Perch launches with simple, ambient video communication for families or teams, scores $1M in seed funding

If you want to communicate via video, there are plenty of options. Skype, FaceTime, Google Hangout … take your pick.

But Vancouver-based Perch has a different idea … one in which video communication is a normal, background constant. No starting and stopping an app, no “phoning” and connecting to another person or group of people, no required synchronicity. Instead, just simple video communication, always available.

It’s kind of like a tiny video-oriented social network, with Facebook’s 2011 “frictionless sharing” concept brought to life. Except only with people you really, really care about.

“I’m a dad, and I work a lot since I’m in a startup,” Perch CEO Danny Robinson told me last week. “My kids are 11 and 8 … the oldest has a phone and can text, email, or IM me, but when she really wants to talk to me, her first choice is to use Perch. It’s completely frictionless, there’s no barrier — you walk up to it, you say what you want to say.”

Perch is an iPhone app — soon to be Android too — that connects any number of people in a family or a company. The app is designed to be left running, full-time, on an older device positioned (dare I say perched) anywhere you want to enable communication. Someone who wants to communicate simply steps up to the device and waves, speaks, or otherwise communicates, and a message is sent to everyone who is connected in the same Perch group.

When they get the message, they simply view the video, and, if they choose, send one back.

In Moments mode, Perch simply records and shares video whenever it senses motion, adding sound whenever its facial recognition sensors detect a face.

This works for families, and it also works for companies, Robinson says, adding that Perch uses its own service almost exclusively for internal communications. For example, here’s Emma, Robinson’s daughter, showing him a report card via a Perch-equipped phone just inside the family’s front door:

“We leave it running all the time in the kitchen or at the front door,” Robinson said. “It’s perfect to see the little moments — I know they’re at home and feel a sense of security … everything’s OK.”

This is not Robinson’s first time around the block. He started Spinway, raising $100 million in 1999 and growing it to the second-largest ISP in the U.S. after AOL before selling it to United Online. Perch is his latest startup, and he’s just raised a $1 million seed round from Zack Lebow and Michael Peroni, two of the founder of Barracuda Networks, as well as geeks-on-a-plane and lean startup guru Dan Martell, with Mike Edwards, one of Vancouver’s super-angels.

One thing is clear: Perch is an idea and a vision, not just an app.

Robinson’s very aware of the fact that communications is a trillion-dollar industry, and seems to have several related products and services up his sleeve, though he’s currently coy about the details. Certain Android is in the very near future (the company has a job opening for an Android developer) and Amazon’s Kindle is a very tempting platform.

“We have a very well-thought out business model,” he told me. “We’re not an Instagram trying to figure it out after the fact, but we are just trying to keep a lid on that right now.”

Coming features include private messages to specific people — currently all group communications are available in a family or company conversation view, and options about how long Perch archives your video messages.

For now, the service is completely free.

Perch works on iPhone 4 and up and the iPod Touch 4 as well as more recent versions. Older iPhones and iPod Touches lack the horsepower for onboard face recognition and some of the other more challenging things that Perch does.

One thing that should reduce the creepy factor for anyone who’s worried: Perch automatically disables the back camera. This is not a tool for spying, Robinson is at pains to highlight.

“We don’t want you to hide this behind a teddy bear. This is designed to be open … everyone knows it’s there.”

Image credits: Perch


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