LiveNinja, a video chat marketplace we spotted in TechCrunch Disrupt’s Startup Alley in May, is today announcing having closed a seed round of $500,000 in funding as it goes to publicly launch its platform. The round included angels from the Miami area, where LiveNinja is based, as well as a few from New York and South America.
Investors in the round include Marco Giberti, Giuliano Stiglitz, DadNeos, Scott Bernstein, and others.
For those unfamiliar, LiveNinja launched its platform into a beta a few months ago as a way to allow users to offer advice and other services over video chat, without having to deal with the hassles of establishing their own website and managing their own marketing.
“We started seeing a lot of our friends and family using video chat like Skype and Gtalk as a way to make money,” explains LiveNinja CEO Will Weinraub, “and we were fascinated by this. As the unemployment rate continued to rise, people were finding creative ways to generate income,” he says.
But the problem for some users was getting noticed out there on the wider web, as well as pulling together all the necessary resources to run these side businesses. “Skype was just one part of the equation,” Weinraub says. “They had to set up a WordPress blog, they had to set up a PayPal account, they had to set up a scheduling system, and they had to stitch together four or five different services just to make it work.”
Another issue involving in the DIY route is that not everyone would trust that someone was worth the time and rate they’re charging just because they have a WordPress blog, of course. So that’s where LiveNinja comes in. It not only provides the platform for experts to create their online presence and sell their advice, skills or other services, it also offers a community setting for these transactions to take place within, allowing users to rate the individual service providers upon completion of their session.
Ratings and reviews are optional, but Weinraub says they try to encourage them, even sending out follow-up emails for those who didn’t take the time. If someone is ever unhappy with their session, LiveNinja offers a refund or a free session from another expert. However, they haven’t had any complaints of this nature as of yet.
Weinraub says that the platform is now being used for everything from Spanish lessons to consultations with attorneys, often on startup law given its early adopter user base. Service providers can offer their sessions for free or can charge by the minute, half hour, hour, or any combination of the three. LiveNinja takes a 20% cut off the top and the delivers payments over PayPal. Because it’s still fairly new, Weinraub declined to provide users numbers, but says that the majority of the sessions on the site are paid with only 1 out of 10 offered for free.
With the additional funding, the company has been able to grow the team to five – there are now two new employees, plus the three co-founders, Weinraub, Emilio Cueto and Alfonso Martinez. The company also recently set up shop in new offices, and is currently focused on building an iPhone app for the service. The app will allow users to set their availability on the go, so they can accept video chat requests from anywhere. The app will launch this spring. In the meantime, interested users can sign up for LiveNinja here.