Last year, we were in YC W20 pivoting through several ideas, but then the pandemic hit. Suddenly, our YC batch was just a series of monotonous Zoom calls. We lost the magic of the social dinners, random conversations, and catching a speaker afterward for a personal chat. We quickly recognized that while Zoom was great for small meetings, the functionality and UI/UX made large group events unorganized and passive.
During the pandemic, many novel and sometimes gimmicky video platforms emerged targeting the social niche. But every organization hosts more than social events. We built Slingshow to have no learning curve for traditional use cases like panels and presentations while seamlessly incorporating newer social formats. We think the best virtual event formats are still in their infancy and are unique to every use case, so we wanted to create a flexible tool that would let organizers build their own experiences.
We were inspired by companies like Notion, Coda, Retool, and Airtable, which work in the UI/UX paradigm of creating functional modular building blocks. This means choosing a few simple, valuable abstractions like a table or a button and letting users mix and match these components to meet their needs. In our case, we’re starting with four fundamental blocks that organizers use to plan a schedule: Tables for free-flowing networking like interactions, Rooms for concurrent presentations, a Stage for classic webinar like presentations, and a Call to Action block for redirecting to external websites like forms, activities, etc.
Using our blocks, one of our enterprise customers (Fivetran) holds their standard webinar on our Stage block and then shifts into the Rooms block where attendees can choose to speak with the panelists. Another customer held a dating event that started with a Stage to introduce the event, then switched to Tables of 4, then 3, then 2 with different prompts to create more intimate conversations. We also have other customers hosting unique product launches, happy hours, live podcasts, cohort-based classes, and multi-day hackathons. While some platforms offer similar functionality, they’re heavy conference platforms with a large learning curve. They also require days of work to create specialized assets and often involve trained intermediaries like event organizers and planners.
We’re not focused on conferences but rather on simplicity, and Blocks help us achieve that. They're versatile and help simplify the organizer's event creation process by hiding complexity. Blocks are also a simple way for us to add new formats in the future. By just by creating a schedule with Blocks, Slingshow automatically generates the event page with registration, a cover image, and the entire attendee experience. Add a logo and brand color, and we'll automatically theme the entire event to make it feel like your brand.
We've chosen to launch late as nothing else matters if the video isn't stable and reliable for first-time users. One speaker failing to connect could ruin an event leaving a bad impression on everyone involved. We’ve spent several months working with early customers to gracefully handle errors and give helpful error messages for all the complexity of video: weak network connections, old browsers, mobile devices, firewalls, SDK edge cases, permission issues, etc. Depending on the use case, we also switch between multiple WebRTC video infrastructure providers. And lastly, following the lead of companies like Discord and Tandem, we built our backend using the Phoenix framework in Elixir because of its excellent support for WebSockets.
We still have a long way to go, but we feel confident with what we have and are ready to open up to a broader audience. We'd love to hear your feedback and experiences with the many virtual events you've probably experienced over this pandemic. Thanks! :–)
You can try out Slingshow for free here – https://slingshow.com/.