David Shim’s Read Brings Conversational Intelligence to the Age of Hybrid Work

The local commerce sector is an interesting place… and it breeds interesting people. Every once in a while, we’ll get wind of its entrepreneurs and innovators popping up in other tech sectors to apply their signature disruption. The latest such news to hit our radar screen is David Shim’s new venture, Read.

As many readers of this publication know, Shim was the CEO of Foursquare before departing at the beginning of 2021. After the company he founded, Placed, was acquired by Foursquare, he was named CEO for his strategic aptitude in location intelligence, not to mention proven leadership chops.

But now Shim is exercising those muscles with his newest venture, officially minting him as a serial entrepreneur. Read launched last week with a $10 million seed round led by Madrona Venture Group, PSL Ventures, and several angel investors. Its goal: to bring more intelligence to remote meetings.

“Now we have over half a billion people per day in virtual meetings,” Shim told Localogy Insider. “Society now spends more time in hybrid meetings than driving, yet the virtual meeting is still missing a dashboard that lets you know how the call is going.”

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Conversational Intelligence 

Going deeper on Read, it enters the market as virtual meetings become the corporate norm, with no sign of receding in the post-Covid hybrid era of remote work. The tool itself takes form in the Read Dashboard, which informs users with real-time intelligence to optimize call effectiveness.

For example, one of its main features is a real-time graph that maps who is speaking most. This can help determine visually if one or more individuals are dominating a given meeting, thus informing participants (or leadership) about ways to engender more diverse participation for better productive ideation.

It can also track sentiment, engagement and interest levels. This could come in handy for sales meetings, in terms of optimizing a given pitch around the elements that resonate most. It could also work well for larger meetings or events when getting a manual read several participants is difficult.

So how does it do all this?  Read employs a mix of AI, computer vision and natural language processing. These underlying technologies continue to accelerate from deep-pocketed tech investment, such as autonomous vehicles (computer vision) and speech processing (voice search).

“The future of meetings is not in recordings and transcriptions, [but] in moments and outcomes,” said Shim “Read is focused on measuring interactions in real-time to encourage participants to drive better and more productive meetings. Today’s MeetingTech is like Mapquest, while Read is introducing Waze.”

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Product Lifecycle

As for product rollouts and go-to-market path, Read is currently available as a free service on Zoom with Google Calendar integration. The business model will involve a series of additional features that can be added, while the approach is to first gain traction and scale with a freemium offer.

As for the timing, it appears to be on point, given the macro environment and the new normal for virtual meetings. The video conferencing market was valued at $4.2 billion in 2020 and all signs point to sustained growth, given hybrid work models that appear to be permanent for knowledge workers.

This market size and momentum also drove Read to grow rapidly and seek seed funding. It has 15 employees currently and plans to ramp up using the cash infusion. Funds will also be applied to expanding the product to additional meeting platforms like Microsoft Teams and Google Meet.

The engame in all of the above according to Shim is to elevate the functionality of virtual meetings. We’re now at a stage in their lifecycle where functionality is fairly basic. This means there could be ample business opportunity in adding dimension to what’s become a staple of daily work.

“When the Ford Model-T was first introduced, the dashboard was simply a battery gauge,” said Shim. “Over time [it] evolved to provide drivers with an added level of comfort. We’re in a very similar position today with video conferencing, but with a steeper adoption curve and no dashboard.”

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