Jeff Lawrence | Crain's Portland

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Jeff Lawrence


Launched by MediaMall Technologies in 2008, PlayOn is a consumer software product that lets users stream videos from their PC to their TV, smartphone or tablet using a game console or a set-top box. PlayOn’s world headquarters are in Seattle.

The Mistake:

For the last 10 years or so, our mission has been to give consumers the software tools and applications they need to stream, record and watch videos on different devices whenever they want. But where, specifically, we add value to that mission has changed a over the years.

When we first started, we were the only way to get Netflix on certain game consoles, or watch Hulu TV on certain devices. We wrote the software that we ran on your PC, which then shared the content with all those different devices. All those different devices had their own user interfaces; if you turned on your PlayStation, you had the Sony XrossMediaBar graphics, and the way to navigate through that was all defined by Sony.

So we didn’t really control the screen that the user was interacting with on a regular basis, which means there was very little reason for us to focus on the user interface and user experience for what people saw on their screen. Whether we wanted to work on that or not wasn’t really a possibility at that time. Slowly, however, that limitation went away. While they were initially a tiny, tiny sliver of the overall market, TV devices like Apple TV, Roku and the Amazon Fire TV started coming out.

I think we were too late in the game when it came to developing apps for all the different devices – creating beautiful, lovely, branded apps for people to use that were specifically targeted and optimized for the type of service and value we were trying to offer. And so, over the years, as the users kind of shifted from game consoles to those devices, we started to lag a little bit behind some of our competitors.

Don’t underestimate the value and importance of owning the entire user experience from beginning to the end, and investing in that.

The Lesson:

Don’t underestimate the value and importance of owning the entire user experience from beginning to the end, and investing in that. And don’t underestimate how fast things are going to change. Whatever device or usage behavior is common or popular today might be very different in a year or two.

We should have recognized earlier on that, while we didn’t initially control the user interface that much, things were going to change down the road. More people were going to be watching and streaming videos on their TVs with these other devices. And with those other devices, we would actually have the opportunity to write our own app, our own user interface, and control the whole branding and user experience from end to end. We really missed an opportunity there.

But here’s how we came back from that. The whole value proposition of what we’ve offered has sort of changed, over time. The next phase – after the one I just described – was that you could actually get a lot of the streaming content directly on those devices without using our product.

Our business, as a result, started to become more focused on making recordings so you could take it with you and watch offline. While we had previously focused more on what we were doing on the TV, it became more important for the user interface on the PC to get good. So we invested in that, allowing users to make recordings at their PC.

We caught up, and I think the damage from our previous mistake sort of withered away.

Follow PlayOn on Twitter at: @playontv

Pictured: Jeff Lawrence | Photo courtesy of PlayOn

Do you have a good story you’d like to share, or know someone we should feature? Email

And be sure to sign up for your local newsletter from Crain's.