Derek Jeter is a Blue Jeans fan.
When the retired New York Yankees captain launched his athlete-focused media site The Players’ Tribune in February, basketball star Blake Griffin couldn’t make it to the New York event in person. So he connected virtually through a video connection operated by a six-year-old startup, Blue Jeans Network. Jeter was impressed.
So when Blue Jeans announced a $76.5 million growth stage funding round on Wednesday from big-name venture capital firm NEA and host of other firms, Jeter joined the cap table–despite a price tag that’s likely to have moved Blue Jeans well past the typical celebrity angel investment.
Blue Jeans now hosts one billion minutes of video conferencing per year, says CEO Krish Ramakrishnan. Four years ago, the total market was 200 million minutes. Blue Jeans has grown so fast because rather than pitch customers on one type of expensive proprietary hardware for their chats, Blue Jeans hosts the conferencing in the cloud, providing an Internet-based back-end for whatever solution is being used. That way Blue Jeans stays uninvolved in price wars for hardware and can work with a range of partners. Blue Jeans’ aspiration is to become a sort of dial tone equivalent for video chatting, says chief commercial officer Stu Aaron.
Where Blue Jeans sees major opportunity to be the video back-end moving forward is in live events such as Ted talks (it already works with the TedX series) and sporting events. Its Primetime product allows large numbers of viewers to submit questions over a video stream.
Cofounder Ramakrishnan says that when the company set out to raise more money for Primetime and to expand its global business–Blue Jeans has a foothold in Europe and operates in Asia through a Sydney office–every investor had personally used its product. That includes Jeter, who the company says is intrigued by Primetime’s potential for interaction with top athletes.
And that means Jeter was willing to join a funding round that likely values Blue Jeans at, or close to, “unicorn” billion-dollar startup status. NEA led the round, but existing investors Accel Partners, Battery Ventures and Norwest Venture Partners also rejoined, as did new firms Glynn Capital and Quadrille Capital in an oversubscribed raise. Blue Jeans had previously raised a total of just under $100 million, at a valuation in 2013 of just under $500 million, a number that’s likely greatly increased now. Ramakrishnan declined to comment on any valuation speculation, calling himself “a little bit old school.”
Blue Jeans eventually aspires to go public, says Aaron, though he didn’t provide any timetable for that plan. But Blue Jeans is banking on the fact that big tech companies like Google look to integrate their own conferencing offers with Blue Jeans’ behind the scenes virtual pipes instead of looking to replicate its device-agnostic connection.
Speaking in an interview as Salesforce’s Dreamforce conference wound down on Friday, Ramakrishnan said that his goal is to provide a platform for online video communications much as Salesforce built out a platform around its customer relationship tools, as easy to add to a website as Google Maps locations are today.
Says his colleague Aaron: “Salesforce has the sales cloud. Oracle has the marketing cloud. Blue Jeans will have the video cloud.”
Scoring some high profile athlete endorsements among Jeter’s friends wouldn’t hurt in getting there.