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Houseparty CEO Sima Sistani meets the ‘massive technical challenge’ of coronavirus video chat demand

April 27, 2020, 1:29 PM UTC
Houseparty co-founder and CEO Sima Sistani, appearing at Fortune's MPW Next Gen Summit in 2018.
Stuart Isett/Fortune

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! AutoNation returns almost $80 million in government coronavirus relief, black leaders push Joe Biden to put a black woman on his ticket, and the chief executive behind Houseparty works to meet unprecedented demand. Have a productive Monday. 

– Sistani in the House. The vast majority of the video-chat businesses suddenly at the center of nearly all social interaction—like those of Microsoft, Google and the newly ubiquitous Zoom— are run by men. Sima Sistani is the rare female social video founder and CEO dealing with the increased demand of a global pandemic.

Sistani co-founded Houseparty, a platform that lets users chat and play games in a more informal and spontaneous setting than the usually scheduled Zoom call. Since the pandemic began, Houseparty has added 50 million users, with especially strong growth outside the U.S.

Houseparty was acquired by Fortnite maker Epic Games for an undisclosed sum last year, and Sistani says the company wouldn’t have been equipped to keep its service running over the past few weeks if it were still in startup mode. “Being able to support an influx of new signups while also being able to support higher concurrencies than ever before is a massive technical challenge,” Sistani told me in a phone interview (she wanted to talk over Houseparty, of course, but I didn’t get the desktop version set up in time). “It’s difficult even when it’s sustainable day-over-day growth, and it ended up being so much bigger than that.”

Sistani has been hesitant to speak publicly about Houseparty’s unprecedented growth for fear of appearing to capitalize on global tragedy. And at the same time as she’s navigating these significant technical challenges, she’s also leading a workforce of about 100; a longtime advocate for paid leave in Silicon Valley, she’s figuring out how to translate that commitment to the kind of resources employees need for their mental and physical health now.

“I’d hate for people to think we’re taking a victory lap on this,” she says. “But while this was happening we buckled down around the great responsibility we had to keep the app stable for those needing it to connect with each other.”

Emma Hinchliffe


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"I am, in case you haven’t noticed, an optimist. But I’m an optimist who worries a lot."

-Madeleine Albright on the future of U.S. foreign policy. Her new book is Hell and Other Destinations: A 21st Century Memoir.