A London-based startup called LOVE, valued at $ 17 million following its pre-seed funding, aims to redefine the way people stay in touch with family and close friends. The company is launching a messaging app that offers a combination of video calling as well as asynchronous video and audio messaging, in an ad-free, privacy-focused experience with a number of bells and whistles, including artistic filters and real-time transcription and translation features.
But LOVE’s biggest differentiator may not be just its product, but rather the company’s mission.
LOVE aims to ensure that the direction of its products is driven by its user base in a democratic manner, rather than decisions made about its future being determined by an elite at the top of a corporate hierarchy. Additionally, the company‘s longer-term goal is ultimately to hand over ownership of the application and its governance to its users, according to the company.
These concepts have emerged as part of larger trends towards a kind of “Web 3.0”, or the next phase of Internet development, where services are decentralized, user privacy is high, data is protected, and transactions are carried out. take place on digital registers, like a blockchain, in a more distributed way.
The founders of LOVE are proponents of this new model, including serial entrepreneur Samantha Radocchia, who previously founded three companies and was an early blockchain advocate as the co-founder of Chronicled, a blockchain focused on the pharmaceutical supply chain.
As someone who has been interested in emerging technologies since writing her anthropology thesis on virtual currency trading in “Second Life”, she is now a professor at Singularity University, where she has given conferences on blockchain, AI, the Internet of things, the future of work. , and other topics. She is also the author of an introductory guide to blockchain with her book “Bitcoin Pizza”.
Co-founder Christopher Schlaeffer, meanwhile, held several positions at Deutsche Telekom, including Director of Product and Innovation, Director of Corporate Development and Director of Strategy, where he, with the leaders of Google, presented the first mobile phone running Android. He was also Chief Digital Officer of the telecommunications services company VEON.
The two paths crossed after Schlaeffer had already started organizing a team to bring LOVE to the public, which includes the co-founders of chief technologist Jim Reeves, also previously of VEON, and chief designer Timm Kekeritz, previously designer. of interaction with international design. IDEO in San Francisco, design director at IXDS and founder of design consultancy Raureif in Berlin, among others.
Explained Radocchia, what drew her to join as CEO was the potential to start a new company that upholds more positive values ââthan what is often seen today – in fact, the brand name “LOVE” is a reference to this goal. She was also interested in the opportunity to reflect on what she describes as “new business models that don’t depend on advertising or collecting data from our users,” she said.
To this end, LOVE plans to monetize without any advertising. While the company isn’t ready to explain its business model in its entirety, it would involve users opting for the services through granular permissions and memberships, we’re told.
“We believe our users will be far and away willing to pay for services they consciously use and grant permissions to in a given context rather than having their data used for an advertising model that just isn’t transparent.” , says Radocchia.
LOVE expects to learn more about the model next year.
As for the LOVE app itself, it’s a pretty polished mobile messenger with an interesting combination of features. Like any other video chat app, you can make video calls with your friends and family, one-on-one or in a group. Currently, LOVE supports up to five participants in the call, but expects to expand as it grows. The app also supports video and audio messaging for asynchronous conversations. There are already tools that offer this kind of functionality on the market, of course, like WhatsApp, with its support for audio messages, or the Marco Polo video messenger. But they don’t offer quite the same extended feature set.
For starters, LOVE limits its video messages to 60 seconds, for brevity. (As anyone who’s used Marco Polo knows, videos can get a bit disjointed, making it harder to catch up when you’re late on group chats.) Plus, LOVE lets you both watch content of the video and play the real-time transcript of what is said – the latter which is handy not only for accessibility but also for times when you want to hear someone’s messages but aren’t not in a private place to listen or have no headphones. Conversations can also be translated into 50 languages.
âA lot of traditional communication or messaging products come from a paradigm that has always been text-based,â says Radocchia. âWe approach it completely differently. While other platforms have a lot of features that we have, I thinkâ¦ the prospect that we approached completely blew her away, âshe continues. âInstead of locking video messages to a mostly text-based interface, [LOVE is] by doing the opposite and adding text like some sort of add-on magically transcribed – and something that you will hopefully never need to type again on your keyboard, âshe adds.
The app’s user interface, on the other hand, was designed to encourage eye contact with the speaker to make conversations more natural. It does this by means of design elements where bubbles float as you speak and the bubble with the current speaker expands to take your attention away from yourself. The company is also working with Serpentine Gallery curator in London, Hans Ulrich-Obrist, to create new filters that aren’t about embellishment or gimmicks, but instead focus on introducing a new form of visual expression that puts people at ease. to the camera.
For now, this has resulted in a filter that slightly abstracts your appearance, almost in the style of animation or some other form of visual art.
The app claims to use end-to-end encryption and automatic deletion of its content after seven days, with the exception of messages that you yourself recorded, if you chose to save them as ‘memorable moments’ .
âOne of our commitments is the protection of privacy and the right to be forgotten,â says Radocchia. âWe don’t want or need to store any of this information. “
LOVE was launched smoothly on the App Store, where it has been used with a number of testers and strives to organically grow its user base through an onboard invite mechanism that asks users invite at least three people to join. This same onboarding process also carefully explains why LOVE asks for permissions, such as using speech recognition to create captions.
LOVE says its valuation is around US $ 17 million as a result of pre-seed investments from a combination of traditional start-up investors and strategic angel investors in various industries including technology, film , media, television and financial services. The company will raise a seed this fall.
The app is currently available on iOS, but an Android version will arrive later this year. (Note that LOVE does not currently support the iOS 15 beta software, where it is experiencing issues with voice transcription and other areas. This should be fixed next week, following an app update in progress. Classes.)