When some people try to espy the next big thing in social media, usually they look for an 18-year-old founder and software genius cloaked in fleece who is too cool for school or college. The last place they may look is in the direction of an entrepreneur with more than 30 years of starting technology and telecoms companies under his belt.
Yet as Isaac Raichyk, founder and CEO of the Toronto-based mobile video social network Keek puts it, simplicity sells. In today’s fast-moving world of never-ending status updates, tweets, Instagrams and privacy scares, there is a yearning for some kind of structure.
A YouGov study out this past week revealed consternation among internet users with social networking sites and constant marketing promotions. The study indicated that the proportion of users who have stopped using social media sites because of invasive marketing is up by 18pc on last year and claimed dissatisfaction with social media marketing and concerns about privacy has led to Facebook usage falling by 9pc in the UK alone.
The word ‘Keek’ is derived from Middle English and means a quick look. Keek – a cross between YouTube and Instagram – centres around users simply recording 36-second video notes on their smartphones or computers’ web cams and sharing them among their friends without intrusive advertising.
“It’s not slowing by any means. We’re working on many different platforms and we’re looking at some of the new games consoles with interest,” Raichyk said.
He could be on to something. Twitter has come up with its social video platform called Vine and a recent forecast by networking giant Cisco predicted that two-thirds of the world’s mobile data traffic will be video by 2017. Cisco predicted mobile video will increase 16-fold between 2012 and 2017, accounting for more than 66pc of total mobile data traffic by the end of 2017.
So far, the Keek community has surpassed 45m users, with a strong following throughout North America, the UK, Ireland, mainland Europe, Africa and Latin America. In the last four months, it is estimated that 24m new users came on board.
Keek, which is available on Apple, Android, BlackBerry and desktop computers, has recorded 667m visits in the last four months and users have contributed 18m ‘keeks’, which have been watched more than 2.2bn times.
Keek’s demographics reveal that 85pc of its users are between 18 and 25, and 69pc of its users are female.
In recent months, the company raised an US$18m funding round from AGF Investments, Pinetree Capital, Plazacorp and Cranson capital, bringing its total investment raised to US$30m so far.
Raichyk betrayed no sense of modesty when he describes Keek as being “one of the most sophisticated apps in the world right now.”
As evidence, he said that in the past week Keek released a new instant private messaging feature that enables up to 36 users to chat privately in a group using text or video messages.
How people want to communicate is the key, Raichyk said.
“They want simplicity, they want attention but they don’t want noise. If you want to leave a video message for a friend or a community of friends, just do it, if you want to keep it private you can do that, too.”
Working on Keek
Raichyk said the Keek team is focused on building the community, adding features and enabling people to create a lot of video content without having to mess with video-editing tools.
“We believe there is a value in each of those areas and we are executing on these fronts,” Raichyk said.
Raichyk is only interested in growing the community on the site, however. “Monetisation is something we will be looking at maybe next year,” he said.
“We have a unique platform. I believe that social video is going to become increasingly important and relevant in social media over the next two years.
“We are already the dominant player in the social video space and yes, I do believe ‘keeks’ could enter the vernacular just like ‘tweets’.”
Prior to founding Keek, Raichyk founded and was CEO of at least three other technology companies: Kolvok, which pioneered voice-recognition apps and achieved a US$100m market cap of US$100m in 1995; an e-learning company called Simpulex, and a digital video-surveillance company called CertaintyPoint Technologies.
The birth of Keek
Raichyk said the origins of Keek lay in the latter venture.
“I was blogging and playing around with other social networks and I got involved in the concept of utilising security camera videos and I wondered how it would be possible to quickly share security camera videos right after an incident,” he said. “Then I realised that smartphones are more prevalent than surveillance cameras and so I started designing a platform to share video from smartphones.”
Raichyk doesn’t believe the ‘next big thing’ has to come out of Silicon Valley. “Toronto is, after Silicon Valley, No 2 in the world as a hi-tech hub. There’s lots of talent here and we have several universities that turn out a lot of technologists.
“We’ve quickly built an outstanding team of local people and all the development is done in-house so we can rapidly turn out new features.”
Raichyk didn’t want to be drawn on growth projections, either. “The future is not predictable. I’m more interested in what people are doing with the platform. In the UK and Ireland, I’ve noticed a lot of soccer players are signing up and using the platform to communicate with their fans.”
Raichyk said Keek is becoming a world of its own.
“Everything from young people meeting friends, celebrities chatting with fans, it is so broad and so deep. What is amazing is the variety – young people in the Middle East, in Malaysia, minor celebrities in South America to major celebrities in Hollywood.
“People are using it in ways we couldn’t have envisaged.”
A version of this article appeared in the Sunday Times on 16 June