How Rudy J. Ellis Raised $2M For Live Streaming Distribution Platform Switchboard Live, On Mogul Watch

Ebony Grimsley-Vaz
Written by Ebony Grimsley-Vaz
live streaming distribution
Rudiger J. Ellis (Rudy) – CEO – Switchboard Live

As people increasingly turn to social media to be entertained, educated or engaged with others, Rudy J. Ellis and his investors are betting on live streaming.

Ellis is the founder of Switchboard Live, a live streaming distribution platform and API.

In 2018, more than 3 billion people used social media — that’s 13 percent more than 2017, according to social media management platform Hootsuite. People are spending more time on social than they spend watching TV. With ad revenue forecast at $51 billion in 2018, it’s important to keep users engaged on platforms. That means content creators must continuously add new items for users to view.

Making it easy for people to share content on Facebook, Twitter, Google, Apple and other platforms has to be a priority for large companies that earn revenue from ad views. There has to be a symbiotic relationship between platforms and the way content is shared, Ellis said in a Moguldom interview.


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Switchboard Live is a platform that allows people to take one live stream and simultaneously show it across the most popular social media channels. For more than 20 years, Ellis has been an expert in the streaming service business. Launching his company in Orlando in 2013, he made it his mission to help amplify viewer reach across the major social media platforms. The company has since moved to Philadelphia.

Ellis’ products have been used by NFL teams and Harley Davidson. Barack Obama used Switchboard Live for his State of the Union speech when he was leaving office.

The company has a “$1 billion-dollar-or-more market potential,” said Carl Treleaven, a St. Petersburg, Fla.-based Switchboard Live investor, in a 2017 report.

Ellis shared with Moguldom how focusing on revenue helped him raise almost $2 million in capital, how founders can work with giant platforms, and the importance of relationships.                                

Moguldom: Why did you start Switchboard Live?

Rudy J. Ellis: Being in the streaming space for over a decade, I saw there wasn’t an easy solution to allow content to be seen by folks everywhere. People aren’t consuming content the way we watch TV 20 years ago. It’s such a fragmented space, and you as a content creator have to pick where you want to constantly be seen. I saw a gap and a need for allowing simultaneous streaming to happen. Our approach was to make a simple way for the content creators to get their content out there as simple as possible.

As a startup, you want to say yes to everyone and do everything, but you have to be able to identify what that value prop is and making sure all your activities are centered around moving the needle.

Rudy J. Ellis, founder of Switchboard Live, a live streaming distribution platform and API.

Moguldom: What has been the biggest challenge for you since beginning and scaling Switchboard Live?


Rudy J. Ellis : I think my biggest challenge really is not knowing every facet to start a business. I know what I know, and I know what I don’t know. For me, in those early days, it was really just trying to read and absorb as much as I can about starting out as a founder from fundraising to product development, to prototype and wireframing. There are so many different elements out there and that can be overwhelming. I think the biggest thing for me was identifying the thing that would move the needle to get to that next milestone. As a startup, you want to say yes to everyone and do everything, but you have to be able to identify what that value prop is and making sure all your activities are centered around moving the needle. Going through accelerators like TechStars and others can help prepare you for certain milestones, but it’s still up to you to continue those processes when you’re out of the accelerator. Those organizations can be good stepping stones.

Moguldom: What are some notable wins since starting Switchboard Live?


Rudy J. Ellis: I would say having fantastic partners like Harley Davidson and Monster Energy. Our products have been used for Obama’s State of the Union speech when he was leaving office. Our product is being used by a number of NFL teams. We’ve been able to go to Aspen and experience being a part of the Winter X Games. Another win would be our growing team. Having them believe in my vision and the direction of the company is a win. We wouldn’t be where we’re at today without the team.

Never burn a bridge. The industry is so small. Having a good relationship with someone is really how we got our first sale. It was a launching pad for us. Relationships are gold.

Rudy J. Ellis, founder of Switchboard Live, a live streaming distribution platform and API.

Moguldom: For your product to thrive, you depend on big social media platforms. What is it like approaching them and working with them behind the scenes?


Rudy J. Ellis: Because we are the conduit for end users to reach those platforms, we’re actually partners with all of the platforms. We work with their developer relations group, typically under API (application programming interface) developer teams. We have a good relationship with them. In fact, I’m going to F8 (Facebook Developer Conference) for the first time this year. Companies working with these platforms are the middleman between the end user. They want to make sure we’re providing a similar experience as the user gets directly on the platforms. For us, we want to make sure that we are adhering to their terms of services and conditions and making sure folks are putting content in the right format. At the end of the day, we’re enabling content to exist on the platform. And frankly, that’s what they want, right? They want great quality content to exist on these platforms. That is something that probably would not exist if users had to pick only one platform to share content. It’s a symbiotic relationship between us, the users and the platforms. It’s actually a benefit for them to make sure that Switchboard Live is doing the best we can to get content to their platforms.

Our fundraising came from prior relationships of just being in the industry and growing the business organically.

Rudy J. Ellis, founder of Switchboard Live, a live streaming distribution platform and API.

Moguldom: Do you have a tip you would give to another founder thinking about doing anything involving these platforms, whether it’s growing the relationship or how to start a relationship with them?


Rudy J. Ellis: I definitely believe relationships are key in the industry and never burn a bridge. The industry is so small. Having a good relationship with someone is really how we got our first sale. It was by way of a prior relationship I had with a gentleman working at Twitter. I reached out to him because we wanted to integrate with their platform. Once he realized what I was doing, he said, “Hey. There are some clients we have that come to us asking for this type of feature.” And, of course, that was a great opportunity for me to get an introduction. It was a launching pad for us. Relationships are gold.

Moguldom: You have raised almost $2 million from investors. Did you meet them through TechStars or any other programs you participated in?


Rudy J. Ellis: We did an angel round in 2015 right before we went into TechStars for about $425,000. And then we raised $1.5 million in November of 2017. Meeting the investors actually goes back to relationships. Prior to even having this idea, I would attend different networking events. One of these events I would go to was lunch-and-learns from an accelerator. I would go and just sit in and listen. One of the days was about fundraising. I went up to the guy after the workshop. I asked, “What are some of the things you guys are looking for with fundraising?”

What he provided to me was a list of all the different slides you need for a pitch deck. He told me if I could get through 80 percent of the items, I should see him when I’m ready. Even though I wasn’t ready, even though we weren’t fundraising, I was able to start building a relationship with him. Frankly, that’s what helped me — building relationships early on before I even needed or knew we were ready to start raising capital. Again, going back to I knew what I knew, and I knew what I didn’t know. I was trying to do the best I could to understand as much as possible. Once they got to know me, it took probably over a year before I was even ready to pitch to them. Even coming out of TechStars, I don’t think any of our current investors had any affiliation via TechStars. Our fundraising came from prior relationships of just being in the industry and growing the business organically.

Fundraising will take a tremendous amount of time and effort from your day-to-day. I learned that the hard way. I wasted about three to four months focusing on that. VCs are looking for a repeatable, recurring revenue. I went back to focusing on growing monthly reoccurring revenue.

Rudy J. Ellis, founder of Switchboard Live, a live streaming distribution platform and API.

Moguldom: You focused on generating revenue. A lot of startups mis that important part of proving their model and generating revenue. Fundraising is a tool and not a goal. How did you ensure your company was focused on sales?


Rudy J. Ellis: That is right. Fundraising will take a tremendous amount of time and effort from your day-to-day. I honestly learned that the hard way when we initially went out there looking to raise capital. I probably wasted about three to four months focusing on that. We weren’t ready to even fundraise. We had a couple of events and use cases but honestly, sales were not there. Sales help a lot in the fundraising process. VCs are looking for a repeatable, recurring revenue. At the time when we first started, we just didn’t have much beyond a couple of great customers. Investors want to see in the data points you can repeat business. It gives them an opportunity to say, “Hey, if you are able to do this in that period of time if you had X amount of dollars, you could multiply that and then you can make money for me.” I learned that the hard way and when I did, I went back to focusing on growing monthly reoccurring revenue. It was something we did for a number of months. We had to get really creative about it and were able to do so before we went out and raised our seed round. Being able to show how we could break even and be profitable made fundraising much easier.

Moguldom: What do the next five years look like for Switchboard Live?


Rudy J. Ellis: I believe I’ll be on to another venture in the next three-to-five years. Switchboard Live will be acquired by either a media platform or a technology company that’s looking to build on our infrastructure. In order for us to get to the next level, it will definitely mean taking what we built and partner with someone to take it to the next level.

Moguldom: Do you have something else working in the back of your mind that is going to be the next big thing?


Rudy J. Ellis: Exactly. I think we all do as entrepreneurs.


About Ebony Grimsley-Vaz

Ebony T. Grimsley-Vaz is an author and digital marketing and PR expert for consumer brands, retailers, causes and events. Based in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area, she owns Above Promotions, a digital marketing, publicity and promotions company. She wrote the book, "Because You're Small: Effective Marketing Strategies for Immediate Implementation."