In the past three months, South African startup room.sh has emerged into the video conferencing tech space to compete with the likes of Zoom and Microsoft. The company has quickly grown to more than 100,000 video-calls a month.
If there is a common thread woven through the story of South African start-ups it is that necessity breeds innovation, and this is no more true that the story of room.sh.
In 2018 the founding team received investment from local VC’s Knife Capital as SkillUp Tutors with the investment thesis at the time being to expand their offering of online education technology.
Co-founder Matthew Henshall emphasises how pivotally important it was for their semi-remote team to become experts at online meetings.
“A good meeting can move a company forward and over the last three years we’ve needed to get really good at meetings” Henshall explains “We initially started building software for students and teachers to conduct live, online lessons, and almost by accident, we started using this software to conduct our team meetings. That’s how room.sh was born, we’re on a mission to Make Meetings Better”
A beta version of room.sh was released in 2019, largely to test new features for the online education software. The company explains how a couple teams and individuals would sign up every day, but nothing viral.
The company continued to expand on its education offering and as Henshall explains, this was driven by necessity.
He believes, the notion of “fail fast” doesn’t translate as easily into the South African startup ecosystem, companies can quickly fall into prolonged surviving mode. When money is a necessity, you have to follow it, he explains.
The room.sh story continues with non-viral growth and maintaining high retention rates until March 2020 when everything changed and the world’s offices and schools became online overnight.
“In the space of a week, we had companies, schools and individuals around the world looking for a solution to keep their businesses alive, looking for a way to conduct their meetings” Co-founder, Andrew Cowley says.
“I’ve heard us being referred to as ‘South Africa’s Zoom’, which we’re proud of, but the reality is that we’re serving customers in just about every country on the globe. We’re really grateful to be able to grow a business during this time. More than ever we’re leading with empathy towards our customers, to serve them as best as we can during this change”
Looking forward, the company is working towards an investment raise, giving it the chance to truly compete with stock-listed video conferencing companies.