Riff raises $1.5M seed led by Balderton for its ‘voice-first’ chat tool for remote working

Riff, a London-based startup developing what it describes as a “voice-first” chat tool for remote working, has raised $1.5 million in seed funding, prior to a full launch next year.

Leading the round is Balderton Capital, which is better known for Series A rounds but quite often does seed investments on the quiet. Also participating is Seedcamp and various angels, including Carlos Gonzalez-Cadenas (COO of GoCardless), Nicolas Brusson (CEO of BlaBlaCar) and Tim Sadler (CEO of Tessian).

Founded by CEO Isabel Bescos, who was former head of corporate strategy at BlaBlaCar, and a former member of Balderton’s investment team, and CTO Matthew Scheybeler, who co-founded blinkx, Riff wants to solve many of the pain points felt by teams trying to communicate across different locations. While tools like Slack and Zoom are built first for text and video, respectively, Bescos and Scheybeler think audio is the missing piece of the puzzle, but used in a way that encourages the spontaneity and serendipity experienced by in-person teams.

“Instant messaging tools can be distracting, jammed with notifications and hard-to-follow threads, and on the other hand, video conferencing tools often require additional software, and tend to be used for pre-scheduled, formal meetings,” the pair tell me. “What is lacking is something that enables effortless and spontaneous collaboration throughout the day. The remote equivalent of turning to ask a colleague a quick question, or to discuss the project you are working on.”

Currently operating as a limited private beta, Riff aims to replicate the ease and spontaneity of team working but remotely. Although I haven’t seen the app myself, I understand that it does this via a sidebar that means voice — both push to talk or left open — is always just one click away.

“With Riff, users can instantly speak to any team member while collaborating on a piece of work,” explain its founders. “For example, Riff is particularly helpful whenever several members of a team need to work together on an urgent problem, such as solving a technical bug which could take several hours. Riff allows you to be connected to your team for long periods of time without the intensity of being on camera for hours on end. People can also drop in and out as needed without the need for scheduled calls.”

More broadly, Bescos and Scheybeler say they were partly inspired by the world of video games, where leaving an audio channel open amongst a social group or team of gamers is commonplace, either via in-game audio or an app like Discord.

“We wanted to take the speed and fluidity with which online gamers converse whilst gaming and transpose it into the enterprise,” they add. “Rather than inundating users with notifications, Riff hopes to simplify interactions. Speaking on Riff is less distracting than Slack or email, but faster than scheduling and waiting for a video call.”

Cue statement from Balderton general partner Suranga Chandratillake, who led on behalf of the VC firm: “We are inundated with notifications, pop-ups, chat tools and various distractions vying for our attention when trying to communicate and work with others. Yet none have managed to get to the crux of what it’s really like to be able to collaborate quickly with colleagues in an office. As more of us work remotely, there needs to be a better way. We see huge potential in Riff’s unique approach to solving this challenge, and we’re thrilled to partner with them to bring its array of benefits to more companies.”

Meanwhile, Riff plans to use the seed investment to get Riff to a public beta later this year ahead of a general release in 2021, and to further build out the team.