Watching television while surfing the internet on your laptop with your smart phone within reach… Does that sound like a familiar scenario? Neal Blaak knows all about it. For the last two years, he has been figuring out how to let those devices talk to each other effectively. With the mobile applications from his company, ZappoTV, you can do just that.
Blaak founded ZappoTV in 2009 with his business partner Jan van Ottele. Together, they discovered a way to have all kinds of mobile devices communicate with connected TVs and media players. It is predicted that by 2016, one in five televisions in the world will be connected to the internet, reaching a total of 600 Million connected TVs. And that’s exactly the market Blaak and Van Ottele are targeting. With their development team, they designed a series of mobile applications for iOS and Android that make it possible to access your media content and view it on your TV. The mobile apps for iOS were available for free up until December of last year, at which point ZappoTV already had over 1 million users; they are now available for $2.99.
The minute you meet Blaak, you know he is not afraid of thinking big. Blaak believes ZappoTV has enormous potential. It might seem as if he’s competing with companies like Apple, which offers the Apple TV (a device that works only when all your hardware is from Apple). Blaak knows that many people own devices from different brands, and this fact gives him a unique competitive advantage. “We are hardware agnostics,” he says. His goal with ZappoTV is to grow big. Says Blaak: “We’re here to conquer the world market.”
Blaak was born in the U.S., but grew up in the Netherlands. Growing up, he was always drawn to the country of his birth, and he returned to get his degree in International Business and Marketing at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, in 1991. After that, he worked at a consumer finance company where he was responsible for e-Commerce and other online activities. After obtaining his MBA, he moved from Texas to Silicon Valley to join a Dutch online video advertising start-up named Adjustables.
“We were looking for additional funding and customers,” he says, “so it was a logical place for us to be.” He soon found out he loved the place. “People understand you here, as a tech-entrepreneur. Everyone is connected and many are ready to share their thoughts. They introduce you to other interesting people and even attorneys and banks are focused on this,” he says. So when Van Ottele and Blaak started thinking about starting ZappoTV, they knew it would be good to have a base in Silicon Valley. Blaak stayed in San Francisco, Van Ottele in the Netherlands.
Even though many people thought big technology companies in Silicon Valley would soon catch up with ZappoTV and come up with a better technology, Blaak is not afraid of that. ZappoTV is planning to license its technology to some of these bigger companies, making it possible for them to let consumers watch online videos on television through ZappoTV without having to install anything on their TVs.
Blaak thinks the years he spent in the U.S. influenced his way of thinking. “The Dutch are very creative and innovative, but don’t always think really big,” he says. “Here in Silicon Valley, people think really big – it has to be scalable.” But he is glad that he and Van Ottele are running the company together. “We are good sparring partners because we both can have quite different perspectives on things.”