How Loom created an industry — and maybe figured out the future of work

Asynchronous video is catching on fast, and Loom thinks it's going to change the way we work. And maybe do everything else, too.

How Loom created an industry — and maybe figured out the future of work

Loom is trying to make video as easy as typing. And it's working.

Image: Loom

Loom didn't start out to be an "asynchronous video messaging platform." That phrase would have hardly made any sense when Joe Thomas, Vinay Hiremath and Shahed Khan started working together in 2015. Even a couple of years ago, Loom's tools for quickly recording and sharing videos struck many users as more nifty than necessary. Loom knew it was onto something, but even its founders couldn't have guessed exactly what it was. Or just how fast it would take off.

Now? Now everyone suddenly wants to be an asynchronous video messaging platform. Dropbox is getting into the space; Slack has its own take; so does Cisco. A cadre of startups is trying to get a toe into the market. The COVID-19 pandemic seems to have shifted work permanently toward a more remote, asynchronous environment in which good, fast, efficient, productive communication is both more important and harder than ever, and this new world of work has created new behaviors.

Katie Burke, the chief people officer at HubSpot, said she does a Loom video for her team every Friday. "Sometimes it's updates, sometimes it's shoutouts, sometimes I do a deep dive on a business topic," she said. It's better than a meeting, she said, because it doesn't require everyone to be paying attention at the exact same moment. At first she treated it like a presentation, and carefully chose her words and setting. She quickly realized that was all wrong. "Now, half the time I film it in a sweatshirt and sweatpants at my kitchen table," she said. "People feel like we're sitting down, having breakfast and talking together." Even after doing them for a while, Burke said she can't believe how many people actually watch her videos. And share them. And give feedback.

In the early days of the pandemic, employees everywhere were forced to get used to virtual meetings on Zoom and Teams. As they settle into new ways of working, they're increasingly finding that while video may be the future, video meetings may not be. They're looking for new ways to communicate that are just as rich and not as reliant on overlapping calendars. In the process, they've helped Loom become a billion-dollar company, a noun — you don't "make a Loom video," you either "record a loom" or you just loom — and a key part of the future of work for companies around the world. All that success, if you boil it all the way down, seems to come down to one thing: Loom made video easy. And that changed everything.

Press record

Thomas, Hiremath and Khan knew they wanted to build something together before they knew what they wanted to build. The three had all moved from the Chicago area to California — "We grew up in like a 20-mile radius of each other," Thomas said, though they didn't meet until they got to California — and became close friends. One Sunday in 2015, after a night of commiserating about their respective jobs, the three decided to see if they could build something together. Thomas was trained as a product manager, Khan as a designer, Hiremath as an engineer; among them, they figured they could get something off the ground.

Loom's co-founders sitting at a table in front of their laptops. Loom's founders in the early days: (from left to right) Shahed Khan, Joe Thomas and Vinay HiremathPhoto: Loom

Each was tasked with bringing some product ideas, which they wrote out on a whiteboard before talking through each one. The ideas were all over the place — Hiremath had some big plan for getting into the hotel space, and Thomas still thinks about an idea he had for minimizing food waste — but the one that stuck out to all three was Khan's thought that maybe they could do something about user testing.

They'd all used UserTesting to collect data and feedback for various projects, and didn't like the experience. Getting actionable data was hard, understanding the feedback was hard, the whole thing was too much work. "Every time you run these user research programs through a platform like UserTesting," Hiremath said, "you just think, gosh, like three of the people that submitted it shouldn't have even been qualified to be part of the cohort."

For the next eight months or so, they tried to build something better. It was called Opentest, and it helped companies connect with experts to look over their stuff. (Imagine Mechanical Turk, but for getting a designer to review your app.) The company launched on Product Huntseveral times, actually, because the co-founders are big believers in launching early and often and always doing it on Product Hunt.

An early video demo of Opentest, long before it was Loom.

Opentest's early days went … OK. People liked the idea, but the company had a hard time getting clients to pay up for outside expertise. So the team pivoted, and found a bit more traction convincing companies to embed their video tool in an NPS-style feedback form on their website. Even that was slow going, though, and several months in, Opentest were starting to run out of money.

There was one part of the platform that seemed to be working: a Chrome extension they'd build that allowed feedback-givers to record a video simultaneously of their screen and their face, so they could walk through the product more easily. The team noticed that people liked the tool, and were using it to create videos of their own outside of Opentest. Somewhere around then, they noticed they liked it too. "That was when Joe was like, 'I can imagine using this to just make and send videos,'" Khan said. They thought maybe, instead of a feedback tool, they'd built a video platform.

So Opentest pivoted again, and raced to re-tool the system before they ran out of money. Their dead-simple video recorder, called Openvid, launched — on Product Hunt, of course — on June 17, 2016. It was a Chrome extension that let people quickly take a video, simultaneously recording their screen and their face, then provided a link for them to share it. It started to catch on almost immediately: Recipients would click on the link and watch the video, and some would then wonder what this Loom thing was and install the extension for themselves. Openvid got around 2,500 users the first day, Khan said, "which was 2,500 more users than we'd seen the last eight months." One hundred days later, when they launched Openvid 2.0, they had 12,800 users.

A screenshot of Openvid running on the Opentest website. An early version of the Openvid platform.Image: Loom

At first, Openvid seemed like a perfect growth hack for Opentest. As the team started to try to raise money, they'd tell investors about the companies that were interested in the video feedback tool — and casually mention this video-recording thing that hundreds of people are signing up for every day. "Over the course of the next couple of months," Thomas said, "we were like, 'We've got to drop this feedback thing altogether, because this thing is running away from us.'" Openvid was what investors wanted to buy into, and Openvid was what people were excited about. So Openvid became the company.

The team raised enough money to not worry about rent for a while, and started building. They also started debating a rebrand. Thomas suggest Vydeeo, which Khan said he still laughs about, and someone also liked Plume. (Or maybe there was no e; Khan can't remember now.) Their Wikipedia-assisted brainstorming led them to the word "Superluminal," which led them to the word "Loom." Loom sounded cool, and connoted a machine for weaving threads together. "That's when we were like, holy shit, it's Loom!" Khan said.

The name change became official in January 2017. And Loom was off to the races.

No buffering

The tech Loom offers, at a basic level, is not terribly novel. It's a tool for making, uploading and sharing videos. The internet is not short of options for that. Even the record-in-the-browser thing has been done before by apps like Jing and Camtasia.

Yet something about Loom just feels different to users. "I think it's the simplicity of the tool," said HubSpot's Burke. "Obviously there are lots of ways to record video," said Ann Bordetsky, a partner at venture capital firm NEA, "but Loom has really cracked the usability." There's no waiting for things to upload, no rendering and exporting; you just record and share.

Bordetsky compared her first Loom experience to her first Uber ride. "It's like, I didn't know this could be this easy!" Several users said they liked how easy it was to leave a comment or record their own reply loom. And almost everyone seems to like how easy it is to watch videos at 1.5x or 2x speed, turning a 30-minute meeting into a 15-minute cram session.

The ease of it all was also what attracted Christoph Janz, a partner at Point Nine Capital and one of Loom's earliest investors. He found out about the company from another investor friend in February 2017, "and I still remember quite well how I tried the product, and basically fell in love with it immediately." Even in its early stage, he said, "It was just so simple to record the screen and yourself, and it already had this very distinct look and feel."

The "Loom bubble," which puts a user's face in a circle on top of whatever browser tab or app they're recording, is probably the company's most distinctive aesthetic. But what really makes Loom different is speed.

Loom's most audacious idea is that asynchronous video offers a new type of communication that deserves its place in everyone's lives. Synchronous video (Zoom and FaceTime), synchronous text (Slack and Teams) and asynchronous text (email) already exist. But there's no way to communicate with the kind of fidelity that video allows without either hosting a meeting or jumping through a lot of hoops and apps. Thomas likes to say that Loom's main competitor is typing, and so it had better be as fast to hit record as it is to hit send. The short version? Loom wants to be email on camera.

Making Loom faster seems to be something of a mantra inside the company. Early on, Hiremath built a system that chops a recording into small chunks and uploads it as you record, along with metadata about each chunk, which means your video is uploaded and rendered practically as soon as you're finished recording it. That system is now patented, covering " Methods and systems for instantaneous asynchronous media sharing." In his patent application, Hiremath referred to the "instant psychological gratification" that comes from that kind of immediacy. YouTube and Vimeo can get away with long transcoding times because they're an entertainment medium, he argued, but a 20-minute upload or a lot of buffering is death in messaging, and would be death for Loom.

In the beginning, actually, the whole thing might have been too fast. "It was my favorite experience," Hiremath said, "but it was jarring. You just clicked the button, there were no options, it started recording the current tab, and your camera showed up." Click the button again and get a link to the video. Don't like it? Delete it like you would a badly written Slack message, and start over.

Even as Loom started to add more features and more controls, its creators tried to never lose that magical speedy feeling. As the team rolled out editing features, they tried to make them take immediate effect. Changing your voice? One click. There's an entire team internally, Hiremath said, "whose entire job is to make operating over video as easy as, like, hitting a keystroke on a document."

Beyond just speed, Khan said Loom has always focused on making the experience great for the person recording the video. The app mirrors a user's camera, for instance, so they see themselves as they normally do rather than in that jarring " that's what I look like?" way selfie cams usually show. The Chrome extension will offer compliments as you open it, just to make you feel a little better. Most video apps think about the viewing experience; Loom has always focused on the recording.

Loom quickly became a study in product-led growth, Thomas said: One person on a team would sign up for a free account, record a loom, send it to their team, and just like that the product began to spread. Just as Dropbox grew one file-share at a time, Loom took off one video at a time.

Things got really crazy when COVID-19 hit. Pre-pandemic, Loom had just raised a series B, remote work was ticking up and the idea of "video messaging" was starting to take hold in some places. But months of sheltering in place accelerated everything. "Over the span of a couple of weeks, every single one of our systems ended up breaking," Hiremath said. Loom saw usage triple or quadruple in countries that went into lockdown early. Companies started to embrace Loom faster, figure it out faster and spread it faster. Loom also lowered its prices to allow more companies to get on board during the early days of the pandemic, and Hiremath and his team spent weeks just trying to keep things up and running.

Over the last 18 months, Loom has become a part of everyday work all around the tech industry. Venture capitalists now refer to "Loom, Zoom, Room" as their deal-sourcing process, which begins with founders presenting their deck through a loom. Some companies have used looms to replace weekly all-hands meetings or daily standups. Many teams still use it for its original purpose: to give feedback on projects or documents.

Fast forward

Five years into building Loom, Thomas is the company's CEO, and Hiremath its CTO. Khan was the company's president until early 2020, when he left to join VC firm Hyper. (He's still an adviser to the company, though, and still close friends with Thomas and Hiremath.) Loom has 158 employees, and has more than doubled its staff since the beginning of the pandemic. In the last two years it has also raised just shy of $160 million, and 10xed its valuation to $1.53 billion. More than 14 million users have made more than 100 million looms.

Still, Loom hasn't exactly reached the ubiquity of email. Or even Slack or Zoom. Embracing asynchronous video takes time, and isn't always easy. Not everyone is comfortable being on camera, for instance, though the pandemic has changed that for many people. And there's a style and visual language that doesn't always come naturally. "I think the biggest adjustment," Burke said, "is for those of us who grew up thinking all our i's need to be dotted and t's need to be crossed, and things need to be polished." Just like texting has its own style — periods only if you're angry, emoji encouraged — looms aren't like other videos. But Burke and others said that after a few looms, they got the hang of it, and they're not going back. "I would rather record a video than write a blog post any day," Bordetsky said.

As Loom grew, and as competitors started to appear, the co-founders had to make a choice about where to go next. It's a classic startup conundrum: Do you try to become a platform where people spend time, or do you become the underlying infrastructure for other tools and businesses? It was always clear to the co-founders that Loom shouldn't be a consumer app, trying to compete with Snapchat or FaceTime. They also didn't want to branch out; every time Loom tried something other than video messaging, like its push into screenshot tools, it just reinforced that video was the solution. Loom was a business video tool. But what kind?

In the end, Loom decided to be both platform and infrastructure. It started working on better tools for saving and organizing looms so that teams could use their Loom library as a system of record for team information. And it started working on the loomSDK, which would bake Loom's tech into any app that wanted to make recording video as simple as possible.

On the platform side, Loom is investing heavily in standard SaaS things like improving security, analytics and account management. It's also trying to help teams figure out what to do with all their looms. "A lot of people are still in the journey of normalizing video messaging," Hiremath said. "And they're going to land in a world of, holy shit, I have all these videos that I can't keep on top of." With machine vision and transcription, Loom is getting ever better at understanding what's in its looms, and helping make sense of it. What the Loom team is building is not quite a news feed, not quite an inbox – definitely not an inbox, Thomas said, nobody needs more of those — but maybe something more like a Netflix home screen, curated and personalized for exactly what employees need. Thomas offers another analog: "The For You page on TikTok is something we find to be really, really interesting," he said.

Loom is now baked into Trello, where you can record a loom from inside any card.Image: Loom

When it comes to the loomSDK, Loom's job is to make video creation even easier than a Chrome extension. Lots of companies can now offer video-recording inside their apps, all powered by Loom and available in your Loom library. Trello was one of the early apps to integrate the SDK, and now allows users to record or watch a loom from inside any card. "I use it all the time," said Michael Pryor, the head of Trello at Atlassian. "I like to communicate in this very stream-of-consciousness way, where I'll have all this feedback on a particular feature or something, and if I try to type it's just too much."

Every new feature gives Loom a new set of competitors. Vimeo and others are working on their own video-creation tools, for instance, while seemingly every app in Silicon Valley, from Zoom to Google to Notion, wants to be the system of record for a company's most important information. Messaging apps are rolling out their own video messaging tools, essentially trying to turn Loom into a feature rather than a product.

Loom's co-founders insist they're not worried: It's a big space, and they don't have to own it all to make it big. But even the companies Loom sees as inspirations, like Slack and Dropbox, can also serve as cautionary tales about what happens when Microsoft gets serious about Teams or Google decides to focus on file storage. Those companies have been forced to either broaden their scope or sell to a larger player in order to stay relevant. Best-of-breed doesn't always beat the bundle. But the thing about trying to build Loom as a feature, Thomas said, is that it's a really hard feature to build. Eventually, the team seems to hope, everyone else will just stop trying. Like they all upload their videos to YouTube, they'll all chat through Loom.

How big Loom really goes, though, depends on whether it truly has helped usher in a new kind of communication. Loom's vision statement, Thomas said, is "empower effective communication." That's bigger than user testing, bigger than staff meetings. That's about turning asynchronous video into an actual competitor to typing as a way to talk to co-workers, friends and loved ones. It's a long road ahead, but all trends point to video as the way of the future. And Loom makes video easier than most.

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