David Shim, Elliott Waldron, and Rob Williams helped build location analytics startup Placed, which was acquired by Snap for more than $ 200 million in 2017.
Now the band is meeting again, this time for an “exponentially greater opportunity than Placed,” Shim told GeekWire this week.
His new company is Read, which just announced a $ 10 million seed round for its software that measures the engagement and sentiment of participants in video meetings.
The startup aims to take advantage of the tailwinds driven by the pandemic that caused the mass adoption of video conferencing tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams.
Read’s software uses AI, computer vision, and natural language processing technology to analyze voice and facial movements. The data appears on a dashboard in real time, accessible to anyone on a call.
The idea is to give people feedback on how your audience is responding emotionally, be it a sales pitch or a weekly all-hands meeting, like a FitBit that tracks steps, but for virtual meetings. Reading aims to answer questions like: Are people engaged? Are they frustrated? Do you feel productive?
“The goal here is really to make virtual meetings more real and more physical,” said Shim, who became CEO of Foursquare after the company acquired Placed from Snap in 2019.
Companies like Zoom and Microsoft have seen huge growth in their video conferencing applications during the pandemic with the shift to remote work. The video conferencing market is expected to grow from $ 9.2 billion this year to $ 22.5 billion in 2026.
“You are seeing a market that was 20 to 30 million users, reaching half a billion in less than 18 months,” Shim said. “That’s faster than smartphones and Android and iOS adoption. And it’s not just for five minutes or 10 minutes. We are talking for several hours throughout the day.”
Even when some workers return to the office, Shim said Read will become more attractive.
“There is going to be a disconnect where people who are remote will feel like they are not part of the conversation,” he said. “In that aspect, you have to make the room easier to read. If you are not sitting in that conference room, you cannot capture all the emotions of the people, their feeling. Therefore, these types of tools will contribute greatly to make that conversation more fair and equitable. ”
Read says that privacy is the most important thing. The software is listed as a meeting participant, and people can opt out at any time. The data is collected on an aggregate basis and is not broken down individually, with the exception of a “talk time” metric that shows the percentage of time each person spends talking. And after 24 hours, Read deletes the raw video and audio data.
“It is not a police tool,” Shim said.
Microsoft faced a privacy-related backlash last year for its “Productivity Score” that provided companies with data to understand how workers use and adopt different forms of technology. Microsoft responded by removing the ability for companies to view data on individual users.
Read’s software can also raise questions about bias in voice or facial recognition technology. The startup said it built its training data sets that represent six continents and various ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
“It all starts with the training data sets and being vigilant to make sure the models are free of any bias,” Waldron said. “It’s one of the most important things we think about when we are building this technology.”