At Solid, We’re working on improving the experience of meeting. There’s a lot to be done, and we had to narrow down our approach. So we chose to focus on the preparation, note taking and following up phases of your meetings. Since meetings are an intricate process, there’s plenty of room for improvement. Along our journey, we often come across other startups addressing the way we meet. Today, we’re introducing Better Meetings: a series of interviews showcasing some of the great startups we encounter.
We’re featuring appear.in: a video conferencing platform that doesn’t require any installation from users. All you have to do is click on a link to join a room.
I interviewed Ingrid Ødegaard, co-founder and product marketing manager at appear.in to learn about their story, and the plans ahead.
Thibaut Davoult (Solid): Hi Ingrid and welcome to the Solid Blog. So, let’s start with the beginning: How did appear.in originate?
Ingrid Ødegaard (appear.in): appear.in is a project that originated within the bigger company Telenor digital. Telenor is a telecom provider here in Norway. The project started off during the summer of 2013 as a technological experiment focusing on WebRTC. Telenor had experience with this technology for audio, so a couple of interns focused on video as their main project. The initial goal, which actually became the whole vision for appear.in, is to make it as easy as possible for everyone to start a video call. This is the vision that has stuck with us ever since the initial prototype was built.
After just two weeks, our interns had a working prototype with the core feature of appear.in: allowing to join a call simply by clicking on a link. On top of the prototype, the developers kept hard at work during the summer. By the end of august, they were confident enough to promote the product on bigger channels. They shared it on Hacker News, where it got lots of traction instantly. This was pretty much the only confirmation we needed for the idea to dedicate a full time team to it.
It was a great starting point for the team to figure out what to do next. First, we focused on the technology and performance. As the best user experience was all about having a smooth call, we worked on improving the connection. In particular, we had to solve issues for clients behind Firewalls at first.
Then, we turned into tweaking our features offering. We were quick to add a way to interact via chat. We didn’t only add features, we also trimmed some down. The most notable was our whiteboard feature, which was only marginally used. It was also very technically demanding, so we decided it wasn’t worth all the effort.
In just 2 years, the team has tripled in size. From an original 5, appear.in is now hiring 14 people including 8 developers.
TD: Were you looking at what the competition was doing then?
IØ: At the time, appear.in had many competitors. But most didn’t make it past the research phase. Being part of a bigger company meant we could afford spending time on R&D. It was key to our success, since the technical aspect is so intricately linked to our user’s experience.
TD: So, why do we need appear.in? What problem are you trying to solve here?
IØ: At first, the product innovations were driven by technology. It was meant as an exploration of what WebRTC had to offer. Yet, even at this very basic state of research was our vision: to make it as easy as possible to join and enjoy a video call.
Only after launch did we turn our focus on understanding who benefitted from appear.in. That’s when the team and I started digging into user stories. What we found was a very diverse group: gamers, large-scale companies, startups, young professionals, and developers in a remote setting… All of them found a use for appear.in. At the beginning, it was clear that remote meetings were a prime target for this new product. It’s what helped us grow from launch to where we are today.
Now, the team is expanding and exploring a new use case and niche. We’re currently looking at a younger audience, for their personal calls.
TD: What does appear.in do? Why are you building it that way?
IØ: The main differentiating factor of appear.in compared to competitors and other video conferencing platforms is that it’s build primarily on WebRTC and Peer-to-Peer connections. Only a small portion of the traffic goes through centralized servers. This brings better quality while saving costs, at least while under a certain number of users on the same call. P2P also works well when it comes to scaling. The more users globally, the better the experience for everyone.
In the user’s point of view, our focus has always been on simplicity and accessibility. The iPhone and Android apps has broadened the use cases. Then, the addition of a chat helped participate in more settings. Imagine that you’re in a very crowded place and don’t want to talk, or in a library where you can’t speak, you’re still able to participate by typing in your input. That’s the kind of improvements we’re shooting for.
TD: After 2 years of development, you must have some interesting stories to share. Can you tell us a bit about your “ah-ah” moments?
IØ: One story that I particularly like telling is how appear.in quickly spread to virtually every corner of the world. Last time I checked, there were users in 196 countries. We even saw a connection from North Korea!
appear.in also made its way into classrooms. Because the younger crowd is already familiar with using technology for many different purposes, it doesn’t seem strange to them to see a teacher through a screen.
— Aubrey (@aflowers36) June 19, 2015
Another surprising use came from Religious communities and bible groups. It shows just how technology can enter any kind of group with good design and usability. It also shows that even though we’re building appear.in with specific use cases in mind, it’s still open enough so that groups outside of our targeted niches can use it. This idea also ties in with our brand image. We made it not too serious, yet still neutral enough to tie-in with most groups.
appear.in is free to use for now. In the future, the team is looking to perhaps address the need for businesses to reach 100% stability even in large-scale meetings. So they’re exploring the possibility of adding a business plan, available to teams managing large-scale conference calls.