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Katmai has raised $22 million for its new take on remote work with a new 3D virtual office platform.
Katmai is emerging from stealth today with its mission to revolutionize the remote work landscape with a new kind of online workplace that uses a combination of 3D virtual offices, video cameras and avatars.
The company integrates its video conferencing with a real-time 3D engine, bringing people together within immersive, customized, photorealistic environments — all accessible through a browser with no virtual reality headset needed.
By incorporating real video instead of cartoon avatars, Katmai fosters authentic human interactions in keeping with its vision of changing remote work. I tried out a demo and it worked pretty well in making you feel like you’re both in an office with other people and still taking advantage of being remote, said Erik Braund, Katmai CEO, in an interview with GamesBeat.
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Recent studies show that 97% of workers desire some form of remote work. Business leaders are
grappling with the challenge of formulating post-pandemic work strategies that maintain the advantages
of a physical office while optimizing productivity, employee well-being, and company culture.
Katmai’s virtual office product merges the benefits of a shared in-office experience with the convenience of working remotely, paving the way for a work paradigm that is truly inclusive. The 3D virtual office boasts a blend of private and co-working spaces, spatial audio, spontaneous interactions, and personalized environments that vividly represent your brand and products in the virtual realm.
“Our vision for the future of work encompasses the flexibility employees have come to expect while
giving leaders instant access to their teams and boosting productivity. In a world where companies are
striving to do more with less, our product is designed to offer businesses a competitive edge,” said Braund.
I joined a demo inside Katmai’s own virtual office, which is in a beta state. The company decided early on that video works better than 3D-animated avatars for speaking with colleagues.
“Using actual videos can convey emotion and help people build a rapport in a way that is more natural, more genuine,” Braund said.
You can move your avatar into a virtual glass office. When you close the virtual door, you can no longer hear someone who is on the other side of the door, but you can see that they are waiting outside to talk to you. When you open the door, they can come in and talk with you around a virtual table.
Katmai is pioneering the future of virtual experiences and hybrid work. The platform brings people
together inside an easy-to-navigate, photo-realistic 3D environment, enabling natural communication,
spontaneous interactions, and a sense of place that’s been missing from the digital world, Braund said.
The simplicity of the user experience means no proprietary software or hardware is required — Katmai runs in-browser on any webcam-enabled computer, he said. The company was founded in 2020, and is partnering with the world’s leading brands to create everything from virtual offices to one-off interactive experiences to digital twins of real-world locations.
“This is where we all work,” Braund said, appearing as a video speaker inside an avatar bubble.
It takes place inside a first-person environment, where you participate in the video-3D hybrid world using your own remote video rather than a 3D-animated avatar.
“Everybody that you see around is actually a person who’s here,” he said. “In the lower right of your screen where it says the participants, that’s who can hear you. But when I back out of this room, my name will disappear from there, and you’ll no longer be able to hear me. When I come back in there, you get a little bit of a doorbell.”
Born in the pandemic
Rewinding back to the beginning of the pandemic, the company was focused on audio and video production. The company pivoted to solving the online meeting challenge for interacting virtually. Braund spent a couple of years self-funding the company with a staff of about 10 people. They refined the technology and got it to work pretty well, always operating in stealth as a “submarine company.”
“Coming up in a month it will be three years of being a submarine,” Braund said. “We’re testing and learning in a few different ways as a B2B product. So we’re not focused on the consumer at the time.”
It’s all about being a digital third place, in addition to your physical home and physical office.
Since launching its closed beta in 2021, Katmai has been working with dozens of companies across both
Fortune 500 firms and startups with a diverse range of use cases. TMS, a technology, marketing, and sourcing company driving transformational change for the world’s leading brands, tapped Katmai to create a digital twin of its new Chicago Headquarters as a catalyst to support a flexible return to office policy.
“As a globally distributed team, working in Katmai has enabled us to cultivate community and company culture,” said Jim Eby, chief creative officer at TMS, in a statement. “Being together in the virtual office allows for deeper connections, real-time collaboration, spontaneity and fun that wasn’t previously achievable in our remote workflow.”
The company isn’t trying to do large events with a hundred or more people. For those occasions, companies can meet in real life. But conducting meetings on a day-to-day basis is more like its focus. Around 30 people in a meeting is where it maxes out now.
“We want to scale our release thoughtfully and carefully,” Braund said.
The Series A round was led by Starr Insurance Companies, with funding from additional investors including NFL Super Bowl Champion Sidney Rice. Katmai is actively expanding its product offerings and
partnering with industry-leading companies to develop the next generation of digital engagement
Katmai believes its technology facilitates human connection in a way that is practical, delightful, and meaningful. The company has about 40 people, and they all meet inside Katmai.
“We really benchmark ourselves against IRL, against in real life,” he said.
It uses web-based technologies such as glTF, a 3D file format for lightweight 3D and ecommerce. The aim is to have a download happen in 10 seconds or less.
“There is an element of a digital twin,” he said.
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