Whenever a platform breaks out, companies emerge to seize on its reach by building their services or products atop it. It happened with Facebook and Twitter and Slack. Now, it’s happening with Zoom, the video conferencing company that took the world by storm earlier this year as the coronavirus sent people around the globe indoors and into self-imposed isolation.
It’s not a brand-new trend. Plenty of companies are selling their wares through the Zoom App Marketplace, which launched in the fall of 2018 and now features 18 pages of providers. But Grain, founded in 2018 in San Francisco, might be the first to build its entire business around it, at least as a starting point.
What is that business? According to co-founder and CEO Mike Adams, the idea is to capture content in Zoom calls that can be saved and shared across platforms, including Twitter, Discord, Notion, Slack and iMessages.
Say a student wants to take notes; he or she can record part of what a teacher is saying to save or share with classmates, without having to rewatch an entire lecture. The same is true in work settings. By using Grain, a colleague can flag the most important bits of information that was conveyed, then share just those bits via a clip that has its own unique URL.
Grain also transcribes content in clips and allows users to turn on closed captions if they choose.
The video clips can range from 30 seconds up to 10 minutes. They can also be strung together into reels to create summary highlights. (These have no time limit.) Not last, users can trim or adjust the length of the highlight after it has been recorded, as well as control who else can edit the video afterward to prevent nefarious actors from manipulating the snippets.
Adams says he and his brother, Jake — a former software engineer at Branch Metrics with whom he co-founded the company — are even using Grain to save snippets of precious moments on Zoom involving nieces and nephews, though the focus is very much on the companies and schools that will pay on a per-seat basis for the software.
Indeed, Adams says the idea for Grain was really born at the last company he co-founded: MissionU, a Zoom-based one-year alternative to a traditional college whose students weren’t asked for tuition but instead agreed to hand over up to 15% of their incomes for three years once they landed a job that paid $50,000 or more.
MissionU — which was founded in 2016 and raised $11.5 million from investors — sold to WeWork in 2018 in a stock deal before its students earned anything (they were released from their income-sharing agreements). Still, the experiment was long enough that Adams, who left MissionU at the time of the sale, says he saw firsthand the need for better tools to help students capture what’s important in their online content.
The question, of course, is whether Zoom also sees the opportunity. Relying so heavily on another company is always a risk. (See Facebook and Twitter and the long list of third-party developers that have been burned by both companies.)
If Zoom, which is starting to make venture-like bets, were an investor in Grain, it might help inoculate it from potential competition down the road.
Still, that it isn’t didn’t dissuade other investors who are betting that Zoom will prove friend and not foe. In fact, late last year, Grain raised $4 million over two seed rounds from a long list of notable investors, including Acrew Capital, Founder Collective, Peterson Partners, Slack Fund, NextWorld Capital, Kickstart Seed Fund, Scott Belsky, Sriram Krishnan, Andreas Klinger, Scooter Braun and others.
Now its 11-person team is ready to take the wraps off what they’ve been building in beta with some of that capital.
Certainly, Grain — which plans to eventually integrate with numerous other companies — could do worse as springboards go than Zoom, one of the rare new breakout platform companies in memory and a tool that, early this week, Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison called an “essential service” that will change how work is done.
Zoom has long been powered by viral end user adoption, enjoying growth internally and externally because of the nature of video conferencing across companies. Now, its pick-up as a consumer company is following a similar trajectory, with a high percentage of new users who are invited to Zoom calls eventually signing up for the service so that they can themselves host a call.
If Grain gets lucky, some percentage of that percentage will also discover Grain.