More fuel for social audio: Berlin-based social audio startup Beams, which is building a platform for sharing and consuming short-lived audio recordings, in the form of a sort of podcast format from small / deconstructed and / or collaborative that it presents as “audio-based social media” – doubled its seed funding, adding an additional $ 3 million to close the cycle at $ 6 million.
“We raised $ 3 million at the end of 2020. During the testing phase, we generated a great deal of interest and attention from investors. So, at the start of the summer of this year, we decided to recruit two new strategic investors – The Venture City and Kal Vepuri – bringing our global start-up funding to $ 6 million, ”explain two of the four co-founders of Beams (and its co-CEOs). , Alan Sternberg and Robert Kilian, on why it needs more funding now.
According to Crunchbase, the first start-up and pre-seed investors in the audio startup founded in 2019 were Mangrove Capital Partners and Redalpine.
Beams has former employees of Soundcloud, Spotify and N26 among its founding team – and its PR touts a “deep understanding of why people connect around voice.”
Its broader rationale is to create a platform where people can “come together and share diverse perspectives on different trends and interests” – which we have heard from a variety of audio social startups, such that (advice-oriented) Any and Wisdom, to name two others who are also from Europe.
Beams users are encouraged to join interest groups and (asynchronously) listen to or clip into themed discussion threads – on, well, whatever you want to talk about, whether it’s art or politics, fashion, food or music, etc.
The topics on Beams are a real pick’n’mix – and the overall experience can feel pretty hit and miss. Like the sonic equivalent of a splashed paint.
“Real people, real voices” is the tagline that Beams came up with for its app-based alternative to activating (and dialing) talk radio. (Or, well, log into Clubhouse – or jump into a Twitter space to hear what some of your followers, or someone else, is talking about.)
Finding the signal in the social audio noise turns out to be the real challenge.
Audio clips on Beam are limited to 90 seconds, but recordings can be shorter (although, as threads build, they work against this by chaining sound clips together). So it’s using the quasi-patent as a device to try and cut through.
A quick tour of the app suggests that content creators are quite rare on Beam. Some of the discussion threads featured on the homepage only have one or two replies, for example. And a few minutes of browsing also reveals the same handful of faces contributing to a variety of threads – some of which have been confirmed to be Beams staff.
So building an organic community feels like a work in progress.
Beams says its early adopters include a real “lineup” of young people exchanging stories / memories around cultural themes or past events; pro audio content creators doing 60-second interviews to share elsewhere; photographers who use the form to give people a say in their art; citizen journalists recording events on the move.
Many of the groups / topics presented seem like obvious seeds to try to encourage content generation (“best advice you ever received”; “breakfast around the world” etc); or groups labeled “Open Mic” – which encourage users to share their stories around specific themes (like “Uber stories” for women or “Tinder stories”.
While the group we saw that had the most members (~ 1k) was an open pitch around podcast ideas and asking for help with podcast projects.
In general, the groups had much fewer members and seemed more focused / niche – say aimed at shedding light on specific local issues (“Police reform in Minneapolis was explained”). Or tell about a specific perspective / experience (“20 years after September 11”). Or try to get travel / food tips (“Best Vegan Spots Las Vegas”). But why you would need some of these types of content in audio versus text form is a question to think about.
One of the most interesting groups we have met – “Young, Black & Fly” (59 members) – describes itself as “a micro podcast on art, film and music for all, through the prism of young black creatives ”, and biting back-and-forth interviews with creators through a variety of artistic mediums.
On the less interesting side, there was the mandatory daily news group NFT (18 members).
Beams’ abbreviated audio format lends itself to question-and-answer style interviews between a group host and a guest. Which means the entire interview ends up being deconstructed into discoverable / shareable chunks. But the downside is that it’s less immersive than tapping into a full-fledged podcast / radio show.
Open groups aim to recreate the Q&A atmosphere but without active curation by asking anyone who wants to participate. Which means that the resulting thread can be, well, a mixed bag in terms of interest / quality from the listener’s perspective.
Overall, Beams feels like it’s still in the experimental phase.
It’s also not yet clear whether this is something with bite-sized “micropods” for the attention-strapped (post-radio) generation. Or, well, adding to the social audio noise.
When asked about the number of users of the app, the co-founders of Beams covered their response – saying “we know of over 40,000 unique users participating in over 5,000 groups” – so there are probably less. ‘active users (and the group metric is actively driven by the beams own staff). Although the beta didn’t launch until May 2021, so it’s still early days.
Why focus on abstract audio as social media? “Audio space recorded in short format needs innovation, both from the point of view of the creator and the consumer,” suggest Sternberg and Kilian.
“To create good audio content with today’s options, the bar is very high. You need the equipment, you need real speaking expertise, and it just isn’t designed for the general public. The average person has a hard time creating audio content because there is just too much friction.
“In terms of consumption, that too is not really easy. For example, the only way to know if a podcast or live audio session is going to be useful or entertaining or worth listening to is to listen to it! You don’t know how it’s going to turn out, you can’t navigate to “the good part” and again, it’s just not a really easy thing to explore unless you know and trust the whole thing. person who creates the content.
“We want to create innovative solutions for this – to help people enjoy audio recordings and hear another person’s voice in an easy way. “
It is clear that they are not there yet to surface purely “withal”, however.
Reducing audio to 90 (which means you inexorably have to listen to a lot of repetitive “hello / intro” gossip) and providing a button for users to get it up to 2x human voice speed is far from just playing sound. unbelievable.
This is because it sort of implies that you think a lot of the content will be skippable. And if your tools for helping listeners cut out boring tunes end up creating filler sound in the process – including soliciting audio from anyone, expressing thoughts, and making recordings of any quality – the whole approach could be, well, a little counterproductive… (Alternatively, Beams may not have found its rhythm yet; communities take time to develop and grow.)
The startup’s co-CEO also believes that current audio platforms lack “intuitive ways for people to connect”, arguing: “There is no audio platform tied to a topic and just as interactive. “
Beams is focused on creating tools that “allow people to easily record their thoughts in different ways and share them into groups and topics,” they say, emphasizing the goal of structuring the audio.
They also describe what they are building as “an extended audio player for people to be part of the discussion threads – similar to music streaming services.” And say they plan to add audio transcriptions and allow Beams voice recordings to be exported to other social networks for consumption there as well.
Adding other forms of interactions around threads is also part of their to-do list.
In addition to focusing on creating “simple and inclusive” tools for sharing and consuming audio, Sternberg and Kilian say the goal is to differentiate in a competitive space by being more open than competitors (more ) closed.
“While most other audio platforms put everything purely in their apps or behind connected walls, we don’t like forcing people in a closed ecosystem to connect with each other,” they say, adding: “We really see ourselves as more of a platform to build audio solutions, not just a social media network, since we are also available and open on the web, where you don’t need to be connected. or even to have Beams as an app.
“Our goal is to give people a way to collect and share voices on the streets, to provide journalists and media with a way to easily integrate and share stories, and to let friends share their voices on the streets. apps they prefer – be it WhatsApp, Telegram, or Signal.
What about monetization? It’s not even a conversation for the co-CEOs of Beams yet.
“We all want to create a platform and a community around short-lived collaborative audio. By taking a close look at how different user groups use our product, we learn and feel confident that we will introduce meaningful ways for our community and for us to generate income in the future.
And moderation? “Moderation will be a big challenge, but recorded audio (which is also transcribed to text) allows us to create more products to protect our community,” they suggest.