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The most developer-friendly live video & audio SDK

The most developer friendly live video & audio SDK | Abhishek Kankani - CEO Dyte (YC W21)

How is Dyte helping companies?

Abhi: With Dyte, we create tools that allow people to integrate real-time audio-video calls within their products. So how we’re having this call on Zoom right now if you wanted an entire Tekpon app, where you get your guests, where it’s custom branded, and where you record it. We provide SDKs, which let people integrate real-time calls, audio, and video, within their products. So that’s what we do.

We let you do it in a couple of hours rather than the traditional way to do it. You manage all the edge cases around streams. So the technology that powers all of this is something called WebRTC. And typically, WebRTC is a challenging technology to work with because it’s fairly complicated. Plus, you don’t have many people who can work with webRTC.

So with most other existing solutions, the biggest pain point is that you still have to manage low-level logic in a very nitty-gritty part. You have to figure out how to work with streams, what codex to use, and what is the best configuration, and it can go anywhere from six months to a year for a customer to go live.

Ideally, we manage all that, bundle it up, and give you very simple SDKs and APIs to integrate. These are more or less built for web developers or mobile developers as the end user, not video engineers. So we do the heavy lifting. We time-tune everything, and you can go live with us in less than five to ten lines of code in less than an hour of work. So that is how fast you can integrate with us, typically six months or one year.

Can a non-technical person use your product?

Abhi: There are ways to do it, but we have early developer-centric. So if you just want to integrate a call into your app, yes, there are ways. We have a dashboard with no code where you can create an app, customize it, change the colors, design the layout, and then just one click will help you create a meeting. But eventually, when you want to have that meeting within your app, you will need someone to integrate it. So that tiny part is where I would say, yes, you will need someone who knows where to place it, but that’s pretty much it.

How big is your market?

Abhi: Video is a growing market, right? So the majority of the content on the internet today is video. You’ve seen the boom with TikTok, Instagram, and everyone going video first. Plus, new industries have emerged, right? Live shopping as an experience, remote workplaces as an experience. What we are doing is letting people think beyond that, right? Think outside the box of what’s possible with live video.

You are so used to this that there’s person A and person B, and that’s how the setup is. But why not have you in the corner, me in the bottom left, a very different experience in the center? So that is what we are working on, right? So for us, it’s a heavily growing market. Plus, there are emerging industries like mentors itself, where the entire underlying communication, which will be by audio and video, is what we will be offering, right?

So for us, it’s a heavily growing market. So I wouldn’t want to put an absolute number and just say that this is how big the market is. I didn’t want numbers. I was curious about how the market grew.

What are the Dyte integrations?

So we support all web and mobile platforms. The way that SDK is structured is there is a core library. The idea of the code library is it does all the edge case handling. All the business logic in terms of how do I get the stream. How do I get a video stream for a user, how do I get their audio stream, how do I manage it, how do I decide who to show on the screen, how do I choose between active speakers, and what to do when the speakers’ switches, how do I convey messages? All of that.

So that’s a core library, right? And then, on top of that, we have a UI kit. Now, the idea of a UI kit is we give you pre-built UI, okay? So you can use that, which is a very simple call UI where there’s a basic grid, there’s a chat on the right, there’s a bottom bar which has controls, a screen share, speaker switching, speaker mike, all of those devices, all of those controls there.

And what we do is we let you know we have an entire design library that is built component-wise. That means either you can use the entire pre-built okay, just change, let’s say, the theme, the color, and a bit of it, or you can build your entire UI. What that entries are, you can change everything from the font family to the font size up to create your custom bar. You can do that if you want to create a grid with only four people at any given time. You can do that if you want to have a chat not on the left but floating on the top right.

So the idea with the design libraries, and I’d like to show you that also, is that you basically can create components. Think of it like a web flow for creating apps around audio video, where you have everything built, and you can choose what you want to use and quickly mock up things, right? So that’s the framework that we operate with.

Currently, we serve all major JavaScript frameworks. So React, Angular view, JS, and vanilla JS cover the entire web stack. And on mobile, we have native SDK for Android, iOS, Flutter, and React Native. So pretty much all platforms across mobile. And the plan is to support natives soon. We also have an Electron SDK, which lets you build desktop apps.

The next action item for two of the things is one is native desktop apps, not Electron desktop apps. And lastly, you need SDKs because they are the ones that go into a lot of these games that we would want to offer. Right? So that’s the current landscape.

Successful use cases

Abhi: We work with companies like Newton School, Board, and Infinity. These are customers who are serving Ed Tech, right? They do upskilling, where they get a bachelor’s, train them, upgrade their skills, and then help them get placed. We also work with a bunch of interviews as a service company where you want to hire. Let’s say: 100 people this month. You can’t take those interviews because your product team gets blown.

So a good way is to hire someone to do these interviews for the first few rounds for you. And will these be done live by vetted people with the credentials to interview for a road night? So we work with other service companies and a few of them on that site, like Interview, Vector, and Job Client. Beyond that, we also work with virtual platforms. Many of these events came online during the pandemic, so some companies do things like how Hopin works. Similarly, they create virtual experiences.

What is the Dyte pricing

Abhi: So our pricing is purely usage-based, right? Now, let me explain how that works. Let’s say two of us speak on this call for half an hour. So we consume 30 to 260 user minutes. We charge you based on the number of minutes of video that we consume, right? Now, let me explain how that works. Let’s say two of us speak on this call for half an hour. So we consume 30 to 260 user minutes.

We charge you based on the number of minutes of video that we consume, right? So if five people call goes on for an hour, that’s 16 to 5300 user units. And the way it’s calculated is pretty simple. It’s the sum of the duration of the total minutes consumed by everyone, right?

So if five people call where for the first half an hour only four people were present, and the next half an hour all five were present, you’ll not be charged for the five throughout the call the way it will be like four into 30 plus five into 30 because it’s essentially the sum of the usage for every single participant. And that’s how we charge.

When did you start the company?

Abhi: We started the company last year, close to September 2020. We had just started thinking about the idea at the end of 2020, and sorry, I said last year. I mean, last year, we started thinking about the idea around the end of August, and that’s when we applied to Y Combinator. By the time the confirmation came, it was close to November, and we had just started building the product out, and it had started to shape up.

And we essentially were still in the building phase throughout Y Combinator. So we recently announced a seed and everything as well. But we had raised that money during Y Combinator. So we stayed under the radar and kept building work with a few design partners.

Last year May, we started working with a few partners. Last year May, we started working with a few in April and May. So we launch in a very close loop, work with people to build it up, and start shipping the product out publicly this year. And since then, we’ve been starting to scale up.

Dyte joining Y Combinator

Abhi: We did a fairly remote batch due to the restrictions. But for me, I would say that this is our first company for all three founders. We’re fairly young. I’m 25, and the first company I built. Not a lot of startup experience or connections in the industry. Y Combinator levels that are playing field for us. It gave us that stamp of credibility. That was one of the things that helped us. The second was that because you’re in a batch full of people who are so extremely performant that they are striving to keep outdoing themselves, that motivation gets to you.

In such an environment, you end up working at an unrealistic pace and never thought you’d be able to do it. So we could build out the entire first version of the product through the batch. And that was done with just the three founders and a team of three more members where two of them were college interns. That is the kind of work in a very lean manner. That definitely helps. It was a boost of confidence. It was also a stamp of credibility. And we were exposed to the world in a manner where we now could have reached out to our customers in a much better manner.

I never give blind recommendations for anything, but recommending YC will depend on where you are on that journey. Because if you’re at the beginning, it helps a lot. Clearly, we were getting a stamp of credibility more than anything. Right. More than everything else that I see has. We got a solid network, but I’m a part of that network today. Right. No matter what, I will be a YC founder for the rest of my life. So I will have access to that network for the rest of my life.

I know the right people I want to reach out to. I can reach out to them today, regardless of whether I am in the batch. With the network, the connections I made, and the mentors I have, I know I can reach out to them whenever I want to for help when I need it. So in a situation like that, I will consider whether that makes sense based on when I’m starting and what I’m doing.

But for people, if the question is, this is your first round, you’re in a stage where you’re at the beginning and start. You are either very early days of the product or just out of the idea phase by validating things, and you get the opportunity to do. I would heavily recommend that you do it. But beyond that, I’m more than happy to discuss and give my thoughts on what I would consider if I were in your shoes and the stage you are at.

Raising an $11.6 million seed round

Abhi: One of the first things we always realized is that money coming in is often a catalyst. It’s an enabler. The core thing we need to do is build a ground-up team that’s resilient to the market. Last year, the market was super hot. We saw that good rounds were happening, and a lot of money flowed in. And right now, there is a pullback in the market. We are seeing people worried about it, valuations crashing, and a huge recession that’s there, and that’s evident that it will happen.

So one of the things we realized is that we need to build a very strong foundation, and being an engineer, myself and all three of us are from an engineering background, all of us have coded for most of our lives. We believe in building a strong product, and everything else will follow around it. But building a product, when I say strong product, is not a blind lead product that you believe is a good product, but something that the market needs and solves excellently. Well, solve that. Solve a real problem statement and build something that people want to use.

And there’s this advice that you want to use yourself. That’s very misguided because, half the time, you don’t realize what you are giving up on the way you limit yourself. So that is something that we believed in. One of the major investments from that money will be building a strong team—so core product engineering, which we have built until now, further scales that.

And the other part of it, the majority of it, will also go into creating a brand presence. Because no matter how I think, we engineers ask you to believe that a good product always wins. But that’s not always the case. It’s not ever going to happen. So that, hey, just because you’re a good product, you will always win. People need to know you’re a good product. People need to know you’re the best product. And that is a very heavy function of how sales and marketing work.

You need to have a kick-off score to market it well, but then you should also know how to present it, position it, and find your voice in the market, right? And the next part of the investment goes there, right? Like building that sales marketing engine for us, figuring out the GTM strategy, and setting things up. Lastly, a bunch of it will go into future R&D as a tech product needs not just to follow the market trends but be able to define them, right?

What we built when we started, the way we describe how shifting from the traditional stream-based approach that people had in the media industry, like in at least the communication industry, to something more of a room-based approach. We decided that, instead of handling individual audio, video streams, and channels, why not just ask people to connect to the room?

Then you define on a business logic that ABC is connected on video? B-E-S is connected to audio only. Maybe other people are connected to just consumption, which drastically changed how people implemented it because now that was basically architecting what you need rather than trying to solve the nitty-gritty’s of it and then letting us do the integrity part.

Letting us do the work is something we see a lot of competition for. A lot of the market is trying to adopt and pick that up. The other thing that we innovated on and is still something that is a core USB to us is something called Plugins. The whole idea was that as communication, the first part is interaction, but what follows just after that is collaboration. The whole reason we are on this call right now is that we’re talking about it.

But now, the next step would be to collaborate and build and work on things together, how a basic thing like a whiteboard solves so many things when you are on a call. We thought that the idea of adding such collaborative real-time apps should not be complicated. So we built an entire infrastructure around it, which lets people build their real-time collaborative apps on top of their communication stack.

Let’s say the patient report is open where both of them can work on the things, an exit that is being gone so that the doctor can explain to the patient what’s happening. In an Etch class where you’re teaching me coding, there’s a live code editor on which we can collaborate, right? So things like that. So those are, let’s say, industry-defining things that we innovated on.

A majority of our money will also go into that part which is defining what is possible with audio video and how you can make how you can build better experiences. Because if you remember, the first thing I said was, hey, people are very limited by what we already have. Many people can’t think outside of it because most don’t know if it’s possible. That’s what we want to change.

We want you to move outside that boundary of, hey, a call is just a call to make it an entire collaborative experience, right? As I said, the idea of Plugins makes those innovative apps. So we want to push the boundary of what’s possible with real-time audio video, right? How you can leverage communication to make it better, how you can do much better sales calls on it, how you can support customers better with real-time communication, and how you can have a much better and much more immersive teaching experience.

The idea is to leverage this communication stack and build products that are ten x better for our end users, right? And they can eventually deliver that ten x better experience for their end users, like our customers. So a lot of that is the innovation part. And that’s where we also want to spend much of our time and money.

What is your story, Abhi?

Abhi: I come from a business family in India and have always loved technology. Like, I have always been passionate about it. That’s why I did my Bachelor’s undergrad in Computer Science and started coding work through it. My co-founder Kushagra Palash has known them for almost eight and six years, respectively.

And we work throughout college together, right? So, for me, two things were very clear. I want to build a massive, tech-first business, not one of those traditional brick-and-mortar businesses, because I’m passionate about this. I’ve seen the power of technology and how it can drastically change lives, right?

What we are doing helps us do many things at scale, which would not have been possible if the infrastructure did not exist. So that is one of the motivating factors for it. The other is I knew who I wanted to start working with, so I knew I would work with Kushner. But through our college, we have worked together on a lot of projects and all. And there’s a funny thing.

I would call them every couple of months and say, “Hey, do you want to work on this? And they’re like, hey, let’s figure out then what happened is I had quit my job in March 2020 because I had planned to go for my Masters, and I had my admitted at UC Berkeley for a program that I wanted, right? And it is one of the top ranks. In most other places, it’s number one ranked and called the hardest business school for the course I wanted.

And then the whole idea was that I took that one-year gap thinking, hey, I will explore, learn more, see around, and then the pandemic came in our faces, so all of this got accelerated, right? So then we started again ideating through things that we could make better. And one of the things we saw is that video as a use case is increasing drastically, and that’s something that can be made much better, right? So we always said that it lacked a lot of things, and the idea was that that is something that we should be able to deliver at scale the kind of experience we would want to have, and that’s how we started.

Now, coming to your question about the experience part, right? It would have been something else without video because we all are builders at heart. We know that we will be able to build things and solve things. It was about choosing what to do, and it made sense because the market was right, the timing was right, and everything was obvious. I had to take a tough call. Hey, do I continue this, or do I go to my dream college?

It has been the last one and a half years since graduating. My plan was that I wanted to do this Master’s. That’s everything that I had worked toward, right? And then that call was like, hey, you know what, let’s do this because, worst case, this doesn’t work out. We still learned a lot more than I would practically do there, and do the Master get a cushy job versus learning this because we’re very young? It is the age where we can take risks and go, and the discovery ratio just made sense, right? So that’s the background story.

What’s your favorite software?

Abhi: One of the most used tools for me internally at work is Slack, right? So I wouldn’t say I am absolutely in love with Slack, but I can’t imagine my life without it where you can’t function today. The other is WhatsApp. Again, India is a very WhatsApp, heavy country, right? So for many of our customers, we have WhatsApp as a channel of communication, especially in India, which is surprising for many folks outside because that is not something that comes naturally, right? That line of personal and professional it’s very blended here.

So I would say WhatsApp is one of the strong ones. So personally, these are the ones that I use most on a day-to-day basis. I think Figma is really powerful. And the other tool that we use, at least I actively use with my product and design team, is Workflow. And one thing we realize is using these two effectively made our productivity go heavily in the upper trajectory, right?

So we could do prototypes much better, much faster, in a manner that made sense, and we could deliver things and test them out very quickly, right? So these are things I would say something that I used to use. Beyond that, for me as co-founder and CEO, the tools that I would prefer personally would be more around the idea of dashboarding.

So anything where I can see a much clearer picture of how the numbers and the pipelines look like, for me, that’s a personal bias. But from a very realistic point of view, I asked if I had to choose to figure it out blindly. Amazingly well-designed products have a very good design elements to them as well, have very good usability elements to them. You’re firsthand seeing the experience.

Advice for founders

Abhi: So if you are someone like me who’s on that journey of starting, today is a really tough time, and that’s something because the market has drastically shifted. You will have a much harder time building a team, hiring, going to market, and even selling a product. So I would say this is a good time to double down on what you think is the value, prop off your company, figure out if that is true, and whether people are willing to pay for it in a market like this. Because if they are, you will have a great time when the markets get better.

So, that is one. I wouldn’t say that blind blanket statement that, hey, keep at it, go at it. Think smartly through it, figure out a few metrics, validate them, and then decide how you want to move forward. That’s definitely one. The other is more about, no matter what you do, making sure that you build a very internally strong company because you will realize the importance of building a company that sticks together versus just a company that, if you have hired dog shots everywhere now, we think they’ll solve everything.

Lastly, be patient. This is something that I need to mention explicitly for everyone, at least, because that’s something. It’s also hard for us to follow now and then because we see everyone around us with the news. And I would like to mention that the media will always over-glorify the good news. You don’t see that for everyone starter that raises. Hundreds are failing every day and figuring out what to do.

So don’t compare yourself with the news that you see every day, day in and day out. A lot of it is very misguiding. You have to remember that your journey will take a very different path. Your end goal is different. So focus on that. Because of the exposure we have, with the amount of content out there, and the social media that we have today, it’s good, but it also has a very negative impact on you because people start feeling like shit if something doesn’t work out in the first go. And trust me, most things don’t work out in the first go.

It’s much later you realize that you were in an iterative process, right? So that’s what I would say: be patient with yourself and what you’re doing. Take bets and stick with them, and don’t do things you want to so that you don’t at least end up regretting and blaming yourself for not trying. I would rather try to fail and learn from it and not try and then regret that. What if I had done that?

Connect with Abhi