Infrared5 Founder and CEO Chris Allen is one of those people who finds just about everything interesting. When he was a kid, he discovered a baritone ukulele buried in the back of his grandmother’s closet.
He dragged it out, dusted it off, fell in love with music, and ended up attending the Berklee College of Music with an emphasis on jazz. He was also part of a community fascinated with speech-to-text on vintage 80s computers, as well as a regular hard-core skateboarder in a scene where skaters helped each other level up to new and increasingly daring moves. Growing up, Chris took an interest in pretty much anything he encountered that involved risk, creative collaboration, or some combination of both.
That unique disposition made him a natural fit for the open source community, and was also one of the first things Infrared5 Co-Founder and CTO Dominick Accattato found appealing about him.
“Chris comes off as authentic. He likes to work with people; he’s a solutions guy. I always say that he’s a great talker. I’m technical. When I’m brought into meetings it just makes sense for me to be able to drill into the details, whereas Chris will give a higher level vision of the project. I think that’s what works between us because clients do like to hear someone who can be confident that a solution can be provided, but also they want to be comfortable that someone understands the technical details.
“Chris and I feed off each other. He’s a great communicator.”
The two met on Red5, an open source project to reverse engineer the Flash streaming protocol back in 2005, because streaming was locked down to using Macromedia’s server which at the time was prohibitively expensive for many. Chris was the Project Manager, based in Boston, and Dominick was working remotely alongside other team members on the APIs the server would eventually expose to developers.
Until then, Dominick himself had been working mostly solo, taking on development and consulting clients, first in Frankfurt, New York, and then in Kissimee, Florida. But he’d always wanted to form a company, and had always been interested in real-time applications.
As the project progressed and ‘Red5 started gaining ground, the team began to notice tremendous uptake in terms of developers wanting to use the system. In 2007, the ‘Red5 mailing list swelled to around a thousand people, and Dominick became convinced there should be a consulting group working with anyone who needed help utilizing the open-source product. He contacted the core members of the team, saying, “Hey, there’s a need for a real service here! Let’s start a company!”
Chris agreed, and Dominick found himself moving to Boston. “I didn’t know anybody in Boston. I was living out of a hotel for two weeks, you know? Finally, Chris met up with me and it was very fortunate because I liked him. I kind of blindly went into it. He knew a lot of people, and for me, it was a leap of faith.”
To promote the consultancy, the two would go to events together and talk to potential clients about how Red5 could be used to stream video. As developers expressed interest, the consultancy grew, and Chris’s wife, Rebecca, whose background is in design and art direction, began to get involved. First by doing some design work, then by taking on financials, and eventually by becoming a third Co-Founder.
“Chris and I just didn’t have the skill set,” says Dominick. “It made sense to make it a trio and do this together.”
With the ongoing success of the consultancy, after a few years, the three began to discuss coming up with an actual product based on the technology. “Going back to our roots,” says Rebecca.
That product is Red5 Pro, a Server and a Software Development Kit that allows developers to build live streaming video directly into their products. Red5 Pro is built with flexibility and ease in mind allowing the developer to host the server wherever they like. This opens it up to applications that might require high security, for industries such as banking, medicine, corrections, and even entertainment events for high-profile media personalities who want to engage fans while keeping tabloid hackers at bay.
Red5Pro is set to launch in January, but the two-year path to release hasn’t been without it’s challenges. “Red5 Pro took way longer to develop than we thought,” says Rebecca. “We chose not to go after an investment until after we had our product finished in beta.”
“The hardest part was figuring out how to fund it internally with our service work, prior to getting the investment. And that was very difficult because what we were building was not very easy to build. It takes a while, and it takes very smart people who are developers, who aren’t getting paid minimum wage.”
“The hardest part was figuring out how to fund it internally with our service work, prior to getting the investment. And that was very difficult because what we were building was not easy to build. So we have a complex situation where you have to have money to pay for the development, and we are only using the profits from the service company to do it.”
“So we have a very complex situation where you have to have money to pay for the development, and we are only using the profits from the service company to do it.”
None of the team-members were strangers to start-up challenges. Dominick took a hit with his sudden relocation to build the consultancy, while Dominick, Rebecca and Chris had faced hurdles on a previous product they had spun out of Infrared5 together – – Brass Monkey – a technology that’s now a part of the Red5 technology, and which makes it possible to connect multiple devices to another screen. The Brass Monkey application, which Chris was really excited about, allowed people to turn their smart phones into game controllers.
“It turned out to be one of those classic start-up lessons,” he says, “Which is that super-cool technology is one thing, but if you’re not solving a problem, you don’t really have an actual business. There’s no way to monetize it.”
He says it was a slow realization that the product wasn’t going to make it, and they would have to pivot. “I think the biggest challenge for me was – it’s kind of an ego thing, actually. I’d kind of tied my ego to that company, like ‘Hey, I’m a founder of Brass Monkey.’ So it was kind of a learning experience for me, like ‘I’m not defined by the company that I started.’ I’m more than that.”
“I thought ‘You know what? I know what we should be doing, and let’s just do it. That’s building SDKs for Red5 and letting people build streaming apps for mobile.’ And luckily we timed that right!”
He had to learn to rally and refocus, and finally, at a certain point, it came to him.
About a year after development on the SDK had started, Meerkat was released, followed by Twitter’s acquisition of Periscope, indicating this is the time for live streaming from mobile phones.Red5 Pro will move its product forward by also including WebRTC, a browser based streaming technology, into its offering as well.
All three Co-Founders are tremendously excited about their next steps after launch and building their customer pipeline. Rebecca says she hopes people will understand one thing about the product that’s been two years in the making, grew out of the open-source movement, and that allows developers to easily embed Facetime or Periscope like experiences into their own applications: “It’s a very strong, solid product. It’s very developer friendly — easy to use, well-documented, and a pleasure to work with.”
This fits right in with the values cultivated by Chris, and his enthusiasm for helping others create and iterate. Another lesson from the Brass Monkey years: he no longer feels competitive with others in the space. “Instead of looking for ways to compete, I’m just looking for ways that we can help each other out,” he says. “Jazz musicians tend not to be competitive. We’re collaborative. It’s more like, ‘Yeah, you should get in on this thing.’”