Startup Voxeet wants to fix the annoyances associated with conference calls, from connection issues to not knowing who’s talking at any given time, through their enterprise-class conferencing system which they call “natural conferencing.” Based in San Francisco and Bordeaux, France, Voxeet showcased its platform at the DEMO conference in April 2012, launched in public beta a couple weeks ago, and is planning to launch native apps for iOS and Android next month.
“The last few years, I did a lot of customer interviews and talked with many people about conference calls. They had a lot of complaints,” said Voxeet co-founder and CEO Stephane Giraudie, who said there were typically three main complaints: sound quality, recognizing who is speaking at any given time, and being stuck to one device. “If you’re running late, and have to continue to conference with another device, you’ll have to call again, press the PIN numbers and disturb the conversation.”
To fix audio issues, Giraudie and his engineering team developed a new platform that focuses heavily on the sound quality to ensure premium audio even with multiple participants on a call. In addition to trying to provide better audio quality, Voxeet shows visual cues for the user to recognize who is talking in order to simulate a real conference meeting around a table. Users can place call participants around a virtual table, and the audio reflects their position, so if someone is sitting on the right side of the table, his or her voice would come from that side. “We want everything to be very natural, to have that same type of feeling as if you were really talking to these people,” said Giraudie.
The company also plans to launch one-click transfers so callers can transfer to their cellphones without reconnecting to the conference and having to re-enter a PIN, a feature that will be available when the native apps are released. Right now Voxeet is available as a Windows desktop app, with plans to launch a Mac version in early 2013. The platform is free to use, and Giraudie said they’ll be charging for usage and premium features. Though he didn’t specify pricing details, he said they’ll be focusing largely on enterprises, and will “propose alternatives to the de facto costly monthly per-user seat options.” “Voxeet is optimized for teams. It’s time for a very affordable and enterprise-class conferencing system,” said Giraudie.
While many companies have developed high-definition video technology, Giraudie believes no one has really touched the audio space as much, and he believes its Voxeet’s biggest leverage against potential competitors like Skype, Cisco’s WebEx solution, or startups like Meetings.io. But there are already several companies that provide audio conference call solutions, including FreeConferenceCall and UberConference. We covered UberConference in May, after it won TechCrunch Disrupt’s Startup Battlefield in New York City. Its free platform has a visual dashboard showing who has joined and who is speaking at any given time, and it’s web-based so anyone can organize calls through their browser.
Voxeet hasn’t raised any external funding, though have received several grants, including one from the French government, and Giraudie said they’re currently looking to raise angel funding. Along with native app launches, the company is also planning to add social network integration. With so many solutions available for conference calls, from startups to big players like Skype, it will be difficult for the company to convince businesses to switch from their existing providers. While they might have a unique take on an old problem, the startup’s biggest challenge will be changing people’s existing habits.
With additional reporting from Justin Lee.