If you are someone who finds yourself all too often annoyed by the limitations of the current generation of conference calls and virtual meeting technologies, help may be on the way.
The first thing I noticed about LoopUp during a call with the company’s co-founder and co-CEO, Steve Flavell, was how easy it is to use.
All I had to do was click on a large orange button, “Join Now,” enter my name and phone number and the service instantly logged me in. There, on a split screen, I could see the participants on the call, as well as a screen where Flavell proceeded to demo the service.
As the host of our meeting, Flavell was able to share his screen with the rest of us with one click to another orange button. Notable here is I did not have to download or install any special software – LoopUp works in my web browser as well as on iOS, Android and Blackberry platforms.
The meeting host can contact missing participants with a click on his Contacts list, whereupon they will receive an alert sent to both their smartphone and their computer.
(S)he also can mute anyone whose device is bringing in unwanted background noise to the conference, decide whether to record the call, add new participants as appropriate, and blend the audio conference with the screen sharing function.
LoopUp, which just launched at the end of March, is actually a major rebranding of the audio conferencing product known as Ring2.
Flavell and his fellow Stanford Business School grad Michael Hughes started the company in 2003. The pair took the unusual decision at the beginning to simultaneously locate the company in London and San Francisco.
“We knew the engineering talent was here in the Bay Area,” says Flavell, “and by having the dual offices, we were coding during the day in San Francisco, and testing during the day in London” -- eight hours ahead of the time zone here.
The company’s surveys of business users heavily informed the development of LoopUp. “We found that 81 percent of those surveyed found their behavior in these conferences is hindered in some way by common annoyances.”
This research indicated an average of 11 minutes per call were wasted just trying to get everyone connected, and the screen-sharing to work, etc. This translates into 22 percent of the length of the average call being wasted, or an estimated loss by U.S. businesses alone of some $5.5 billion per year.
“The technology is there to get rid of these problems,” says Flavell. “That is what LoopUp is all about.”
There are quite a few products already in this space, including WebEx, GoToMeeting and even Skype, but in my experience at least, none of them are as intuitive to use as LoopUp.
“There are a number of really clever products out there, it’s true,” said Flavell. “The problem is that your normal business person is just not using them. They are sufficiently complicated that you need to go to special training to learn how to use them, and the vast majority of business people have no interest in showing up to training sessions.”
LoopUp’s strategy is to make its product so simple to use that no training is necessary, and from what I saw, they seem to have accomplished that out of the gate.
The company’s research indicates that 80 percent of business people would take more web conferences “if it were easier to do so.”
The bottom line for LoopUp’s success will depend on whether that large market determines that it does indeed make virtual meetings easier.
“The single biggest challenge we’ve faced as a business,” says Flavell, “is that it is always so tempting to try building in that next feature. But the more you do that the more difficult to use the product becomes. So our goal has been to actually limit the number of features in this product and keep it simple.”
The company’s business model parallels that of others in this space in one respect in that it charges a cents-per-minute usage fee while the conference is in session. In another respect, however, it differs from competitors by not requiring any long-term contract unless the customer wishes to have that as an option.
The company’s workforce of 60 is split evenly between the London and SF operations and it has recently added small offices in Boston and Hong Kong. Roughly half of its users are in the U.S., and the rest overseas, with a special emphasis on the Asia-Pacific region.