The global videoconferencing equipment market is enormous, driven by the ever-growing percentage of employees who regularly dial into work remotely. Research firm Future Market Insights pegs it at $1.6 billion by 2027, and in a recently published Wainhouse Research survey, a whopping two-thirds of respondents reported that their organization plans to install more hardware in small meeting rooms and huddle rooms.
It’s not terribly surprising, then, that startups like Owl Labs aren’t having any trouble securing fresh venture capital. The Boston, Massachusetts-based startup today announced that it’s raised $15 million in series B funding led by Spark Capital, with participation from existing investors Matrix Partners and former Android CEO Andy Rubin’s Playground Global, bringing its total raised to $22.3 million.
CEO Frank Weishaupt said the infusion — which comes after a year in which revenue and customer acquisition grew eight and 10 times, respectively — will help to grow the team, accelerate product manufacturing, and expand Owl Labs’ international footprint. “We are grateful to Spark Capital for their support, and for seeing and believing in the potential for Owl Labs to improve the meeting experience in ways that only a true smart device can,” he added.
Owl Labs was founded in 2014 by iRobot veterans Max Makeev and Mark Schnittman, who sought to develop an autonomous alternative to manually operated, conventionally clunky meeting room cameras. Their brainchild — the $799 Meeting Owl — is a 2.6-pound, fabric-clad cylinder with USB ports for monitors and PCs and a pair of indicator LEDs meant to mimic the eyes of its namesake animal.
Unlike software-based solutions that intelligently switch among meeting attendees, the fabric-clad Owl, which packs a Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 system-on-chip and runs a modified version of Android, provides a 360-degree view of its surroundings courtesy of a 720p camera with a custom-designed fisheye lens. Its eight-microphone array and algorithms identify the direction of speech from up to 12 feet away and highlight active speakers, automatically creating split views when more than one person is participating (up to three).
Meeting Owl is designed to be platform agnostic — it works with Skype, Zoom, Hangouts, Slack, and most other videoconferencing platforms. But Owl Labs intends to develop complementary software products that deliver analytics, for instance, and monitor rooms for availability, building on an existing smartphone app that allows remote control of the Owl.
“The Owl, we envision it becoming a platform where every week we’re adding new features and functionality based on what our users want as we learn from our users,” Owl Labs VP of growth Karen Rubin told VentureBeat in an interview last summer. “It’s like Alexa, where every single week you get a new email with updates and things you can do.”
Owl Labs says that the Meeting Owl facilitated over 450,000 meetings in 2018, a number it expects will exceed 10 million in 2020. It’s competing with the likes of Logitech, ConferenceCam, Aver, Vaddio, Polycom, and HuddleCamHD for small- and medium-sized customers with fewer than 1,000 employees, but Spark Capital cofounder and general partner Santo Politi expressed confidence it’ll carve out a niche.
“Owl Labs is taking on a universal challenge,” Politi said. “Employees at all levels and across all industries have experienced the confusion, delays, and awkwardness that often come with poor video meeting setup, which over time impacts employee satisfaction and ultimately the bottom line. We’re excited to invest in a company that’s looking beyond current workplace technology to create video conferencing solutions that serve all employees equally.”