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Team 24 - Loom 'felt like we had captured lightning in a bottle', says co-founder

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright May 9, 2024
Co-founder Joe Thomas tells us about Loom's mission to bring async video to the enterprise and how being part of Atlassian contributes to that goal.

Screenshot of a Loom bug report video
A bug report in Loom (Atlassian)

When the pandemic forced so many of us to work from home, we all learned the value of real-time video to help maintain human connections, even at the risk of falling prey to Zoom fatigue. But few of us have gone on to routinely use recorded video for asynchronous communications at work, even though we're familiar with the convenience of how-to videos on YouTube and the immediacy of video on social media. If we can't connect with someone directly, we typically fall back on emails, chat, documents and slide decks to get our message across. This already seemed unsustainable to the three co-founders of Loom, the fast-growing video recording app for business, when they launched the company back in 2015. Joe Thomas, co-founder and CEO, recalls:

We always believed that video was everywhere in the consumer landscape. But it wasn't in day-to-day work. We were actually shocked by that, as individuals on average in their early 20s, in that you're using Snapchat all day, every day.

They realized that the biggest barrier to adoption was that it was just too hard for the average user to record and share video. He goes on:

We built what we consider to be, to this day, consumer-grade — because asking a real-time website user to record a video back in 2016 was a radical ask ... It had to be so easy to use, it had to be delightful.

Within 24 hours of launching the standalone product in 2016, Loom had signed up 2,000 users. Surveys of this fast-growing user base revealed that the single factor that most users had in common was that they worked in distributed roles. Targeting this horizontal market would be a much harder challenge than singling out a specific segment, such as sales people or product teams. But Thomas and his co-founders were determined to reach for the broader goal of establishing an entirely new way for people to communicate at work. He explains:

We felt like we had actually captured lightning in a bottle. I think it's incredibly rare to introduce a new mode of communication at work. It's like the first time Slack came out. Sure, there was chat and there was email. But it was a totally new way of communicating internally, across channels that were open by default and persistent.

So we thought we had captured lightning in a bottle, and we felt like we had the data and results to go after that. We said, 'Let's do the horizontal, introduce a new mode of communication at work with async video.'

Pursuing that vision ultimately led to Loom's acquisition late last year to become part of Atlassian in a deal that valued the company at $975 million. Meanwhile, adoption has surged, with over 27 million registered Loom users and 300 million videos recorded on the platform, and over a billion views to date. But for Thomas, who now leads product management for Loom as part of Atlassian, that's just the start. He says:

All one billion knowledge workers in the world, I believe, will have async video as part of their communication stack. It's our job at Loom to compress that into the present as much as possible, by making it easy to adopt, and hopefully, as many people will use Loom, of that one billion that will be using async video.

Speeding adoption of async video

So how does Loom achieve its objective of speeding the adoption of async video at work? There are several elements. Making it as easy as possible to record, edit and share a video has always been at the heart of the Loom proposition, along with ease of collaboration and keeping the often sensitive content secure and confidential. Thomas explains:

It really starts with the amount of friction that it takes in order to perform a job. Before Loom, QuickTime had been around for 25 years at this point. But to record a video, that becomes a 200MB file that you then have to upload to Dropbox or Google Drive, get that link and share it out — that's a 15-20 minute process.

What Loom did was, we made starting a recording, two clicks, dead simple. Then we made it so that our patented video infrastructure streams the video files in tiny playlists of two to five seconds up to the servers, while you're recording. That way, right when you're done recording, we pop open a new tab, that video is ready to share.

Actually, one of the things that we got as feedback when we first launched was, how do I upload the video? We had to explain to them that it's already uploaded, and all you have to do is share it. It was just such a radical departure back in 2016, from what people were used to in video.

Other features have since extended that ease of use, for example the ability to edit a video from the automatically generated transcript, rather than having to scroll through the video itself to find the right section. A tranche of AI features introduced last year included AI-generated titles, summaries, chapter divisions and action items, automatic removal of filler words such as 'um' and 'ah' as well as extended silences, and instant transcriptions and closed captions in over 50 languages.

Last week saw the beta release of new AI-powered capabilities that connect Loom into some of Atlassian's other products. One of the most common use cases for Loom is to record a video screenshare with the speaker's face superimposed as they talk through what's on the screen. This might be to highlight key points in a document, spreadsheet or slide deck, or to walk through a process as it happens. The new AI workflows now make it possible to record a bug report, a step-by-step process, or a code review in Loom, and then have the AI automatically transform the content of the video into a draft Jira issue, a Confluence document, or a text message in Slack, Teams or email. Document templates the AI can use include standard operating process, step-by-step guide, PR description, QA steps and code docs.

These capabilities feed a second strand in Loom's strategy to speed adoption of async video. It's an example of what Thomas describes as "behaviour creation," in other words providing practical use cases that show how the technology can help people work better. He comments:

Fundamentally, technology has to make people faster and/or better at their jobs. If it doesn't, that technology will not proliferate... What asynchronous video does is, it does make a lot of people faster and/or better at their jobs.

Automatically turning video bug reports into Jira issues — which will soon also automatically pull in relevant log files at the same time — is a case in point. He says:

We take the transcripts and closed captions that we provide for every video, we offer that in 52 languages, and we summarize what you just talked through as an issue. Here's the steps to reproduce. Here's the criteria...

One click, you can create a Jira issue, assign it to the right person in priority, and it has all of that rich context in there, such that we cut down, not just the bug reporting time, but the time to solve that bug on the other side.

Leaders and influencers

Another use case is to present material in advance of a meeting or simply give colleagues an update on what's been going on in a project. Atlassian estimates that the near 5 million minutes of Loom videos the company has recorded in several years of use has removed almost half a million meetings from its workers' calendars. Executives at the company also use Loom to keep employees informed without needing to gather everyone together for a 'town hall' meeting. Anu Bharadwaj, President of Atlassian, records a 10-12 minute weekly video to keep employees across the company updated on what she's been up to that week. Thomas observes:

The feedback that she got when she started doing it quite a while ago is that, it just builds that human connection and trust with the leadership team. So that way, if you go through hard times, it's like, 'Hey, I know, as an employee that you're doing the best that you can on our behalf.' I think that it creates a lot of organizational trust, and pushes out context in a really high-fidelity manner to the organization in a way that, why wouldn't you do that?

From an adoption point of view, having company leaders use the technology is very powerful. He goes on:

We are trying to up-level it, where we talk about this concept of internal influencers, where folks that are higher up in organizations that use asynchronous video, if they model behavior at an organization, that actually has a huge implication and accelerates in terms of an organization adopting async video. You bring all those things together, and we're continuing to accelerate the pace at which people are adopting async video.

The rise of distributed, digitally connected teamwork — which Atlassian has fully embraced — creates a huge role for async video in easing communication when people are separated by time and distance, without the back-and-forth for clarification that more often accompanies the written medium. He goes on:

Sure there's a way to get information to individuals in a text-based manner. But it's actually easier for us biologically to just talk. That's what we evolved to do. Typing, writing, is something relatively new in human history. It's easier to encode knowledge in what I can say. But then it also is a high fidelity way to get that information to others and also for them to consume it on their own time...

To actually move great work forward, to have a team do really productive and innovative things, we don't need to be co-located 100% of the time. The future is, how do we enable individuals to have the flexibility they need in order to do their best work? If you enable that you will unlock so much at the organizational level. Loom is part of that, obviously.

Customer service and sales

As well as using async video internally, there are widespread use cases in customer service and sales, across the enterprise boundary. Thomas says that there's always been a 50:50 split between internal and external communications in the way Loom is used. A new feature now being introduced in beta will now allow salespeople to record videos with personalized titles using a variable field, just like a mailmerged email or letter. The use of video in these interactions helps build engagement and trust, as he explains:

In the case of customer service, Loom has very active use cases and users where if a [user] is experiencing an issue with Loom, I could record [them] a video and say, 'Hey, let me show you how to solve this.' It actually meaningfully increases CSAT score, because you're actually not just solving the problem but doing in a human way.

On that human thread part is that sales folks use Loom for outreach. Personalized video actually increases pipeline by 19%, because it's compelling, it's personalized...

It's used throughout the entire sales process. Let's say I did a demo for you. But I didn't have time to go through everything, I can just record a video saying, 'Hey, there's two or three more features or value propositions that we didn't get a chance to walk through. Let me show you those.' Then also, 'Hey, here's your contract, I just wanted to call out a few key points. Let me know if you have any issues,' and then sending it over.

The way that video humanizes the interaction is the common theme across all these use cases. He adds:

All of this is more human touch points, which is actually really important across all relationships, but especially when you're working with external folks. That trust and that relationship needs to be built in an accelerated manner. Video is disproportionately positioned in order to help build that trust.

If Loom continues to get this right, then the viral nature of video interactions will help it continue to build market share. He says:

A lot of times, Loom is just adopted bottoms-up through organizations. Somebody starts using it, recording videos, sending it to others, and then it just has this bottoms-up adoption motion.

The product therefore has to sell itself. He goes on:

To get value out of a Loom video, you have to take that link and share it with somebody else. And then somebody watches it, and they're like, 'Ooh, that's interesting, really compelling.' And then they sign up. A vast majority of our signups today are just from people sharing Looms with other individuals, and they find it compelling for communication.

My take

Async communications are a crucial component of teamwork across any geographically distributed organization or ecosystem, particularly when those interactions take place across multiple timezones. There's only so much you can do in real-time Zoom or Teams meetings, and often it's more convenient to have information in a form that you can view at a time and pace of your own choosing. I've been convinced for some time that video will become a regular part of those communications, encouraged by what I heard last year about how another async video advocate, mmhmm founder Phil Libin, manages meetings in his business.

But like any new habit, it's hard to get started, even when tools like Loom take away most of the technology barriers. Remember when, before the pandemic, people would routinely dial into web meetings on an audio-only line? Nowadays it's become the exception to dial in without video, and no one worries any more about pets or family members straying into the background. But there's still that nagging feeling with recorded video that we won't look professional enough — particularly among the older generation who associate video with broadcast quality rather than the informality of social media.

What's needed is a further incentive to get over those initial barriers. Atlassian's new AI workflows that convert Loom content into actionable documents are therefore a really important step forward. Taking the friction out of these processes so that people can just get stuff done faster could just be the 'killer app' that async video needs to get established as just another tool in the Collaborative Canvas of a digital knowledge worker's daily routine.

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