Why Virtual Offices Are The Future Of Remote Working

John Jantsch (00:00): This episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is brought to you by the MarTech Podcast, hosted by Benjamin Shapiro, brought to you by the HubSpot Podcast Network. Ben’s episodes are so awesome. They’re under 30 minutes. They share stories with world class marketers who use technology to generate growth and achieve business and career success. Ben is a great host. I’ve been on his show, he’s been on my show. He always really digs down and gives you actionable stuff that you can take away and do, and he is always bringing up new stuff. The science of advertising, how to figure out what to automate, just things that that marketers are wrestling with today. Check it out. It’s the MarTech Podcast. Find it wherever you listen to your podcast.

(00:50): Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch. My guest today is Brett Martin. He’s a co-founder of Kumospace, the virtual HQ for remote teams and Char, and he’s also head of Charge Ventures AE VC based in Brooklyn, New York, and serves as an adjunct professor at Columbia Business School where he teaches data analytics. So Brett, welcome to this show

Brett Martin (01:18): And pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me.

John Jantsch (01:20): I remember the first time I went to New York and I saw Columbia Business School and it said CBS somewhere, and I thought it was a, I thought it was like a record company or something.

Brett Martin (01:28): To this day, I tell people I work at CBS and people think I’m more famous than I am

John Jantsch (01:34): . So I, Let’s just start with the obvious, What is Kumo Space? I’d love to hear how you describe it to people, because you have to do a little explaining. You have, it’s different, It’s something that they’ve not seen before. So how do you describe kumo space?

Brett Martin (01:47): It’s true. Kumo is something you have to really experience or see to believe. It’s really a, you know, it’s a virtual office, what we call virtual office, where remote teams show up to work every day. So in the same way that, you know, we have physical offices that people would commute to, to, you know, they would work, they would socialize, they might get lunch there, they might play ping pong and hang out with each other, but it was kind of a hub for work. We basically, the provide the same thing for remote teams. So it’s a virtual place, some might say in the metaverse, you know, kind of like a video game world where people can show up and do their work. So teams are, um, collaborating in Kuba space, working on whiteboards together, working in documents and spreadsheets, and also playing little mini games like chess or, or ping pong, just like in a real office

John Jantsch (02:36): . Which would you say that this is decidedly a child of the pandemic or you know, was this coming anyway?

Brett Martin (02:45): Well, I think sort of remote, the trend toward remote work was already a secular trend before the pandemic, Right. That had been growing for years. There was already this concept called the, you know, the digital nomad movement where people realize that, you know, if you worked just on the internet, you could really do that from anywhere. Yeah,

John Jantsch (03:03): Yeah. Hashtag Van Life. Right,

Brett Martin (03:04): Exactly. And so what I think happened was the, when the pandemic hit, you know, we took all the tools that weren’t really built for remote work. I mean, we had Zoom and that was the Yeah. You know, have conference calls with people across the world, maybe they worked at your same office and we had Slack, and we used Slack for people that worked in the same building as us. And then we, you know, used them for this new concept of remote work working from home. It was surprisingly effective. Right. But I think now after a couple years, the cracks are starting to show. Right. You’ve heard about the great resignation and you hear about how everyone’s kind of lonely and losing bonds, and there’s nothing keeping people at work other than getting it, you know, now it’s all about just moving from job to job and getting a higher salary because there’s really nothing that ties us to our work anymore.

John Jantsch (03:50): Yeah. You mentioned the Z word in your mind, does this replace, completely replace or is it a supplement?

Brett Martin (04:00): Well, you know, I probably wouldn’t be an entrepreneur if I didn’t think I was going to take over and eat Zoom’s lunch. But, you know, the truth of the matter is that we have teams that both use Kumo space and Zoom in particular. You know, we are focused on internal meetings. People now, plenty of people use Kua space externally. We have guests all the time, but really we’re focused more on how Slack has, you know, created a place to chat with your coworkers. We’re trying to recreate the in-person experience, but bring it online.

John Jantsch (04:32): Yeah. And I think one of the challenges sometimes is out of necessity, people have tied together, hacked together, or whatever we wanna call it a zoom and a note taker on Zoom and Slack, and you know, obviously Slack channels have, you know, exploded. I guess how do you talk about the benefits for that, uh, distributed team or if that work from home, uh, team, I mean, what’s the benefit of adding this? Because in some cases, maybe you’re just saying you gotta add another tool to the mix, or, you know, so, so I’m sure some people are kind of hesitating, like, Oh God, another tool, but, you know, so, so what’s the clear and present benefit of adding to those groups of workers?

Brett Martin (05:10): I think that’s a great question and definitely something, you know, people that are paying for these tools that procuring these tools and administrating these tools they care about, they want, they wanna see the value. So the way we think about it is you always wanna have the right medium for the right message. And we have, you know, certain mediums we have for text based communication. We have Slack for audio based communication. We have the phone for video based communication, maybe we use Zoom, but what’s missing, you know, what we have for in person, you know, physical communication is the office. Yeah. Right. And why do we, you know, even though we have Slack and Zoom and the phone, we still, there’s a lot of people out there still feel like we need to bring people back into the physical office. Yeah. And so, you know, why, why is that?

(06:00): Well, you know, reasons that are often cited are, you know, it’s a better way to collaborate. You get to build better connections with your coworkers. You can build company culture and in a sense of camaraderie, you can iterate, you know, more quickly, you can get visibility to your boss and to your, you know, your me your mentors as a boss. Yeah. You can have visibility and accountability to your employees. Right. You know, you know what they’re doing. You see that they’re in the office. And so we think that all of those things are still valuable, but we’re just building a digital alternative to very expensive, very constricting physical real estate.

John Jantsch (06:41): All right, so, so I’m gonna make you be like a baseball announcer, you know, who has to describe what’s going on the field to an audience who can’t see it? You know, kind of describe the typical, like how we’ve talked about it and I’ve experienced it so I, you know, I know what you’re talking about, but maybe describe, like, people come in, they go in a front door, it’s like a video game. They go over to the conference room, maybe explain kind of how kumo space, how somebody who’s a Kumo space member operates.

Brett Martin (07:05): A hundred percent. I mean, if you want, I’m happy to, you know, pop open Kumo space and take it on tour. I can try the screen share if we want it. Otherwise let’s just,

John Jantsch (07:14): Yeah, let’s see. Let’s see how it populates in the video. You

Brett Martin (07:17): Wanna give it a spin? All right, let’s give it,

John Jantsch (07:18): Yeah, yeah, let’s go for it. It’ll be a, it’ll be a test.

Brett Martin (07:21): Well, let’s give it a spin. I’m gonna pop on this. I’m gonna turn off my, Here we go. I’m gonna join the space. Here we go. Okay, let’s do it. Let’s get the screen share. I’ll go to go to window. Here we go. All right, so you can see this is it. This is basically entering the floor. So this is Kumo Space hq I’m about to walk you into and

John Jantsch (07:48): Yeah, there it goes. Okay. Okay. It wasn’t popping up immediately. Now we got it

Brett Martin (07:51): Now. Yeah, no, no problem. So I’m about, we’re about to go into Kumo Space headquarters. So, you know, we have a fully remote and distributed team. We work in Kumo space all day, every day. And we’re just gonna pop in. I might have to cut my mic so that we don’t get reverb, but let’s give it a spin. So here we are, We just entered Kumo space and you can kind of see me there. I, there I am on my headphones and I’m gonna zoom out a little bit and show you some key features. So this is our virtual office. If you look down to the bottom left, you can actually see that there’s 26 people in here right now. There’s Hector Hager, he just entered. I don’t wanna scare scare him right now, but if you can, we can pan up. And there’s a bunch of stuff going on in our office, just like you’d expect from a real life physical office.

(08:43): So you can see that kind of David and Yang and Bobby are having a little meeting here in the common area. You can see that over here. This is the design and product pod. There’s a bunch, bunch of people, Winnie and Allen and Anthony are and Tony are all meeting and having what looks like a presentation up here in the top left corner of the screen, you can see that Michael and Jordan here all zoom in. Michael, Michael Zoo, who’s our new intern. And Jordan one of our new engineers, they’re having a little conversation in Michael’s office. And then there’s people like Ryan that are just kind of posted up in their office, probably cranking away at work. So I’ll give you a little bit of a tour. I’ll cruise around and then you can see what’s happening.

John Jantsch (09:26): Yeah, you kind of tidied up. You must have known we were coming.

Brett Martin (09:29): Ah, you know, this is just life. So here, why don’t, I’m just gonna cruise in and I’m just gonna pop in. You’re probably gonna see everyone talk to, Let’s see, right here,

John Jantsch (09:43): .

Brett Martin (09:44): So, hey guys, I’m on a podcast right now and I’m actually giving a live tour of our office right now, so you can’t see him, but I got John on the other, the line. Just tell John A. Little bit about what you’re all up to right now.

Speaker 3 (09:59): .

John Jantsch (10:00): Yeah, I’m afraid Brett, we’re not picking up their audio, but it really works with a spacial audio. Like you, you come in close to somebody and all of a sudden they can hear you, you can hear them.

Brett Martin (10:11): Oh, okay. Got it. Yeah. Hey guys, I, thanks for letting me interrupt. Thanks for that quick explanation and we’ll roll out. Sorry about that, John wasn’t

John Jantsch (10:21): Sure

Brett Martin (10:22): To come through or

John Jantsch (10:23): Nots. Yeah, no, I think this is, and obviously this gives people a visual to go by and see how moving around and can talk to team members and you know, again, for that person that, you know, you think about the distributed team. If you don’t mind, I’ll, I’ll jump to kind of my line of questioning to keep us on time. And now a word from our sponsor. Marketers are a key part of business. Um, funny I would say that, right? But that’s because we own the conversation with our customers and having tools that help us have meaningful conversations with our customers at scale, all while maintaining a personal touch is our white whale point solutions can be easy to set up, but difficult to manage and maintain, and all of a sudden you find yourself with disconnected teams and data leading to poor customer experience.

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(11:52): o you find in this setting, is it, do you get, does it improve communication or are you feeling like it’s just like for somebody it just makes it easier for somebody to come bug me? Kinda like in the office, you know, it’s like I’m sitting over at work and people are like, Hey, to see the game last night, You know, is it improving it or is that just me? I’m an extrovert or I’m an introvert. So that’s just me

Brett Martin (12:15): Introvert with how many hundreds of podcasts are belt

John Jantsch (12:19): ? That’s right.

Brett Martin (12:20): Look, I think that we are not, we’re trying to give you the benefits of the physical office, but also leverage the power of the internet, right? Yeah. So, you know, one of the cool things about the internet is that it’s infinitely replicable space. I can build an office for a hundred, you know, 10,000 employees. I can build you, you know, hundreds of different floors, you know, a hundred different floors for your 10,000 employees all across the world. You can have really rich analytics about what type of person, you know, responds well to different types of things. I, you know, I think that historically the office has been a one size fits all solution, right? Yeah. You have a physical office and no matter who you are and how you like to work, whether you’re an engineer and you need your quiet time or you’re a salesperson and you like the heat of the boiler room, right?

(13:15): You know, the physical office wasn’t very flexible. It’s expensive and to move around, Adam to move around physical matter, but the benefits of the virtual office and what we’ve learned about remote work is that actually remote work is different for every person, right? So if you do sales or if you do engineering, but rather also it’s like what type of apartment do you have? Do you have plenty of space to work in? Or are you wedged in with your girlfriend and you’re both trying to do 10 hours of conference calls the course of day, or maybe you are a parent, right? And maybe you need the office to, you know, get some space and have some place to get away from your kids so that you can actually do some work, right? And so what we’ve realized is that actually in remote work, it’s all about personalization and every, you know, capturing exactly what that person needs to do their best job. And so we think that kumo space is the right tool because we actually can customize our virtual spaces to work for all different types of people in different types of work.

John Jantsch (14:14): Are you seeing, are there any surprising uses? I’m sure you kind of said, here’s how people are gonna use it. We’ll build it like that. Are you seeing some people like go, oh, here’s how we can use it?

Brett Martin (14:24): Oh, I mean, we learn from our users every day. And to be honest, when we started we knew that there was a problem with, um, online, you know, getting, we knew there was a problem with group video chat. Essentially we knew that this zoom, you know, format of one person broadcasting and everyone listening and turning off their screens and turning off their audio, you know, it really didn’t lend itself to the real time video. Right? It’s fine. I mean, I could watch most Zoom conference calls. I could probably watch a recording of and be just as good. And so we knew that there need, there was probably a more participatory way of building video chat, but we didn’t know what people were gonna use it for. So it turns out that people have had weddings in Kumo space. People have had funerals and kumo space, people have had graduations, People do corporate recruiting in Kumo space. People have had large conferences and happy hours and game nights and all sorts of things. And we just realized that as our own team, what we really missed was a place to show, you know, as a remote team, we, what we were really lacking is like a place to show up and connect with our coworkers on a daily basis. And so that’s where we just decided to focus our

John Jantsch (15:34): Work. What are some of the other toys you’ve built in, I know when you gave me a demo, there’s a whiteboard functionality. I think you have some team building like games that can connect. What are some of the kind of toys that maybe might help not only communication but maybe culture?

Brett Martin (15:49): Well, that’s one of the kind of crazy parts about kumo space is that our average virtual office user uses kumo space for more than five hours a day. So people are living in this office in the same way that they do in a real physical office. And so when you have that much of people’s time and attention, you know, really the possibilities are infinite. So yes, you know, we obviously have productivity tools, we have whiteboards, we have sort of integrations where you can, you know, stream Google documents and spreadsheets and you can integrate with your, you know, productivity tools of choice. Like if you’re using Figma, which is a design tool, or you’re using Jira, which is, you know, task man, task management, we have all of that. Um, but what we think makes Kumo space really interesting is le you know, playing with the schism of a, you know, a virtual office and integrating in a way that sort of, you can’t really get out of Zoom and Slack.

(16:48): So in Slack you can tie it to your, um, you know, POS system, your Shopify, and you know, you can get a little notification at any time, you know, a customer signs a contract, right? But in Kumo space you can tie, you know, your CRM to the Gong app that we have, and it rings a gong in the office and it plays the name of the salesperson that sold that. And if you think about, you know, we’re really not making up anything here. This is already happening in physical offices. You already have sure, you know, sales people running in the gong and you already have dashboards talking about kind of core KPIs for the company. But we’re just bringing that into, in a virtual space and doing it in a kind of a fun human way that you’re not getting from, you know, your Slack or your Zoom.

John Jantsch (17:35): One of the things I’m guessing was a decision, and maybe it was a, maybe it was a visual decision or a design decision as opposed to a technology decision decidedly as those anybody who was online looking at the, what we showed there, decidedly Lofi graphics, kind of super Mario , you know, game mechanics. Is that a technology choice or is that a design choice?

Brett Martin (17:57): So, I mean, we actually think that rich graphics are a fun place. I mean there, believe it or not, there’s actually a lot with lower fi. There are, you know, some other people in the market that have even lower five or actually don’t even believe in the concept of having a virtual office that you can decorate. One thing I would say differentiates us is that we’re actually called, often referred to as a kind of the most professional virtual office. And in that part that’s because we are, you are your avatar. So in Kumo space, you know, you are video, you are, yeah, your avatar. Some other places use, you know, kind of cartoons or cartoon faces. Yeah. Or video game characters. And we don’t do that because, you know, we want you to be the player. You are the player in Kumo space and we, you know, we want it to be professional. So we think it’s a balancing act between professionalism and, you know, keeping making it fun and making it engaging.

John Jantsch (18:51): Yeah. Yeah. So let me give you the one push I can push back. I can almost probably hear from people who are invited by their company into we’re gonna hang out now in this space. Oh yeah. So now you can watch everything I do all day. , do you get that pushback a little bit from the people that are work from home that are like, Oh, now you’re gonna like, see when did I check in? What am I doing?

Brett Martin (19:17): So look, there’s two sides to every coin, right?

John Jantsch (19:22): Definitely two sides to that one. Yeah. There’s

Brett Martin (19:24): Two sides to every coin. And so I think, yes, this concept of FaceTime is right, you know, never been a positive word, right? And so FaceTime, whether it’s in the physical office or virtual office, implies kind of wasted time that you’re doing so that your boss thinks you’re busy. And we don’t believe in that in a virtual space anymore than we in the physical space. That’s said, there is a flip side to this, which is, hey, if you’re a junior employee and you’re trying to learn the ropes, or let’s say you’re younger employee and you think, you know, your work is actually, and you move, you know, your work is a core part of your social community, then getting face time from your boss or your mentors and having opportunities to connect with your colleagues to build a professional network are all major advantage. You know, are all ma very important career steps for your career that just literally don’t exist historically if you use a tool like Slack or Zoom. So if you think about that, you know, remote workers were always treated as second class citizens, right? It was always ancillary functions or back office functions is what you had remote people doing. Yeah. And there were never really opportunities for growth or promotion. And so in our world where, you know, remote people are on equal footing with, you know, their physical counterparts in a hybrid setup, let’s say, you know, we think there’s a lot of benefit to being an employee in Kumo space.

John Jantsch (20:48): Yeah. And I’ve heard one, one of the biggest complaints I’ve heard of remote or not being able to be in an office, particularly like you said, for junior employees, it’s a lot of times mentors are not people they report to. They’re people in other departments. They’re people that, you know, have just taken ’em under their wing and it, and they’re, it feels like the, they’ve lost that connection a little bit.

Brett Martin (21:07): A a hundred percent. And you know, that’s one of the biggest benefits of companies. That’s what we consider, you know, replacing the in person bringing, making the in person person experience. Virtual is the ability to just walk over, tap someone on the shoulder and you know, Hey, can I take you five minutes of your time? And you know, not everyone is so brave enough to but their way into a Zoom call or set up a meeting or an email or even Slack, someone whose face they’ve never seen. And so a big part of our job is actually building software to facilitate these kind of natural, you know, human connections. Uh,

John Jantsch (21:42): So, so you’ve raised just a little bit of money. What’s the future build or the future? I mean, do you, what’s the roadmap look like?

Brett Martin (21:51): Yeah, I mean, you know, a lot of SAS products are, you know, they’re kind of like a point solution for a very specific, you know, problem. And that’s why we have kind of proliferation of SAS tools. We realize that we are kind of a, a core piece of communications infrastructure in the same way that an office is a core piece of, you know, operational and communication infrastructure for a physical office. You know, so same with the virtual office. And we have people spending, you know, like I said, 6, 7, 8 hours a day in Kumo space. So frankly, we have a lot to build and you know, a lot of software to build and yeah, we raised, you know, money. We, one is obviously communication has to be clear and crisp and just reliable. Two, you know, kumo space has to just be available wherever you want it, whether it’s on the web or on your desktop or under, you know, mobile app Mobile, right.

(22:42): Or in the tools you’re using and Slack and Zoom and, you know, make it easy to get in outta kumo space. And then we, you know, we need to make it really engaging and fun, right? Like, you don’t wanna spend, I mean it’s, we think of a lot as what you saw toward the, you know, 20 19, 20, 20 18, 20 19. And a lot of these big well funded corporates were spending a ton of money on the physical office. And they were doing that, you know, they were doing lunches and they were doing cafes and they were doing nap pods and they were doing, you know, massages and they were bringing in programming, right. And that was to, you know, make it easier and more compelling to spend more time at work. Yeah. And I, you know, we see a lot of what we’re doing as bringing those same bells and whistles and those opportunities to connect and those opportunities for mentorship into the remote workspace.

John Jantsch (23:34): Awesome. I am speaking with Brent Martin. He is the co-founder of Kumo Space. That’s kumo space of.com. You wanna tell people where they can find you and connect.

Brett Martin (23:45): Yeah. So thanks so much for having me again, just Brett Martin, I’m on Twitter. It’s Brett, b r e 1 2 11. Or you can just email [email protected] and yeah, we’d love to hear from you and if you have a remote team, happy to hook you up with a virtual office.

John Jantsch (24:02): Awesome. Well, I appreciate you taking the time to, and I usually end the show by saying we’ll see you someday out there on the road, but I guess I need to say, uh, see you in the virtual office.

Brett Martin (24:10): See you. See you in the metaverse, John. Thank you . All.