TechDecisions managing editor Jonathan Blackwood spoke with Nancy Knowlton, Co-Founder and CEO of Nureva Inc., as well as Co-Founder of SMART Technologies Inc., about her new company Nureva, the interesting way they came to create audio conferencing equipment, and why Nureva’s HDL300 audio conferencing solution stands out from competition at InfoComm 2017.
JB: Tell me about Nureva.
NK: Well Dave Martin and I started Nureva about three years ago. We had spent about 25 years prior to that building SMART Technologies. We took a bit of a breather from that, came back, and thought about what it was we wanted to do next.
The opportunity arose to rehire and work again with many of the people we had respected and enjoyed working with while at SMART, so we started up Nureva. We really didn’t have a set of product concepts in mind at that particular time. Our idea was that we could assemble a great team of people who had a depth of perspective from prior work experience, and who were very collaborative and easy to work with. We were pretty confident that we would be able to find some product ideas working with that group of people.
About two years ago we really had the core of the team that now is Nureva assembled, and we got down to the task of trying to think about what it was that we were going to tackle. We started first from the thorny problems that still remained after many years of technology in meeting rooms and increasingly found in workspaces. We started to ask, “What remains unsolved?” We didn’t want to come into the market with a collection of “me-too” offerings, rather we wanted products that were differentiated by their ease of use and the fundamental technology – and therefore ones that could create that enjoyable in-use experience.
That’s what put us along the development path we’re on today with a rich product future for both our ideation systems as well as the audio conferencing product that we’re bringing into the market.
JB: That’s a very interesting strategy you had right at the beginning, to build the team first and then figure out the product. Could you tell me more about that process?
NK: A bit of our strategy was informed from our experience at SMART. When you’ve got a start-up, in a lot of cases it’s hard to attract those high-impact, experienced people. Dave and I were younger when we started SMART almost 30 years ago now. The people that we were able to attract were very bright, but very young and inexperienced. I would say that, collectively, we all learned together. Which in many ways was a strong positive – if we really understood the journey we were embarking on we probably would have heeded the conventional wisdom that would have repeatedly said to us at that time, that we couldn’t do what we were setting out to do.
With that in mind, we looked and said, OK, we’ve learned a few things, we’ve got some experience – and people had experience working with us, working within the markets in education and business – and the experience of rapid growth with global products. So it was starting from first principals again, based on a prior experience. When we saw the richness of the perspectives and experiences that we could hire with the core of the team from SMART Technologies, but certainly added to by other experienced people with different perspectives, it was just too tantalizing of an opportunity to pass up. Yes, it is a different way than most companies are started, but we thought it would sit with our mindset that you have to be adaptive to the situation that presents itself and go with what looks like good opportunities.
Specifically, we were looking at addressing some of the corporate opportunities. From running a global business over a long period of time, certainly we had some perspective and experience of what worked and what didn’t work. To speak a little about the audio experience, I can tell you that no matter what we’ve spent on audio solutions to go into our meeting rooms, we’ve always had different challenges. Challenges with low talkers, people that momentarily turn their head away from a table speakerphone or audioconferencing system.
Because we’ve always viewed collaboration in a meeting room as involving large displays – first interactive whiteboards with SMART Technologies and now whole interactive walls – people were going to be moving around the room. The problem we saw in front of us was, how can we take that frustrating, distracting process of having to engage with people in an audio conference, and turn that into something where the technology disappears? Where it just works, picks up audio, and delivers it to the remote parties, and makes it a pleasurable experience.
JB: So how did the idea first come about and what was the process of creating an audio conferencing solution like the HDL300?
NK: It does tie into what I said about our fundamental belief that collaboration has a heavy element of creation. Therefore, we’ve created large, interactive wall systems to support teams and groups that need to create and contribute to the active creation sessions. When we said this is a fundamental for us, we asked how the audio is going to impact the experience that teams with remote members have.
There certainly are systems that are out there, and many of them have ceiling mounted microphones, and we looked at those systems. But those systems are at a price point with significant installation that, when you view the total outfitting of the room, we thought would be somewhat of an inhibitor to the adoption of our product.
Today, I’m speaking in a little breakout room and using a low-end system that’s sitting on the table. I’m sitting down. My mouth is about, let’s say, a foot and a half away from the microphone. Giving that I’m not moving, this is perfectly acceptable. But when we get a team together in room, someone is up at the wall, someone is sitting down, someone is moving away into a corner. Maybe there are other displays, maybe an interactive whiteboard, supplementing our wall systems in the room. We’re now into a much more challenging environment. We understand from our target users that there are budgetary limitations. Even as they’re working on product lines and concepts that are expected to deliver tens and hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue, they still have budgetary limitations.
We wanted to bring a product that would address these particular challenges in the room as well as come in at an accessible price point to deliver that solution that would enable that highly collaborative work environment.
JB: Nureva is obviously new to audio conferencing. Other than the price point, what sets your product apart? Why would companies want to go with your product over other products?
NK: Today, more than ever, when you talk to people, the word disruptive comes up. People understand how new technology approaches can dramatically change their work experience, and how they do things.
At the core of our offering is a very different technology. As we’ve talked to a variety of target customers as well as the IT gatekeepers and purchasers, they understand the fundamentals of our technology. We’ve come at this not from an audio conferencing perspective – certainly there’s a long history of companies that have developed novel approaches to the technology. We started looking at the problem from the outcome that we wanted to achieve, and asks if there was a different technology approach we could employ.
First we had to understand what people were currently doing so that we could see if there was a different technological approach. That’s where this approach of concept of Microphone Mist Technology, the utilization of a very significant processor, one that uses a DSP with 15,000 MIPS, what could that deliver to us?
What it’s allowed us to do is to have 8,192 virtual microphones listening at the same time across a maximum of 20 feet by 20 feet. What that means is that, in real time, we can determine the virtual microphone that is going to give us the best audio pickup. Unlike directional microphones, there’s no movement from turning on one microphone versus the other microphone that may have been in use. It gives a more natural listening experience, with more than one voice throughout the room being heard.
I think the different technology approach can overcome some of the challenges that people continue to tell us about. We continually hear about problem rooms – size of the room, harsh walls, glass wall, sound absorbing materials, hard surfaces like displays and tables in the room – and our system can compensate for those challenges and resolve them.