This startup by BITS Pilani alumni is gamifying the online workspace
When the pandemic hit, BITS Pilani and London School of Business alumni Karan Baweja and Rahul Goyal realised one thing - while working from home wouldn’t be a challenge, human interaction and connectivity will be challenging. It is to bring that very human connectivity they startedout of London in 2020.
The startup has built virtual spaces that replicate the physical office by combining video chat with a Minecraft-like game.
“For most people, 2020 has been the year the world went online, where bedrooms became offices and family catch ups turned to zoom. When the pandemic hit, we were working in London, running product teams at two of London's top consumer startups - Citymapper and TransferWise,” says Karan.
During this time, he says, they started missing their office friends, the coffee breaks, and having breakfast together was something they simply longed for, which led them to start Cosmos Video.
Some of the companies using the platform in India include Apple, Google, Facebook, Uber, Salesforce, Postman, Locus, IIT Bombay, EY, Indiabulls, Clarisights, and Firstcheque.VC.
Why start Cosmos?
In the office, people bump into each other all the time, and these chance conversations help build strong relationships and company culture. These meetings also lead to some of the most creative ideas for the company.
“With entire companies working remotely, we noticed the teams were increasingly missing the context of what others were working on. In the office, you overhear conversations among other teams, and jump in when needed, which meant always having a good idea of what the rest of the company was doing, and how your work fit into the bigger picture,” says Karan.
He explains, without going to the office, work had become endless Zoom call and Slack threads. Spontaneous discussions and creative brainstorming had come to a halt. “We needed a way to bring back the same speed and energy of working from an office and teams feeling connected, and we wanted to do this while our teams worked remotely,” says Karan.
Though returning to the office was an option, there were too many benefits of working remotely - companies can hire across the globe, and no leases result in huge cost savings. For employees, there are time and financial savings on commuting, and freedom to live outside the city centre.
How does it work?
Cosmos has built virtual spaces that replicate the physical office by combining video chat with a Minecraft like game.
Each user in the venue has an avatar and can walk up to other people’s avatars to instantly video chat with them. When users move their avatars away, the video chat ends automatically. Essentially, every user in the same venue can walk up to someone to start a conversation - just like in real life.
The use of avatars means there is the same flow of people walking in corridors and passing each other in common areas, which helps them meet and interact with each other.
The way it works is simple. Users can create a virtual office based on the size of their team. They can then invite their team to come into the venue by sharing a link. Cosmos is currently free to use for teams of any size.
According to the founders, customers get all the benefits of being in an office while being remote – interact with each other to have a casual conversation as well as walk up to people to ask a question without having to make video calls every now and then.
“We've created these virtual spaces by combining game mechanics with video chat, which requires solving complex engineering and design challenges. Embedding video technology inside a video game brings a large degree of complexity, and we need the best engineers to solve these complex challenges as our user base is scaling rapidly,” adds Karan.
Gamifying the video
The idea was to allow teams to experience the benefits of being in an office while working remotely.
The team thus iterated repeatedly and concluded that combining a Minecraft/Sims/Pokemon like game with video chat would be the best way to bring about serendipitous interactions when people can't be together physically.
“While this is very valuable with people unable to meet physically during COVID, our belief is that many companies will work in hybrid or remote setups even in the future, and they will need a product like Cosmos to build culture and work together effectively,” adds Karan.
Founded in September last year, the team has strong traction in Europe and the US, and has raised pre-seed funding of $2.6 million (Rs 20 crore) from Europe's early-stage fund LocalGlobe in December 2020.
Jonny Burch, Co-founder Progression says, “This week we're using Cosmos for our morning hang-out and stand up, then just hanging out while we work. I have to say, I absolutely love it. (Here's me 'focusing' in the kitchen — great for being available but private for a few hours)”
The startup is also backed by prominent angel investors such as Phillip Moehring (Partner, AngelList); Andy Chung (Partner, AngelList); Azmat Yusuf (Founder, Citymapper); Lyle Fong (Partner, EQT Ventures); Roberta Lucca (co-founder, Bossa Studios); Sharmadean Reid MBE (Founder, Beautystack); Omid Ashtari (COO, Streetbees); and Sarah Wood (Co-founder Unruly).
Emile Van Den Berg, Founder of Upper Sigma says, “The Cosmos virtual office has been one one of the best tools we have used for the last few months. It allowed our team to feel close again regardless of the different countries and time zones we spread across. The ability to pop over to someone and ask a question or sit having team drinks around the game zones. But also we are not polluting the planet forcing everyone to travel into some little box in London City. Be virtual but be powerful together.”
Market and future
“All the initial hires are senior folks from our previous companies - they were excited by the vision of Cosmos, which is to be the Virtual HQ for remote-first teams across the globe. Building a category-defining product from scratch excites us all,” says Karan.
The team is looking to charge users £10-15 per user/month (Rs 1,000-1,500 per user a month). Karan explains, several organisations across the world are using us as a virtual HQ. They range from small five-people teams to large corporations.
A Deloitte survey of 275 executives conducted in April found that more than two-thirds of respondents (67 percent) were still fully remote at the time. However, 64 percent of the surveyed population expected to return to their office at some point in 2021, and the other 25 percent said they’d already reopened.
“We see office spaces like WeWork as our primary competition. While a fixed desk in WeWork costs an average of Rs 15,000/month in Bengaluru, Cosmos will cost 10 percent of that, and people need not commute,” says Karan.
Speaking of their future plans, Karan says, “We plan to start generating revenue later this year, and expanding our team as our user base scales. In the long term, we hope to disrupt the $32.9 billion global commercial office market.”