Looking back and looking forward

Jan 12, 2021

As I reflect back on 2020, I think and feel multitudes. I began the year at Vowel in New York City with some great colleagues around the world. Our small team had just moved to the 16th floor of the same building where we had participated in the Grand Central Tech Residency Program in 2019. Early in January, I remember sitting at Bergamo’s, the beautiful bar in our building’s lobby, with our team, excitedly discussing what we were building – the future of meetings.

We already believed that the most important stuff in every company is happening in meetings – both face to face and over video conferencing. The average knowledge worker spends over 50% of their days in meetings. For some of us, it’s our whole day. Our meeting tools were designed in an era when meetings were almost all face-to-face. Over the last 20 years they’ve competed with each other over this audio improvement or that HD video enhancement. They offered functionality that let you see and hear each other. That’s it. They don’t do anything to help you have better meetings.  

But of course, as we all know, meetings are about so much more than seeing and hearing each other. They are about collaborating with colleagues in real-time. They are about staying focused on a goal. They are about what happens before, during and after the meeting. At the start of 2019, we were laser focused on making meetings better and building a full stack meeting OS.

In March, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. We already had a partially remote team, but we went fully remote. All of a sudden, we saw our beliefs about meetings and current video conferencing solutions like Zoom and Microsoft Teams on everyone’s lips. EVERYONE was talking about remote work and this once in a generation shift that had been thrust upon all of us. We kept working. We kept building what now felt like the most timely thing we could possibly build. We ran our company on our product. We used video conferencing and our other meeting OS features every day. While connecting in Vowel multiple times a day, we would feel the pain points. New features that we thought we deeply cared about became less important to us. Calling what we have done this year “eating our dog food” feels tiny in comparison to what it actually was. We “competed in and won the Nathan’s 4th of July hot dog food contest.”

We struggled along the way. We learned what types of meetings worked for us and what didn’t. Things we already believed around meetings with structured agendas and clear action items became paramount. We hired globally. We now have team members sitting in 8 time zones! We had fun as a team. We doubled in size and now have an international team of talented, kind, fun, hard-working people. I defy you to find a team that has more virtual escape the room victories than ours.

Ultimately, we prevailed. In a year that was so difficult in so many ways, Vowel came together and achieved so much. We developed, tested, and iterated. We built features like video calls, screen sharing andtranscription. We pushed an unbelievable amount of code and built the world’s first full stack meeting OS. We created the fastest way to have a video conference right in your web browser. We launched on Product Hunt in October as the #1 product of the day and #1 product of the week. 

I’m so excited for 2021. I’ve used the term “meeting OS” a few times in this blog. We like this language because it captures what it takes to holistically do meetings well. There are so many tools that try to help us have better meetings. But without performing all the tasks together, they fall short. We believe there is so much room for something better.

Wouldn’t it be better if our meeting tools let us have a shared agenda and collaborate on notes and action items?  Wouldn’t it be better if the meetings were automatically recorded and transcribed, so we didn’t have to write every single thing down while we were trying to have a conversation?  Wouldn’t it be better if we could easily share and revisit those recordings with our team, so anyone could stay in the loop and remember exactly what was said, even if they’re across the world?

In 2021, Vowel will launch publicly. My hope that everyone can experience what it means to have better meetings and I can’t wait to share this journey with all of you.


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