Mark Schnittman and Max Makeev of Owl Labs

An exclusive Tech Tribune Q&A with Mark Schnittman (co-founder and CTO) and Max Makeev (co-founder) of Owl Labs, which was honored in our:
Tell us the origin story of Owl Labs – what problem were you trying to solve and why?

Mark: The idea for Owl Labs was born when I was working remotely for a startup in Las Vegas while living in Boston. As one of the only remote employees, meeting and working with a group of people sitting together was incredibly painful. It was hard to see what was going on, difficult to hear what people were saying, and a challenge to actively contribute.

It became clear that current video conferencing tools are not optimized for remote participants and don’t provide them with a helpful, inclusive experience. Technologies today often leave remote employees feeling like a “fly on a wall” or a mere lurker during in-person team meetings. I felt like that just wasn’t right.

So, with the mission of equalizing the experience for remote employees at the front of our minds, Max joined me in founding Owl Labs in 2014.

Max: Our solution was the Meeting Owl, an intelligent 360° all-in-one video conferencing device that centers virtual conferencing around remote participants. Our mission is to create the inclusive meeting experience remote employees deserve. It will be one of the first IoT devices for the company conference room.

What was the biggest hurdle you encountered in your journey?

Mark: I think the hurdles are never ending for any startup. For us though, I think the first hurdle was the biggest, which was figuring out what it takes to raise a seed round. Neither of us had any experience doing this before and it took a while to learn what we need to do before folks would take us seriously. Here’s a tip for other future founders – don’t go looking for funding until you’ve built a prototype!

What does the future hold for Owl Labs?

Mark: An Owl in every conference room! Seriously though, the future is all about making remote work and hybrid teams really work, and that means helping teams communicate a natural and effective way, even when everyone isn’t in the same physical space. The Meeting Owl Pro has a 360 degree camera, eight microphone array, top-of-the-line mobile processor, and is connected to the Internet. There’s no limit to how smart we can make this bird. We’ve also got some new products in the works that will help co-workers see and understand the meeting room better than ever.

What are your thoughts on the local tech startup scene in Somerville?

Max: It’s great to see so many startups in Somerville. We love the breadth of the startups here that range from 3D printing to robotic automation. We hope that these startups are able to grow and serve their customers effectively so that Somerville can become the next tech hub of Boston. Tech startups drive local economies, which benefits coffee shops, pubs, and restaurants. One fun example: Owl Labs has used local printing shops to create branded hand towels for our employees to use in place of paper towels.

What’s your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Mark: Quit your job, build a prototype, and network, network, network. I think it’s really hard to do all the work that’s needed to begin to get a new company off the ground if it’s not your full-time job. For many types of businesses, if you don’t have a prototype to show people the experience you want to create, it’ll be hard to get them to believe that you can do it (the prototype can be crude!). But you have to find a way to meet the people that might want to work with you. You never know where you’ll find the right connection and that’s why networking is so key.


For more exclusive interviews, see our full Profile of a Founder series

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