Live conversations you ask? As we have become addicted to our phones, live conversations have all but been lost and instead replaced with texts and Emojis combined with scores of people who are heads down in their phones, rarely even speaking. Unmute is looking to change that by creating a live streaming platform where users are focused on conversations again. The platform allows live calls to be publicly broadcast so that conversations are not just two sided. Other interested parties can join in by listening or even join in on the conversation which makes the potential uses for the platform quite interesting as it can be a scalable digital interactive talk show of sorts. The startup just closed an impressive funding round quickly from some notable investors after being featured in the App store in addition to Product Hunt.
Today we sit down with Justin Spraggins, Cofounder and CEO of unmute to learn more about the funding, the business, and the future for Unmute.
Who were your investors and how much did you raise?
We raised a $2.2M Seed round led by Greycroft Partners. Other investors in the round include Comcast Ventures, Crosscut Ventures, Betaworks, Greylock, David Stern, Robert Kirkman, and other notable angels.
Tell us about your product or service.
Unmute is a platform that allows users to engage in interactive phone conversations where live calls are publicly broadcast to the world. As an added twist, listeners can engage with calls through comments and shared photos and the host can choose to “Unmute” listeners to bring them into the call. It’s a bit of a radio dial in show for everyday conversations and leads to amazing interactions.
From your data since launch, what are some popular use cases for your platform?
There are two main categories of use cases that we’re seeing develop on the platform. The first involves anyone that wants to conduct focused conversations with existing communities. Examples of this are celebrities who want to connect with their fans in an intimate way by allowing them to talk to them live (celebs love being able to do this in free time and without having to get camera ready), pundits that want to conduct radio dial-in show type conversations (sports talk radio, discussion of television, etc), and town hall type meetings to allow corporations or politicians to give their constituents the opportunity to ask questions and learn.
The second main use case involves normal users who are using the platform to meet new people and develop meaningful relationships through conversations. Users are discovering other users from around the world through the app and talking through the night. The rapid formation of global friendships has been really amazing to see.
What inspired you to start the company?
Many things led to the start of Unmute but the main driver was the realization that live conversation is the most powerful tool in driving meaningful connections. Beyond that we saw how awesome those conversations at parties that start with just two people discussing a topic and grow as more people join with their own perspectives are and wanted to do our best to create a digital representation of that experience.
How is it different?
Creating a live streaming platform that is focused on audio as opposed to video creates a different experience where content is both much easier to consume (no staring at a screen) and much easier to create (no need to be camera ready or comfortable with being in front of a camera). Additionally, the focus on conversation as the centerpiece as opposed to a one-to-many broadcast gives the content a much more natural/raw quality and allows everyone to easily be part of the content creation process.
What market you are targeting and how big is it?
The overall market of people interested in developing meaningful connections to people and ideas, as cliché as it sounds, is limitless. Our initial traction is concentrated within the Snapchat generation that quickly adapts to new interaction paradigms as a way of connecting with others as well as the fan communities of influencers who want more intimate access to their idols and we’ll continue to cultivate those markets in the short term.
What’s your business model?
Our focus right now is to create the most captivating and robust experience we can without too much preoccupation around business model. That being said, the amazing engagement we’re already seeing early on allows us to consider the social business models made popular by platforms like Twitch and YouNow as well as premium monetization around leveraging the core communication utility.
What was the funding process like?
While the formal fundraising process was relatively short (2 months), it really was the result of relationship building over the last few years. I had developed a great relationship with the investors at Greycroft and many of the other syndicate members while sharing the products that my previous company had created over the last 4 years. Once we were able to secure a fantastic firm like Greycroft as our lead investor, the rest of the round naturally filled itself out.
What are the biggest challenges that you faced while raising capital?
We know we’re very fortunate that identifying our lead investor did not take months and months. Not every startup is that fortunate and we definitely are grateful that Greycroft stepped up so early in our process. Once that was in place, the biggest challenge became focusing on engineering the most value added syndicate of investors for our particular business. We had to be very deliberate in evaluating who we wanted to work with and why. It was an amazing problem to have but that did not make it any less challenging!
What factors about your business led your investors to write the check?
I think there were a few key things that helped encourage investors to fund our business. First , the audio-focused product benefited from the renaissance that audio formats like podcast and radio are experiencing now combined with our our own unique twist (unmuting). Second, the initial traction of our MVP from being featured by both Apple and ProductHunt and the resulting spikes in numbers really helped. Finally, our team’s experience building highly scaled and recognized products in the past was a big plus for the investment community.
What are the milestones you plan to achieve in the next six months?
We plan on filling out our team with more amazingly talented individuals and perfecting our product experience. Beyond that, we’re focused on getting to a million users as quickly as we can.
What advice can you offer companies in Los Angeles that do not have a fresh injection of capital in the bank?
I would say focus on building quality (in your product, in your team, in your vision) and good things will happen. Additionally I’d say invest in relationships and look for opportunities to learn as you drive towards finding funding for your venture; both of those will be instrumental in reaching your goals.
Where do you see the company going now over the near term?
The next few months will be focused on launching version two of our product, which we’re really excited about. We plan on using the insights from our MVP and building on it to create an amazing experience for our OG Unmuters and all the future Unmuters that we know will be joining the platform.
Do you think LA will land the Olympics in 2024?
With the new stadium home for our LA Rams, I think we’ll have a great shot at landing the Olympics in 2024!