The Future of Video Conferencing: VC Daily Interviews Gadfly CEO Scott Kraft

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This interview is part of VC Daily’s Future of Video Conferencing interview series, in which industry leaders tell us how they see video conferencing changing their industries and where they imagine the technology going in the coming decade.

Scott Kraft is helping the next generation of brands find their voice and audience online through his work both as CEO of Gadfly.com and as a mentor with 500 Startups. A self-confessed heavy user of video conferencing, he thinks technology is the next frontier in brand building.

VC Daily: What role does video conferencing currently play in your professional life?

Kraft: I am a heavy user of video conferencing. I conduct a lot of mentoring sessions with startup founders in the areas of brand building, developing overall strategies, and developing pitches to investors, and more and more we do all of that work over video.

Especially once we’ve established a personal relationship and there’s work to get on with, I find it is vastly superior to following along on a phone call and trying to stay on the same page.

VC Daily: We talk a lot on VC Daily about the growing importance of live video within the customer experience. What is your advice to startups who are considering incorporating live video into their brand building strategy?

Kraft: Right now companies are more fixated on how they should be using live video as part of their overall communications to consumers.

As an example, 500 Startup’s Marketing Hell Week features a live stream and there are always questions from this bigger online audience. I think we’re going to see more and more of that, and more impromptu webinars.

We work with a lot of Software as a Service (SaaS) companies, and are finding live video between the business development person and the potential customer happens more and more frequently as part of the sales process and as a means of getting to closure.

VC Daily: How do you think this move to live video streaming is going to influence the way companies not only interact with consumers but also tell their own brand stories?

Kraft: I think this is going to be very slow, tip-toe stuff for brands. All brands worry about losing control, and live is the edgiest form you can get in that respect, because there’s always the danger of things going off in a very different direction than you had hoped. When a brand puts on an event it’s in as controlled an environment as they can possibly pull off. I think it’ll be a while before it is widely adopted.

VC Daily: Does that mean there is a potential advantage for younger brands in using live broadcasting while their established competitors are reluctant to embrace it?

Kraft: I think the smaller start-up brands are definitely going to take more risks and they will try more things, because what they’re looking for is a big hook for growth. That often comes from the edgier kinds of spaces left open precisely because bigger brands don’t want to take the risk.

VC Daily: Moving back to a general video conferencing discussion, where do you think video conferencing technology will evolve to help brands meet their customers’ needs?

Kraft: Looking pretty far into the future, it’s obvious we’re going to get into augmented reality and then virtual reality. The type of interactivity we’re already seeing around tools like shared whiteboarding will eventually supplant the real thing. Add augmented reality to that feature, so that you’re in a shared space with shared whiteboard projections, and I think you have something that makes video conferencing superior. You’ll soon start to see a lot of phone calls go away, and a lot of in-person meetings go away.

VC Daily: And in the short term?

Kraft:  I think we just keep seeing the numbers around video conferencing use rise and rise. There are question still lingering around security, people feel like their phone calls are not as secure as they’d like, especially at a corporate level. They are definitely going to be looking for more secure video solutions.

VC Daily: What lessons do you advise your clients to take from the recent failure of high-profile start-ups such as Vine?

Kraft: For me, a lot of the advice is around the idea of just keep experimenting, keep your eyes on what’s going on, and try things out. You will quickly discover what’s going to work for you and what won’t.

The worst thing is to get really blind to the possibilities of some of these things, because what the past teaches us is that things we may have thought were going to last forever turn out to be just a flash in the pan, and the models that had us thinking “I don’t know how this will last” turn out to be multi-billion-dollar companies.

VC Daily: Along those same lines of experimentation, how will video conferencing shape the way companies use and interact with test audiences in the future?

Kraft: One of the biggest trends we see right now is access. Companies are tiering their customers very specifically, and are rewarding their best and most loyal customers with various forms of inside access. The big social reward is that customers get to be on the inside of the organization and get to meet the key players. It’s a blurring between influencer marketing and loyalty marketing, and one of the key forms of that priority access will be video chat access.

VC Daily: You mentioned influencer marketing—do you think the use of brand ambassadors and social media influencers could become a more efficient alternative to traditional marketing?

Kraft: Currently it is tremendously more efficient. The arithmetic is just so easy. Your influencers let you reach an exponential amount of followers, and you can literally gauge your reach in frequency with those followers in a very predictable way, and know exactly what it is worth. It is well established, though the fees may be a little high, and it works.

VC Daily: So, finally, what is the future for video conferencing as a part of a brand’s overall strategy?

Kraft: In the same way that companies have extended their brands into all sorts of social media they’ve never been in before, video conferencing, especially the bigger group video conferencing, is one of the next frontiers for brand awareness and development.

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