An unsurprising wave of video-focused startups is trying to make video calls better

As Zoom and Microsoft and Google hammer it out for video-chat hegemony, startups are developing apps and services that either add on or compete with the major players.

There hasn’t been enough activity — yet — to call it a boom, but there’s enough going on to warrant our attention. Call it a boomlet, if you will, of startups looking to ride the wave of demand that video-conferencing has seen during the COVID-19 pandemic.


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The big players are not sitting still. Zoom has spent lots of 2020 on platform security after a surge in popularity exposed some frayed ends. Google has been working to make Meet, its own video-chat service, better and easier to find. And Microsoft has been hammering Teams’s abilities into stronger form as it uses the same product to fend off both Slack and Zoom, which is a tall order.

Other giants are getting into the mix. Reliance Jio, the Indian telecom subsidiary of megacorp Reliance, recently launched JioMeet, which has turned heads for looking rather similar to Zoom. It also quickly raced to millions of downloads. (That Google just put billions into JioMeet’s parent is an odd twist in the video-chatting wars; Google has effectively helped fund a competitor in the country, it appears.)

TechCrunch’s parent company, Verizon, recently bought BlueJeans, giving the American telecom company its own video chatting service. (It’s also eyeing the Indian market.)

But that’s only part of the action. More recently we’ve seen interesting rounds for video-chat software startups Macro¬†and Mmhmm. And we’ve seen money go into companies like Daily.co, which want to let any company bake video-chatting capabilities into their service. And Y Combinator-backed Sidekick has been in the press lately, after building a hardware solution in mind for today’s remote workers who need video comms.

An upstart boomlet, then, amid a war of the majors. But should we have expected anything less from the huge wave of demand that COVID-19 kicked off? Zoom was growing quickly before the pandemic. Now the public company and a host of rivals, big and small, all want a larger slice of an expanding pie.

Video-conferencing startups

The two most interesting recent venture rounds for video-conferencing startups are those belonging to Mmhmm and Macro.

Mmhmm is what The Verge called a “virtual camera that can be used with Zoom, Google Meet, YouTube, and other video streaming services,” giving folks a way to better present, share, and interact with one another. Consider it a software layer that sits agnostically atop other video chat services, giving users all sorts of tools and abilities to make the actual lived experience of video chatting better.

Let’s be frank: It’s great that there are so many video chatting services out today, but most are simple, and not tuned for how long, and how frequently we use them. And they mostly do a single thing: video chatting. Mmhmm, therefore, feels like an intelligent response to the basic-ness of today’s mega video-chatting solutions.

And with a $4.5 million round led by Sequoia Capital under its belt, Mmhmm should have ample capital to pursue its vision.

Mmhmm is not alone in trying to make today’s video chatting services better. This week, Macro, announced a $4.3 million round to make Zoom better. As our own Jordan Crook reported, Macro offers two modes: “The first is essentially focused on collaboration, which turns the usual Zoom meeting into a light overlay, where folks are shown in small, circular bubbles at the top of the screen. […] The other mode is an Arena or Stadium mode, which is meant for hands-on meetings and presentations.”

The latter sounds a bit like what Microsoft released the other week. But Macro does more than just rearranged graphics. Its software also helps people track who has talked the most during a meeting and provides “a text-input system on the right side of the UI that lets people enter Questions, Takeaways, Action Items and Insights from the call.”

FirstMark is backing the company.

While some startups are trying to work on software solutions, others are turning to the physical world, as well. Sure, Zoom is building a hardware suite for your home office, but Sidekick wants to get you an Android tablet that sits apart from your regular work setup. It looks a bit like Facebook’s Portal, but for your day job.

The list of startups working in video chat space is long, including a Canadian startup called Tauria building encrypted video conferencing tools, and Spike, a communications startup from Israel that has video-chatting capabilities alongside text-focused features. Spike recently raised an $8 million Series A.

The last company in our group is Daily.co, an API-based startup that provides video-chatting tooling for other applications. The gist of its product is that if you think you do a lot of video chatting today, just wait until the concept is even more ubiquitous. It raised $4.6 million earlier this summer.

Unlike with our prior looks at startup clusters like insurtech marketplaces, the video-chatting boomlet is more varied. But it’s clear that founders, and private investors alike are not going to let this moment pass without building and making bets.