Here.fm, a new web-based communication platform founded by Jesse Boyes and Seth Harris, has today announced the close of a $2.9 million seed round from FirstMark with participation by Y Combinator and a group of angel investors.
Here is all about giving people the chance to create personal, shareable and flexible video chat rooms. Boyes and Harris, like the rest of us, moved to Zoom to collaborate when the pandemic hit and felt that there were several shortcomings.
Harris explained that it felt very impersonal and formal to switch into presentation mode with his cofounder and buddy, and that notes and other content in those meetings disappeared when the meeting ended, “like a wormhole.”
They set out to add more layers to virtual communication.
“There are four main components to communication,” said Harris. “What you’re saying, where you are, what you’re doing, and how you move. Everything we use today almost exclusively focuses on what you say, and very little on what you do. Zoom is a phone call with pictures.”
Here, in contrast, is a fully customizable room with video chat built on top of it, giving users the ability to decorate their room with virtual items, gifs, backgrounds, notes, pictures, etc. And, of course, these users can also customize their own video chat window and those of others, arranging them in the room in the size and shape that they prefer.
As with any other video chat software, users can also share their screen.
Harris and Boyes aren’t ready to commit to a certain business model or even use case, but would rather prefer to see how users approach the platform. Some have built out product war rooms, while others have set up their own virtual Blue Bottle shop to have coffee with each other. Others have set up Pilates classes that look and feel more like an actual Pilates studio than a Zoom call would.
That’s not to say they haven’t started thinking about revenue at all. There is potential here to offer payments processing for folks hosting classes or paid events, and there are also options to paywall persistence of the room and the items inside it, or even to charge for premium virtual objects or goods.
Here launched two months ago and thousands of rooms have been created since, with the average user session being 41 minutes.
Competition in this space is heating up. Mmhmm offers similar tools to customize the video chat room, but focuses more on presenting than hanging out. Macro is a tool that sits on top of a Zoom call to help ensure meetings are productive and efficient. And then there are the dozens (if not more) startups that sprung to action at the onset of the pandemic to build out the next-generation of video chat.
But Boyes and Harris don’t see competition as the greatest challenge to the company.
“Here is a product problem, it is not an execution problem,” said Harris. “It is about generating a very strong emotional response in our users when they come in.”