Mmhmm makes Zoom calls more like Weekend Update

A video presentation startup called Mmhmm began during the coronavirus pandemic with a simple observation about most video calls: they’re boring.

Founder Phil Libin, onetime CEO of Evernote and now the head of the digital product studio All Turtles, which developed Mmhmm, says that as he saw himself and others in the industry on video calls, he realized that presentations like startup pitches that could be vivid in person came off as dull in typical videos.

“If you’re just in a postage stamp, Brady [Bunch] box Zoom call, none of us knew how to interact, how to be persuasive, how to be charismatic on video,” he says.

[Image: Courtesy of Mmhmm]

And yet Libin realized, that video clearly has the power to be entertaining. Plenty of programs are essentially televised presentations, such as traditional newscasts and reports by comedians such as John Oliver and the cast of Saturday Night Live‘s Weekend Update. Libin’s team set out to allow Mmhmm, which is now available in beta, to enable people to easily create compelling and engaging video presentations on their own without needing the resources of a professional broadcast studio.

[Image: courtesy of Mmhmm]

Using Mmhmm, you can choose from about 100 virtual backgrounds, from a trendy startup office to a Halloween-ready haunted house to outdoor scenes. Then, you can position live video of yourself and presentations and other materials you want to share atop that background. You can position yourself alongside or on top of what you’re discussing, from showing vacation slides on a virtual projection screen to—as Libin highlights in a demo video—shrinking yourself to get out of the way of  information on a chart.

“It’s really meant to help you just not feel like an anonymous head in the box when you’re performing on video,” Libin says.

The Mmhmm software can serve as a virtual camera in apps such as Zoom and Google Meet, allowing you to share live video. You can also upload video after the fact to sharing platforms like YouTube. And multiple users can present at once through a “copilot” feature, synchronizing to use similar backgrounds or having the person speaking be the one who appears at each point in a video—a feature that’s been used by teachers doing joint online readings of children’s books.

[Image: courtesy of Mmhmm]

Not every person on a call needs to use Mmhmm: Others can simply use the ordinary calling tool if they’re not planning on needing its presentation features, and they’ll be able to watch presentations made with mmhmm just fine.

Mmhmm recently raised $36 million in funding. Libin says that it’s likely to be opened to the public fairly soon, with a free version and optional premium features still to be determined,. It’s one of a number of products that are experimenting with ways to make video calls, which in recent months quickly became the norm for work, education, and even social interaction, more engaging and entertaining.

[Image: courtesy of Mmhmm]

Even after pandemic restrictions ease, Libin predicts that many events will continue to be at least hybrids of in-person and video, with tools needed to make engaging videos. So far, he says, beta testers have included not just people giving corporate presentations, but designers, musicians and even religious leaders. A pair of hospital clowns, restricted in their ability to make in-person stops at young patients’ bedsides due to the pandemic, even adopted the platform. It lets them quickly jump from one whimsical background to another, after finding vanilla video sessions rather clunky for their purposes.

“It’s kind of boring, having a Zoom call with a clown,” Libin says.

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