Ep. 65: Bringing Company Culture into a Virtual Office Environment – Brett Martin, Founder & CEO of Kumospace

Learn more about Kumospace at: www.kumospace.com
Find Brett Martin on LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/brettlucasmartin/

JC: Welcome, everyone to another episode of The Future of Biz Tech. I’m your host, JC Grainger, I have another fantastic guest with us on the show today. And listen, if you end up loving this episode, please show your love and appreciation, go follow the podcast, wherever you’re listening to it, show that love, and give a five-star review and some nice comments. Because that is how other techies like you and I find pretty cool podcasts like this, although I am a little biased. Today I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing Brett Martin, the founder, and president of Kumopace. Brett, thank you so much for joining us today. Tell the audience a bit about yourself. And what is it that Kumopace does?

Brett: JC thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to be here and excited to get connected with your audience. So Kumopace builds virtual offices, where teams show up to remote and distribute teams, they show up to work every day. So what that means is basically you know, instead of sitting in your apartment alone working from home on Zoom, wondering what the rest of your team is doing. In Kumopace, you sign in my office, we have 30 people that start trickling in around 10 am. And then you can see throughout the day, your whole team working, having different conversations, giving presentations, having external meetings, you can just tap people on the shoulder. If you need some help getting unblocked, you can play a game of chess, if you will, time to unwind. Just sounds like a real office place to connect and get work done.

JC: Yeah, see now it’s so the honestly, you guys can’t see this right now. But it’s something you really have to see. This is probably one of the more unique software’s I’ve experienced in a long time. And it’s my job to know these things like so I go through a lot. Kumo space is really cool, it kind of reminded me almost of playing an old-school Nintendo game, like Zelda. Remember Zelda, like, man, we are aging ourselves. Okay, for all of you, not Boomer or Gen Z, or Gen X, or whatever people listening, you know, this 2d kind of video style games are, you’re kind of navigating around this, you know, top-down view, kind of, you know, board, right. And I thought that was really interesting of yours. And I remember when I was scrolling through it, it was like, there was a conference room over here to the left. And then I could have there were other meeting rooms was like a coffee area, but like, I can kind of move my little avatar essentially, where I want it. And there’ll be other people there get, I mean, talk about how did you come up with this idea? And then how are, how have people, how have people responded to it, because it’s such a unique play on this remote work, but somehow, quote, unquote, in an office idea?

Brett: 100%. I mean, some people might say, Kumospace, video chat meets video games. And you know, as you said, your video is your avatar. So you’re not a cartoon you are, you are yourself and then you are in our office, but it’s virtual. And so you know, you can close the door to your office, have a private conversation with someone, or you can, you know, wander around and have an all-hands meeting and see everyone there at the same time. We came up with it. It’s a pandemic baby. You know,  my other job is I run charge ventures to New York-based precede venture capital fund, we used to throw a monthly networking event. And I would get all the old farts like myself and we would come together and have some wine cheese shared deals. And when the pandemic kit, people said, well, you know, you should bring that online. And I said, Well, I don’t really want to give a zoom PowerPoint presentation to 50 of my friends every month, there’s not really a good video, chit-chat platform to have multiple conversations in the same virtual place, at the same time. And I shared that with my co-founder, Yang Mao, who’s an old friend of mine, we built three companies together. And two weeks later, he came back with a prototype. And we were like, wow, there’s something here. So that’s the origin story. And people do use it for tons of things. You know, we focus on the virtual office use case, our users use it six hours a day, and we have 10s of 1000s of teams in their millions of users, but people do use it for other things. We’ve had weddings and conversations. We’ve had funerals and Kuhmo space, we’ve had graduations and Kumopace. And so, you know, the platform is used for a lot of things. However, we focus on the office use case.

JC: So how customizable is it? Right? Like I get I know, it’s hard for people to kind of see. So in using your most graphic terms, essentially, how can someone make the most space, their own space? What are the options they have? And how do they sell that as a transition for their people?

Brett: Well, so that’s like, if you think about the core problems that Kumospace solves, right, it’s three things. We solve connections, and you know, the problem is isolation and miscommunication. We saw collaboration, right? The ability to allocate aligned and work and then we also saw sort of visibility and support the ability to know where your team is and be able to help them and provide support and get support when you need it. And so, you know, it’s a different way of working like people are, you know, it’s actually a lot of the same things that people are used to in the office. So, you know, it’s actually like we’ve done remote work, we use Zoom and Slack, we got a lot done, but we know something’s missing, right?

Brett: We were, you know, building, we were sort of draining down social equity that we’ve created from yours. You particularly saw that in the first time, you know, young employees, right, young employees were really left out to dry, they’re kind of like stunted a couple of years because they haven’t learned, you know, social skills. They haven’t learned the soft skills of collaborative people, they’ve been sitting at their desks by themselves. And so we saw the cracks emerging. And you know, we’re trying to show people, Hey, there’s a new way of working right, you don’t have to commute. You don’t have to pay, you know, millions of dollars for expensive rent, but you still can get that same connection, that same human interaction, that same collaboration, and that same, you know, ability to, like know, awareness and presence around your team, you just do it virtually instead of in a physical office. So it’s a new way of working. But we think it’s pretty effective and so do some of our customers.

JC: So you said it’s not an avatar, you said, it’s a video. So am I to understand that, let’s say the little square that is you are not just a static picture, but a live feed from your cam is almost like, almost like you’re constantly in some sort of web meeting? Is that how it works?

Brett: Yeah, so you know, Zoom is episodic, it’s for scheduled meetings, right? Like we’ve had this meeting scheduled on the calendar for a month, we emailed about it, we set a time, we maybe use Calendly, and set aside an hour. Kumospace is persistent. It’s always on. It’s like Slack in that sense. And it’s for just the way work works in an office. It’s ad hoc, right? You tap someone on the shoulder, you say, Hey, check this out. What do you think about this? Or, hey, I need some help on this, or, Oh, I just kind of listened in on a meeting if I want to, or drop in and say, Hey, marketing team, this is engineering here. Just want to let you know those things you asked for last week, they’re gonna be done on Tuesdays at work. Yes, okay, cool. I’m out. I don’t have to spend 20 minutes scheduling, I don’t have to sit there and stare at you for an hour, if I don’t need to, I can get you now, I increase iteration speed, I actually have less meeting. And so you know, you can have your video on you can have video off. Both worked for us, you know, but the idea is that it’s more persistent. It’s always on. It’s synchronous interactions. It’s lower friction and self-expression. You know, like in a zoom, I see you got a really nice background, you got some whiteboards, this looks like it’s a picture, you know, of your office that you know, you’re working in front of, you tried to add a little character here, right. And we’re trying to do the same thing, except for it’s fully customizable. So if you came to our Kumospace office, I’m a big surfer. I’m in Costa Rica right now. In my virtual office, I’ve got sand and I’ve got the ocean, I’ve got a beach chair, I’ve got a beach umbrella, and the sound of ocean waves. And that’s my way of bringing a little of my personality. People mess with me. They’re always bringing in penguins, ghosts and bats, and things in my office. And you know, I don’t know who left them kind of like putting a whoopee cushion in someone’s chair. Other people have, you know, a DJ booth, or, you know, a castle, or they kind of make their office throne. And it’s a way of showing off your personality, because that’s a big part of building culture is letting people express themselves and also kind of assimilate to a broader company culture.

JC: Yeah, so I can definitely see how the culture part comes in here. And that’s something that’s really hard for companies right now, to kind of assimilate with when they have a remote. Because there’s no such thing as a remote culture –technically speaking, I feel like you’ve kind of tried to solve that problem, which is interesting. What about so that culture part we get? What about from, let’s say, a more corporate bottom line standpoint, where they say, let’s say accountability, do you find and are there any stats you have? Or just feedback? Where companies do you feel like they’re getting that they’re that the remote workers are more accountable? And here’s why I’m framing this question this way. Obviously, with Elon Musk, for example, taking over Twitter, his big thing, he’s a big proponent, and very on one extreme end of the get back in the office, practically live there, full accountability, things like that. And again, regardless of where anyone falls on that opinion, isn’t really the question as much as since it’s in people’s minds, especially in larger corporations. They want to be able to attract better talent by allowing remote, but they also understand that there’s a certain level of accountability and work ethic that goes with being a little more present in real-time. Your system, which I find very interesting, could be a hybrid that allows that, but my question is, what kind of feedback or what kind of stats have you come across that have.. has it helped any accountability for the companies that have used it when they’re coming from that standpoint of like, we got to make sure people We’re really working.

Brett: I mean, it’s funny, you’re framing this very diplomatically. And

JC: I’m riding the fence a little bit on it…

Brett: I really appreciate that. We could talk about, and we get talking about the return to the office or working from home. We say work from anywhere. I mean, fundamentally, we believe that anything that can be done over the internet will be done over the internet, and started with websites, then we started selling things over the internet and doing e-commerce. Now you can buy a car and a house over the internet, you can get married over the internet, and you can sign contracts, right? And so we think a lot of work ultimately is going to be done over the internet, we don’t see any reason not to, for all the advantages you just described, it’s cheaper to get talent from all over the world who don’t have to commute for multiple hours a day. Does that mean that we don’t think that some Face time or in person interaction is valuable? Of course it is. We have quarterly offsites build relationships, close deals, there’s great reasons to be in person sometimes. But I think the way we had it before it was flipped, right? People will say, Oh, you’re in the office five days a week, and then you have one week of vacation was like, No, we think you know, you’re mostly remote doing work. And then you are a special occasions, you come together in person. So I think a lot of the return to office stuff is honestly anxiety about managers who don’t know how to manage remotely and don’t know the right tools to do it. And people that have really expensive offices that you know, want to find some use for them. And it’s an excuse if you want to cut 90% of your headcount. Oh, saying you have to go back to the office is a great way to scare people away.

JC: Okay, I can see that. So let me ask you..

Brett: No no, after you.

JC: If you’re still continuing on that, then I want to hear it..

Brett: Oh, yeah, I just you know, and so what I think is that, to your point, you can have the what people love what people truly care about is flexibility. Right? People love flexibility, they want to be able to get their work done and live their life, whether that’s living in Costa Rica and surfing every morning, or it’s actually just spending some more time with your kids, right. And so, you know, we’ve shown that remote work is incredibly productive. But what’s missing is all that software stuff, it is the visibility, knowing where your team is, knowing what they’re working on, not just to keep track of them, but also so that you can help them if you see they need help, you can get in there, you can mentor younger people, if you see someone doing something wrong, you can stop them halfway through and say, Hey, wait, this is actually how to do it. You don’t have to wait till the end of month, you know, to manage my outputs, you can actually get in there and help them upfront. And so we think that you can get most of those benefits in a hybrid virtual situation, you know, and at a 10th of the cost.

JC: That’s awesome. Now, like I said, I got to play around with it before and it was pretty interesting fact, I think, now I’ve had this conversation, I’ll probably go and play a little bit more after this. But how are you getting the word out there for it? I mean, I’m a marketing guy by trade. So what kind of marketing? Are you doing PR, right? We know that you’re on this show, you said you have another one later. So you got the PR part down? What about digital marketing of any kind? What, are you guys investing a lot into content or paid ads? Or outbound or inbound? I mean, just what is it that helps drive that engine for awareness?

Brett: Yeah, I mean, we’re pretty lucky in the sense that we have a viral product, like you have to, you know, there’s the single player mode in Kumopace and is for connecting people, you could, you could create a virtual castle for yourself, but it wouldn’t be very interesting. So people are inviting people to Kumospace, you know, bringing their friends, if they get value out of it, they share it, so that we’re lucky in that sense. But the second place where we get the word out is, you know, content marketing, people are like, trying to figure it out, this is not a big problem, right? Everyone’s heard about remote work. And we’re trying to figure out how to manage remote teams, how to keep up morale, how to build culture, how to instill accountability, for teams that are distributed all over the world, right. And so we’ve spent a lot of time putting together our thought, you know, we have the little we’re fortunate to have the experience of working with, you know, 1000s of remote teams, learning their best practices, you know, bringing them together, distilling them and then sharing them with the product community. So, you know, check out our blog, we got a lot of great stuff there about how to run a remote team. And then finally, you know, it’s about finding the influencers, you know, like yourself who have an audience who people respect and trust and look to for answers and, and get in touch with you and you know, hopefully you see the value in the product and share with your flock.

JC: It’s not a bad strategy. That’s good. Let’s talk and again I don’t want to focus on specific price points. The reason being is you know, this podcast can age you can come up with a whole thing later someone’s listening to it a year from now we don’t want to be locked in but my question is, do you have price points that are for small like by person businesses? Or is this more enterprise level where it usually only works for, you know, 100? and above? Where do you guys typically fall when it comes to who you’re going after? Like, who’s your perfect client for this?

Brett: Yeah I mean, look, our sort of perfect client or, you know, series, the ABC companies that are, you know, they want to grow fast, they know that they need to collaborate in real-time there and things are changing, they, you know, they’re not just like a big company that’s trying to offshore and put someone in a box and have them a cog in a wheel. No, like, you need synchronous communication wet, to connect and move quickly and deal with ambiguity and changes, right. So small, you know, medium-sized, fast-growing startups, that’s our bread and butter, people that run, you know, contact centers, though, there are people that are Digital Agency Marketing, you know, if you run a digital agency, you got a lot of new clients, you got to get aligned around a new project really quickly. Anything like that works really well. And, yeah, I mean, those are that like anyone that’s trying to run a move fast. And while running a remote team, that’s our ideal customer.

JC: Do you typically charge like per seat? Or do you charge like per company is like a flat monthly rate? 

Brett: Oh, yeah, in terms of pricing, you know, it’s just, it’s $10 per month per seat, a dollars if you know, book annually. It’s not expensive for the gift of an office, if you compare it to, you know, physical office, and you know, you can replace your Zoom, you can replace your Google meets, and, you know, someday you’re going to be able to replace their Slack. So we think it’s going to be, you know, a ton of value, you know, for folks, and we have teams as small as five, using it, you can actually sign up, get your Office for free. You know, you can get the free version have 10 people in there no problem. And you know, we’re happy if you have a larger team, you can set it up yourself, or we’re happy to help you move in and customize it for your company.

JC: That’s cool. Okay, well, you did mention about like, in the future might replace slack for someone. So let’s talk about the future, right future big tech. So let’s, we’ll start actually, I’m gonna go on that note, I usually ask about the big picture for the industry. But I’m gonna ask about your company first, since you’re going that direction, do you have a roadmap? I mean, for this plan of having more of like, again, like replacing slack or an internal communication that has the same familiarity or ease of use as slack? And if so, how far out is that for you guys?

Brett: Look, Slack is an amazing product, we use Slack. But we don’t think it’s the future, we don’t think it’s the end state of work, right? Like, we don’t think being a little green dot, you know, is the future head like that’s a bleak future of zoom and slack or the future of remote work, and everyone’s just sitting in their box, completely unaware of whatever anyone else is doing. And the best thing you can do is a custom, you know, custom emoji comment. That’s the best way you can express yourself. Like, that’s a bleak future for humanity and, you know, desk workers. So we, we think that, you know, we can give people a place to connect and express themselves, to their co-workers and build real relationships and you know, have more authentic human connection, we’re just at the start of that, you know, at the beginning, it’s just making it work, making the video consistent, and reliable. Make it so you can customize your office make it so it’s easy to share links, you know, I built three companies, I know that it’s not the fancy stuff, it’s the little stuff that just makes it work. And so, exactly the details. And so make it easy to, you know, be in Kumospace, our users are actually in there six plus hours a day, right? So make it easier to make that so they have a desktop app, get them a nice mobile app, right? Like we can work across platforms.

Brett: So you know, simple stuff, but done right, make it integrate with your calendar. I mean, there’s, you know, it’s not rocket science, we like to think of, we want to move space to be this thing you turn on the beginning of your day. And then it’s like a little conveyor belt, it just pings you when you need to be in this meeting. It’s like having an assistant right at your office. It’s like, you know, hey, JC needs you in the marketing meeting. Now, hey, five minutes from now, let’s walk you over to the engineering meeting. That’s, that’s how we envision the future of our product.

JC: Awesome. All right. Now let’s talk about the future of the industry. I gotta tell you, I haven’t heard of any other companies that are like yours. Do you have competitors out there? And if not, do you have ones that maybe could swoop in fast? And you know, where do you kind of just see the next five to 10 years of that? So we already talked about how you know if the future was zoom and slack could be pretty bleak. So let’s talk about everyone’s remote future, you know, you plus your competitors. I’m just curious. Is there anyone out there like you and whether it is or if they’re ours or not, you know, where do you see the industry as a whole going?

Brett: Look, I think during the pandemic, there were a bunch of companies that were kind of experimenting with this idea of like, they call it spatial audio kind of video spaces, a lot of those were kind of proof of concepts didn’t really go anywhere, you know, take off.

Brett: But that said, you know, the future of remote work is the future of work. So it’s obviously a big market. And, you know, some of the big Silicon Valley species, you know, we have Lightspeed and that they’re not, you know, are placing bets because the, the TAM, total addressable market is just so big, you know if everyone’s spending, we people are actually spending 10s of millions of hours and Kumospace, every month. And so, you know, VCs hear numbers like that, and they say, okay, you know, there’s something valuable to build here. So there’s definitely gonna be competition, whether it’s from slack, or from zoom or from other other startups. But the lucky part is that there’s so it’s such a big space, that we just think about making our customers happy, you know, doing a good job. And then if we do a good job for them, they’ll send us more customers like, it’s such a big TAM, we don’t really have to think about competition too much.

JC: All right. Well, that’s a personal question. Now. I mean, you obviously had a pretty cool. Yeah, I just want to let you know, you said you started three companies and whatnot, and you got the VC fund, you’ve got Kumospace, and you’re obviously a very creative person. My question is, wouldn’t like when you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? And is this it? And if not, like, how did it get here?

Brett: Yeah, you know, I have sort of got bit by the entrepreneur, entrepreneurship bug, pretty early, I was selling seashells by the seashore. When I was a kid, and, and had a little money box. And, you know, that ended, I was I eventually, at some point, got my sister on payroll. And I was paying my younger sister hourly and taking the profits at my parents sort of came in and regulated that business out and sort of made a profit share, which, you know, to this day, I still feel guilty about my sister was one of the kindest people I know. So I’ve always been an entrepreneur, you know, interested in entrepreneurship, one, that business plan competition, at college.

Brett: And so I just can’t think of any other way of doing it, like, the freedom to be running my own companies, while in Costa Rica and surfing in the morning, I just, I can’t think of anything, anything better. So and that’s, that’s, you know, that’s actually a big part of the driving ethos behind Kumospace is like, this idea that you can live your best life you can, you can be productive and work, you can have connections, your co-workers, you can do really collaborative and creative things. And then you can also have your free time, you can work from anywhere, you know, you can spend more time with your kids, you can, you know, travel the world like and that is like, I don’t know, that’s my personal goal in life, is to have my cake and eat it too. And, you know, I think Kumosspace is really just an extension of, you know, that it’s like me and Yang trying to productize that idea and share with the world as a product.

JC: That’s awesome. That is the dream, right? I mean, that’s who could argue with that being able to have the freedom is really where it’s at more than anything, right? You know, the money can come and go, but if you got the freedom of movement and experience, that’s really what helps make life really fulfilling. So that I agree with. So, to wrap up here, Brett, how can how can people for one find through MySpace, right? And then also, how can they reach out to you? Specifically, if maybe it’s a big company listening and they they have a big deal they want to talk about?

Brett: Yeah, so it’s, we’re just KUMOSPACE.com. And you come and check it out, grab your office, set it up for totally free. And, you know, if you want to get in touch, you know, feel free to ping me. I’m on Twitter, Brett1211. You can connect with me on LinkedIn. Just mention this podcast and you know, we’d love to have you talk about the future of biz tech, or I’d love to connect with you.

JC: Awesome. And listen for everyone listening out there again. If you liked what you heard today, be sure to subscribe the podcast give it that five-star rating we talked about? Write some cool comments behind it. So other techies like us can find it and enjoy learning about all these amazing and helpful b2b software’s on the market today. Brett, thank you so much for being on the show. I really appreciate it and I’ll talk to you soon here after as well.

Brett: Absolute pleasure, JC thanks for having me. And best of the best.

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