Every big idea likely has a few detractors at some point. Startups that become multibillion-dollar companies are no exception.
Take Broadcast.com, the pioneering audiov streaming company that made Mark Cuban a billionaire. When Cuban and his friend Todd Wagner took over the company in 1995, it was one of the first streaming platforms in existence, paving the way for today’s biggest streamers, from Netflix to Spotify.
Being one of the first of its kind meant it was met with some level of skepticism in the early days of the internet. “There was nobody doing it. Nobody,” Cuban told CBS’s “Sunday Morning” recently. “People thought I was an idiot.”
In 1995, Cuban was living off of the roughly $2 million in proceeds from the sale of his first tech company, MicroSolutions. Together, he and Wagner decided to invest in a streaming company called AudioNet — which soon became Broadcast.com — because they wanted to listen online to live radio broadcasts of their alma mater Indiana University’s college basketball team.
The company received its audio content via satellite, and digitized it before distributing it online. Eventually, Broadcast.com expanded its offerings to include audio from other live events, like radio talk shows and rock concerts.
It only took four years for Cuban and Wagner’s investment to be validated: Yahoo acquired the startup for $5.7 billion in stock in 1999. It was bad timing for Yahoo, just ahead of the dot-com bubble’s burst — and the company ultimately discontinued the streaming service after a few years.
But it was great timing for Cuban, who sold most of his stock before the market crashed. His current net worth is estimated by Forbes as $4.6 billion.
And regardless of the service’s eventual demise, the high-profile deal helped put digital streaming on the map. “[It’s] the origin story of streaming,” Cuban told CBS.
Looking back, skepticism over the idea of streaming audio and video online was fairly common at the time. In 1995, the same year Cuban was launching his company, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates famously tried to explain the promise of the internet on CBS’ “Late Show with David Letterman,” only to be mocked by the comedian.
“I heard you could watch a live baseball game on the internet and I was like, ‘Does radio ring a bell?'” Letterman joked to Gates on the 1995 episode.
Cuban received similar feedback from naysayers in the mid-1990s who didn’t envision the huge role that the nascent internet, much less streaming media, would one day play in our daily lives.
“When I’d tell people the vision [for the company], they’d say, ‘You’re crazy. I’ll just turn on my TV. I’ll just turn on the radio,'” Cuban said on a 2021 episode of the “Starting Greatness” podcast.
“People would laugh at me,” he added. “[But] I had no doubt in my mind” that the idea was “a winner.”
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