I’ve been a remote worker for many years. As a result, I think I’ve used every flavor of video conferencing and screen sharing going back to Carbon Copy and PC Anywhere.
Today’s bell of the ball is Zoom, which has an outstanding video and audio conferencing experience. But, like most video conferencing services, there are significant limitations when you are working with content in a video conference. Existing video conferencing is adequate when one person shares content with a group. Sometimes you can pull it off when two people share content within a single video call. But once you increase the number of users trying to share content, or get into a real collaborative situation where multiple users are trying to comment on and interact with multiple pieces of shared content, everything breaks down very quickly.
We’ve been investors in a company called Oblong for many years. They invented the idea of multi-stream collaboration and have been implementing a high-end multi-stream sharing environment in high-end video conferencing rooms with their Mezzanine product. In addition, they provide a spatial operating system so you can control the interaction simply by pointing at the screen. And, with their g-speak platform, you can integrate this capability into any technology environment.
But to do this, you needed a Mezzanine room system. Until recently. Now, you can use Oblong’s cloud-based collaboration system, called Rumpus, to bring all the multi-stream sharing and concurrent interaction features of Mezzanine to any video conferencing system, including Zoom, BlueJeans, Webex, and Google Meet.
Show is better than tell for this, so I’ll walk you through several examples. Let’s use Zoom and launch things using a Zoom conference ID. Rumpus is the window on the left and Zoom is the window on the right. All of the users automatically end up in the Rumpus app based on their Zoom ID.
Next, each person in the conference can share screens at the same time (in the Rumpus window). You can see the different screen shares at the bottom. Any of the users can switch between any of the screen shares. In this case, there are three screen shares happening at the same time with the current focus on the one in the middle.
Now, we have a fourth video user who has joined and a slightly different view (partial screen side by side instead of a full-screen view. In the Rumpus window, you can see different colored annotations for the different users. All of the annotations are live and persistent on whichever screen is in focus.
With Rumpus, the conversation just flows. There’s an always-on opportunity to access content – any of the material anyone in the conference needs to talk about is always accessible. You don’t have to ask permission to share, nor do you have to override someone else’s presentation as everyone can share a different screen simultaneously. Each user has a personal cursor so annotations are done live, rather than someone verbally trying to explain what they are virtually pointing at. There are endless extensions to this collaboration interaction from the years of Oblong’s experience with multi-share in Mezzanine, each of which are quickly being rolled out in Rumpus.
The way we communicate and collaborate online is rapidly evolving. I think video conferencing has entered a new era where it is infrastructure that fades nicely into the background. However, the collaboration layer is completely nascent and is wide open for innovation. Oblong’s experience over the last decade at the high end makes it a natural for bringing the collaboration capability to the masses. And, this is another step in the path towards Oblong CEO John Underkoffler’s vision of a new UI for always-on collaboration.
Rumpus is in public beta right now on the Mac. Download it for free at rumpus.co and invite your team to try it out alongside their favorite video conferencing system. If you are interested, the Oblong team will work with you to help you get set up and using Rumpus, as they are iterating rapidly on the beta. Drop me an email and I’ll connect you.
Life often involves tough tradeoffs. I love running marathons but I’m less happy about the body soreness and longer recovery cycles as I age. I’m excited about every investment Foundry Group makes, but I know not all of them are going to pan out. Entrepreneurs talk about “changing the world”, but the companies that emerge often ring hollow against this backdrop. And, when confronted with a for-profit company that has a strong social mission, many founders and investors struggle with the profit motive.
Sometimes, life gives you an easy decision. Investing in Boundless Immigration was one of those. We originally invested a small amount in Boundless’ seed round in 2017 and just led a $7.8 million Series A financing. This is a case where there isn’t a tradeoff between making a profit and making an impact.
Boundless Immigration aspires to be the leading brand around legal immigration in the United States. They take an incredibly time-consuming and expensive process – immigrating to the U.S. and securing a marriage green card or naturalization – and make it easy and available for anyone who wants to legally immigrate. Boundless’ CEO and founder, Xiao Wang, immigrated to the U.S. as a child, and vividly remember his parents paying five months of rent to afford immigration attorneys and filing fees.
Boundless saves applicants time and money by automating a process that used to involve immigration attorneys filling out endlessly redundant forms. Everybody I talk to who has gone through the immigration process is stunned when they hear Boundless provides an end-to-end service for 20% of what most people currently pay for immigration services.
Every year 2.5 million families apply for immigration services in the U.S and there are about nine million people eligible to apply for naturalization. Boundless has put together a talented and diverse team (a majority has an immigrant background) resulting in a company with unique perspectives and empathy for anyone who wants to immigrate to the U.S.
Current dynamics around technology companies, especially around privacy, has people discussing the challenge that making a profit may require moral compromise. In this case, the opposite is happening, as I think it’s a moral imperative to help improve legal immigration. In the U.S., legal immigration is a foundational activity that keeps America fresh and helps our country maintain its edge on a global stage. As an American, I want anyone who wants to build a life for themselves, contribute to U.S. society, and make this a stronger country to be able to become a U.S. citizen.
This an emotional issue for me. One set of my Jewish grandparents were first-generation Americans. If America hadn’t been there for them, they might have perished in concentration camps during WWII. Another Jewish grandparent fled Russia in the 1910s. If America hadn’t been here for him, he would have also likely been annihilated.
If there were no America, there would be no me. If America made immigrating as difficult then as it does now, I might not exist. My grandparents fleeing a shtetl didn’t have vast sums of money lying around to spend on lawyers and fees, but were welcomed into this country. They, their children, and their grandchildren have all worked hard their entire lives to be productive and contributing members of American society. I like to think America is better for us having called this country our home.
I’m not shy about my opinions on immigration. And I’m not the only partner at Foundry Group who feels this way, as my partner Jason Mendelson testified in front of the House of Representatives in 2013 when he was on the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) board about the importance of legal immigration to the U.S. innovation economy.
Life is full of difficult decisions. The last two years haven’t been easy for those of us who believe immigrants help make America great. It’s nice to have an easy decision like investing in Boundless – to make a profit, but also to remind everyone that we’re a nation of immigrants, and proud of that fact.
Happy Pi Day everyone. If you love dogs, or robots, or dogs and robots, you’ll love the video below.
Two companies we are investors in – Rover and Sphero – have teamed up on Pi Day. Sphero is in the last week of their Kickstarter campaign for their new robot named RVR (pronounced “rover”) and, well, it loves dogs. There’s also a new Pi Day Tier on the Kickstarter that’s available for 24 hours and limited to 314 people.
While the RVR belly rubbing and behind-the-ear scratching APIs need some work, you can also get a $40 gift certificate from Rover to have a human do this.
Don’t forget to eat some pie today. What would Pi day be without pie?
A central theme of science fiction over the past 20 years has been the dystopian future of humans, laying on couches, connected to machines that feed them and process their waste, while they interact with a virtual world. Advanced versions of this technology let you move around or relax in a comfortable creche.
Today we call it VR. I wish the abbreviation, which seems so harmless, had never taken hold as the phrase “virtual reality” helps remind us, just a tiny bit, of what we are talking about.
Ever since Jaron Lanier popularized the phrase virtual reality when I was in college, I’ve struggled with it. When my friend Warren Katz introduced me to the idea of a head mounted display in the late 1980s, I was simultaneously thrilled and disturbed. When Lenny Nero figured out what happened to Iris, I simply was disturbed. Yet, when John Underkoffler created the Minority Report user interface to the precogs in the early 2000s, I was enthralled. When Amazon decided to pull out of NYC in 2019, I wasn’t surprised.
Wait, that last sentence was for a different blog post. Just checking to make sure you are still here and paying attention.
I don’t believe humans want to strap a headset on, block out all the stimuli they are getting, lay down in a creche, attach themselves to biosensors that handle their meat puppet, and immerse themselves in a virtual reality, without being able to simultaneously interact with the world around them
There’s no question that VR has an enormous potential market in online gaming. This isn’t anything new – the online gaming industry and the porn industry are two of the most aggressive adopters of new technologies. It’s not difficult to imagine going from your couch to your creche. It would be easier to play esports if you didn’t have to eat or go to the bathroom.
But, beyond that, I don’t buy it. Outside of video games and esports, my bet is on holograms and augmented reality. See you in the future.
As part of the Sphero RVR Kickstarter campaign, Amy and I have decided to give away up to 200 RVRs as part of a new tier called the 2 RVRs for you + 1 for a Teacher tier.
If you buy this tier, you get two RVRs. Then, you get to designate a teacher – any teacher – who you’d like to give a third RVR to. Our foundation (the Anchor Point Foundation) will be underwriting this.
As a special bonus, I’ll do an hour long AMA on Kickstarter Live for everyone who participates in this tier. Like many of the AMAs I do, I’m hopeful the conversation will be wide ranging, covering whatever anyone on the AMA wants to explore.
So, if you have a teacher in your world who you love and want to give a special gift, go sign up for the Sphero 2 RVRs for you + 1 for a Teacher tier on Kickstarter.
Among other things, I’m especially proud of Ayah Bdeir’s leadership on this issue over the years. There are two great interview segments with her that discuss (1) To increase girls in tech, focus on ages 8-12 and (2) The importance of teaching girls to fail.
Day 1 of Sphero’s RVR pre-order campaign is off to a great start (> 1000 backers, > $250,000 in the first 24 hours.) It’s Day 2, but for some people in the tech world it’s always Day 1, so if you missed RVR, go take a look and jump in on the pre-order fun.
I was on vacation during valentines day so I’m a little late. But, robot valentines day transcends time, especially since I love robots.