Fighting Rebels by Day, Coding by Night: A True Story from FreeCast
There’s a certain glamour surrounding the tech startups and their culture in this country. The public has grown obsessed with technology, apps, and services that bring new innovation to otherwise mundane tasks, from ordering takeout, to hailing a cab, to even watching television. With these well-known startups come fairy tale narratives, where anyone with a good idea can create a business in their garage, attract the attention of a Silicon Valley tech giant or venture capitalist, and become an overnight billionaire. But while we frequently hear stories like this, the reality is that building a business is no small or easy feat. Beneath these alluring fairy tale success stories are gritty real stories that may lack the glitz, but can be even more compelling. That’s why I wanted to share the true story of FreeCast. Not about how an idea can change the world, but how a team of human beings make it happen.
In FreeCast’s first years, we’ve relied not on venture capital, but on human capital. Because of that, we depend on each other, rather than on a single or small group of investors. Unlike other startups that have money to burn, our progress has come from the investment of our team members. We’ve reached almost 4 million paid subscribers on a shoe string, rather than spending gobs of money to acquire them, and that wouldn’t have been possible without a great group of people working to make it happen. Every member of our company has confidence in their own efforts as well, enough invest their time, their talents, and their effort. Even I, the founder of the company, have been amazed at the lengths that some of our employees have gone in contributing to our mission.
As FreeCast works to fundamentally change the way the world watches TV, it all starts in our Orlando, Florida offices, home to a virtual A-Team of talented professionals from a variety of backgrounds. Here, tech industry veterans like myself, having pioneered web video in the 90s, and the former CFO of Netscape and AOL Time Warner, Chris Savine, work alongside both seasoned professionals with decades of experience and bright young talents, some fresh out of (or even still in) college. It is this diverse team that makes Rabbit TV run smoothly for millions of subscribers, plus hundreds of content and advertising partners, while also producing the new ideas that keep our services growing so rapidly. The core team here in Orlando can’t take all the credit though, as there’s truly a global effort behind all that we do. We employ individuals on nearly every continent: North and South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia, and they’re every bit as much a part of FreeCast’s story. In fact, some of them are even working despite extreme circumstances in their locations.
The most striking example would be that of one of the developers working on our payment management software, named Sergey. Rather than a posh Silicon Valley office, he has been doing his part from war-torn eastern Ukraine. His home has quite literally been invaded by Russian-backed forces, as armed conflict takes place in his very neighborhood. While this type of disruption to normal life would ordinarily put a simple job on the back burner, programming for FreeCast has allowed him to continue to support and defend his family and his home. In the middle of the night he uploads code using the very same WiFi network as his invaders, and by day, he codes for us while cleaning his gun. The contrast between the idealized millionaire-minting tech startup scene, and the reality in which a key part of our site is in part being developed in a war zone, is stark.
Several of the team members who help maintain our site, ensure quality, and discover content are based in the Philippines. Earlier this year, when the islands were struck by a devastating typhoon, we were prepared to be short-handed as reconstruction began in the affected areas. But despite the circumstances, our employees had managed to report in none the less, in some cases from the homes of relatives or friends, or even internet cafes, wherever they could find electricity and bandwidth. Like their colleague in Ukraine, their work for FreeCast allowed them to continue to support themselves and their families, despite the widespread destruction.
Even closer to home, right here in Orlando, integral members of our team have faced great challenges. One in particular has even lost his home. Yet he’s continued to show the type of unparalleled dedication and reliability that you’d be hard pressed to find even in an employee faced with the best of circumstances, despite having quite literally spent nights on the street. As his co-workers, we’d never have known, as he expected no special treatment or accommodations. But upon discovering these hardships, this group has banded together to support him, be it with a warm meal, a ride across town, a couch to sleep on, or a small loan. For our team members across the globe, working for FreeCast is more than just a gig, it’s their livelihood. Because we share this in common, we have to help each other out, take care of each other, and take pride in doing it. And that is why it’s so important to each and every one of us that this company is built, not for publicity, not to attract venture capital, not to be bought out by Google or Microsoft, but to be a sustainable and profitable business for the long term.
From basic needs like security or a roof over our heads, to a young man who’s putting himself through college, to a variety of other financial goals, from a first home, to a dream car, to a comfortable retirement, the individuals that make FreeCast what it is are confident that this company will be around in two, or five, or ten years. The same can’t be said for apps and startups that come and go as quickly as other passing fads. Despite sometimes billions in venture capital, it’s hard to imagine companies with almost no revenue remaining relevant for the long term, especially when the use of that capital is so often nothing short of wasteful. FreeCast on the other hand is growing naturally, priming our company to become even more significant as time goes on, and allowing us all to reap the rewards, instead of staring at red ink.
As the founder of this company, I couldn’t ask for more. I’ve been an entrepreneur for decades, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that I’ll take human capital over venture capital any day of the week. Everything that FreeCast has achieved so far has been just that: achieved. Specifically, achieved by every one of us, from the Philippines to Ukraine, to our offices in the USA. And for all of us, that’s a source of great pride that we just wouldn’t have if a big check from a venture capitalist had allowed us to get to this point overnight. While at no point has it been easy, I wouldn’t trade the past few years of building this company for anything. And though I can imagine the appeal of simply having a massive sum of money to burn through, I just don’t see how that could compare to the satisfaction of building what we have ourselves. And as we prepare to expand our products globally, the global team that serves as our foundation will continue to be our greatest asset. So while the venture capital frenzy continues, as investors search for unicorns and startups ask for billions, I can concur with Robert Frost that taking the road less traveled has made all the difference.