Video Interview with Sendbird CEO and co-founder John Kim
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Full Text Transcript of Interview with Sendbird CEO and co-founder John Kim
David Berlind: Hi, I'm David Berlind, editor-in-chief of ProgrammableWeb, and this is ProgrammableWeb's Developers Rock podcast. With me today is John Kim. He is the CEO and co-founder of SendBird, one of the many companies that makes up the API economy. John, thanks very much for joining us today.
John Kim: Yeah, thank you for having me. Really excited to be here.
David: It's great to have you. I'm going to start off with a really simple question that I'm sure you're able to answer, what is it that SendBird does?
John: SendBird is a chat API for mobile application and website. We are the world's number one real-time communication Platform, and then we currently power about 100 million people that have a conversation through our platform on a monthly basis. We work with clients in the industries like food delivery, online communities, dating, digital healthcare, education, ride-hailing, and so forth. And we also recently rolled out our voice calling and video calling API called SendBird Calls. So we're really excited to continue to power those experiences and communications across the globe.
David: Great. So a lot to unpack there. Now you mentioned that you have a chat API, you're the number one API provider in the space. How long have you been in business?
John: So we launched in January of 2016, so it's been about four years. So we launched during Y Combinator and we clearly weren't the first one in the market, but thankfully over the past couple of years we were able to kind of pull off and become the market download leader.
David: You surged to become the leader serving over 100 million users per month. That's an extraordinary number. You must have a terribly scalable infrastructure in order to do that. How is it though, because a lot of the other API providers are listening right now and they're going to want to know, how is it that you joined the API economy — sort of late — and then you overcame the incumbents somehow. To what do you credit that amazing performance?
John: Yeah, it goes back to our YC days and YC has a mantra, [that] says talk to the customer and build [the] product. So instead of looking out, you know, what's out in the world, we really try to keep our focus and obsess over the problems that customers are facing. So over time we're able to build rich features that handles a lot of their use cases end-to-end. And along with that, we want to be sure that our infrastructure was truly scalable and reliable and hopefully secure, so that we can continue to service customers in scale. And over time, we were able to win the market leader per vertical over time. Which, really we were able to align our product roadmap tightly with theirs. And by winning those, you know, customers' hearts and minds, we're able to then win the next set of customers in similar verticals across a wide range of verticals that we're serving today.
David: Of course, within any given vertical, everybody wants to know how the one competitor is doing it and they see that they're using SendBird. So then someone else says, "We better check out SendBird cause that's their secret sauce." And pretty soon, it's no longer secret sauce. Everybody's using it, and you're the market leader. You mentioned that you do chat, like you have a chat API. So just to clarify, is this the chat API that I see like when I log into American Express and I need to get a question answered and there's a little chat thing in the corner? Or is it something else?
John: That's an excellent question. So we do have customers who use us for those kind of customer support use cases. But our core focus is on user-to-user communication. And when we say user, it could be two people chatting on a dating app, two people chatting on gaming applications or places like Reddit, or it could be a seller talking to a buyer on a marketplace. So it could be anyone, but our primary focus is helping bridge those communications gaps together.
David: I see. So you've traditionally offered chat and then, when? Just recently you announced some new functionality, video and audio?
John: Yeah. So we launched SendBird Calls very recently and we're really excited about this, because SendBird Calls, enabling the voice and video calling capabilities over IP, has always been our vision and our roadmap since our Series A days which was about two and a half years ago. So we're really excited that we were finally able to deliver this, on this promise to the world and hopefully we can continue to be that number one leading communication platform for voice calling and video calling capabilities as well.
David: Now when I think about the different applications that you cited earlier, let's take ride-hailing as an example. They may have been using you for the chat capability, but they've allowed drivers to call riders and vice versa for a long time and your technology didn't support that until just very recently when you launched it. So theoretically, they're using some other technology to enable the voice and video calling. Are you hoping that these application providers will switch over and consolidate to one solution? Of course, the solution being SendBird. Is that how it's going to work?
John: Yeah, there's a couple of different ways to kind of look at this situation. So a lot of our potential customers and existing customers today are still using kind of like a telephony infrastructure to make these kinds of calls. And we think it's a much better experience if we can provide a single end-to-end experience that all happens within the application or on the context of that transaction. So for that, being the chat and the voice calling, or potentially video calling, and it definitely increased the overall User Experience for the better.
And also there are certain customers who might be using other vendors for those kinds of voice calling, video calling capabilities over IP. There's definitely a technological single-vendor advantage of working with SendBird, because you're not only just enabling communication channels, you're really integrating and joining at the hip the user Authentication, the user identity, imagined relationship, all this different conversation, and then really being able to tie it back to a single source of truth, being the user, by working with SendBird. So that also gives a lot of, kind of, leverage to the customers. And ultimately if you think about all the engineering effort that goes into just managing different complexity, of just managing scale, the software and the user experience... by working with hopefully, you know, a battle-tested and time-tested vendor like us, a lot of those headaches will go away simply by working with us, and we kind of let the engineers go to sleep at night.
David:I think I heard something very nuanced there that I want to make sure our listeners hear. You mentioned that a lot of the existing solutions are working over the telephony network and you are using IP-based communications. Those are two very different things. When one API provider kind of jumps you onto the phone network, you're using the phone system. Your approach is to connect voice and video, users using voice and video, over the internet using IP, the internet protocol, the fundamental protocol of the internet, as opposed to even going out onto the telephony network. Is that correct?
John: Yes. We do believe that that is the future of user interactions that happens on any kind of modern application. For instance, the call we are doing today is done over digital IP communication. So not only are we able to send, you know, higher quality audio quality and video quality, but we can also send rich data along with it. So there's other interaction components that can be embedded into the experience. And all of this is being contained within this conversation instead of just some random, you know, SMS application or some application on your smartphone. All of this conversation happens within this context and we do believe that it's a better user experience and that is the future for the app developer's world.
David: Yeah, I kind of agree because like when you're chatting, there's always identity management going on. So if you're using one identity to manage chat-based communications over IP, and a separate identity stuff to go and do the communications over the telephony network for your voice and video, then you're already getting more complex than you need to be. Whereas I think you mentioned a single source of truth. You have one identity, and from that identity you're just picking the channel that you want to communicate with the other person over. Is that right?
John: Yes, and another kind of the great benefit of that is if we do everything over IP, the access of data is far easier. So we can start to analyze the analytics and give those insights back to the customer, and again, tying back to the user experience. So overall, developers are not only able to enable these communication channels, they can increase and actually make the experience even better by learning from all of these analytics and the insights that come from these data.
David: Now you mentioned developers, and this is the Developers Rock podcast. What is it that you're doing in your Developer Portal to really attract developers and make them love SendBird as an API provider?
John: Our company was founded by the developers and we always wanted to... Taking a step back, we actually started our journey as a buyer. We wanted to buy a chat API and we just simply could not find the one that we wanted to use. So we had to build the entire chat set ourselves. And then what was really important for us as a buyer is having that clear Documentation, ready to go with tutorials, sample kits, and even things like a UI kit. So we've rolled out a new UI kit, it's going to make the deployment time just 10X easier with all the modern, you know, maximum capabilities that you would expect out of WhatsApp, Telegram, and Facebook Messenger. You can have that same level of experience in your application in a matter of minutes. And that's a great value proposition for developers. So keep obsessing over those kind of best-in-class developer experiences is something that we've been really focusing on and excelling at.
David: And for developers who want to work in their favorite language, are you offering them SDKs to make it simpler?
David: And where can developers go to find your developer portal?
David: Great. And I'm assuming it's self-service. Developers can sign up and play around with the API. They can see the docs. They don't have to actually be a customer yet.
John: Yes. So docs are freely available even without any logins, but you can feel free to sign up on our dashboard and start playing around, and get your new chat up and running in a matter of minutes if not hours.
David: Terrific. Well it sounds awesome. I hope developers are watching this and give you a go. I wish you luck. Do you have any other news coming in the next couple months? Any more announcements that we should be aware of?
John: We'll continue to roll out these amazing features. And one thing that we're really trying to invest is, how do we ensure that all of our product is best in class so that you don't have to think about working with someone else, just work with SendBird and go to sleep at night. We are actively looking for acquisition opportunities and we're announcing a pretty nice, you know, a partnership; a strategic partnership with one of the companies who focus on delivering that WebRTC voice calling capabilities. A lot of these things will continue to happen to accelerate our product roadmap. Again, for us providing better developer experience.
David: WebRTC, that is web real-time communications. That's the W3 standard for doing voice and video communication between nodes on the internet, like a web browser and somebody else on their web browser, and I'm assuming that is the technology that you're using in the core SendBird APIs as well right now.
David: Great. Well listen, it's been great to have you, John.
John: Thank you so much for having me. It's been fun.
David: Yeah, it's been great. Yeah, we've been speaking with John Kim. He is the CEO and co-founder of SendBird. As you heard, you just go to SendBird.com, click on Docs if you're a developer, and it'll drop you right into a developer portal and you start playing around with their APIs. Also, he's pointing to the SendBird logo that's right over his shoulder. So yes, please go there.
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