Magazine May/June 2013 Abiding by the Dudes

01 May 2013, 17:00
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Abiding by the Dudes

Not since Joe Montana and Jerry Rice has there been a better duo in the Bay Area to spiral the culture of sports onto uncovered grounds than Blake and Jason Krikorian. They’re not competitive athletes – anymore, but ten years ago they changed the way people watch sports – and everything else – through a device called the Slingbox. The brothers’ pioneering vision became a catalyst in the media industry for delivering content over multiple screens and revolutionized the paradigm of geographic exclusivity. Where others saw frustration, they saw a blank canvas.

A shiny metal found in the American River once shifted a generation’s focus out West toward San Francisco, forever changing the city and its surrounding areas. Years later, the golden nugget became a silicon chip that not only changed the area, but also the intangible world around it. Today there is a new frontier and a new generation panning for change in the river of opportunity. The new frontier can’t be seen, it’s everywhere you are and everywhere you aren’t. Blake and Jason Krikorian have made it their business to make sure they lay stake to where you want to be.

Blake:People are experts in their current life, but it’s our job as product creators to be experts in their future life.

Jason:We are truly fortunate to live and work in the Bay Area, where we grew up. The talent and energy coming in from all directions is continuously inspiring.

Sling Media was founded in 2004 and their Emmy award-winning baby, the Slingbox, gave consumers the unique capability of watching what they wanted, where they wanted. To put the technology into perspective, the VCR gave us the ability to time-shift our media content, and the Slingbox introduced us to the concept of place- shifting it. The small brick-sized unit plugs into your home signal, allowing you to watch real time local content as if you were sitting on your comfy couch in front of the television – of course, couches were not included in the packaging.

Jason:We were on the road a lot and wanted to watch the San Francisco Giants play. Usually, when we get involved in something, it springs out of experience.

Blake:Like when we can’t take it anymore! Frustration is the mother of all inventions.

In 2007, Sling Media and its product line, along with their distribution operations in over 5,000 retail stores spanning eleven countries, was acquired by EchoStar (DISH) for $380 million. The Sling Projector technology became the predecessor to Apple’s AirPlay and other second-generation screen applications, delivering content over multiple-screens. This was long before consumers were catching on to the idea and convenience of remotely accessing content on devices other than their home media systems.

Blake:Early on, we thought of the notion of a “cloud” – to serve as a connection point between the device, the consumer and the content. The cloud would have a conversation with all three. Our belief was that in the cloud there would be more content available from other servers, and that content would be in the Slingbox player.

Coincidently our interview takes place on a cloudy day, a little over three miles from the Bay, where dozens of unidentified flying objects are grounded, and a giant creature lurks about.

Blake:Joey! Come here.

Okay, there is no real giant and the flying objects are small-scale helicopters neatly scattered around Blake’s lounge, along with other cool gadgets and toys. Joey is a four-legged fuzz-ball, and although he probably weighs less than six pounds soaking wet, he sets the tone of the interview, jumping on and off Blake and Jason’s lap, and greeting our team with his nuzzling embraces.

Blake:This is Joey Lebowski.

Jason:Actually, the word Lebowski is printed on the package of every product we’ve ever sold, either on the inside or out.

Joey is named after the 1998 Coen brothers’ cult comedy, The Big Lebowski. The main character is an unemployed slacker and avid bowler nicknamed “The Dude.” Introduced by the narrator as the laziest man in L.A. County, he gets caught up in a case of mistaken identity and deals with certain adversities, which he refers to as “the strikes and gutters” of his life. But through it all, he remains anchored by his personal enduring philosophy that the Dude abides.

Jason:The film has had a deep cultural impact on our company. It’s important not to overreact in business. Take chances, be creative, execute, but don’t overreact – The Dude has that quality to him.

Lebowski is also the code name for their Sling Stream technology, which adapts to the variables affecting the wireless connection by adjusting and changing the format of the stream in real time. Basically abiding by the conditions of the stream so that it maintains at quality levels without stopping.

Blake:The Dude adds a little humor to it all; that’s important – in business and in life.

Blake’s estate, where he lives with his wife and two daughters, is a modernly furnished 1920s home, equipped with cutting edge technology and dressed with lively art pieces like a jazzy portrait of the Caped Crusader. And sometimes, when Blake controls the functions of his home through his mobile phone, I can’t help but think that this is probably how Bruce Wayne would live, leaving me wandering if there was a vehicle tucked away somewhere on the property with the functions of a Batmobile.

But there were no visible signs of such a vehicle in the backyard. Instead, two black Labradors – Sierra and Louie – ran circles around a marshmallow-colored fiberglass head; a piece by Japanese contemporary artist Yoshitomo Nara called Puff Marshie. Opposite it was a sculpture of a horse by American sculptor Deborah Butterfield. I recognized her work from the Murphy Sculpture Garden at UCLA, where Blake went to school and played water polo.

Blake:Mixing division one athletics and school is hard work; you didn’t get much sympathy from the professors. It was about surviving the four years – which became five. School was so theoretical for me. I just wanted to build things. But even though I was chomping at the bit to get out, I’ve now realized that all the foundation came from there.

Blake studied mechanical engineering and with a classmate created the SmellBeGone -SBG 5000. It was a toilet seat with a sensor, vacuum and filter that would magically whisk away unpleasant odors. Solving such problems, and working with others to do it, is something he credits sports for instilling in him. Blake had once contemplated becoming either a veterinarian or marine biologist, and was leaning toward UC Davis, but their water polo team was sub-par, so he became a Bruin instead.

Blake:The stereotypical engineer student can be an introvert, but when your teammates are from other countries, other walks of life, your communication skills become stronger, and they complement the analytical. It’s what I value in the people I work with as well. The ability to communicate effectively is important in my line of work. If you are smart but can’t articulate your ideas, that’s a problem. It never ceases to amaze me how incredibly intelligent some people are, yet they are blind to certain parts of business and their lives.

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