Have you ever been stuck in traffic, or in a gig that you are just not blending in or a lousy cue at the ATM or someplace and it hits you that, maybe you should call someone to talk to. Now when you reach for your phone, you get an unanswered phone call with a reply text message ‘Hey, just text me!’
Texting has really taken over communication. Texting is awesome, and it’s used in such great ways, but when you lose conversation, when you lose speaking to people, you lose a huge part of building meaningful relationships.
So enter Justin Spraggins who decided to give the phone call a much needed social facelift. It’s not cool anymore, so how do he make it cool again?”
Spraggins and his cofounder Jared Kemink started building the app, called Unmute, in April 2015, and launched in November 2015. As soon as Unmute launched, it got a big boost from Apple, which featured it as one of its “Best New Apps.” Unmute also made a splash on Product Hunt, the startup-and-app-discovery site adored by founders and VCs, which Spraggins says helped growth.
And now, Unmute has raised its first outside funding: a $2.2 million seed round led by Greycroft Partners, with participation from Comcast Ventures, Crosscut Ventures, Betaworks, and Greylock. David Stern, who’s the Commissioner Emeritus of the NBA, and Robert Kirkman, the creator of the TV show “The Walking Dead,” also joined the round, as well as a slew of angel investors.
Unmute, which Spraggins says has a five-person team right now, will be using the funding to secure office space, improve the product, and staff up.
Here’s how Unmute works.
All calls on Unmute are broadcasted live, so anyone can tune in and listen to the call via the iPhone app or via the weblink, so they can listen on web. While users are listening, they can interact with the call, sharing comments and photos and engaging with the people who are having the conversation.
But, Spraggins says, the app’s “special sauce” is that the host can unmute their listeners, letting hosts directly communicate with their followers. “They can unmute them, so it kind of becomes like a radio dial-in show but for everyday conversations,” Spraggins says. “And, as these calls are going, they are getting recorded, so that afterwards you can share them out on social, or even some people are posting them as podcasts. It’s really dynamic, and kind of [a] raw and natural way to keep up with folks.”
Spraggins says everyone from groups of teenagers (“They do these — they call them ‘Unmuteups’ where they just sign on in the evening and talk all night together,” Spraggins says)to celebrity influencer-types are using the app.
He’s friends with Bellamy Young, the actress from “Scandal,” and has sat in on her Unmute calls with thousands of her fans. “It’s just a great way for influencers who have some sort of following to actually talk with their fan base. There’s no need to be camera-ready because it’s just audio,” he says.
Though it’s audio and not video-focused, Unmute is perhaps most like YouNow, the livestreaming app adored by teens. The broadcasting mechanic is similar, in that both apps allow for a lot of engagement and direct interaction between the people hosting the broadcasts and their fans.
But, Spraggins says, apps like YouNow “require you to be camera-ready or to have a certain level of skill or almost thesis to what you’re presenting that’s engaging for the audience.” Unmute is more about the conversation.