Overall, if this year has given us a lesson about the world of work, we haven't been very well equipped in terms of the technology we're using to seamlessly translate the personal experience into a remote version. This resulted in a multitude of companies adopting new services to fill this void. Today one of the newest startups in video conferencing announced a round of funding to take business size to the next level.
Wonder, a Berlin startup that has built a video platform where people can come together in video-based groups to meet, network and collaborate. At the same time, they can get a bird's-eye view of a larger room where they can work more randomly or deliberately, interacting with others – much like an office or other business location – today announces that there is $ 11 million in a sizeable start-up round of funding has collected.
The starting round was led by the European VC EQT Ventures with BlueYard Capital, which led a startup round in what was previously called "YoTribe," also participated.
It follows the young startup, which is experiencing impressive traction this year. Wonder now has 200,000 monthly users from a variety of organizations including NASA, Deloitte, Harvard, and SAP, who use it for a variety of purposes, from team collaboration to career fairs. The company will use the funds both to add more features than current users want and to hire more people for its team.
Now you might be thinking, another workplace video app? Wasn't this $ 14 billion space race already "won" by Zoom (which some of us now use as a verb for video conferencing, regardless of which app we actually use)? Or Microsoft or Google or BlueJeans or whatever your organization inevitably has already signed up and paid for?
However, it turns out that despite the growth and use of their overall experience, these other platforms are sorely lacking. It turns out that one of the most important points is that many of the solutions aren't really tailored to the larger group's user experience.
Wonder is based on the idea of a “common space” that you enter. This space doesn't come from a VR experience as you might expect, but from something much simpler that has a hint from a more rudimentary but very effective older game dynamic. You get a single window in which, from an aerial photograph, you can "see" everyone else who is in the same room and the areas in that room where they might be clustered together.
These clusters could be targeted towards a specific interest (such as marketing or personnel or product) or – if the product is used at a career fair, for example on a list of different participating companies; or – at a conference – various conference sessions and an exhibition.
You can move around in all clusters, set up your own clusters or sit on the sidelines with someone else. When you get together with one or more people, you can join them in a video chat to interact. There are plans to do more than just video chat in the future. You may also be able to access documents related to this cluster and much more.
The clusters can be "public" to everyone, or they can be private, as you could in a physical meeting room. The overall effect is that without actually being in a physical space you get the feeling of a collective group of people moving.
The startup was the brainchild of Leonard Witteler, who created a version of this last year as a coding project at the university before showing it to friends and family and getting a lot of positive feedback.
As Pascal Steck describes it, he, Witteler and a third person, Stephane Roux, tried to set up a startup together, but around a completely different idea – a portal for photographers and other creative people in the wedding industry. Given the drastic cuts in weddings and other group meetings this year, that didn't go on at all, but the three could see an entirely different opportunity with the software Witteler had developed as a student. In the great tradition of startups, they turned.
Wonder was previously called YoTribe, which sounds a bit like YouTube and also plays on the idea of groups of friends who come together for special interests. And the way Steck and Roux described it to me in an interview (via Wonder, of course), it didn't sound like the original idea was to address companies at all, but rather people who were a little at a loss at music festivals and other events like this suddenly died a death.
In fact, they were all too aware of the video conferencing app market: it was very, very busy.
“The room is very busy and there are already some great products out there. But once you zoom into that area, "- no pun intended, he said -" when it comes to large group meetings, these other tools don't allow random conversations or bottom-up gatherings, and the list gets very thin very quickly. Said Steck. “Our focus is on making presentations better, but there is just not much in large groups. Especially something that creates an association as we know it to do things in the offline world. We believe we have a unique place in the market.
“A meeting for three people can make perfect use of Zoom or Teams. There's no need for anything else, but for larger groups, it doesn't and it seems that the market is really open to something like Wonder. "
The name "Wonder" is an interesting choice when it was renamed by YoTribe. The main meaning of wonder is surprise and discovery, but it has long been thought and accepted that "wonder" is also connected with the word "wander". (In fact, the two are not etymologically related, but have crossed and wandered into each other's territories many times over the centuries.) Similarly, the idea with Wonder the App is for you to "wander" through a room and find out who and what you are looking for.
Wonder isn't the only new video app that has garnered attention in the past few months. In fact, in 2020 there was a wave of startups launching or announcing funding (or both) in an attempt to fill the gaps – or opportunities – that arise from the characteristics of current leaders.
Other notable startups were mmhmm (Phil Libin's latest startup that adds lots of bells and whistles to make the presentations more than just a talking head); Headroom (founded by ex-Google and ex-Magic Leap entrepreneurs who use AI to get deeper insights into the video calls); Vowel (which allows people to search in video chats to track items and examine what people have said on different calls); Descript, Andrew Mason's audio endeavor, now includes video capabilities.
If anything, many of these newer tools fail to fix the shortcomings of belonging to a large group in a video app. In fact, they highlight a different set of challenges facing the speaker (who is equipped with better presentation tools in mmhmm, or with headroom, etc., gets better insight into the audience).
In any case, Wonder happened to find a lot of traction from people who identified and complained about the issues with so much else out there, and this in turn has piqued the interest of investors interested in seeing where it goes next could.
"In Covid-19, real-time video has become the standard for both private and professional interactions, and hybrid work continues," said Jenny Dreier, investor at EQT Ventures Berlin. in a statement. “No other video tool comes as close to replicating real-world interactions as Wonder. Hence, the product has explosive potential, which already indicates the platform's outstanding organic growth. It's incredibly exciting to work with the team and be part of the journey. I can't wait to be part of your next chapter. "