Highfive Looks to Make Video Conferencing Easier, Affordable

The startup is rolling out its solution, which includes a small hardware system with a camera and microphone and cloud-based apps.

Highfive video conferencing

A startup called Highfive is looking to carve out a space in a highly competitive video conferencing market that includes large stalwarts like Cisco Systems and Polycom and a range of smaller vendors like Blue Jeans Network and Vidyo.

Highfive on Oct. 7 introduced its first product, a device armed with a camera and microphones and accompanying cloud-based software designed to make collaboration with colleagues, partners and customers easier, less painful and more cost-effective, according to company officials. It's easy to set up a meeting and invite people to it, without the hassle and time-consuming effort other video conferencing systems take.

"Meetings suck," Highfive co-founder and CEO Shan Sinha said in a post on the company's blog. "We all know that. We waste the first 15 minutes of every meeting navigating technology to get people connected. Projectors, speakerphones, conference bridges, dongles, pin codes ... the list goes on and on. 15 minutes later, once everyone is finally connected, our prize is an extremely awkward conference call. The root of this problem is that we are still using 25-year-old technology to communicate with people at work.

"The typical conference room is a relic of 1995—table, chairs, Polycom speakerphone and a screen for presentations. All these were invented before the Internet, WiFi and smartphones. We believe the conference room and the way we work, deserves an upgrade."

Sinha and his colleagues are looking to Google as the model for that upgrade. Sinha went to Google in 2010 when the Web giant bought his startup DocVerse for about $25 million. During his time at Google, every conference room was outfitted with a video conferencing system.

"As a result, employees at Google communicate with each other face-to-face," he wrote. "No more conference calls. No more projectors. Video helped us grow closer as a team. We recognized our co-workers as people, not just faceless voices. Video wasn't a substitute for meeting in person, but it was the next-best thing. Video transformed our culture and made meetings more human."

The goal of Sinha and co-founder Jeremy Roy was to create a product that can give other companies that may not have the money to buy a high-priced system from Cisco or Polycom the same kind of affordable and easy-to-use capabilities.

The company's all-in-one system—which sells for $799—includes a video conferencing unit that can sit atop a display and plug into a High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) port, power supply and Ethernet jack. It takes about two minutes to set up, according to company officials. People are invited via a URL sent in through their calendar tool, email or Short Message Service (SMS) communication. They can click on the URL and are put into the meeting through a mobile app, though the company reportedly only has an app for Apple iPhones. An app for Google Android systems is on the way, according to reports. Through the app, people can see who is talking.

In addition, users can project the conference from their device to a Highfive-connected display with a swipe on their phone or tablet. The Highfive system automatically detects when a user is in the room and, through the app, gives them the option of putting the call or presentation on the display in the meeting room, Sinha wrote.

The system can handle up to 10 participants, according to the company. Businesses can order it now from Highfive's Website and it will be delivered within four to six weeks.

Highfive reportedly has raised more than $13 million in funding from such backers as Google Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff, Dropbox founder and CEO Drew Houston and Box founder and CEO Aaron Levie.

Highfive enters a video conferencing market that is shifting from hardware-based systems to solutions based on software and the cloud. Top-tier vendors like Cisco, Polycom and Lifesize Communications are rapidly building out their software- and cloud-based video collaboration portfolios, while smaller companies have come in over the past few years with a broad array of software- and cloud-only offerings.