Boxee, the free, open-source software that’s set to reinvent the living room by bringing online content to your TV, has just hired Zach Klein, who was part of the founding team that built CollegeHumor, Busted Tees and Vimeo (all of which are owned by Connected Ventures under Barry Diller’s IAC), as head of product. He’ll be working on bringing Boxee out of their underground, early adopter status and into mainstream folks’ TV boxes.
“We’re not shy about the fact that Boxee is used by mostly early adopters,” Mr. Klein told the Observer in an interview. He said he’ll be working to make Boxee easier for any consumer to use–from grandma to a perhaps less tech savvy suburban mom–while keeping their 600,000, mostly male users happy.
Currently, users still have to jigger devices and TV sets to make it work. And other companies, from TiVo to Vudu, are already integrating Web content onto TV screens on their own.
So Mr. Klein is charged with meeting with device manufacturers and game console designers to make sure that Boxee’s software is serving their needs and getting on an actual device by the end of 2010.
“It’s all about improving the user experience,” Mr. Klein said. “There’s a lot we can so to make it immediately appealing to a whole new segment of consumers.” That’s going to involve better marketing, superb design, and giving Boxee a personality to make using the software “a compelling and charming experience,” he said.
After getting press from their battles with Hulu earlier in the year, the Boxee startup team has been focused on raising more venture capital, creating more content partnerships with major media companies, and preparing to release a new version of the free software that might make it easier for the technology-challenged folks to use.
Boxee’s new beta version, which will include a cleaner interface, even more social sharing capabilties and a global search for video content anywhere on the Web, will be released some time in late October or early November, according to a Boxee representative. They are considering a tentative Nov. 5th release date.
Boxee founder and chief executive Avner Ronen made the announcement that Klein was joining the team earlier this week on Boxee’s official blog. “We raised our latest round to enable us to take advantage of the momentum we see in the market, but growing the team (we are now 19 people at Boxee) is always risky for a startup,” he wrote.
But adding Mr. Klein seemed like a good fit. “The development of the Boxee Beta is wrapping up and we need to start thinking of the future beyond the Beta,” he wrote. “Zach could not have joined at a better time.”
Mr. Klein, who co-founded and designed Vimeo’s video sharing interface from the ground up, told the Observer that he has been familiar with Boxee for the past year and a half and has been in talks to join their team in “the past month or two.”
Mr. Klein left IAC in early 2008 and took some time off to “enjoy the fruits of my labor from five or six years of workaholism,” he said. For the past year and a half, he worked at a tech incubator on futuristic concepts. But he was ready to let go of his “ego,” he said, which was holding him back from joining a company that already had a great, original idea. He could do just as well improving it, he said.
“Boxee represents a group as scrappy and entreprenurial as I am, and they’re willing to give me a role that I can take as far as I want to,” he said.
“I’m excited to design the ten-foot experience,” Mr. Klein added, referring to his experience designing for the desktop experience at Vimeo and CollegeHumor. “Users worldwide are pretty experience agnostic. But the media that they want to see, they can’t get on their big beautiful TVs yet, they’re slouching upright in their bedrooms with their laptops.”