Presence, a voice-first tool for remote teamwork

With SaaS productivity tools surging, the way we collaborate within our workplace has changed dramatically. In light of this growing industry, 500 Startups Korea is very excited to announce our Seed investment in Presence, which is a company that provides an always-on voice chat tool for remote teams. Presence offers a service where remote teams can communicate synchronously and asynchronously in a seamless manner.  Presence came into our radar after Junu and Paul, the two co-founders, applied to our newly launched Seed Program, which we received a record of 750 applications from prospective entrepreneurs and early-stage startups.  ——– Efficient communication comes hand-in-hand with increased productivity in the workplace. Everyone is aware of this truth. And the way we calculate this efficiency is by mainly looking at two factors: A) Is the right message being delivered? B) Is the least amount of time being spent to deliver that message?  Until recently, even the most mundane questions had to be sent and replied through email – creating unnecessarily long email threads that everyone dreads having in his/her mailbox. Today, you can easily send direct messages, post on a channel with the relevant people, and follow-up on a conversation thread without accessing an email service at all. Tools such as Slack, Microsoft Teams, Tandem, and Discord made this possible. If we refer back to the equation of efficiency that we laid out in the beginning, these tools do fulfill our need to quickly deliver text messages but whether they are the most optimal tools are still in question.  If you and your colleague are both online, you could technically chat in real-time, making tools such as Slack a persistent communication platform. However, unless it is an urgent matter and you explicitly say it so, having your status online doesn’t mean that you will reply to your colleagues’ question, request or comment right away. And this is a two-way road because it’s the same when you are the person waiting for a reply. The way most users interact in platforms like Slack makes these utility services intermittent communication tools, or also known as asynchronous communication tools.  In most cases, you will need to wait a couple of minutes, if not hours, to deliver your intended message and get a reply back. And the aggregation of these minutes not being used to its full potential creates lagging in workflows, hence dropping overall efficiency in the workplace. This is why we still value synchronous communication, which is another expression for real-time communication. On this side of the market mapping, you have tools like Zoom, Google Hangout, Bluejeans, and GoToMeeting.   Does this mean synchronous communication tools are superior to asynchronous ones? Absolutely not.  Depending on the situation real-time communication is preferred but just because all the team members have joined the call it doesn’t mean each minute on the call will result in better communication and better performance.  On top of that, you also have the hassle of scheduling the right time for the conference call (which is even harder for organizations with multiple regional offices in different time zones), generating the link, and distributing it to those who will need to attend. If the call is intended to last for a substantial amount of time, the hassle you went through may pay off. However, we are often pulled into online meetings that last for 10 minutes or less, making the scheduling process more time consuming than the actual call.  The whole process is needlessly complicated and time-consuming.  In times like today, where remote work or WFH has become a common, if not obligatory, practice in many companies due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are in need of both synchronous and asynchronous communication tools. But despite all the API integrations between the different tools we use every day for work, the transition between intermittent and persistent communication tools is yet from being completely seamless.  There must be a better collaboration and communication tool – this is where Presence comes in.  The differentiation of Presence is focused on the human connection that voice messages convey, which text-only communication can’t come up to par. If you and your colleague have the status set as available, the push-to-talk feature of Presence allows you to send instant voice messages that will be heard in real-time from the receiver side. This is the synchronous communication aspect of Presence.  Delivering your message with your own voice not only reduces the risk of miscommunication but it builds a stronger sense of camaraderie among remote colleagues. As more companies are adopting the full-remote state, loneliness caused by working remotely is becoming a serious social issue. Presence, in this aspect, hopes to enable a cozier and tighter-knit online workplace environment by taking the essentials of human connection.  Presence’s voice-to-text feature, on the other hand, allows asynchronous communication among remote employees. It is a powerful feature that automatically transcribes spoken words into text. This way users are allowed to quickly send messages without compromising on focus and/or time.  Presence was created by two founders who have been working remotely for the past 10+ years. Junu, who is a serial entrepreneur, comes from a UI/UX background, and having previously worked at design consulting houses, remote work, and collaboration among multiple regional offices was the common workplace practice. Similarly, Paul, who is a full-stack developer with real-time web expertise, has been working remotely for an extensive period of time. When we sat down to talk with them for the first time we realized right away that they created Presence because their needs and pain points as remote workers were not fully fulfilled by the tools already present.  According to Recode, it is estimated that by 2025, some 70 percent of the workforce will work remotely at least five days a month. This means that the idea of anyone needing to work from one location 5 days straight will seem antiquated in the nearby future.  This naturally brings to light the need for organizations to prepare for a fully remote state. In other words, implementing better collaboration and communication tools will be a high priority for many organizations. This is why we are super excited to be on the same ship as Presence.    Written by MinChi Park (Program Manager)