburg, as others claim?
“It’s technically East Williamsburg,” he said, but Roberta’s Pizza and Swallow cafe, along with 3rd Ward, became so associated with the Bushwick upswing that that’s likely changed the distinction forever.
“Wherever we are, it suits us,” he said.