Putting the ‘real’ in real-time chat: Toronto’s Chatroll

chatrollChatroll is a Toronto-based company that provides clients with a way to engage with online audiences in real-time during live events. Co-founders Francis Ma (CEO) and Jonathan McGee (CTO) worked at Amazon prior to starting the firm; both have extensive experience in software development. Francis said in an interview that Chatroll started as a consumer-based website when it launched in 2008.

After the launch of their site they continued to get feedback from their users on the features they wanted and what needed to be improved. That led to the shift away from being a consumer-focused platform to a solution for sites large and small. Chatroll became a way for sites to connect to their online audiences in real-time during their live events.

The turning point for Chatroll was when a popular conspiracy theorist who had a big following online was talking about a very controversial topic: they embedded Chatroll on their site during a discussion and it started to gain traction. People with different theories about the topic started using Chatroll and within a week the site had garnered attention from some online fringe communities. Chatroll started to gain a longer reach into various online communities, being used by musicians like Soulija Boy and DJ Rap to connect their communities during their live events.

Most recently, Chatroll powered the live audience interaction for the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival. Francis said that it was a natural progression to turn the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City into a virtual online event where users could “participate and interact as though they were there.” What drove the Tribeca Film Festival to do this was the growth in interactive online events; one example is the Obama Inauguration, which was watched my millions of people online who wanted to be a part of one of those rare historic moments.

25 years ago, the ability to participate in these historic events was limited but with the advent of live streaming video people from all over the world can interact with each other while the event happens live. This allows for the masses to be engaged regardless of where they are and me more than just passive viewers.

What sets Chatroll apart from similar solutions is their commitment to performance. Their platform is built to be truly real-time. What you can often find for other solutions is a delay from when you press enter and when your comment appears. Since Chatroll focuses on live events, it means timely interaction is utmost important in keeping an audience engaged. Chatroll is built on standards-compliant HTML and JavaScript to make it simple for anyone use without the need for any plugins.

They also launched one of the first integrated monetization platforms, allowing micropayment streams through their properties. They allow for mobile reach and social media integration, which in turn allows a client’s users to connect with others through other platforms like Facebook and Twitter to create buzz and drive people to a client’s event.

Chatroll’s founders are technology people and engineers that are always making their solutions better, always tweaking their technology for the best speed, and adding new features as needs arise. This laser focus on performance is what has allowed them to scale Chatroll from small events to large ones, where users participate from around the globe. Francis and his partner Jonathan have made ease of use for the user a key part of what Chatroll is all about.

One recent event was for Prevention Magazine, by the publisher of Men’s Health, where they were the real-time solution for a live Q&A session. They have also seen their product used by day traders to help them talk and coordinate with each other when the markets are open. While the arts and entertainment industries have provided new opportunities, Chatroll has a relatively broad mix of users, from bloggers to enterprise clients, and it’s something they look forward to continuing with in the future.

Every startup faces unique challenges based on their industry, model, and target market. For Chatroll, they have had to find creative ways to be highly efficient, while operating as a self-funded startup. They have organically grown their solution to allow individuals and or businesses to turn previously offline events online, and engage their audience on their terms. 

Francis puts it like this: Chatroll “helps organizations run live interactive events to reach, engage, and analyze their audiences” in ways that connect them to each other and start conversations that last long after the live event has gone off the air.