What I Learned From Launching a Streaming Platform During the Pandemic

How a startup without outside funding was able to succeed where Quibi failed

Join TV, media, marketing and tech leaders for Adweek Convergent TV, Mar. 21–22. Virtual and in-person passes available. 50% off through Feb. 6.

In early 2020, my team was getting ready for the launch of Canela.TV, one of the first streaming platforms to be focused entirely on U.S. Hispanic audiences. We had spent months preparing for this moment, building out the back-end technology while recruiting advertisers to help us launch this new venture.

And then the pandemic hit.

We, like so many other companies, were forced to make a difficult decision: Should we delay the rollout and wait out the storm, or forge ahead in a time of extreme uncertainty? As you can probably guess from the title of this article, we chose the second option. And so, in May 2020, in the middle of a global lockdown, Canela.TV officially went live.

The process was very stressful, as you can imagine. There’s no guide to launching a new product in the middle of a pandemic (at least, there weren’t any at that point), and really the only thing we could do was trust our instincts. Here’s what we learned.

The worst timing became the perfect timing

The first major hurdle was the fact that, in the early days of the lockdown, many advertisers had decided to completely pause their campaigns as they tried to figure out what was happening. Given that Canela.TV is an AVOD (advertising-based video-on-demand) platform, this was a problem because it meant we had no cash coming in. Not only did we not have any revenue, we also were unable to gauge the short- and long-term impacts that both the product launch and the coronavirus would have on the business.

From the consumer’s perspective, however, we came into their lives at the perfect time. By May, people had already been locked down for over a month and had quickly exhausted the limited offerings on their existing platforms. Latinos in particular actually increased their content consumption significantly during the pandemic and were eager for more movies and series to stay entertained.

At the same time, people had quickly become accustomed to doing more things digitally, which was helpful as Canela.TV entered the market. It was a time of exploration for new products, particularly for entertainment. These two factors—the need for more content and a growing comfort with digital platforms—meant there was a serious hunger that our product was able to satisfy.

The importance of moving quickly

For Canela, the pandemic was a good time to acquire new audiences, but not a good time to earn revenue. This flies in the face of conventional wisdom, which holds that you should always be thinking about the product and revenue together.

If the product is likely to generate revenue, then you launch it; if not, you skip it and go on to something else. What the pandemic taught us was that it is possible for a product to be successful even if it doesn’t immediately generate revenue. In fact, especially in an industry as crowded as streaming, building market share is almost as important as making money. Almost.

We launched Canela.TV at around the same time that Quibi came on to the scene. Quibi was at that point being touted as a platform to revolutionize streaming, and had billions of dollars in funding to back it up—and yet, less than a year later, it shut down after failing to meet subscriber expectations.

How were we, a startup with no outside funding, able to succeed where Quibi failed? Quite simply, it was because while our entire business is set up to be innovative, we also recognize the importance of testing and moving quickly. Not only does this allow us to get to market faster, it also enables us to retract and refocus our resources if we feel something isn’t working as well as it should.

This approach means that even if a product fails, it’s not detrimental to the rest of our business. And if a product succeeds, we’re able to ramp up and expand quickly.

During the pandemic, so many companies opted to either stay stagnant or reduce their output simply because they weren’t sure how to address the new market challenges. That might have helped them stay afloat for the time being, but it places significant constraints on how these companies will be able to compete in the long term.

Resilience and fearlessness are key

The pandemic taught us many things, but the most crucial lesson learned during this time of uncertainty is the importance of being decisive—knowing what people need and how to deliver it quickly, and being unafraid to take risks even when everyone else is stepping back. As the founder and CEO of a business, launching a new product in challenging times pushes you to ensure your ideas are on point.

You can’t afford to make mistakes given your limited resources, so you have to make sure that you have a compelling product or proposition in the marketplace. Many of the best, most creative ideas come out of scarcity—and if you can succeed during a pandemic, you’re clearly on the right track.