The team behind the Sydney-based maker of mobile games and applications B33hive has sold its business off and is starting again with a new Twitter-based service for television addicts.
Director Andrew Cuccurullo confirmed that his company sold its premium online content business and assets a month ago to a privately-held Australian company, although he declined to name who it had been sold to and at what price.
ZDNet.com.au last covered B33hive back in 2003, when it was attempting to use SMS messages to deliver mobile applications.
Money from the sale has been used to fund the new service, called iTweeVee.com, which launched in the US in July. Cuccurullo describes it as a real-time discussion forum for television enthusiasts, consisting of an electronic program guide wrapped around Twitter. Users of iTweeVee.com enter the name of their local cable television company, and are then presented with a program guide and tweets relating to those programs.
Cuccurullo says the switch in business model followed the realisation that the company's original idea of creating and selling mobile content simply wasn't going to work over the long term. So 18 months ago his team began exploring other opportunities.
"We didn't feel that there was a future in that model, and we found that the demand for that type of product was waning pretty quickly," Cuccurullo says. "We've gone into uncharted territory, but we had to. We either waited to see our stuff die, or we go into start-up mode again."
B33hive was originally founded in 2003, and its backers included the founder of the research company www.consult, Ramin Marzbani, and Greengrocer.com.au founder Doug Carlson. Cuccurullo says Carlson is still active in the business today.
The company's first attempt to relaunch was a US-based television community for mobile phone users called HollerTV, but Cuccurullo says this failed to take off.
"But we did a lot of research that showed people wanted to talk about shows with each other, but weren't connecting," he says. "There was nothing out there specifically for it, and that's why we went down this track of launching this project off Twitter."
We did a lot of research that showed people wanted to talk about shows with each other, but weren't connecting
B33hive director Andrew Cuccurullo
Cuccurullo believes the company can make money from several streams. One is providing research on conversations for television networks and studios, and by providing a sales channel for downloads. Another potential source is sponsored tweets from advertisers.
"We also want to go down the model of distributing the technology as well," Cuccurullo says. "There is a fair bit of technology behind it, but we are doing it on Amazon's S3 (Simple Storage Service) so we can scale it up as the demand gets heavier."
Cuccurullo acknowledges the difficulties that companies have found in monetising online communities, but says that Twitter is only a starting point for the company. "The biggest determining factor for us was 'is there a conversation going around television within a community', and we've proved that with what we've done here," he says. "We have a site that's full of content, and now it's about engaging more and more people into that conversation."
iTweeVee.com is planning to launch in Australia before the end of September with the backing of a local television network.
Many start-ups will go through several different business models before funding one that makes money.
With the limited detail that has been revealed about this new venture, it's impossible to say yet whether this is the model that will set the B33hive team on the path to success. Television is already a much-discussed topic online, and if it was only the Twitter community, the answer would definitely be a bust. But Cuccurullo says there is a whole lot more in store.
With money in the bank, an experienced management team and a low-cost starting point, the company may have enough runway ahead of it to put its new thinking to the test — or at least change model yet again. Bootstrappr is reserving judgement, but will be checking in again to see how they are progressing.