Workplace

Your video meetings don't have to be so lame

Mmhmm was focused on helping people who cared deeply about creating impressive video presentations. Now, it’s courting the casual user.

Three people chatting in mmhmm's video platform over the image of a firepit
The role of video has changed dramatically over the past few years.
Image: mmhmm

The workplace video call is a given. But the best way to do it is still up for grabs. Phil Libin saw the potential for a more flexible, fun video app back when he started mmhmm in 2020 after goofing around with a green screen in the early, Zoom-obsessed pandemic days. He ended up zeroing in on asynchronous work, deciding to build a product where people could make truly engaging video presentations, a la “The Tonight Show.”

But this version was pretty inaccessible for the average person. You had to download the mmhmm app and install a virtual camera. If you wanted to use mmhmm’s effects or backgrounds, you had to run it with a third-party app. That’s why mmhmm has launched a web-based product that lets people record, watch and talk over video together.

“Our current app is meant to let you create really impressive videos because we wanted to stand out, because there’s so much stuff in this space,” co-founder and CEO Libin, the former CEO of Evernote, said. “This version is meant to just get rid of most of the friction points.”

Mmhmm for web is a revamped version of OOO: a “dangerously untested preview” of mmhmm for web that launched in September 2021. OOO let up to 10 people hop into a video call with virtual backgrounds ranging from space galaxies to roaring fire pits. Mmhmm is not the place for massive live meetings. The new version for web still caps the number of participants at 10, as more than that is “just not a very good experience,” Libin said. The biggest thing mmhmm for web does is combine the synchronous (live video) and asynchronous (recorded video) parts of the product. Libin thinks this seamlessness is missing in other workplace video software. How do you easily shift from consuming a recorded presentation and then talking with your co-workers about that presentation?

“There's a time and a place for live video, and a time and a place for recorded,” Libin said. “What is that time and place? And then how do you move between them?”

The role of video has changed dramatically over the past few years, prompting interest in elaborate webcams, content-centric meetings and even video game-like platforms with little video bubbles. Our reliance on video has made us think more deeply about it, whether it’s the way video chat interfaces look or the impact that being in too many video calls might have on our mental health. Roelof Botha, leader of Sequoia (an investor in mmhmm), thinks our growing familiarity with video has opened the door for more creative solutions.

“I remember when FaceTime first came out, people were so self-conscious, especially the older generation,” Botha said. “Now, you’ve seen the sea change where more and more people are comfortable seeing themselves and hearing themselves.”

Mmhmm for web's home screen The biggest thing mmhmm for web does is combine the synchronous and asynchronous parts of the product.Image: mmhmm

While mmhmm for web is no longer in the preview phase, it’s still experimental and open-ended. You can drag your video around the screen, rotate yourself upside down or make your video giant. Anyone in the call can change the screen background or pull up an old meeting video to dissect. “For now, we have a very democratic idea,” Libin said. He expects that will change if mmhmm grows — there are many bad actors on the internet: Just look at Zoombombers. Mmhmm will need to build more granular admin controls if it fully expands into the enterprise. But the startup isn’t there yet.

“We’re not rushing to implement things that prevent you from doing something,” Libin said. “We’re still in the phase where we’re adding things that let you do something.”

Wouter Van Geluwe, the CTO for Western Europe at Adobe, is an mmhmm early adopter. He spends his days in back-to-back presentations to customers, demoing Adobe products. His presentations need to sparkle, so he has the full green screen and lighting setup. The ability to record with another presenter on mmhmm for web will be useful for him.

“If you can share the same canvas and the same slides behind you and simply put somebody next to you, that's definitely easier for the audience to follow,” Van Geluwe said.

It’s difficult to encourage software change inside a company like Adobe, Van Geluwe said, but he’s helped organize mmhmm training sessions and order office-based green screens. Still, he doesn’t think mmhmm will be for everybody. If you want to unlock mmhmm’s full power, investing in green screens, ring lights and high-quality video cameras is key, he said.

“Not everybody will do that,” Van Geluwe said. “If you want that picture-perfect image, you will still need to have that hardware. I believe that organizations should invest in this.”

For the everyday person who’s fine unlocking just some of mmhmm’s power, Libin is betting that mmhmm for web will do. It will still work with Zoom or Microsoft Teams if people prefer other video chatting services. But ultimately, he wants mmhmm to be the all-in-one video platform.

“I don't think that having multiple products at each layer is the way to go,” Libin said. “I think that the product that effectively combines the layers is the one that is going to win.”

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