For entrepreneurs, authors, bloggers, and others who are asked for advice and time to “pick their brain,” it can often be time-consuming and unproductive to honor all requests. Startup Huddlewoo is looking to give people a way to easily connect with others via online video chat, and give them a way to charge for their time and access to their expertise. The company is launching its web-based video chat platform in public beta this week, and will be turning its attention to signing up both influential users and the people who want to chat with them using the platform.
BetaKit first spoke to HuddleWoo founder Will Zell in November 2012, when the company launched its alpha version. At that time Zell said the focus was to become a “platform for inspired conversations.” Based on the feedback from over 50 alpha users, who said they didn’t immediately understand who the platform was for, the team has changed its messaging, going from a way for “ordinary people to connect with extraordinary people” to a platform that “turns noisy requests into meaningful paid conversations.”
The company is targeting people who have an existing social following and want to connect with their fans, from authors to celebrities to entrepreneurs. The platform is built on top of video platform Tokbox, and lets anyone set their availability for video chats, called “huddles.” Each user sets their own rate, with a minimum of $10 per session, and sessions ranging from 15 minutes to an hour. Users don’t have to charge for their sessions, but if they do Huddlewoo takes a 10 percent cut.
For those looking to chat with a Huddlewoo user, they can request a huddle, enter details on what they want to discuss, and give three available time slots, and the account owner would then pick the time that works. They can either make the chat private or public, inviting friends to watch the huddle, though they wouldn’t be able to actually participate.
“Our focus now is on the extraordinary person who is busy, who is doing great things…where there is a demand on the person’s time,” Zell said. “The idea is if you get a lot of people who are requesting your time, or want to talk, or want free advice…turn those noisy requests into meaningful paid conversations via Huddlewoo.”
Unlike startups like Pheed, which let celebrities and other users charge for access to their online updates, whether text, video, or audio, Huddlewoo focuses solely on charging for video chats. Its closest competitors are ExpertInsight and LiveNinja, which both let people monetize their advice, and is also similar to Clarify.fm, although that platform focuses on solely entrepreneurs, and only facilitates chats via phone. It can also be compared to Google+ Hangouts, though users can’t charge for those video chats.
“There are going to be more and companies that emerge that are trying to solve this problem. Our place in the marketplace is one, having the live video, the conversation, the human interaction if you will,” Zell said. “And [we're] a tool for our users to make money, we make money if our users make money.”
Since Huddlewoo is a bootstrapped company based in Columbus, OH, Zell said they don’t necessarily have the connections needed to get big-name users on board. He said the next few months will be spent on marketing, and that down the road they’ll look at building out additional features like mobile apps.
While it’s true that authors, speakers, and others who get asked for meetings constantly could use HuddleWoo to charge for their time, there will likely be a large segment of those people that view meetings and quick chats as lead generation, not something to charge for. Whether the company can get big-name influencers on board to spread the world will be the deciding factor in whether Huddlewoo lives up to its goal of connecting the ordinary with the extraordinary.