Netskrt Brings Streaming Media to the Outskirts of the Network
A VentureLabs Interview with Moira Dang, Cofounder and VP of Engineering at Netskrt
Planes, trains and automobiles. No, it’s not the 1987 movie featuring Steve Martin and John Candy. It’s part of the market research conducted by the Netskrt team as they determined the best target segment for their patented video content delivery network solution.
Moira Dang, Cofounder and VP of Engineering at Netskrt, shares with us how she and her cofounders landed on “trains” as the best opportunity and fit for their mobile streaming media technology. Check out this interview with Moira for great insights on being an entrepreneur (hint: it’s like raising kids) and how critical it is to build the right team.
VL: Tell us about your business.
Moira: Netskrt is a video content delivery network (CDN) for mobile environments, i.e., transportation sector. Traditional CDN or caching technology is unable to conform or compensate for the limited connectivity (on for example: trains, planes, ships) and Netskrt addresses this gap. Our technology also applies to other constrained environments where there is insufficient capacity to deliver internet video.
VL: How did you start your business?
Moira: In the summer of 2017, Sig (Siegfried Luft), Lars (Lars Cavi) and I identified what we thought was a pretty big opportunity in the over-the-top (OTT) video streaming space. We set ourselves some concrete milestones that would basically bring us to a go/no-go decision. Some of those milestones included validating the market need and also raising initial angel investment. Within 3 months, we had exceeded our 6-month goals, so we incorporated Netskrt Systems Inc. on November 02, 2017, with the three of us as cofounders.
VL: What did you do before starting your business?
Moira: I come from a diverse background including business and banking systems, networking, telecommunications and video games. I started off as a software engineer but quickly realized that my passion lay with building and leading high-performance teams, and driving operational excellence, specifically in the software development space.
I spent over 11 years at Electronic Arts Canada, at the time the largest video game development studio. After I left EAC in 2010, I co-founded Wyley Interactive with two colleagues. We ultimately sold our technology to Zynga Games, where I worked for about two years. It was during my time commuting back and forth to Zynga in San Francisco that I reconnected with Sig, whom I had previously worked with at Redback Networks, over a decade earlier.
Enjoying the journey and not getting too stressed about the destination. It’s a delicate balance of taking one day at a time to get to the next milestone while ensuring that you’re thinking big picture and being proactive.
VL: How did you decide what market to target?
Moira: When we first started, we chose to validate our proposition by targeting the transportation sector (planes, trains, cruise ships, buses) as well as other constrained environments such as remote hotels where connectivity is insufficient.
We received real interest from all sectors; basically, anyone providing a service to groups of people who expect to be able to access internet video content wherever they are – just like they do at home. Out of all this research, we identified the train sector as the largest opportunity, in particular in the UK/EU. I’m sure that Lars living in the UK had some influence on our initial go-to-market.
Fast Five with Moira
- What podcasts or books do you refer to? I like biographies. I find them more inspirational and educational than the usual text book “leadership” type books although I have many of those too.
- What’s your favorite thing to do in your free time? Eating, drinking, shopping …. in no particular order :).
- What’s your favorite food? I just love good food – period!
- What’s your pet peeve? Having my photo taken.
- If you could spend an hour with one person not currently in your life, who would it be? My mother. I know that’s cheating but I lost her in my mid-twenties and would love to have her back if even for an hour, although that wouldn’t be nearly enough with everything that we have to talk about :).
VL: What do you see as the exciting opportunities in your industry?
Moira: People understand the problem – just ask people if they’ve ever been on a long flight and wanted to watch Netflix rather than the same old VOD content that they’ve watched before – they get it!
It’s a huge market, and there’s no one that does what we do. Our current “competitor” is the traditional VOD system, which is limited and still requires expensive content licensing, resulting in low adoption rates.
We add to the CDN + video eco-system so people want to partner with us – from content providers, to existing mobile operators, to WIFI providers – we allow them to differentiate their services and open up new revenue streams.
VL: What are the challenges or threats in your industry? How are you addressing them (without divulging trade secrets)?
Moira: We are somewhat protected through patents, but we do understand the danger of the big guys taking our idea and leap-frogging us. Many of their existing systems deal with a different space (they’re at the edge of the network while we go beyond that right onto the train), and don’t scale to the smaller footprint of trains, planes, ships, etc. We help them reach markets that they don’t currently play in. This could be an opportunity for them to acquire us (good) OR a threat where they try to take us out (bad).
The sales cycle can be lengthy given the nature of the transportation sector. Partnering with incumbents such as the WIFI providers helps us to shorten the sales cycle since they are already under “contract” with some customers. They also help us to scale.
VL: What impact do you want to have in the world or change you want to see or make happen?
Moira: To be honest, I’m not that bold to think that I can change the world. I’d be happy if I could do something good and have a positive impact on those closest to me; be it physically, emotionally or financially.
On a more personal note though, I wish I could wipe out mental illness. I’ve seen and experienced first-hand the destruction and pain it brings.
VL: Looking back, are there any indications from childhood that foreshadowed your becoming an entrepreneur? Or when did the entrepreneur bug bite you?
Moira: I don’t know that I grew up consciously thinking that I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I’ve always been more of the type that sees an opportunity and goes for it; whatever that means and not specifically because I have to do it myself as an “entrepreneur.”
That said, I grew up at a time and in an environment where my parents ran their own business, my husband ran his own construction and retail business, so I was exposed to that (although they were more family-type businesses.)
So, for me it’s more about seeing an opportunity and believing that I can be successful at something. How that manifests itself depends on the situation, i.e., it’s not about having a burning desire to be an “entrepreneur” per se.
Early days at Netskrt with Moira and Sig and some of the original members of the Netskrt team; as they explore video content delivery networks for mobile environments (and the sunshine in Vancouver)
VL: What is the biggest challenge for you as an entrepreneur?
Moira: Enjoying the journey and not getting too stressed about the destination. It’s a delicate balance of taking one day at a time to get to the next milestone while ensuring that you’re thinking big picture and being proactive.
Being more of an “operations” person, I tend to be fairly pragmatic and direct, so in the world of start-ups where you’re fighting for survival, I’ve had to learn to be more of a sales person. Basically, you have to learn to massage and stretch the truth a little to achieve the best outcome on any given day and depending on your audience. If you’re too honest you might not get to live to the next milestone but if you bend the truth you’d better know how you’re going to live up to that.
Honestly though, I think the two things that make or break you are:
Funding – this has proven to be the hardest part. Getting enough funding when you need it and also making sure that you’re getting it from the right people.
People – building a strong cohesive team is of utmost importance to me. One bad hire can destroy your team. I place great importance on team fit. Even though technical skills are important, bad synergy negates a lot of that.
VL: What are the pros and cons of being a female entrepreneur in 2019?
Moira: Frankly, I can’t say that I have personally experienced the challenges as overtly as other female entrepreneurs have. I think this is because of a couple of things:
I have two male co-founders so I’m not battling the female founder syndrome as directly. The three of us have very different personalities and skill sets but we work well as a team; what we do and how we act has nothing to do with being male or female ,but at the end of the day we’re a “mixed” team so we’re not exposed to the general “discrimination” that some people experience.
I grew up in the tech industry, so I’m used to being in the minority. I’ve led an executive team where I was the sole female and maybe I was lucky enough through my career that I was never blatantly discriminated against. Neither have I used my gender one way or the other.
That said, I’m well aware of the statistics, and even though I may have been lucky enough not to directly feel the disadvantage of being a female entrepreneur, I do recognize how difficult it is and can be, so I won’t downplay the difficulty that some women have faced. It’s just not a “top of mind” thing for me.
Moira with Lars Cavi (5th from left), the 3rd co-founder of Netskrt, with the growing Netskrt team; pushing the limits and doing their best everyday to thrive and excel.
VL: If you had a “magic wand,” what 2 things would make it easier for you to succeed in your business?
Funding – I feel like we are constantly fund raising. I would like to be in a position where we are more focused on running the business instead.
Money… oh, did I already talk about that?
VL: What keeps you going in the difficult times?
Moira: My family – I know it sounds cliché, but I’ve always maintained that I can deal with any hurdle at work as long as my family is in a good place J
My husband is my rock and biggest cheerleader, and vice versa. I do what I do because I know he’s there no matter what. We’re a great partnership and believe we can succeed at anything we put our minds to… or we’ll die trying. I also have a daughter, a son, and 2 grandsons, that I adore. So much love for them.
VL: What do you look for in your team members as you grow?
Moira: As a small team, it’s much easier to ensure that you’re rowing in the same direction but as you grow and scale you have to rely on team members to bring each other along. This is why our early hires are so key; they form the nucleus as we start to grow.
I love working with passionate people who care about their work, and about who we are, and what we do. I want people that want to learn but also teach; people that can lead but also follow. People need to feel invested, and want to deliver something that they’re proud of. Everyone needs to feel that they matter and that they’re critical to our success as a whole – because they are. This applies across the board, from senior leaders to co-op students. I love our team. So many different personalities, but we work.
VL: With the knowledge you have today, what advice would you give your younger self at the beginning of your entrepreneurial journey?
Moira: It’s like raising children:
It is as hard as you think but it is also as rewarding as you hope it will be.
You will never have all the answers and you will continue to learn every day.
It will push you to your limits and you will do things that you never anticipated but you will do your best every day to keep going.
There will be many sleepless nights!
VL: If we’re sitting here a year from now celebrating what a great year it’s been for your company, what did you and your team achieve together?
Moira: We are a known entity in our space with product and market success. We are recognized as a great company to work for; we are a “people’s” company. And, we have been acquired or are on a clear exit path that sees upside for all of us.
VL: How do you define success?
Moira: Achieving your goals without compromising your personal values, and not at the cost of others, and especially not people that matter to you.
VL: What mantra do you live by?
Moira: Treat people with respect; you never know when you might need to turn to them. Don’t be afraid to show love and appreciation – you might not have the opportunity tomorrow.