By Anna Lardinois, Startup Storyteller
Co-founders of local technology company No Small Magic, Nate Kresse and Scott Vanderbeck, were developing interactive software for the tradeshow and live event industry when the pandemic hit.
The abrupt end of live events meant the team had to pivot to remain in business. The result of that forced ingenuity is Showboat, an online meeting tool that focuses on participant interaction.
At the onset of the pandemic, Kresse said, “we had a lot of clients that were asking for virtual solutions and we were a live events company.”
“We looked around at the existing offerings and they were pretty robust,” he said. “There are all these platforms that do full virtual productions, and we thought ‘no need to build one of those.’ It seems like they have that covered. But the problem with all of them is that there was no networking.”
The pair were unimpressed with the limited interaction offered by many of the virtual meeting products and were determined to create a technology tool that would mimic human interaction at in-person events.
Kresse and Vanderbeck worked on the problem for several months and developed something so unique, they created a new company to support the product. Showboat was launched in 2020 with Kresse as the CEO and Vanderbeck as the CTO of the emerging startup.
“We had a lot of experience producing 3D software prior to the pandemic,” Kresse said. “We decided to take what was great about the video conferencing systems, which is you get a link, you press the link, you hop in, you have your meeting, you meet face to face and extend that into the 3D environment. That’s what Showboat is.”
Interactive audio is one way the technology mimics a face-to-face event.
“We have spatial audio,” Kresse said. “The closer you are to someone, the louder they are. You can have multiple conversations going on in the same space. A group of people can be talking in one area, the other in another area, and they don’t bleed over each other like they would on a Zoom call.”
And that solves a fundamental issue with virtual meetings: “The more people you stick into a Zoom, the worse that the meeting is. The more people you stick into Showboat, the better the meeting is,” he said.
Customized options– from how the tool is used to how the virtual meeting space looks — is another key differentiator of the product. While familiar online meeting tools like Zoom and Teams provide standard tools that users must adapt to, Showboat offers a myriad of different meeting room options, all of which can be reimaged to fit the users’ needs.
While the pandemic appears to be waning, rising travel costs will likely keep virtual meetings an attractive option.
Designed with the business-to-business customer in mind, Showboat is working on perfecting the use of the technology as a premium tool for sales staff.
“Sales teams can do remote sales pitches inside a showroom environment where you can get the benefit of 3D space,” Kresse said.
He envisions a remote sales call where the team puts the product in the middle of the virtual room and have interactive features in the page. He says salespeople can “bring prospects in, meet with them face to face, have supplementary information that’s downloadable and log it all into the CRM.”
Despite the complicated technology, users only need an internet connection, camera and microphone to use the tool. Kresse said Showboat requires nothing more than a 15-second orientation for the user to actively participate in the online meeting space.
The company is eager to show a new audience how fun virtual meetings can be. Vanderbeck thinks Showboat “feels different and is a visceral experience” in the minds of its users. He finds typical online interactions are easily forgotten. Showboat, with its focus on allowing participants to interact, creates “a feeling of presence where you actually spent quality time together.” He believes those human connections make the online experience more meaningful to participants.
Growth is the current focus of the company. The 2020 launch of the company was supported by $1 million from private investors. Before the close of the year, Showboat plans to launch a Series A funding round targeted for venture capital firms and private investors. The company has chosen a traditional path to raising capital because the business-to-business tool would not get the boost from crowdfunding that a consumer forward product might. “VCs provide more than just capital; they are a strategic partner who leverage their connections to help grow the business” Vanderbeck said.
Showboat’s local reception has been enthusiastic. Local powerbroker Erica Conway, president of C2, hosted a well-received networking event using the tool, and other notable Milwaukeeans are lined up to introduce Showboat to their own audiences.
To experience Showboat for yourself, connect with them here.