Zoom in on video conferencing “wins” in many ways: whether you’re using Zoom, a service bundled into another device like Google or Microsoft, and a stand-alone Zoom app for work or fun. What people refer to, is antimeric status.
But for those who use Zoom, Google Meetings, Microsoft Teams, or whatever, you know they still don’t have it in certain situations. Today, Venu, a startup built to plug one of those gaps — large group meetings — is setting up shop to compete, bringing more personalization and other features from consumer communication apps to its video conferencing platform to make it more engaging. These include emoji explosions, the ability to set background music and backgrounds, easy tools to share videos and other media, gifs, and multitasking control panels that can be seen on streaming platforms like Twitch.
“Our customers told us what it would be like if Slack did video conferencing for team meetings,” Jason Goldlist, who co-founded the company with Frank Pohn, said in an interview with me (which was, naturally, onsite).
The Toronto-based startup has been in private beta for the past two years, first as a Bootstrap business and then as part of the Y Combinator Winter 2022 cohort.
At that point, it took a very interesting track. Clients include Yelp, Shopify and PwC; And to date, it has hosted more than 5 million minutes of meetings and 250,000 participants in total.
Now it’s announcing $4 million in seed funding from an impressive list of backers: The Accel-led team includes none other than Slack’s CEO and co-founder Stewart Butterfield (he’s investing directly, with the investment coming from the Slack Fund, and this in Venu, the video Goldlist used to pitch it). Pictured: Anthony Casalena, Founder and CEO of Squarespace; and Job Van Der Voort, Founder and CEO of Remote.com.
The site will use the funds for further product development as well as growing its infrastructure to work with more clients.
It is the basic pitch of the place. not at all Another video conference platform. As Goldlist told me the other day, it’s not meant to replace Zoom, Connect, Teams, or anything else that’s perfect for one-on-one or small-group virtual meetings.
“We see Zoom as the Craigslist of video conferencing,” he said. “There will always be people who use it.
“Our role is not to amplify,” he continued. “It’s about choosing our position and executing it properly. There’s a unique set of use cases and the space is great and no one is focusing on all-hands, municipalities, AMAs, especially remote or highly distributed companies, the way we do.
Borrowing from a wide range of consumer apps, the goal is to give users more control and make video meetings on the platform less abstract. Emoji responses, background music, dynamic backgrounds, video bubbles and a wide array of chat tools are among the bells and whistles that organizations believe will increase user interest and keep them as customers.
Winning people over with bells and whistles seems to have worked so far. According to the startup, more than 2 million emoji responses have been “blasted to providers” and more than 30,000 one-on-one connections have been made between users to date.
The site’s exit from private beta is definitely coming with some speed, but also — for the video call-weary among us — perhaps some health issues. Much of the world has moved away from the trappings of life under the stress of Covid-19 – local authorities are enacting minimal rules about face masks, travel and group gatherings. Offices reopen; And some of our e-commerce habits are in favor of shopping, eating, or doing other things in person.
Video conferencing hasn’t exactly died in recent months, but we’re definitely moving into a more benign phase after the prime months of 2020 and 2021. Even the zoom felt pinched. Although the company beat analysts’ expectations for earnings in its last fiscal quarter, it’s facing a tough market for tech stocks.
More recently, Citi has seen the rise of competition from larger platforms (as Microsoft has been particularly aggressive with business customers, adding some interesting partners in the process, such as Workplace, Facebook’s enterprise version of Meta), and Zoom itself has lost revenue from all those dinner parties and calls between friends. After discovering that innovation was going nowhere fast, he was devising a new strategy to double down on his bread-and-butter enterprise base.
All of this means not only a tough climate for all video conferencing applications, but also a lot of competition for smaller players from the big companies who have the resources to build the tools they lack today.
But while many work practices, including remote work and virtual meetings, have certainly opened up over the past couple of years, Goldlist points out that better and larger team meetings are not a reality during/after Covid-19. He specifically points to the costs and cumbersome nature of traditional video conferencing systems.
“The price of running all-hands [for a company with employees in more than one place] It’s extraordinary,” he said. “Doing the napkin math, the cost of a one-hour meeting for 1,000 people is over $50,000,” Goldlist says. That’s not every equipment investment. “Interrupting people to have a meeting in the middle of the day costs a lot,” he said. “These are precious things. You need to make them special.
The fact that there are so many times when video conferencing doesn’t feel good may be a good reason why investors have taken some early adopters and are seeing some momentum with the wider launch. community.
“Too often all-hands and large meetings are inefficient and costly. Historically, it was difficult to organize highly engaging meetings for large groups – the tools and technology didn’t support it. But Venu is now making high-end production value easy and accessible,” said Sarah, partner at Accel. Itelson said in a statement.