We are in the midst of a live, worldwide experiment in what it means to work and collaborate with each other while in the isolation of our own homes. Nothing like it has happened before — ever. Our firm, Initialized, went to full remote work almost two weeks ago just before a Bay Area-wide shelter-in-place order this week.
In the middle of this, we’re beginning to see where all of our tools fall short. Video conferencing is as close as we can get right now to sitting down face-to-face over a cup of coffee or a conference table. But it still needs work.
With our homes at max capacity right now, we’re pretty frequently distracted by dogs, kids or the myriad of activities happening around us. Video calling is also intrusive to our screens and the way we might be simultaneously taking notes or amending documents for a group.
When we met Dominik Zane, Matt Zakutny and Pavel Serbajlo, they had built an impressive demo already. Now at launch, Around filters out distracting background noises and automatically cropped callers’ heads. It identifies key speakers and puts in-person and remote team members on an equal playing field with a smart “floating faces” mode. It makes video less intimidating for people who feel self-conscious on traditional video calls because their background environment isn’t as polished as it would be in the office. The “floating faces” mode also automatically focuses and crops to caller’s faces as they move around.
Dominik previously sold a company to GoDaddy and served as its director of product management, where he led a remote and distributed team with team members living as far away as New Zealand. After a decade of experience of working with distributed teams, he was never satisfied with video options. Many products felt like a telephone call with video that happened to be grafted on, instead of something that reflects the way that modern teams work together with multiple tools and apps live at the same time as the conversation.
He and his team started from the very beginning, asking themselves what modern laptops with increased processing power and battery capacity would be capable of over the next decade and how that would make for a fundamentally different video conference product in the future. They’ve built an experience that is designed for quick and high-impact sessions with an intelligent audio system that precisely separates out key speakers from the rest of a meeting’s participants.
After baking this product and company in stealth for more than a year and half, we’re so proud to fund them and to see them launch a beta at a critical time where communities across the globe need to find new ways to collaborate on the web.