Former Facebook Live manager bets on more private video sharing with Alively

October 31, 2016 

SAN MATEO, Calif. ó Vadim Lavrusik tried to send a video of his son celebrating his first birthday to family in Minnesota, but the process didnít exactly go smoothly.

Sharing the video via text diminished the quality, and the file size was too large to attach to an email. After working as a product manager for Facebook Live, Lavrusik decided to leave the company this year and launch Alively, an app that allows people to share recorded or live video privately with friends and family.

Social media users have harnessed the power of live video to stream protests or the aftermath of police shootings, but itís the more private moments that Alively is going after. The three-person startup, which was also co-founded by Ray Lee and Vincent Tuscano, has raised just over $1 million in seed funding from Greylock Partners, SV Angel and other venture capital firms.

"Because itís so raw and unfiltered, a lot of the moments you want to capture on live video would be mundane to most of the world, but they would be really interesting to people who care about you," he said.

Lavrusik, 30, sat down with The Mercury News to chat about the rise of live video, private sharing and life after Facebook. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Q: How is Alively different from Facebook Live and Twitterís Periscope? In Facebook, you can change the audience for a live video in your settings by selecting friends, only me or public.

A: You could technically go into the settings and select a few people, but itís not easy, so people donít end up using it. One of the things Iíve learned is peopleís perception of how they share on Facebook has evolved over the last three years. People over time have become very fixated on how their content is performing, so they wonít share things that have a low number of "likes," for example. Thereís not a way to "like" a video on Alively. The only feedback you get on a video is you can see whether someone has watched it and has commented on it. It was all intentional. We donít want this to be about people feeling like they have to perform or theyíre putting on a show. Itís more about capturing everyday moments and sharing them live.

Q: Why do you think thereís been a movement away from more public sharing to more private sharing on social media?

A: Some of it is a generational difference, honestly. These platforms that enabled us to share publicly sort of grew with millennials. It was this novel thing where youíre sharing with lots of people at the same time. If you look at all the messaging apps out there, theyíre the most popular with teens. Snapchat, for example, started with sharing with a few people and then expanded so you can share with lots of people, but the product still feels very intimate. The younger generation prefers not only to communicate more privately but also through video.

Q: Social media companies like Twitter and Facebook have this built-in user base, and if youíre starting a new company you donít necessarily have that. How do you plan to compete?

A: The plan is to not compete. What I mean by that is we very intentionally designed the product so you canít connect your other social platforms to be able to find people. People already have a built-in network on their phone, which is called their "contacts." Youíre going to have your family, significant other or your closest friends in your contacts. We also let you send video to someone even if theyíre not on Alively. So it gives you a tool to send high-quality video thatís better than what you would get on SMS. Ö Itís really challenging when you have companies like Facebook and Twitter that already have huge scale, because they can deliver an audience to those people who want to grow their audience or broadcast to lots of people publicly. We just need two of your friends who will share on the app.

Q: Social media companies are grappling with some complex issues, such as online harassment, nudity, terrorism and copyright issues. How is your company approaching some of the challenges, and do you envision facing many of them given that youíre focused on more private sharing?

A: I think those challenges become much more prevalent when itís a public platform. People might want to spread propaganda, and thereís a little more anonymity. I was watching a video with this sideline reporter on a platform I wonít name, and some of the comments were just awful ó from sexual innuendos to cussing. You would think people would be more civilized. Itís not to say that we wonít run into those kind of issues, but we already have some mechanisms in place that let you block or report people.

Q: When live video first came out a lot of people were asking if it was just going to be a fad. Do you think itís clear now it isnít a fad?

A: Live video has been around for a long time, but itís just become more accessible to people now. You could go live on your computer four or five years ago, but it hasnít been a great experience on your phone until the last year. Ö Everything is evolving toward video. Not just video consumption but communicating through video. Imagine some of the innovation thatís coming down the pike with virtual reality and 360-degree videos. Youíre going to see live 360-degree videos. Youíre going to see live VR. Itís going to be everything from premium content to these personal moments.

Q: So no regrets about leaving Facebook?

A: My only regret is I miss a lot of my colleagues there. We had some of the best people working on live video. Super-talented people who I felt like I was learning a lot from the whole time I was there. If there was one thing I missed, thatís probably the biggest thing, aside from the free lunches.

I always wanted to start my own company at some point. Iím an immigrant and I came here when I was 8 years old. When I was really little, my mom would just take any job, and I remember in the midst of raising four kids she started her own business. I think it inspired me to want to try it at some point. Even when I was a journalist or building products at Facebook, I liked the idea of creating and building something. It just felt like my mom had no excuses, (so) what are my excuses?


Vadim Lavrusik

Age: 30

Birth place: Ivatsevichy, Belarus

Residence: San Mateo, Calif.

Position: Alively co-founder

Previous jobs: Product manager, Facebook Live & Facebook Mentions; head of media partnership programs, Facebook; journalism program manager, Facebook; community manager and social media strategist, Mashable; social media specialist, New York Times

Education: Masterís in journalism (digital media), Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism; bachelorís in journalism, University of Minnesota

Family: Wife Krista, and two sons, Luke and Beau, with a third boy on the way.


5 facts about Vadim Lavrusik

1. He emigrated with his mom and three siblings from Belarus to Minnesota when he was 8 years old. He speaks Russian fluently and loves to cook Russian food, borrowing recipes from his mom.

2. He was the first person in his family to graduate from a university, graduating summa cum laude from the University of Minnesota and then getting a masterís from Columbia University, where he went on to teach as an adjunct professor for three years.

3. Storytelling, both written and visual, has always been a passion for him. He started writing poetry and short stories at a young age and had his first writing published when he was 11. He started his career as a reporter and journalist. Today, heís most passionate about enabling others to share stories and moments through video.

4. He loves all kinds of water sports (wakeboarding, surfing, wakesurfing), with skim-boarding being his personal favorite.

5. When he was 7, he "broke into" a local prison in Ivatsevichy on a dare by climbing over a 25-foot wall. One of his neighbors, who was a senior guard at the prison, brought him home with a big rip down his pants, which he snagged on barbed wire at the top of the wall.



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