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Highfive Wants to Do for Video Conferencing What Nest Did for Thermostats

It's not an exaggeration to say that all conference calls are lame. But maybe ... it's the hardware?


It’s not an exaggeration to say that all conference calls are lame. But maybe … it’s the hardware?

Highfive is a new device that promises to cut the speakerphones, projectors and dial-ins from company cultures. It’s trying to follow the Nest formula: Take a gadget that’s boring, make it slick and friendly. And it’s coming from Shan Sinha, who left Microsoft to start the Microsoft Office-to-Google-Docs translator startup DocVerse, which was bought by Google in 2010.

The Highfive device itself contains a high-def camera, an array of four mics and a mount so it can sit on top of a television. It’s sleekly packaged and, once set up, requires no additional cables or remote controls. It costs $799, which sounds like a lot, but, Sinha argues, it is the same as a nice iPad.

Highfive works similarly to Apple TV or Google Chromecast in that users can hand off content from a phone or computer to the big display. Highfive owners can invite people to join a video conference by sharing a URL. They don’t need a device to participate.

For Sinha, the inspiration to start Highfive started at Google, which spent millions of dollars — he says something like $100 million — to buy video conferencing systems from Cisco and Tandberg for just about every single office where its employees could plausibly meet. The availability of easy video equipment meant video became the default way for Googlers to communicate. “It was a remarkable transformation of company culture,” Sinha said.

Highfive is already being used by some 100 companies — including Shutterfly, Warby Parker and HotelTonight — so it’s ready to go, but other features are going to be added later. For instance, there’s no way to call into a Highfive conference from a traditional phone. And Sinha and his team later plan to introduce a $10-per-month charge for companies with more than 10 participants in a call.

The devices can be bought on the Highfive website today and are supposed to ship in four to six weeks.

Highfive the company, which shares a name with its product, is based in Redwood City, Calif., and has raised $13.5 million from investors including General Catalyst Partners, Andreessen Horowitz and Google Ventures.

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