Rich Training Experiences with Spatial Chat

About my guest:

After working as a scientist at the Institute of Space Research at the Russian Science Academy, Almas Abulkhairov worked as an investment analyst for several years. He focused on internet and software ventures and founded several internet companies himself. Now, he is the CEO and founder of SpatialChat. Trusted by six million users worldwide, SpatialChat is an online workspace for remote teams to get synchronous work done anywhere, anytime. They offer a unique online meeting and networking experience to fight online video, or ‘zoom-fatigue,’ and improve remote team communication.

More about Almas Abulkhairov

More about Spatial Chat

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Transcript of the Interview

{Edited for Ease of Reading}

Petra Mayer  00:04

Hello, and welcome. My name is Petra Mayer, and I’m the founder and CEO of Petra and Associates Consulting. I am super thrilled to be today in the lounge of SpatialChat with the CEO and founder, Almas Abulkhairov. And I’m very thrilled to show you this platform and to talk to Almas about how this platform can help you in your learning and development projects. Welcome, Almas, to your own lounge.

Almas Abulkhairov  00:30

Hi, and welcome to our SpatialChat space, which was prepared for this meeting. I’m happy to show you around.

Petra Mayer  00:37

That’s awesome because I know from our conversations that there are lots to SpatialChat, and we’ll explore some of those features as we’re talking. But before we dive in, in a sentence or two, how would you describe SpatialChat to somebody who has not ever experienced it?

Almas Abulkhairov  00:59

To people who have not experienced SpatialChat, there was something always missing when COVID hit, when we all went remote. With the tools like Zoom or Google Meet that we all used, something was missing in Zoom calls. While you were working in a remote team or during an online event. So, we developed SpatialChat, which is an online meeting space to gather remotely for your online events. Such as after-parties or cocktail parties, or online education classes. And, of course, the remote-team important meetings such as the all-hands-brainstorming, kickoffs, and whatever.

That’s how SpatialChat was created. A gathering place online that feels like in-person. It’s very easy to share something with anyone in your space, such as another website. A note, a soundtrack for the background. For example, a file is multiple screen sharing for embedded whiteboards that you can collaborate together.

Petra Mayer  02:12

I think you’re already speaking to many of the features that SpatialChat has. And now, what we want to explore a little bit is how we can use these features. If we are in a learning and development environment where you’re either onboarding a team, or you might have a remote team, or you might have a hybrid team and how do you manage that, which is always a big challenge. So when you said, you know, when COVID hit, obviously that was a trigger for so many things. What are the recent trends in online learning that you think will impact the choice of systems that organizations have to make, and how they may even be combining systems?

Almas Abulkhairov  02:50

From my observation, while talking to our customers in this particular area, learning and development online gets more and more important each year. Because more and more teams adopt either fully remote or hybrid modes of work. And there should be a reinvention or adoption of the new standard of how to do this online. And the trends, the things people face to pay specific attention to, are simplicity to onboard your team into the product. It should be easy because it’s new; it’s a relatively new category for a product that exists only for the third year now, which is not a lot of time on the global scale.

There should be a way to prepare all the content for the meetings, especially in learning development in advance. They should be a reimagined LMS kind of workflow here. And that should be simple to onboard for the remote team. And keep in mind that by diverse, I mean the diversity of people using the platform. It could be obviously a young, 25-year-old IT guy for whom it’s very obvious and quick and easy to onboard into the new product. However, we proved that even an older audience, my mother and even our oldest customer is a 90-year-old gentleman from Japan. And it was very easy to like learn SpatialChat to set up the camera and just make it work.

Petra Mayer  04:30

And I think what you’re doing, as well as you’re bringing together people in a fun kind of environment that you can totally customize, which may – I mean even talking about the 25-year-old IT person who may be harder to excite coming to yet another Zoom meeting. I think that’s kind of what you’re what you’ve also achieved here, even just with you know where we’re out here together.

So we’re in this lounge it looks pretty cool. I’d actually like that cup of coffee right there. We having right in front of us. So how could SpatialChat support organizations in their attempt to provide online learning to their staff or customer base, especially when they have a really quite a varied staff base or customer base? How does SpatialChat help with that?

Almas Abulkhairov  05:20

First of all, there are three important things for this process in general. The environment for learning and development should be comfortable. Feeling like in person. And that’s the way it is right now we are sitting on the isometric, almost three-dimensional. But in reality, a two-dimensional space, like a virtual real estate, will feel like on the same background right now. The second thing that we should remember, in learning and development, there’s a lot of collaboration stuff like group work.

So there should be built to embed a whiteboard or share multiple screencasts or like emphasize with drawing, for example. Or the ability to draw attention to the important area in the content right now. And the third one, the majority of learning and development, involves straightening out in breakouts. And there should be an easy way to regroup.  The most basic feature that we launched is the proximity audio.

There were two companies in the world, and one of them was us who implemented this. For example, if I move far away from you, my sound volume will start to decrease. And if I’m walking out too far getting back to Petra, and now you’re hearing me again. And I told our viewers that you didn’t hear me when I moved too far away from you.

This allows you to break out easily. For example, we prepared this room, such as several rooms. And we can split into different areas in order to either hang out or if an instructor, for example, gives us some group, like per department or by-minute team tasks to do during the learning and development. Inside the team have these three key workflows that we always need to remember from real life that we need to adapt to in the virtual. So that’s how we naturally made it possible here.

First, we have three room types in SpatialChat that adapt to all video communication cases. Number one is the breakout, we are in the breakout room where circles move in which person is represented by a circle with the video stream. And because we are in the same background, our brain feels like in person because in things like Zoom, it’s a grid view, where each of us is in different background. That’s why mentally, there’s the so-called Zoom fatigue that happens. There is significantly less Zoom fatigue that allows you to make one or two or even up to three hours of productive and not-too-exhausting learning and development sessions.

Petra Mayer  08:27

So let me just talk through a use-case from what you’ve just explained to me. So let’s assume we have an instructor who is giving a live presentation to a whole group of new staff members, let’s say for onboarding. And they come from various different departments. So we can now move into a room like a presentation room, maybe show us that if that’s possible. I know I put you on the spot here. Is that possible for you to just put us into a room where a lecture room type of thing?

Almas Abulkhairov  09:00

Yeah, there’s a particular room for that. It’s called the stage. Let’s go to the stage room. It’s on the right, you will see the stage I can meet you there. Just click there.

Petra Mayer  09:11

Okay, I’ll go to the stage room.

Almas Abulkhairov  09:18

I have just gone on stage. And everyone up to 5000 people technically can visit and watch whatever presentation I’m talking about. Of course, I can invite my co-hosts. Petra, if you hear me press the go on stage button. It’s the green button below.

Petra Mayer  09:48

Hello. I’m on stage now too. Yeah, and then there’s the go on stage, which kind of gets me ready.

Almas Abulkhairov  09:59

This room represents a familiar Zoom-like grid view, with the ability for up to 12 speakers present. Either presentation with screen sharing or embed whiteboard and draw together for a large audience of up to 5000 people in general. But people in learning and development do it for groups from 12 to 50 people. In reality, even if the total number of people involved in the process is hundreds, they do turn by turn, usually from what I learned.

And the largest difference, apart from the classic Zoom interfaces, is that there are reactions on stage. Let me just show it. They receive the fires, there is a button below in the reactions. And the more people on the stage they are, the more fun it looks. All of the viewers, like the last 12 comments from viewers, are below in circles for you, I will leave the stage, and you will see me as a circle.

Petra Mayer  11:07

And now, unfortunately, I can’t hear you anymore when you begin.

Almas Abulkhairov  11:10

Did you see me as a circle? So it allows you to see and feel like you’re not talking to space. To people, and if they write something to ask, or you see all of their texts right below us. Let me show you an example. Because you’re also recording, I will leave the stage right now and write something to you.

Petra Mayer  11:33

Okay. Well, I’m gonna see be very curious to see what kind of feedback we’re gonna get here from the audience. It’s amazing. I have a question. Yay! We like questions. Awesome. Well, this is a great feature for a presentation, a training presentation. But it would also be a great feature for a town hall for an organization to do townhall presentations to all their staff. So I can totally see this being a very useful feature.

Now, let’s assume this instructor, who was given the onboarding presentation to everybody, now wants to break them out into breakout rooms by department and maybe bring in another team member who might be a manager for that department to do very department-specific training or discussions with those groups. Where would they go from here?

Almas Abulkhairov  12:28

They would go to the pre-selected Breakout Room of their choice. For example, we can negotiate that the marketing team breakout will happen in the room called the library. And let’s go to the library room as an example.

Petra Mayer  12:45

Let’s do that. Let’s see what it looks like there. Oh, no, I went into the case during that wasn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted to go into the library. Okay, I should be here. I think I’m here.

Almas Abulkhairov  12:56

You need to turn on your camera and microphone again. Well, Petra is making this. We did this in order to avoid awkward situations where people were on stage. They thought that nobody would hear or see them, and they appeared in the other room. They don’t expect themselves to be heard. That’s why you automatically like silence. That safety feature.

Petra Mayer  13:31

Yeah, so you have these various preset rooms. And these can be custom for specific learning and development. So that no other departments would suddenly pop up in the onboard customers room

Almas Abulkhairov  13:44

With whatever background you feel like, this library background that you can select from our template gallery, or you can upload any image that you prepared yourself. And also you can add gifs, animated images, PDF files, or even links. For example, one of our customers, an American company, is called Sassy Management Consulting. They do group learning. And the idea that I’m showing you is that I stole it from them. They did exactly this library room. And as you see, some of the shelves are with the links. This is like a library, and the links are clickable,  and I’m clicking on the master. It’s just like close to us.

If I click on that button, I will see the website with links. So that’s the example of how you can prepare the space in advance where everyone in the team, even after the session, they can come back to the room and use it as a library in order to find that particularly interesting article they need.

Petra Mayer  14:52

Okay, well, let’s get out of the hard-covered bookshelf and let’s get back onto the sofa and just finish off some conversations about how organizations actually select their systems in where SpatialChat would fit in there. Would that be okay with you? Let’s go back to the

Almas Abulkhairov  15:10

Let’s go back to the main lobby.

Petra Mayer  15:14

Yes, this is much more comfortable than sitting on that heart bookshelf. Almas, do your organizations who are searching for the appropriate kind of systems for their learning and development projects? What do they need to keep in mind, and where does SpatialChat fit in for them?

Almas Abulkhairov  15:35

There are two categories of things people are looking for. The first category is a general basic must-have, one visually accessible tool which is simple to use and adopt. That enables you a lot of sharing, interaction engagement and collaboration abilities. For learning and development, where a lot of the presentation screen sharings and drawings are involved, the second set of features is related to security compliance or procurement stuff, which is common for the larger organization becomes.

This one we provide. We are now compliant with both GDPR and SOC, two types of SAS security standards, and we keep the data secure. And we built like we were a very young company. It was hard to, apart from building the product on the fly also to learn all of this workflow, but we did the training so that the software is good. And we also were learning it’s a stupid thing.

But we had to learn to sell to the largest organization. Because small and medium businesses are easy to put in credit cards and get an electronic invoice, while in a large organization, you need to go through the procurement purchasing portal, and then their procurement and so on. These are the things to be learned on the fly. But basic things such as the features plus the security are already there, you can, for example, restrict your SpatialChat space to be accessible to either only members of your organization or specific members inside the organization. And even separate it when different spaces. For example, you can adopt several spaces for different, like global teams or departments.

Petra Mayer  17:42

So I think you’re already speaking a little bit to who your ideal clients are. Yes, smaller organizations, but as well, really large organizations may be specific departments in those organizations. Can you define that a little bit more?

Almas Abulkhairov  17:59

I’ll give you the full story. At first, we launched the product as a virtual cocktail party for up to 50 people online when COVID hit. Then, because the product is the way it is, three ICPs naturally evolved. The first one is the online events category, the manager or the agency that does online events. Specific for networking or afterparty. The second category of users is online class instructors. For example, SpatialChat was adopted in a quarter of Japanese universities, a total of 800 universities in Japan, and around 190 of them adopted SpatialChat, either on a global scale or at least several classes inside of them. In the United States, over 100 universities, including almost the entire Ivy League.

Some faculties for departments in SpatialChat, especially for group classes, where students are together in a 12 people group. And then they have to split into pairs, for example, to work on something like language learning. And the variation of this is an online instructor and online learning and development, which is what we’re talking about. The third category is the remote team. The small and medium companies who are fully remote, who have a lot of insight culture with the all hands on Fridays, a lot of brainstorming and creative sessions code reviews, for example, or daily meetings.

If this is the category, the third. So in the case of the organization size, I still believe we can technically, and we do technically, serve everyone. But we are best for the small and medium sectors. We can if enterprises come to us, we have to sell work with them, and we happily show the product. Sell, work with the procurement and so on, but we never specifically marketed to them. Because that’s another story. And we need to excel at least at something like in the beginning, right?

Petra Mayer  20:31

Being a young company. Still being a young company growing into that market, I can see that large organizations would probably start maybe with a team or two, and then it grows within the organization as more teams will be added. And then maybe a more global rollout is happening. Now, talking about that, I think we’ve talked about some of your features about your ideal user. You alluded a little bit to your strategies around pricing. So there is the real small, you know, give us your credit card, and you can buy a feature. And then there is the more larger procurement process. Tell us a little bit more about your pricing model.

Almas Abulkhairov  21:17

The pricing model is as follows, you can register and sign up in SpatialChat for free, you have the space that you can configure, and you have the ability to have up to five people simultaneously on the call without the time limit on the call. There is no limit, like in Zoom, for example. But you can invite almost everyone, you can invite 100 people, you can onboard the entire organization, and just up to five people can be simultaneously at the very same time. The good news is that we have become one of the largest customers worldwide with our video infrastructure provider. So I think we might be able to bump up this limit a bit in the near future.

Then the story splits into three cases. If you need to increase the capacity in order to run a large one-time event, we have a one-time event option, which we call a day pass. It’s, on average a $2 per person per day. You just multiply it by the number of people. We start with packages of 50. For simplicity. And because the largest objection was, I’m not sure how many people will come. I’m not sure whether it will be 50, 60 or 73. To simplify that, we reduced that it was $3 per person, we reduced it to $2 but make it in maybe 10 packages.

And the second story if the team is using it regularly. It’s $7 per person per month. And that’s it, like Slack, same cost as Slack. It’s a bargain because Zoom, for example, is $15 per month per license per employee. Yeah. However, if it’s an enterprise or a super large event organizer with many events, for which lists they pass options throughout the year on the magnitudes of hundreds, if not thousands of people, we have special pro plans. They range from, like, I think, 8,000 to more. They’re, on average, a bargain option on the scale of not a big number of events. That’s the way it is.

Petra Mayer  23:36

Okay, awesome. And how would you know what I mean? A typical implementation seems to be pretty simple because you’re giving them a code. It’s an online system, there is nothing to customize from their perspective. But maybe I’m naive, and it is a bit more complex. Tell me more.

Almas Abulkhairov  24:00

So there’s, first of all, there’s a feature which Help Center with the best practices for setting up your space. Second, every user of SpatialChat can ask for a demo session with some of our team members to help them onboard. It’s I think it’s a 30-minute session in order to explain what the features are, how they work, etc. There are articles also in our blog showing how it can be done. But also, you can select in the very near future, there will be templates like a one-click option to make it like ready. Right now, it’s very easy to understand that there is a customized bottom you can customize the background.

You can add some rooms. You can add some content, you can pin elements so that they are there forever. That’s how people adapt. The funniest part is that, technically, the product can replace Zoom. However, there is a thing called habit. So people have a habit of classic videos calling products. So how people perceive SpatialChat at first, almost all of them is a special meeting product, like a learning and development session product, an after party or all hands product. After one or two such sessions, people understand they can use SpatialChat for everything else. Every other communication, that’s the story.

Petra Mayer  25:33

Awesome. So the implementation, the learning curve is pretty low. It’s not, you don’t need to do a lot of customization apart from setting up your various rooms, naming them and giving your team members access.

Almas Abulkhairov  25:51

Indeed, and the proof of that, you can google it yourself. When we launched, we didn’t have a Terms of Services, no privacy policy, no help center, and no explanation. Our users wrote manuals themselves for everyone else in the community. Because it was super easy to understand the product in just spend three minutes.

Petra Mayer  26:13

Yeah. All right. So what I just learned is that you’re onboarding learning curve is pretty low. That means that people can get on-boarded very quickly. The setup can be done very quickly, which is fantastic. Now, what we’ve talked about, though, is that SpatialChat is very much for that live interaction. And many organizations also have asynchronous learning programs that they would normally serve through their learning management system. So how does the user switch between their learning management system, where they may have self-directed training, and then go into the live session using SpatialChat?

Almas Abulkhairov  26:52

So the deep integration itself, with the LMS of our SpatialChat product, is in our roadmap, and hopefully, it will be released somewhere next year. However, our LMS users, who are customers as well, recommend using SpatialChat links, which are always on and have a change and put them directly inside the LMS connected with the class or lesson. That’s the way around. And that’s how people use it. And it works very well.

Petra Mayer  27:23

Yeah, that’s a great way to do it. Now I do we talked about your pricing model already. But so in wrapping up, what is one thing that you would like your clients to know before they even come to you?

Almas Abulkhairov  27:36

Because we are a new niche category video called product, people only thought that only things like Zoom or Google meet exist and nothing could get better. It’s impossible to make it better. I hope that people would know that online meetings can be fun, engaging and productive and less fatigue. And there’s a new video called meeting category in the world right now. There is another way there’s a better way than Zoom.

Petra Mayer  28:12

Awesome. So I hope that there is a bar that we can now go to for our after-party, but I’m wrapping it up. Thank you so much, Almas, for showing us around your SpatialChat facilities, introducing us to a new way of meeting life and really making us think about how we can use these features that you offer in our learning and development environment. If you, as the viewer listener, are interested in learning more about SpatialChat, you will find the links on my website to learn more and also to request a demo and meet Almas in person I tell you it’s fun. Thanks so much, Almas.

Almas Abulkhairov  28:50

The pleasure was mine. Thank you


About the author 

Petra Mayer