For more than a year now, Zoom has been on a mission to transform from an application into a platform. To that end it made three announcements last year: Zoom Apps development tools, the Zoom Apps marketplace and a $100 million development fund to invest in some of the more promising startups building tools on top of their platform. Today, at the closing bell, the company announced it has made its first round of investments.
Ross Mayfield, product lead for Zoom Apps and integrations, spoke to TechCrunch about the round of investments. "We're in the process of creating this ecosystem. We felt it important, particularly to focus on the seed stage and A stage of partnering with entrepreneurs to create great things on this platform. And I think what you see in the first batch of more than a dozen investments is representative of something that's going to be a significant ongoing undertaking," he explained.
He said while they aren't announcing exact investment amounts, they are writing checks for between $250,000 and $2.5 million. They are teaming with other investment partners, rather than leading the rounds, but that doesn't mean they aren't working with these startups using internal resources for advice and executive backing, beyond the money.
"Every one of these investments has an executive or senior sponsor within the company. So there's another person inside that knows the lay of the land, can help them advance and spend more personal time with them," Mayfield said.
The company is also running several Zoom chat channels for the startups receiving investments to learn from one another and the Zoom Apps team. "We have a shared chat channel between the startup and my team. We have a channel called Announcements and a channel called Help, and another one that the startups created called Community," he said.
Every week they use these channels to hold a developer office hour, a business office hour (which Mayfield runs) and a community hour, where the startups can gather and talk amongst themselves about whatever they want.
Among the specific categories receiving funding are collaboration and productivity, community and charity, DE&I and PeopleOps, and gaming and entertainment. In the collaboration and productivity category, Warmly is a sales tool that provides background and information about each person participating in the meeting ahead of time, while allowing the meeting organizer to create customized Zoom backgrounds for each event.
Another is Fathom, which alleviates the need to take notes during a meeting, but it's more than recording and transcription. "It gives you this really simple interface where you can just tag moments. And then, as a result you have this transcript of the video recording, and you can click on those tagged moments as highlights, and then share a clip of the meeting highlights to Salesforce, Slack and other tools," Mayfield said.
Pledge enables individuals or organizations to request and collect donations inside a Zoom meeting instantly, and Canvas is a hiring and interview tool that helps companies build diverse teams with data that helps them set and meet DEI goals.
These and the other companies represent the first tranche of investments from this fund, and Mayfield says the company intends to continue looking for startups using the Zoom platform to build their startup or integrate with Zoom.
He says that every company starts as a feature, then becomes a product and then aspires to be a line of products. The trick is getting there. The goal of the investment program and the entire set of Zoom Apps tools is about helping these companies take the first step.
"The art of being an entrepreneur is working with that risk in the absence of resources and pushing at the frontier of what you know." Zoom is trying to be a role model, a mentor and an investor on that journey.