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.
Josh Breinlinger has a diverse background that includes positions in different capacities–from consulting to marketing to business development–at a variety of companies. Breinlinger was on the founding team at oDesk and Rev, and is now the managing director at early-stage venture capital firm Jackson Square Ventures, which focuses on funding promising tech, software, and software-as-a-service (SaaS) startups.
VC Daily: What video calling feature have you yet to see, but hope to see, from a video conferencing startup that could make that company the next big thing?
Breinlinger: There’s no feature per se that I’ve ever felt I needed, but I’ve always had issues with reliability and interoperability. There is just rarely a video conference that happens without any problems, and it’s hard to know whose fault it is. Sometimes it’s a bandwidth issue, of course. There are a lot of fundamental challenges when it comes to video calling. Honestly? I just want the video conferencing to work.
VC Daily: How do startup video call providers get a piece of a market dominated by tech giants like Skype, Google, Facebook, Cisco, and Apple?
Breinlinger: I don’t necessarily think it’s that difficult for startup video calling companies to start playing with the big companies. I think Zoom is probably the most prominent example of a startup like that–Zoom isn’t a tech giant, or at least they weren’t a couple years ago. But their product just works, so people switched over. I mean, we’re using it for this call! Basically, there’s very little lock-in with any of these different services; you don’t have to use the same platform twice in a row. Video calling is also an inherently viral endeavor because you do it with other people, and that helps companies as they’re starting out.
VC Daily: On that note, if there’s no incentive to stick with just one of these platforms, how do they succeed? How does a startup get people to be loyal to their platform?
Breinlinger: I think, far and away, the most important things that keep people using a platform are performance, customer experience, and reliability. For me, there isn’t a desire to check out other platforms unless I’m frustrated. Fundamentally, if a platform can keep its customers happy and deliver on the promise that it works, that’s what’s going to keep people. I don’t know any better way to do that than customer experience and reliability.
VC Daily: How do you use video conferencing in your working life as you vet companies for your venture capital firm?
Breinlinger: We definitely use it to talk with people who make pitches or to people in the firm who are traveling. We actually use it constantly, but there’s still no substitute for traveling and seeing someone in person–we’d never make a decision to fund someone not having seen them in person.
And one of the challenges we find with video conferencing is that when it’s one-on-one it’s easy, but if you have, say, four people distributed in different places, it’s difficult to have a cohesive, integrated meeting, and it’s hard for the people who are remote to be as engaged and active as the people who are there in person. Certainly there’s some potential in the virtual reality area–people will certainly try it as a way to make video conferencing more real, and it’ll be interesting to see what happens.
VC Daily: The video conferencing market seems to be dominated by social and B2B applications, but in your opinion how can businesses better interact with customers using video calling?
Breinlinger: There are certainly people who have tried. Bank of America terminals actually allow you to instantly connect with a customer service rep. It means that people don’t have to stand in line at brick-and-mortar places, and that’s a really compelling value prop for customers. Companies should be lowering customer effort, and live video chat is one thing that does that.
I haven’t really seen people yet doing an in-app experience–right now there are tons of online customer chats, and I suspect it will continue to go that way. With chats, one rep can manage multiple conversations at the same time, while you can’t do that with video calls. There’s also a little bit of hesitation from most people to appear on video to strangers–I don’t see that completely changing anytime soon. I see it maybe changing a little bit, but not super rapidly.
VC Daily: Let’s finish by talking about your firm’s specialty: software-as-a-service and marketplaces. Which industry do you feel needs to embrace, and could most benefit from, the projected rise of SaaS?
Breinlinger: I think that the startup ecosystem is on the rise, and there are endless opportunities. Ten years ago no tech or software venture companies were talking about pharmacies or agriculture companies–these are companies that have traditionally been slow to evolve. But now SaaS is helping make industries of all kinds more productive. The historically laggard industries like transportation and pharmacy have a long, long way to go, but I do see endless opportunities.