MeetingRoom makes VR conference calls productive in one click

16 Apr 2018

MeetingRoom co-founder and CEO Jonny Cosgrove. Image: MeetingRoom

Our Start-up of the Week is Dublin-based MeetingRoom, which is on a mission to revamp remote video or conference calls and make them work for businesses.

“Conference calls suck, so we decided to build something to improve remote meeting experiences with MeetingRoom,” explained MeetingRoom CEO and co-founder Jonny Cosgrove.

“We built a platform that lets remote teams see and hear each other, and collaborate more effectively.

‘We don’t need more Tamagotchis in our pockets – teams run more productive meetings with our technology’

As Cosgrove explains it, the company has devised digital meeting spaces for teams to meet online, using body language and spatial audio for crystal-clear sound.

“The end result is remote meetings that actually work.

“The platform runs 90pc faster than Skype for Business, which means less dropped calls than anything else on the market, available on smartphones, tablets, desktops and virtual reality [VR] headsets, all working together seamlessly.”

The market

“It’s a $3trn problem with active investment and growth,” Cosgrove surmised.

“You have existing digital solutions, which we feel underperform in terms of group collaboration – from video calls to hopping on a plane – when that just doesn’t cut it in terms of value realised.

“We’re not trying to replace all meetings. We’re laser-focused on the problem with remote meetings: bringing everyone to the same table from anywhere on an equal footing and reducing ‘out of sight, out of mind’ – a common complaint with remote working, which is surging in 2018.

“With the release of wireless VR headsets, we see 2018 as the year of friction-free VR that allows us to make our one-click meetings a reality.”

The founders

MeetingRoom makes conference calls more productive in one click

MeetingRoom co-founder and CEO Jonny Cosgrove. Image: MeetingRoom

Cosgrove is a technology-focused entrepreneur who reckons he has put more than 1m people through the doors of venues in Dublin and Boston since his first start-up as a nightclub promoter when he was 19.

“I hold an MBA from Trinity, certified in data protection and have been working in technology for the past few years.”

Dr Abraham (Abey) Campbell is a world-renowned immersive researcher and assistant professor in University College Dublin (UCD), and heads up the UCD VR Lab.

He has spent the past number of years teaching between Beijing and Dublin, creating one of the first modern caves in Ireland in UCD, and has experienced firsthand the benefits of working with students throughout the product’s creation.

Dr Tadhg O’Sullivan is a psychologist-turned-computer-scientist who has worked on a number of different fields in computer science, ranging from the implementation of machine-learning techniques to aid industry partners, to working in cancer research visualisation.

He brings his digital wizardry to heading up the development as CTO for MeetingRoom, leading the remote team spread between Carlow, Clondalkin, Dalkey and beyond.

The technology

Cosgrove describes the technology as a very simple app.

“We’re available on iOS, Android, PC, Mac and VR, and you get the same experience on every platform. You log in, you click your room and that’s it – you’re in a shared digital space with your team to collaborate.

“When you’re in the room, you can work on a whiteboard, run through a PDF, bring other tools in via your web browser such as Slack and Office, and, most importantly, you can get around a table together.”

It’s all controlled by an easy-to-navigate dashboard on the back-end, which allows you to bring your documents and team into the digital space.

“We really focused on making the administration side easy, as this is where some of the best tools of the last generation simply fell down.”

Cosgrove said the ultimate goal is to create a platform that lets people get back to actually living.

“We don’t need more Tamagotchis in our pockets – teams run more productive meetings with our technology.

“We provide low-bandwidth, secure calls with the best-quality sound on the market. It just works – all you need is an internet connection. It’s got to work on a smartphone, tablet and desktop as well as the fantastic VR and AR gear, and that’s been part of our design from day one.

“Our main requirement is to allow teams to see and hear each other in a much more effective way than they have had access to before. We do, and we do it brilliantly. It lets remote teams spend more time getting high-impact work done, and reducing loneliness.”

The next big thing

MeetingRoom has hit release on a private beta in the past week. “So, we’re on a bit of high and our team is really tight-knit, despite not everyone being in the same room as a group (yet!).

“We’ve had trials from Fortune 500s trialling to start-ups building the next big thing. This is not just a win for us but also a win for our customers as we get the product into everyday use.

“This year, we have a relentless product and customer focus, which means doubling down on what we do best and can do better with MeetingRoom, and we’re releasing some of our research we conducted last year, supported by Bank of Ireland, on VR versus video for communication.

“We’re not in a rush to say we’re the next big thing; we’ll let the amount of rooms we rent online do the talking and, right now, we’re focused on releasing our open beta in the next two months.

“We have revenue, we have product, we have an amazing team, and we’re working with some world-class organisations and teams. I’m pinching myself at the moment the way things are coming together, and look forward to continued work with forward-thinking customers. People can apply to join the closed beta on our website now to experience the future of remote meetings.”

Digital Dublin

Cosgrove describes Dublin as a fantastic environment right now for start-ups.

“But, in terms of cost of living, we’re lucky we’ve been able to save over €100,000 on flights and office space in the past year using our own software, and our team is fully remote, working all over Ireland and beyond.

His advice to fellow founders is to limit expectations.

“Because we work in VR, it’s easy for people’s imaginations to go wild and expect Ready Player One to happen tomorrow. Certain parts do exist already, like us, but it’s a marathon, not a race, and we’ve focused on helping customers understand now and next with the spectrum of virtual and augmented reality.

“Getting one of the first Vive Focus headsets – a wireless VR headset that is light as a button and doesn’t need a phone or laptop or PC to run VR – in this part of the world in the past month has already turned interest into evangelism.”

Celebrate the good, the bad and the ugly

As start-up environments go, Ireland has a lot going on.

“It’s vibrant, it’s active and it’s amazing to be working in Ireland right now. Companies from all over the world are coming to Ireland to do business both in person and digitally. But the start-up scene is not events and socials. To me, it means strong business growing in Ireland, and I think it has never been stronger in that respect but we need to improve upon existing supports and focus on growing business and supporting entrepreneurs to maintain this going forward,” said Cosgrove.

“We’ve always been a fantastic nation for doing our talking with the points on the scoreboard, and that’s no different with starting a business in, or bringing one to, Ireland.

“We’ve been supported by so many great initiatives such as Startup Boost, the NDRC pre-accelerator, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown Local Enterprise Office, Mentors for Scale, Ireland’s Best Young Entrepreneur, Bank of Ireland Start-ups with the Workbench and Startlab programmes (special mention to Gene Murphy and Carolyn Quinlan – rocks in the Dublin start-up scene doing great things).

“I urge anyone in, or thinking of starting, a business to do the research and link in with what is right for you and the right time for the company. Surround yourself with mentors and advisers. It’s the best way to move forward – work with those who have already done it.

“We’ve also been helped along the way by industry leaders, such as the great support from Alvin Wang Graylin and the team at HTC, who have really provided a helping hand to a young company like ourselves getting started, so don’t be afraid to reach out to people within your industry.”

His advice to fellow tech founders is to get to grips with the upcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which becomes law in Europe in little over a month’s time.

“Treat it with respect and prepare, but beware the experts on a law that hasn’t even come into place yet. Precedent is going to be king here, so be prepared and watch the space to see what actually happens.

“Be efficient with your time, resources, and celebrate the good, the bad and the ugly with your team. Plan and prioritise product and strategy between now, up to six months and later – that’s all you need to worry about.”

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years