Interview with Mirona Iliescu, COO, MetaBroadcast

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Photo Credit to Mark Fowler

Editor’s Note: Mirona Iliescu was a participant at Yahoo!’s Open Hack Day in 2007 and started her company MetaBroadcast based on a hack she built at this event. She is a great example of how hacking pays off even if one does not win the top spot at a hack event. We asked her to share her story.

What inspired you to become a hacker and learn about programming?

I started studying computer science and learned C++ in high school. My parents who worked in a computer production facility had a huge influence in developing my interest in computers. As a child, I liked to visit their workplace and when they brought home a computer along with programming books, I was excited about the idea of telling the computer what to do.

How did you hear about the 2007 Yahoo! Open Hack London event and why did you decide to participate?

I heard from friends that Yahoo! Open Hack was going on and decided to go along with them. Our group had already been looking at building an application for social TV viewing even before the hack event, so I thought I could contribute because I owned a communications agency at the time and had years of media and online product development expertise under my belt.

What was your experience at the Yahoo! Open Hack London event?  What hack did you build?

The event was full of brilliant hackers and people were walking around, pitching ideas in real-time. As a result of these discussions, our hack team grew from 2 to 5 people. Our initial idea was to build a social EPG (electronic programming guide) to make TV watching as social as it used to be when there was only one TV in the house. But we couldn’t find a social experience around TV in Yahoo!, and the TV programming data from BBC was not available in an easily usable format in 2007, so we had to work with Twitter and a database dump from the BBC. Which led to a very different hack, but still good fun, and great learning.

How did you decide to turn your hack from Yahoo! Open Hack event into a new company?

After we completed the hack for the Yahoo! Open Hack, we realized that rather than a B2C social EPG, the application of potential interest to media companies, as a B2B service, was cleaning up TV data and enhancing it with social data. It was worth investigating this market opportunity, so one of the team members, Chris Jackson, and I decided to do it and MetaBroadcast was born.  MetaBroadcast is the third company I have started (and Chris’s second). I owned a small agency in Romania before MetaBroadcast, and had already exited a different startup before that, so I have always had an entrepreneurial nature.

How big is MetaBroadcast now and what is your business model?

MetaBroadcast currently is a team of 13 makers, 14 in June, 15 in July, etc. At the core of our platform there is an open source project, Atlas--our TV metadata hub, which benefits from a community of 3,000 developers who build apps and provide feedback on new features. We run Atlas for the likes of Amazon and the BBC, and we offer a variety of B2B services on top of it. As an example, our Engage product provides media companies like Microsoft and Global with rich, real time insights into what their audiences (and competitors) care about, based on social interactions. We have now expanded beyond TV programs to music, radio and live events, like the Olympics, because we’re keen to analyze any topic that generates a lot of social media activity and galvanizes people as much as TV does.

Do you still have time to hack?

Hacking is a strong part of the MetaBroadcast culture. Pretty much everyone in the team still goes to hackdays organized by 3rd parties, candidates who join us for a day in the office have to complete a successful hack, and we regularly turn quick internal hacks into prototypes built in collaboration with customers, which when truly useful get converted to production level services on our platform. But, no, I don’t get to hack much myself anymore, which is why I was so keen to get my rusty hands back in the code at the Yahoo! Hack in London this year.

Thank you Mirona for sharing your story with us!