Last week, we introduced team Based Global to the followers of this blog, with the promise that we would shortly do the same with the second startup that joined our accelerator program this month —team Tribe. Staying true to our word, we sat down with Julian, Kevin, Dominik, and Ahmed, the four inspiring innovators that make up Tribe, and asked them to introduce themselves. Their answers are below.
Happy reading and, as always, do not hesitate to get in touch with the AtomLeap High-Tech Accelerator if you are a high-tech startup based in Berlin and need help to commercialize your solution. We are looking to recruit more participants for our six-month program starting in January.
Welcome to the AtomLeap High-Tech Accelerator, team Tribe. In your own words, what does the company do?
We are building a virtual team room experience that allows users to hear, see, and interact with their remote team members. With Tribe, users do not have to type, pick up the phone, or send videos to get in touch with their teammates. Instead, they can hear others, make direct eye contact with them, and feel their presence as if they were all in the same room through our platform.
What problem are you addressing and why is it important to address it?
In both of our cases, our families and many of our friends live in different cities. With work often times forcing us to be in the office for ten hours a day, five days a week, it is impossible for us to see the people we care about the most in person as often as we need to.
We know that many others are in our situation as well. So why aren’t more people working remotely, you may wonder? Our research shows that three out of four employees could work from home, but are choosing not to, citing “social isolation” and “lack of recognition” as the main reasons. Therefore, we set out to create a remote team environment that addresses both of these limitations, while allowing users to have a better work-life balance.
Why did you choose to solve this problem specifically?
We chose to focus on changing work environments because modern offices are the last places where our physical presence is necessary, and it requires that for the majority of our waking hours. Studies show that there are numerous issues with this state of affairs. Workers’ productivity is affected by constant distractions at work. Their work-life balance suffers are as a result of the sheer amount of time they spend commuting or at work.
That is to say nothing about the intrinsic inequity that characterizes the current distribution of opportunities and talent. In high tech, in particular, many opportunities are concentrated around hubs like Silicon Valley, New York, Berlin, London, or Beijing. This affects not only the workers who are unable to relocate to these destinations, but also the companies based there, who oftentimes have to compete for a limited pool of talent and are unable to secure the skilled workers they need when they need them. To us, this represents a massive waste of talent and potential.
And what is your solution to these problems?
At the moment, many companies limit the amount of remote work they allow so as to avoid negative impacts on team culture. If and when remote work is allowed, companies resort to using detailed handbooks that effectively amount to micromanaging remote workers’ days and thus limiting much of their newly gained flexibility. Many teams use video conferencing for meetings, but have no solution to replace the interactions that occur naturally in a physical space throughout the day other than Slack or similar apps. These, however, are insufficient, because 80% of human communication is non-verbal. Fully remote teams have adopted solutions such as pukkateam.com or sneek.io, which use walls of faces that are snapshot at random intervals during the day and which are trying to strike a balance between communication and privacy.
Conversely, Tribe is creating a team room experience that consists of always-on audio lines, so users overhear their teammates and can address them instantly (similar to Discord for gaming); realistic live avatars for each team member, which, unlike video, allow them to establish direct eye contact; and avatars for AI team members so that they have a face that mimics human emotions.
Can you give an example of how Tribe has supported or can support teams of remote workers?
Sure. One of our collaborators is Internsvalley.com, which is a platform for remote software developers that work for European companies. Initially intended as a recruitment platform for interns, it has since evolved far beyond that. Internsvalley currently has a base of 8,000 software developers and operates a co-working facility in Cairo, Egypt, from where it provides onboarding and managerial services for their clients’ remote personnel.
We are helping Internsvalley on two levels. On a team level, our software helps to integrate remotely located developers into customers’ teams by providing a common team room experience. On a managerial level, we help provide a more seamless and less disruptive way of tracking presence and actual hours worked.
Who are the people behind Tribe?
Our tribe consists of four amazing individuals. Julian, the CEO, has been working on the idea of a collaborative team platform since April 2017. After trying out several unsuccessful approaches over the course of 2017, he met Kevin in January 2018 and convinced him to quit his job and join Tribe. The company was officially registered in May 2018, with Ahmed joining in August and Dominik in November.
Prior to co-founding Tribe, Julian Hölz (avatar above) served as an Engagement Manager at Digital McKinsey, where he helped clients build digital businesses.. At Tribe, he is responsible for product strategy, design, business development, and investor relations. Julian is an outdoors enthusiast who can be found on one of Berlin’s basketball courts, on his bike, or on ski slopes in his free time. Between stints studying information systems and social psychology, he has also found the time to climb the highest summit outside Himalaya, Aconcagua, and to take part in a car rally from London to Ulaanbaatar.
Meanwhile, Kevin Metka, our tech lead, has a PhD in mathematics. Prior to Tribe, he co-founded three other startups. Highlights of his career include building one of Germany’s first robo advisors in 2008 in his capacity as CTO of Vitus Advisory. At Tribe he drives the company’s technology development and integration, coordinating the development efforts on avatar creation and animation and network communication.
Having lived in the US, China, and Russia, in addition to his native Germany, Kevin is conversational in Mandarin Chinese and Russian. In his free time, he likes to play golf and has won several national amateur golf championships.
Ahmed Saleh, our third team member, is a computer scientist specialized in back-end/server development and networks. Hailing from Egypt, Ahmed has nine years’ worth of professional experience, during which time he has served clients like the Egyptian army and interior decorating company Avenu44. Ahmed has worked and lived in Egypt and China and is currently studying German, Russian, and Chinese. In his free time, he enjoys hiking and camping.
Dominik Boehm recently joined our tribe and brings to the table eleven years’ experience working in B2B sales, business development, and product development in the technology industry. Having led both change and restructuring projects, Dominik understands how to successfully drive the implementation of new tools and major process changes while mastering hurdles and headwinds — the key link between successful lead conversion and long-term execution excellence for Tribe. When he is not working, he enjoys the outdoors, be it hiking, kitesurfing or mountain- and road-biking, as well as performing and practicing together with the Cantus Domus choir in Berlin.
What makes our team special is the unique blend of deep tech know-how and experience in B2B business development, combined with first-hand experience in dozens of organizations acquired during our time working for consultancies, startups, and SMEs. We have all seen the havoc wreaked by too many business trips, long office hours, mandatory presence, and forced relocations on our own well-being and that of our clients, colleagues, and our loved ones at home.
What would you say to those who would argue that the solution you’re working on has already been invented — and that it is called video conferencing?
We believe that video won’t change the status quo to the level at which is needed for several reasons. For starters, the background in video conferencing is an unnecessarily important distraction, requiring careful setup and taking away from the truly important function of such a medium, which is to enable communications. Secondly, differences in time zones and lifestyles mean that some of the participants in video conferences may have just woken up, while others may have children or pets running around in the background, making it an impracticable platform for many remote workers. Furthermore, video requires so much bandwidth to run well — have you ever tried video chatting from a moving car or train? Yeah, so have we — that, despite the transition from 2G to 3G and to 4G, we still do not have decent video quality in many places. We do not think that 5G will bring much of a change in this regard.
We humans will undergo some amazing transitions in the future, like travelling in autonomous cars or interacting in mixed reality environments. The surrounding communication should be as lean as possible to accompany and support these developments. Tribe’s HD avatar technology has ten times lower bandwidth needs than comparable HD video. Our HD avatar is 3 megabits and we need 15-20 kilobytes/s for bidirectional live animation, as we are only sending 136 facial landmark data points at 30 frames per second (fps) compared to 1.5 megabytes for full HD video. Our tech literally works with 2G on a train.
And lastly, what are your goals for the AtomLeap High-Tech Accelerator program?
We have set ambitious goals for ourselves in the next six months, both as far as our technology and business development are concerned. And we need support to develop and market our solution. We are hoping that the AtomLeap High-Tech Accelerator will help us during this period of fast growth. By the end of the program, we aim to become an established company with its own office, an advanced prototype, several (pilot) customers, and a series of grants and financings lined up to fuel our growth.