File sharing company BitTorrent raises $20M

Plenty of rumors have circulated about BitTorrent, the popular San Francisco file-sharing company, speculating on its latest funding round and the fate of its brilliant chief executive.

cohen.bmpHere’s word from the horse’s mouth: BitTorrent has raised $20 million in its second round of capital, led by Silicon Valley firm Accel Partners, the company told VentureBeat earlier Thursday. Existing investor DCM participated. And while we don’t know what will happen with Bram Cohen, we came away from a conversation with the company thinking he may be stepping down as CEO soon.

BitTorrent is a hot company because it’s at the center of a revolution in video file-sharing. It is controversial because it is still a distributor of predominantly pirated video. Its peer-to-peer technology defies centralized control, and so controlling piracy on its platform is a hard thing to do — but it is working on it nonetheless. BitTorrent has millions of users, and says its traffic accounts for as much as 40 percent of all worldwide Internet traffic.

BitTorrent is also working with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to remove copyright infringing content from its independent website. Over 20 film studios and television networks, including 20th Century Fox, MTV Networks, Paramount Pictures and Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, expect to publish thousands of movies and TV shows on BitTorrent.com, the company says.

As VentureBeat reported earlier, Ping Li, a venture capitalist at Accel led the investment. In that earlier piece, we wrote about the challenges BitTorrent still faces in becoming an easy, useful consumer-oriented site. Those challenges remain.

Separately, we asked BitTorrent’s director of communications, Lily Lin, about reports that there is an executive search underway to replace Bram Cohen as chief executive. She said everyone knows BitTorrent had become a large company, with 35 employees, but then she repeated what she told us Wednesday, that Bram was “here to stay.” We noted she was not saying he was CEO to stay. She paused, and said again, “he’s here to stay.”

So with the clues, we now believe Cohen will stay at the company but will step down as CEO. She referred to a bigger company, a hint that organization was needed. This Wired piece from more than a year ago suggests organizing people may not be Cohen’s forte. It is a snippet from a part about his wife’s view of him:

She pats her husband affectionately on the head: “My sweet little autistic nerd boy.” (Cohen in fact has Asperger’s syndrome, a condition on the mild end of the autism spectrum that gives him almost superhuman powers of concentration but can make it difficult for him to relate to other people.)

We may be wrong. Who cares about titles, right? Cohen could stay CEO, and the search may be on for a chief operating officer who effectively runs the company. Doesn’t really make a difference.

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