In this enlightening conversation, Susan Sly speaks with Brett Martin – President and Co-Founder of Kumospace. Hear the amazing story behind the revolutionary software that enables remote teams to come together in a virtual office for collaboration, mentorship and creating an engaging work culture!
Topics covered in the interview
Problem Kumospace solves
The future of Kumospace
Brett Martin’s Bio
Brett Martin is President & Co-Founder of Kumospace, the virtual office platform where teams show up, as well as Co-Founder & Managing Partner of Charge Ventures, a pre-seed-focused venture fund based in Brooklyn, NY. He also serves as an Adjunct Professor at Columbia Business School, where he teaches data analytics and technology strategy.
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Susan Sly 00:02
This is Raw and Real Entrepreneurship, the show that brings the no nonsense truth of what is required to start, grow and scale your business. I am your host, Susan Sly.
Susan Sly 00:17
Well Hey, what is up Raw and Real entrepreneurs, wherever you are in the world, I hope you're having an amazing day. My guest today, Well, firstly, it's super cool because he is doing the show from Costa Rica and had not a near encounter with like a shark or something like that buut actually, with Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter. So how cool is that? Maybe we'll talk about that. He has a vision for the workspace of tomorrow and his company Kumospace, which was founded in August 2020, and it seems like there's a theme about pandemic founded companies. And I know in 10 years we're doing the show, these are the companies that are going to be the unicorns. I know that because if you can start a company during the pandemic, and get through that grittiness, you can really do anything. And Kumospace, they have a philosophy, humans first, and I was going through all of the bios of the humans behind the company. And this founder has built just an amazing, incredible group of people. On top of that, he is also Co Founder and Managing Partner of Charge Ventures, which is an early seed stage VC firm, and an adjunct professor at Columbia University. I mean, what I said to him before we started, he's like, the renaissance man of technology. So my guest today is the president and co founder of KumoSpace, the one and only Brett Martin live from Costa Rica. So Brett, welcome to the show.
Brett Martin 01:48
Susan, thank you so much for having me. You can't see me but I am blushing.
Susan Sly 01:53
Well, okay, so let's just ask the burning question everyone wants to know. Did you get to talk to Jack or was it like a sighting?
Brett Martin 02:02
I mean, he was about 10 feet away from me. But honestly, he looked like he was having a really good time and the music was quite good. And yeah, I just wanted to him, it was just nice to share the space, everyone. It's a really chill environment down here, people. It's not really a shop talk sort of environment. So I let him be.
Susan Sly 02:22
Definitely. I mean that whole, like fan thing and, well, let me ask you the question, it is Raw and Real Entrepreneurship. Who is someone in tech that you would love to connect with if you could have 30 minutes of their time?
Brett Martin 02:39
Hmm. I think that, you know, I mean, Stewart Butterfield from Slack is probably one, given that, you know, I am thinking a lot about the future of work. He's also just kind of an amazing writer if you've ever read some of his essays. I, you know, I'd love to hear that whole story from beginning to end to getting acquired. And you know, what he thinks about working for Marc Benioff at Salesforce. So yeah, probably probably start from Slack.
Susan Sly 03:11
Nice. That acquisition was incredible, too. I was reading, there was just a recent article about Slack. And in that, it was almost meteoric, how fast they went from inception to acquisition. And, and it definitely, I'd be curious. I mean, everyone on the show knows that I want to spend time with Elon, because he and I went to the same university in Canada. And so that's, that's one thing. He obviously has had an incredible track record for success. But I'd love to understand his thought process. And it's so interesting. I was thinking about him this morning, Brett, because when Mark Zuckerberg just announced they're going to allow subscription for blue checks on Instagram, but Elon did it first. I was like, yeah, there we go again, Elon did it first.
Brett Martin 04:05
I mean, a fascinating interview. Although I heard in the interview, we'd have a little beef, you know, with his forcing everyone back into the office policy doesn't really, doesn't really align with our worldview, but certainly an accomplished man.
Susan Sly 04:17
Well, that's because he doesn't have your tech. So I was on the site and I was blown away, because I think, as a mom too, Zoom, all of it going through the pandemic, and there were my kids in virtual classes and falling asleep. And then I go on Kumospace, and I'm like, Dang, this is so cool. So for the audience, let's just jump in right there. Talk about the company and well, I'm so curious about the UI because it looks so cool, but just share with everyone listening, what is Kumospace and how is it different than anything else we've experienced just in terms of virtual work?
Brett Martin 05:03
It's funny, I'm come back to that story of about the your children, Kumospace, but yeah, I mean Kumospace is essentially, you know, we build virtual offices where remote and distributed teams and hybrid teams they show up to work every day. So it's, really, we're just trying to take, I don't know if you saw Andy Jassy, the CEO of Amazon, he actually just wrote a letter, you know, telling everyone is going to be back in the office at least three days a week by May 1 in Amazon. And when he cited the reasons for doing that, he said, you know, people can just bump into each other the, you know, best brainstorming comes from popping in and tapping him on the shoulder and asking them a question. You know, people young employees really need mentorship, they need to learn by osmosis, which is involves being, you know, near their co workers and seeing and learning how decisions are made. And, you know, these kind of impromptu ad hoc conversations through which culture is built. And, you know, I'm reading that, and I'm thinking, you know, I actually agree with most of the things he said, however, we are trying to provide those same benefits, culture through osmosis, quick, low latency conversation, tapping people on the shoulder, having moments for ideas to marinate and percolate over time through repeated interactions. We're trying to provide all those benefits, but do it at a 10th of the cost and use software to do it. So you know, fundamentally Kumospace, it's a virtual office, it's a place where a team shows up and it looks like an office, kind of a two dimensional space, and you can have multiple different groups of people, and they're having different conversations at the same time. And you can kind of fluidly move between those conversations, just like in the real world.
Susan Sly 06:56
Well, So here's a funny story. I was talking, I was doing an interview last year about Metaverse technology and virtual offices and hybrid offices for Cornette out of New York. And, and I brought up Kumospace as an example. And I said, this is where we're going, because it's not like I'm in my pajamas and I'm hiding on my you know, whatever, with my virtual background on Zoom, and not even showing my face. And I have a philosophy too, at Radius for our meetings is I demand that everyone's on camera, because I want to see your face, I don't want you multitasking. Multitasking, in my humble opinion as a CEO is a complete and utter waste of time, because I don't want to have to explain something over that we just explained in the meeting. And at first people are like, well, we don't want to do that. But it is more effective. Right? So talk about how Kumospace is different for let's say, you know, we're meeting up, we can tap each other on the shoulder. But if someone hasn't been on the website, and they're looking at it from a UI perspective, what's the immediate impression,Brett? How does it look different than something else that's out there?
Brett Martin 08:18
Yeah, so when you sign up for Kumspace, you are dropped into a virtual office, which really looks like a kind of two dimensional overhead view. Imagine you're like looking down at office and you can see the different offices and common areas and presentation rooms and meeting rooms. And when you instantly will see if you were to go to the Kumospace office right now you'd see 28, 29 people working, and they'd be working in small groups in different offices. Some people would be giving presentations, you could actually see what they're screen sharing, you know, some people would be chilling in common areas, kind of co working, you know, not really talking to each other, but occasionally, you know, cracking a joke, and then going back to their work, and then some people would be in focus mode, you know, in their office, you know, with their headphones on, really grinding, you know, not to approach them or and, you know, maybe other people might be behind a closed door. And so you wouldn't really be able to hear them or see them or what they're talking about. You just know, you know, there's okay, there's people in there, having a closed meeting, right. And so you get that same warmth of you know, the human sort of, you know, you're in this together. You know, one of the biggest problems we see is that you might have an organization with 100 people, you might have an organization 10 people, 100 people, 10,000 people, they're all working, but they're all sitting in their office, in their home office alone. And you might be at a 10,000 person company, but feel alone, and so Kumospace, one of the problems we're trying to solve is that. So when you, every day at our virtual office, you know, you get there, were mostly engineerings, it starts around 9:30, 10:00. And you see 30 people stream into the virtual office together, and, you know, start working together. And that sense of camaraderie, that sense of connection is so missing in this remote world. And you know, we're just trying to bring that back.
Susan Sly 10:28
There is, as you're sharing, I love that you said the word warmth. And I want to pause there for everyone to hear because warmth and technology for people outside of technology, those two words are not necessarily associated together. And the concept of having all the engineers working together virtually, collaborating, or data scientists like in our case, we have teams, Brett, in India, in Turkey as well as Bellevue, Washington, we have an office there, we have an office in Tempe and, and that, that whole concept of people working together or working on, you know, whatever project that they're doing, but to be able to have that same feeling of togetherness, it's just massive. And so let me switch gears for a minute. You have a very clear problem to solve but I want to go back in time, because there, every startup has some kind of origin story. So what is the origin story for Kumospace? Because pandemic, it would seem obvious, yet when I look at your background, and you, some people have one zone of genius, you have several zones of genius. What was it for you that you said, Hey, this is something, it's not just I want to do and I could do, but I'm definitely doing it. Can you take us back to the origin?
Brett Martin 12:00
Yeah. It's funny you say that, because the origin story was typical pandemic baby. You know, I was 100%, fully focused running Charge Ventures. It's my pre-seed focused, a New York based venture capital firm. And, you know, the pandemic hit. And what we used to do is we used to have a monthly networking events. So we pull in 40, 50 mid career folks that were also angel investors, and people would share deals. And that was a great source of deal flow for Charge Ventures. And then when the pandemic hit, people said, Oh, why don't you bring it online, You know, and I said, I have no interest in doing a Zoom presentation for 50 of my friends once a month, and kind of realized that there was, it's crazy that even in 2020, there was this, there was no place to have synchronous, many to many kind of fluid group interactions online. And that sort of construct is, you know, for several types of interactions. It's for events, it's for education, it's for offices. And we said well, there's nothing like this available online. And so I texted my good friend and longtime collaborator, Yang Mao, who's actually the CEO of Kumospace. And I said, Yang, you know, there's nothing that does this. And in classic Yang fashion, less than two weeks later, he sent me back a prototype. And it was a really, you know, bare bones proof of concept, no background, none of you know, today, we have very crazy world builder where you can make your office in anything. My office in the Kumospace office is a beach with beach and ocean waves and, you know, beach chairs and ocean sounds. But you know, this proof of concept was just blank white room, and a little B, a little Y, for Brett and Yang, and when we got closer to each other, we could hear each other. When we got further apart, we couldn't just like simulating real physical space. And you know, I, as a VC, I see lots of consumer products and most of them you squint at and you say maybe if it had more users, maybe if it has something you know, it's missing something. But in this you saw, even in the bare bones proof of concept, there was something new, something novel here and so we, you know, I convinced Yang he was gonna go do a mobile QA startup. I said Yang, you might make some money doing that but that sounds so boring. We can totally change the way communications work on the internet, we can really make internet communications more human, more authentic, more natural, like, let's take a spin and go after this. And so that was, that's how we got started.
Susan Sly 14:53
Oh my gosh, that's hilarious. So firstly, everyone needs a friend like Yang. Two weeks later, come back, like comes back with the prototype. Okay, that's fabulous. And the second thing is, I love how you sold him planting that seed of doubt, well, you could do that. But
Brett Martin 15:12
and to be fair, Susan, you know, like I as a VC, right, I see a lot of businesses that are high, you know, they have a high revenue potential, they're growing revenues, they're high margin, they've got, you know, potential. And you know, and usually, if I see those, I say, Great. Here's some check and, you know, keep me posted and let us know, when we're all rich. And no, I mean that's not obviously what we do. We spend a lot of time helping our founders at charge. But fundamentally, it's a lot easier to be an investor than it is a builder. But Kumospace was the first idea that got me back into the saddle, after eight years of purely investing, because it is, I feel like it's somewhat a natural extension of me, right? It's like, I'm a very social, I'm an extroverted person, I'm inclusive to a fault, as most of my friends would tell you. And I saw this opportunity to create, you know, bring people together in a more authentic way. And it's like man, you only get so many shots like that in life to really use technology as an extension of your person. And so, yeah, I feel like when I see founders who have that sort of founder market fit, like, I go all in and as an investor, and so I felt that personally, so I felt I couldn't do anything other than trying to start this company.
Susan Sly 16:35
I love it. So how did you, how did you fund it?
Brett Martin 16:39
Well, so you know, Yang, you know, it may, luckily, Yang is very talented, and is both good engineer, amazing engineer and product Manager and designer. And he you know, we just got it up and running. And, you know, a couple of months after, we thought of the idea, we basically put it out in the ether in August of that year, and you know, that's the beauty of a product like Kumospace is that it grows virally, right? It just, people started sharing it, and started sharing with their friends, sharing with friends. And so you know, it was growing, you know, 23% month over month in users just by people using it. And so, you know, we were going to invest in from charge and you know, charge is going to be kind of the anchor investor. But it was already growing so much that we actually had some of our old friends from Pulsar Ventures that, hey, you know, guys, I had known them for 10 years, we'd always been looking for a chance to work together. And so they ended up leading our seed.
Susan Sly 17:38
Nice. And so here you are today, disruptive technology, and acquiring new users. And and so where do you see this, the next chapter for Kumospace going? Because like, you know, I know, in tech, we always have these things that we want to do with our tech, whether it's refining something that's already there, adding some new features. So what's next from the technological side that you can disclose? What do users have to look forward to?
Brett Martin 18:15
Oh, they have a lot to look forward to, I could not be more excited about the roadmap. Although, you know, what I will say is that anyone who's been building tech for long enough knows that you come up with the idea, and then you spend the next 10 years making it work. And, you know, for us at Kumospace, the core is just making it easy place for people to do their jobs. So our Virtual Office users are spending six plus hours a day in Kumospace, right? And if someone is going to really, you know, devote themselves to your product, right, if they're gonna spend six hours a day interacting with your product, you just need it to make it seamless. It needs to be accessible and available and always on and hyper reliable and smoothly integrated with every product you need. So most of what we do at Kumospace is just refine, refine, refine, how do you make it work in low bandwidth? How do you you know, have a mobile app so you can use it while you're walking around? How do you, have a desktop app so it can just be sitting with you at all times and your computer? And if I were to take a step away from the practical side, you know, the vision is that how do you you know, our core thesis is around flexibility. We think that humans love flexibility and autonomy and the freedom to live your best life and be hyper productive and connected to your team. And so that's the vision for Kumospace. It's just like, how do we enable people to have high fidelity, authentic, fast, you know, interactions at work, be hyper productive and connected and build really strong internships and get things done, if you don't mind me saying, while having that flexibility and freedom to work from anywhere, right. And so, you know, that could be as glamorous quote unquote as me being in Costa Rica not to be fair, I usually live in a shack down here. So it's not that glamorous. Luckily, we don't have camera on, you know, to live and work from exotic locales and be able to surf every morning, or just, you know, have a family and not have to choose between, you know, sending your kid, having been there to, you know, send your kids off to school, or read them a bedtime story, and be able to do that, and do your best work. So that's what we, we're going to, ultimately we think of ourselves as selling freedom to, you know, to our users and their teams. And, you know, we think the future is that. So imagine being able to have your mobile app on you, and being able to just, you know, tap, basically, you know, have your team buzz in your ear, or get quickly feedback to them while you know, out and taking a walk on the beach. So yeah, that's what I think the future is, just more freedom.
Susan Sly 21:08
I love it, you're selling freedom. And this whole, like concept of flexibility that people are craving, because the, one of the biggest pieces was the pandemic, we all know disrupted people to the core, and it caused people, I was working in home for the last 16 years. And then now I'm back in an office, right? So it's this- I know, for myself, I love working at home, but there's some days I love to be in an office, because whether it's the dog, you know, or whatever it is people at the house, it's like, oh my gosh, I just need that place where I can focus. But I love that you're building this potential, this new place, and I think which is very, very cool. It's in my mind, Kumospace isn't like anything we've seen in terms of virtual work. And it is something new, it is something fresh, it is something desirable. And it's something that is going to disrupt, which is really, really exciting. Last question I have for you Brett is in the last few years since you started this company, what's been the best piece of advice you've received?
Brett Martin 22:25
Wow, that's a tough one, you receive a lot of advice. And most of it you don't know if it's actually good or not. I think you know, I'll credit my friend. You know, there's a recency effect here. But I'll credit my friend Kareem Amin, he's the founder of a company called Clay, one of our investments at charge and just, you know, an amazing entrepreneur and also just an amazing person, I mean, truly a renaissance man, I would give him the credit. But he helped me understand the concept of product market fit, which is something you know, it's often talked about, and a lot of business advice sounds obvious when you hear it, and it's really about internalizing it, and he helped me think of this concept of, like, what is a true go to market? A true go to market is to just niche down, niche down, niche down, don't worry about a big Tam, don't worry about venture capitalists who want you to boil the ocean, you know, just really focus on getting as specific as possible with one particular customer, even if it's, you know, not a sexy customer, especially if it's a non sexy customer, how do you like really get down there, understand their problem, and then slowly, like, as long as you can start with a small core group of people, and then as long as there's a jump, as long as there's an adjacent market, that you can then go after from them and then build out and, you know, I wish I could do a better job explaining. You probably get him on the show. But he, like changed the way I think about product market fit and ever since then, I've just been getting so much deeper with my customers, getting so much more into their psyche and into their mindset and really been, I feel like I've really been able to translate what they want into software. And so I guess the core piece of advice is, forget the aggregate market. Only focus on niching down until your market is so small that no one else will care about it and then build out from there.
Susan Sly 24:36
That's, I just, I just wrote that down. You can't see me writing that but I think that's genius. And I'd love to have him on the show because so often we see founders who are trying to solve so many problems at one time. And you know, you try to sell, there's a saying, try to sell to everyone you end up selling to no one. And that whole land and expand and getting to know your customers and their stories and what their burning desires are and solve that problem. It's huge. So, Brett, I wish I was in Costa Rica with you, I'm. I'm going to be very transparent. But I want to thank you so much for being on the show. And thank you for being a disrupter and a vanguard in the space. And I, it's gonna be very cool to watch the journey. And I'm going to bring one of my teams into Kumospace because I want to have a lot of fun with it. And I'm very excited about that. So thank you for being here.
Brett Martin 25:38
Thank you so much, Susan, it's an absolute pleasure. And you're welcome to swing by our office anytime and happy to get you all tricked out. And if any of your listeners are, you know, looking for solutions to really bring their team together and give their you know, distributed or remote teams a place to show up to work every day online, then, you know, please feel free to reach out. Just mention Susan in your email. It's Brett, firstname.lastname@example.org. We'd love to get you hooked up. So thank you so much, Susan. And I hope you do get down to Costa Rica. Maybe we'll go surfing sometime.
Susan Sly 26:15
Yeah, we'll hang out with Jack. Nice. All right, Brett. Well, take care and thanks again for being here. And everyone go check it out, Kumospace.com. And with that, everyone, thanks so much for being here. And if the show has been helpful, Brett and I would love for you to share it. Tag us on social. We'd love a five star review. Let us know what it was about the show that really resonated for you. If you do leave a review, just email reviews@Susan sly.com with a link to your review. And if I read it on the show, I will give you a $50 amazon gift card. So there you go. So with that, everyone God bless, go rock your day, and I will see you in the next episode.
Susan Sly 27:00
Hey, this is Susan and thanks so much for listening to this episode on Raw and Real Entrepreneurship. If this episode or any episode has been helpful to you, you've gotten at least one solid tip from myself or my guests, I would love it if you would leave a five star review wherever you listen to podcasts. After you leave your review, go ahead and email reviews@Susansly.com. Let us know where you left the review. And if I read your review on air you could get a $50 amazon gift card and he would so appreciate it because reviews do help boost the show and get this message all over the world. If you're interested in any of the resources we discussed on the show, go to Susansly.com. That's where all the show notes live. And with that, go out there, rock your day, God bless and I will see you in the next episode
Susan Sly 27:56
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