If you want to make or watch live, streaming video, you have lots of ways to do that: Meerkat and Periscope will let anyone stream (just about) anything, whenever, to whoever wants to watch. Facebook and YouTube will let people who have some degree of clout do it, too.
YouNow has a different approach: The startup also lets anyone stream whatever they want from their phones. But the point of YouNow isn’t just to broadcast live — it’s to interact with your audience, and to let them chat with you, and each other, at the same time.
This isn’t an idea that appeals to everyone, which means YouNow is still a niche product, where people watch other people sing, talk and even sleep. But it has enough people — most of whom are very young — and enough traction to attract more money from investors: The New York-based company has raised another $15 million, in a round led by Venrock and angel investor Oren Zeev.
The round also included money from Comcast Ventures*, which is backing the company for the first time, and Union Square Ventures, which has invested for a few years.
YouNow CEO Adi Sideman says his company has now raised $30 million since 2011; he won’t provide a valuation, but my hunch is that he’s now in the $150 million range.
Sideman also won’t provide a number for monthly users. Instead he says YouNow generates “significantly more than” 100 million user sessions — not unique users — per month. In September 2014, the company said it had around 90 million monthly sessions.
A year before that, the company had looked like a bust, but a combination of product tweaks — primarily, giving users the ability to organize “channels” based on their own interests and letting users broadcast immediately instead of making them wait in line to start streaming — gave it a burst of energy and new eyeballs.
YouNow is free, but the company is now generating revenue — not from advertisers, but from some of the users, who pay money for virtual gifts they can bestow on their favorite performers. And some of those performers can get a cut of that money.
That’s an unusual approach for a youngish company, but it has its advantages, argues Venrock’s David Pakman, who led the company’s investment in YouNow. For starters, he argues, it means that YouNow doesn’t have to contort itself to eventually accommodate advertising, as other social networks have had to do. “You effectively have a native business model,” he said. “It doesn’t ruin the experience, it’s part of the experience.”
And it also means YouNow doesn’t have to become everyone’s favorite streaming service to succeed, he says: “This can be very economically successful at relatively low user numbers.”
* Comcast is an investor in Vox Media, which owns this site.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.