Bay Area startup Around emerged from stealth today to transform video calling for the 21st-century workplace—one built around the laptop and the open office instead of the cubicle and the conference room. Floodgate and Initialized Capital led seed investments in Around totaling $5.2M, with other backers including Credo Ventures and Naval Ravikant.
Although we haven’t used it yet, Around’s says their video calling combines lean, elegant design with innovative technology that makes every place the ideal meeting space. We are impressed with the screenshot of the solution above.
Around’s creators had been working together for more than 10 years as a distributed team when they had an inspiration: Traditional video calls were stuck in the 1900s. Too big. Too awkward. Too much.
“Traditional videoconferencing tries to maximize visual presence. But too much presence gets in the way of your work,” said Around CEO Dominik Zane. “People want to make eye contact. They want to connect. But they also want to get stuff done. Around treats video as the means to an end, not the end in itself.”
Instead of taking over the screen like a traditional video call, Around’s floating video layer makes room for other applications. Participants appear in small, circular windows that crop out background clutter, while Around’s video-processing AI keeps the camera focused on the callers’ faces, even as they move around. It leaves the rest of the screen free, so users can take notes, write code or work in apps like GDocs, Figma, Invision, Miro and Pitch.
Seamlessly integrated with Slack, Around is useful for quick syncs and impromptu collaborations.
“We wanted to take the friction out of video calls,” Zane said, “whether it’s the friction of getting a call started, or working together while you talk.”
Around eliminates the need for a dedicated video camera. Its unique EchoTerminator technology uses ultrasonic audio to detect nearby laptops and automatically squelch feedback from open mics. Instead of huddling around a camera or piling into a video-equipped meeting room, everyone simply joins the call from their own laptop, wherever they happen to be, even if they’re sitting in the same room.
“It’s liberating not to have to think about where to take a call, whose laptop to use, what table you’re all going to sit at,” Zane said. “You don’t even realize how much mental energy you put into it until you don’t have to anymore. With Around, you never have to book the conference room with the camera, or make someone’s laptop the ‘call machine.’”
Around squashes other conference-call irritations as well, automatically filtering out noise like coughs, noisy fans, loud breathing and barking dogs.
Around also updates the social dynamics of video calls. Its compact “floating-faces” mode erases the distinction between remote and on-site workers, and makes video less intimidating for people who feel self-conscious on camera. Emotes give people who might be shy to speak up a way to make their opinions heard. And though anyone can join an Around session whether they have the software or not, Around never drops them into a meeting without their consent.
“With this kind of technology, you have to walk a fine line between making people available and respecting their time,” Zane said. “It was important to us that people be able to work undisturbed when they want to. Connection is important, but sometimes people want to go heads-down and not have to worry about getting a virtual tap on the shoulder.”
“Around is what you get when you rethink video chat for a 21st-century audience, with 21st-century technology,” said Initialized co-founder and general partner Garry Tan. “Around has cracked an incredibly difficult problem, integrating video into the way people actually work today. It makes other video-call products feel clumsy by comparison.”
Around is now available by invitation. To request access, visit Around here.
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