πŸŽ‰ How we launched SpatialChat a year ago: a story behind

3 months ago   •   8 min read

By Almas Abulkhairov

Thoughts on SpatialChat's First Anniversary.

A year ago, on April 20th, 2020 we officially launched SpatialChat on ProductHunt. We got #3 Product of the Day ranking, as well as received Golden Kitty award 2020 in "Community and Social" section.

SpatialChat's story goes back to December 2018, when Roman (my tech partner) wrote the first code together with Andrew and Vlad and working prototype and we enjoyed our Christmas party 2018.

SpatialChat Founders

How did we get to thinking about the overall idea of SpatialChat? This part of the story goes back several more years - to around 2016-2017. Life spread me & my friends (Vladimir, Andrei and Roman, now co-founders) across the world. We missed IRL communication, and we tried Zoom, Skype and all of them other tools, that were initially designed for a 1-1 or 1-many type of communication. These never gave us a feeling of being close. So as serial startupers, we pursued the idea to find a way to disrupt real-time communication and social interaction.

We failed a lot, and overall in around 4 years we created 29 prototype software tools, many of which have never been seen by the world πŸ™‚. We even created a walkie-talkie plugin for Slack, which we ourselves failed to adopt. But everything changed (but we figured it a year later), when the prototype #30 was created - the SpatialChat.

SpatialChat alpha, first-ever hangout, December 2018

We created a Slack channel "#spatial-party" and invited all our coworkers to meet there. Our emotions couldn't be described Β - everyone had a good time and moving circles with vicinity created a feeling of being close to each other.

But as funny as it may sound we didn't push forward at that time with any go-to-market strategy: we were all busy with other endeavors. So technically we did nothing for the entire 2019.

Everything changed for almost everyone on the planet in 2020. On March 18th, 2020, we switched to WFH and two days later, at Friday noon of March 20th, one of our colleagues posted a message in our internal Slack channel:

Hey guys, we want to party with the team online, but they (everyone) are tired of Zoom and it's **** for our goals. Do you remember that spatial-circle-thing we partied a year ago on? Can you re-deploy it? πŸ™‚

So we called Roman: "Hey, deploy SpatialChat please, if you haven't deleted the source code, we have a party in 3 hours".

We added some sauna backgrounds and the party started:

We thought that it would be cool to share this (still) alpha version with our friends and other technology companies (and some of them are public-listed companies) who still had remote work issues.

Amazingly everyone adopted it very quickly having great weekly Friday townhall meetings with 45-70min average session time, which was huge (and our consumer internet company investment experience told us, that if you create something that has 15+ min. average session time - then it's definitely worth investing some time do dive deeper.

So we (four of us) switched all-in and committed our entire time and souls to make SpatialChat a usable and scalable product. So we launched on ProductHunt.

Our landing page only said "Virtual party for up to 50 people" without any instructions, screenshots and help center 😊. Nevertheless, thousands of people started using SpatialChat within 30 days after launch!

We had a small problem from the start - by the middle of May our daily infrastructure cost for video ramped up to $7-8K a day. With such costs and only having around 20,000 users no way we could make this ad-driven or a $5/mo product to be a sustainable business. While we agreed together so split our efforts: product team focused on improving both product experience and infrastructure cost, I started a journey of find a product-market fit.

I talked to several event agencies and conference organizers I knew and they confirmed that they lacked a solution to solve the networking problem - the real reason why people attend any conference. I even wrote a Medium article on this topic. And it started - we served first several european conferences.

Two great things happened:

  1. We learned first-hand the real needs of conferences and we worked round the clock to deliver needed features (such as multi-room space)
  2. We learned Β that each conference is attended by 3-10 other conference organizers and they wanted the add the same experience to their events. And my inbox has been flooded with sales requests.

Meanwhile in consumer space and Japan

While we were busy with just optimizing the product and not even new feature development (April-July 2020), our user community created their own onboarding tutorials of SpatialChat, such as this and this.

We monitored what's happening on #spatialchat or @SpatialChatTeam on Twitter and we learned that people:

  • Celebrate birthdays
  • Make Friday hangouts with colleagues
  • Run virtual weddings
  • Do online classes
  • Run poster sessions
  • Celebrate university graduations with professors
  • And even run online shops with SpatialChat

Here's how our user created an online version of a brick-and-mortar book shop, adding inventory and QR codes to buy each. He promoted his SpatialChat space through Twitter and greeted each guest by showing around, telling about inventory and selling them. Amazing story.

Some times it felt like entire Japan is using SpatialChat, since there were active user circles from the entire japanese island.

People even promoted SpatialChat by recording their walkthroughs and real events on YouTube. For that I will be forever thankful to them, since at early days this would be impossible to manage with our small team.

Poster sessions

First poster sessions happened during summer 2020 within US university communities, including people from Emory, Georgia Tech, Harvard, Yale, Stanford, University of Pennsylvania and more (now people from around 108 US universities adopted SpatialChat for their online classes and internal events). Looking now at numbers with poster sessions, we are definitely among leaders of choice to run these poster session events.

Great feedback on running online classes & poster sessions from Lena Ting of Emory University
Example of how poster session looks like with SpatialChat

What we learned from you

We initially started with breakout rooms that host up to 50 people each (and you can host more people by making a multi-room space).

Why 50? There are few fundamental reasons for that:

  • Handling even 50 simultaneous video connections (and video circles moving) is a technology challenge, not only for us and our infrastructure providers, but for end-user computers as well (hard to decode so many video streams by average CPUs or handle video data streaming on non-5GHz WiFI connections)
  • For networking part you don't really need more than 50 people - average human can talk to no more than 12-15 people simultaneously even in real life sitting over a long table
  • 50 people in breakout are actually Nx(N-1) number of server connections, which is 50x49=2450 to manage by a server.

So what was the solution having these in mind and talking to you?

Together with your feedback, we had the following concept in mind.

Each event (even pre-pandemic offline events) always consists of generally two parts: the official one (keynotes, panel discussions, etc) and unofficial (coffee breaks, networking, afterparties, etc). We initially excelled at the latter.

To bring different breakout rooms together and for organizers to announce something important (such as "Join our networking lounge room with our special guest...") we released a Broadcast: a way for organizers to communicate with everyone in ALL breakout rooms.

To solve the official part, we released the Stage this year - an ability to have a keynote, panel discussion and more for up to 6 speakers and up to 1000 viewers per EACH stage. This year we want to increase number of speakers and concurrent viewers to even more - up to 16 speakers and up to 20K viewers per stage or event more.

With Stage you can run official keynote, panel discussion or large AMA for up to 1000 people per stage

Online conference events, networking, AMA

The key feature of SpatialChat - the breakout room drives attendee engagement for online conferences. Hundreds of professional conference organizers use SpatialChat at their online events to run networking, AMA sessions, Q&A with sponsors, sponsor booths and more.

One of our customers even earned 6-figure in sponsorship value from brands such as Twitter, Netflix, Chatroulette and more by running entire event in SpatialChat, including sponsor booth rooms.

Scala event sponsored by JetBrains

Our customers

We now have almost 4000 paid customers globally and thanks to your support and feedback we could grow and make SpatialChat better. Among our customers are people at Google, Sony, Panasonic, Unity, Harvard, Stanford, Yale, Emory, Georgia Tech and more.

We've been mentioned in Wallstreet Journal, TechCrunch, FastCompany and Wired.

Key numbers

  • Overall more than 1.4M people participated in over 10,000 events in SpatialChat during first year.
  • 85,000 registered hosts
  • ~52 min average daily session time per user globally
  • ~1.5 hours average session time per user for conference/networking events
  • ~4 hours average session time as virtual office for team
  • Majority of SpatialChat events are ranging from 100 to 300 participants, with some events reaching up to 2500 attendees (and we can do more)

Roadmap and more

Started as four, today we are 25 people from 7 different countries (Japan, Israel, Russia, Latvia, Ukraine, Cyprus and France).

  • Online conferences and events
  • Poster sessions
  • Townhall meetings, kick-offs and daily communication for remote teams
  • Online classes
  • Parties

We are working on following things to make SpatialChat even more better for customers of any size by releasing following features throughout this year:

  • User accounts / access management / multiple admin management / pre-define admins & hosts in advance
  • Single-sign On with SAML (Google, Azure AD, Okta)
  • Advanced Analytics for Business customers
  • Larger stages
  • Integrations (for example, Eventbrite, Marketo, Salesforce, etc)
  • SOC-2 Type 2 (by the end of Summer 2021)
SpatialChat Feedback
Let us know how we can improve. Vote on existing ideas or suggest new ones. Β· Make a suggestion Β· SpatialChat

Also, many companies are applying to become our partners as SpatialChat resellers.

On behalf of our team, I'm very thankful for your support. This all wouldn't be possible without your support, feedback and even critics. We worked hard to recruit best talent, create great work atmosphere and culture to work with our dear customers.

Take care and stay safe.


Almas Abulkhairov, Co-founder at SpatialChat

Checkout these links to learn more:

Spread the word

Comments

Become a SpatialChat member below to join the conversation (it's free!). As a member, you will also receive new posts by email (you can unsubscribe at any time).