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“Quite simply, Whereby is the easiest way to meet over video”: Interview with Whereby’s co-founder Ingrid Ødegaard

Norwegian startup Whereby is establishing itself as a force to be reckoned with. Taking on the global video conferencing giants like Zoom, this Oslo-based team has already grown a team of 75+ and offers a competitive solution for easy video meetings – with no login needed for guests, no app or installs required, and the same video link each time.

Driving this small powerhouse is co-founder and CPTO Ingrid Ødegaard, who was ranked #4 in Forbes’ 100 Women Founders to Follow, and one of Norway’s Top 10 Entrepreneur Women in Tech, among many other recognitions. We got the chance to ask Ingrid about the growth of Whereby during the past few years and during the pandemic, the expansion of their team and how they measure success, and her predictions for work in 2021 and beyond.

Hi Ingrid, thank you for joining us! First things first, could you briefly pitch us what Whereby is all about, and why you’re different?

Thank you for having me! Quite simply, Whereby is the easiest way to meet over video. Users choose their own personalised URL and meet over their browser – on mobile or desktop – with only one click. 

Built in Norway, Whereby now has more than 4 million active users worldwide. Recently, Whereby was named the “easiest to use” video conferencing service with the “Best Usability” in G2’s Winter 2021 reports. 

There are many aspects that make Whereby different – including our focus on work-life balance and our global team spread across 20 locations and six time zones – but one thing our users love is our extensive list of features and integrations. Our goal is to allow remote teams to collaborate and thrive in their professional lives while enjoying the benefits of working from where they feel most productive.

Built in features like screen and audio sharing, session recording, personalised branded rooms and customisable links enable users to get the most of video meetings. Integrations like Miro, Trello and Google Docs provide remote teams with the tools to maintain the levels of creativity and collaboration they’d experience if they were all in the same meeting room.

We recently included you in our list of 5 European video conference startups on a mission to beat Zoom. What’s your advice for other founders who are taking on the giants? 

Actually, when Whereby was founded our main competitors were Skype, Google Hangouts, Cisco and other more expensive video conferencing solutions. It’s important to have absolute clarity on how your business is new and different to what is already out there. In our early days, we had to solve the problem of getting team members across different time zones onto the same call. We came up with the concept of a ‘room’ where people can meet at an agreed time. 

I think the best founders view change as an opportunity. In 2013, a new web standard came out in Chrome and Firefox browsers which allowed you to start a video or audio call without installing any plug-in. This was brand new and we predicted it would become a big opportunity – so we capitalised on it. 

Finally, have a strong sense of ethics as a company – both in the way you design a product and how you approach data. From day one, ensuring the privacy and security of our users has been fundamental to what we do. We want to be a European privacy-friendly alternative. Of course, we use data to keep improving our service. But we try to give users as much control of their own data as possible. We don’t sell our data to anyone – our business model is about providing the best possible service and experience to our users. So I would say it’s important to consider your vision as a company and to ensure your business model fits into that vision – rather than the other way around. 

How did Whereby manage the huge surge in demand for online work due to COVID, and did you pivot at all? What’s your advice for founders on this matter?

Whereby was always much more than an alternative to office space, but the pandemic really accelerated our growth across multiple industries. Of course, one particular sector we witnessed a surge in demand was health care. Doctors started using video consultations which save a huge amount of travel time, enable patients to avoid exposing themselves to other sick people and free up capacity in the health sector for when you really need an in-person appointment. 

Another example was an integration we launched through our embedded platform with one of Norway’s largest car selling websites. The site integrated video into its chat function, so potential used car buyers could have an initial video meeting to talk to the owner and see the car. Trust is essential when making this kind of decision, so being able to establish that personal relationship before travelling to purchase is really beneficial. 

Away from business, we’ve also seen massive demand from people who want to stay connected with their loved ones who live far away. My grandparents live in the north of Norway so, like many others, I regularly use Whereby to talk to them. In Japan, we also saw a massive user spike as people sought ways to maintain their social drinking culture at weekends! So again, the advice for founders is about being receptive to change – for us, the pandemic meant we could provide a tool for communication which wasn’t otherwise possible. 

You’re already used by companies like Trello, Shopify and Techstars. What’s your advice for other B2B startups out there regarding getting their product used by well-known brands?

Our focus has been on building a product users want to promote, meaning that they then become our ambassadors. For the initial phase, we solely relied on social media product marketing and PR to raise awareness of our product and we were lucky to get good coverage in blogs and tech media. We have always integrated customer dialogue and feedback into our development process – I believe when people feel they’re being listened to, they’re more likely to feel ownership in a product and therefore more likely to recommend it to other people.

In the design stage, it’s important to first spend time uncovering the expectations of the end user. We try to stick to what we call the ‘principle of least astonishment.’  In other words, we never want users to be surprised about how something works. We try to build a straightforward, enjoyable path which will facilitate safe usage without pressuring them into anything they don’t want to do. 

You’ve already grown your team to over 60 people – what has your hiring strategy been like, and how would you have done it differently?

It’s true that over the past year we’ve massively expanded our team. However, for us, increasing our number of employees isn’t an indicator of success. What’s important is building a diverse culture that welcomes different backgrounds, histories, languages, ethnicities and perspectives. In turn, this creates more informed work and consequently better output. 

On an individual level, having an international team working flexibly helps our employees to achieve a fulfilling work-life balance. We’ve used our platform to bring in some wonderful new team members. I’m always amazed at how quickly you can feel a connection within 15 minutes of virtually meeting a person who is ideal for a role. That’s one of the great things about Whereby – when you do eventually meet a person in real life, you feel you’ve known them for ages. 

In terms of strategy, it’s important to take time to thoroughly consider the key skills a person needs to be successful in a position you are advertising – before you even start to screen candidates. At Whereby, we found it really useful to test practical abilities in the interview process. On a video call, we’d discuss a new case or feature or get the candidate to prepare a presentation – setting up the discussion as if they were already hired. That’s a great way to get an idea of how they would fit into your world. 

What do you see for the future of work, in terms of innovative tech or trends to watch out for in 2021?

I think it’s clear flexible working and hybrid offices are here to stay. I have countless friends and colleagues who love the freedom remote working brings and want this flexibility to be a permanent part of their lives.

Last year, we conducted a remote work survey. It found that more than half of business owners felt remote working had increased productivity – which was reassuring as it’s not always easy to be certain of the benefits when you can’t physically see what employees are working on. 

We also found more than 80% of businesses were considering policy changes to allow people to work remotely. This will bring huge benefits to employees, particularly those living with young families. 

Of course, it’s natural people will be concerned that remote working may blur the line between the personal and the professional. Here, using tech to over communicate will become even more important. Setting boundaries is crucial – at Whereby, we use Slack to say ‘good morning’, explain what we will be working on and update when we are away from our desks so it’s clear when to expect a reply. 

With remote working, the problem is people often work too much rather than too little. So employees using technology to communicate when they transition between work and personal is super useful in avoiding burnout and ensuring people aren’t constantly ‘plugged-in.’

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Charlotte Tucker
Charlotte Tucker
Charlotte is the previous Editor at EU-Startups.com. She spends her time scouting the next big story, managing our contributor team, and getting excited about social impact ventures. She has previously worked as a Communications Consultant for number of European Commission funded startup projects.

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