Digital Dealmakers: Steve Hoffman

Apr 9, 2007  •  Post A Comment

The player: Steve Hoffman, chief operating officer and co-founder of Zannel, a mobile entertainment company.

The play: Zannel is going after a growing business: social networking via cell phones. Zannel helps media companies create mobile channels and distribute their videos across those channels, enabling wireless users to share video clips with friends. Research firm eMarketer recently reported that mobile social communities — a grouping of like-minded people interacting on cell phones – should grow from 50 million users worldwide today to 174 million in 2011. Zannel launched its service in early March. The company soon expects to announce deals with TV networks to distribute short promotional clips from their shows for wireless users to pass around.

The pitch: Zannel’s technology enables video and photo sharing across nearly all wireless carriers and cell phones. If a user enters a phone number that can’t support video, Zannel will suggest e-mailing the video instead.

The backstory: Mr. Hoffman founded the company in 2006 with a team of engineers from mobile company InfoSpace.

Money guys: Zannel landed $6 million in funding from US Venture Partners and Palomar Ventures last summer and hired engineering, marketing and business development staffers with the money. Zannel now counts 30 employees. As Zannel grows its user base, it likely will layer advertising into its Web site and before or after the videos. Zannel hopes to reach 1 million users by the end of this year, up from about 60,000 currently.

The pros: Zannel is pursuing a market that’s poised to grow. “The audience we are targeting spends a huge amount of time on the phones, texting each other,” Mr. Hoffman said. “The next step is them sharing content. Our mission is to make it super-easy for people to get the stuff they really like from the Web to their phone. The explosion we have seen in the past couple years with video on the Web will be repeated on mobile.”

The cons: The market is crowded with new video startups.

Background: Mr. Hoffman was born in Boston and grew up in Davis, Calif. He earned a degree in computer engineering at the University of California at Santa Barbara and a master’s degree in film and TV at USC. Mr. Hoffman previously worked for InfoSpace and for interactive TV studio Spiderdance. The 41-year-old married father of two lives in San Francisco.

Who knew? In his free time, Mr. Hoffman creates comedic viral videos and reads the classic philosophers.