Forget Skype. FaceMe is the NZ technology solution that is changing the way businesses interact with customers

Forget Skype. FaceMe is the NZ technology solution that is changing the way businesses interact with customers

By Andrew Patterson

While Skype might have become one of the internet’s most popular free downloads, allowing millions of users around the world to enjoy face to face telephony, the system does have its limitations when it comes to business users.

Enter home grown technology company Hitech Solutions which has taken the best of Skype and integrated a range of software technologies, including Windows applications such as Word, Excel and Powerpoint, to produce a cost effective video conferencing solution known as FaceMe.

Not to be confused with its more famous social networking namesake, FaceMe provides a seamless platform for business users wanting to hold meetings between multiple parties turning their respective computers into virtual meeting rooms with all the usual features that would normally be required.

The browser based software technology is the brainchild of company founder Danny Tomsett who began developing the product in 2007 after customers expressed frustration at the need for matching hardware and software to run existing video conferencing systems.

As Managing Director Mark Christensen explains, that led to one of those ‘eureka’ moments when it became obvious there was an opportunity to capture a decent slice of the market that wasn’t being properly catered for by existing providers.

“We thought to ourselves that surely, if I can make a phone call and it gets through, send an email and it gets through then why can’t I have a video call and know that it’s going to get through as well?”

“The simplicity of the system is that it’s all designed around the browser eliminating the need for software downloads. It’s also fully compatible with different computer hardware and software systems and participants can be located anywhere.”

Multiple users

FaceMe opens a world of possibilities, not only within a business context but also in areas such as healthcare and education and goes a long way towards removing the infamous ‘tyranny of distance’ issue, particularly when engaging with customers globally.

“We now have a very cost effective product that allows FaceMe users to collaborate in a very personal way with their customers that was difficult to achieve before now, short of jumping on a plane.”

But it’s not only traditional business customers that are using FaceMe.

Auckland’s Takapuna Grammar School is also utilizing the technology to allow students to converse in Japanese, in real time, with students in South Korea.

Deputy Principal Bryan Wynn says FaceMe is the way of the future for classroom learning.

“It’s very effective as a teaching tool and what I particularly like about it is the way students can manage the technology themselves. They just log on and away they go. For teachers that’s a real bonus and the students really enjoy the personal engagement and being able to share images and photos with each other so it brings the whole learning experience to life.”

Development

Developing a technology solution obviously involves dealing with plenty of hurdles along the way, but Mark Christensen says it’s thanks to feedback from customers that has allowed FaceMe to rapidly improve its product offering.

“We’ve got a very scalable product now which has allowed us to take it to the market internationally and yes, it’s taken a lot of hard work to get it to this point but one of the advantages of developing a product like this is we’ve had a lot of customer validation and feedback along the way, particularly in terms of getting the user experience and interface right.”

Protecting the intellectual property the company has developed is also important for businesses like FaceMe.

“Users are going to see how we operate so you can only protect the actual interface so much, but in terms of the back end of the business we certainly have that securely locked down both in terms of hardware and software.”

Global potential

As far as competition goes, there are two ends of the spectrum available for those wanting video conferring facilities including Skype and Cisco webex at the low end, through to top end products such Polycom and Cisco’s telepresence which offer high definition large screen options.

“FaceMe sits somewhere in between these two options but our technology integrates easily with other systems so we can bring their meeting rooms into ours which obviously benefits the end user.

The potential for FaceMe is only limited by the imagination of the user; something that Mark Christensen says becomes apparent when the product is showcased at international trade shows.

“You can see the excitement from resellers who want to get hold of the product to distribute in their marketplace. The real advantage we have is the width of the market we can enter, everything from government to education. However, it’s the health sector that we’re most excited about. Telemedicine is the way of the future as health providers continue to look for efficiencies in their service delivery and we can provide a key part of the platform to facilitate that process.”

Efficiencies

For most businesses it’s the efficiencies that video conferencing offers, particularly when it comes to productivity, that makes the system most appealing. Avoiding the need to fly staff around the country with all the down time that can involve can be a significant cost saving in itself.

“Customers regularly share examples of being able to attend between six and eight meetings a day using FaceMe when previously they were limited to perhaps just three or four.”

Payment is on a monthly subscription model which means a basic three user option for a small business can cost as little as $200 a month through to $1000 a month for corporate plans.

Staff Culture

As we’ve heard from other businesses in this series, being able to recruit qualified staff is an on-going issue for the company.

 “The growth of companies like Orion Health and Xero have gobbled up a lot of developers with coding experience but the other category of staff we are always on the lookout for are effective international sales staff who are also successful channel managers.

The company must be doing something right on the HR front because in the last three years not one of its 40 staff has opted to leave.

“We’ve adopted a lot of the Silicon Valley approaches including a games room, flexible working hours and being very careful to ensure the staff we take on fit into our company culture. As we continue to grow I don’t know how much longer we’ll be able to maintain this but at least it speaks volumes about the type of staff we’ve brought on.”

Future

Last year, FaceMe won the inaugural BNZ Virgin Business Challenge which includes an hour with Sir Richard Branson himself, no less.

“He’s a bit of a genius in the marketing and promotional space and he’s got a telco business in his portfolio so we’ve got a bit in common. I’m looking forward to getting some insights from him.”

As to the future, FaceMe can only see blue skies and the possibility of an IPO listing somewhere down the track.

“We’re aiming to expand in Singapore, Canada the U.S. and the U.K. in the near term and as capital becomes more and more of an issue we could eventually list on the NZX. That remains an option.”

Watch this space. FaceMe might eventually be New Zealand’s answer to Facebook.

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Andrew, whilst it is pleasing to see articles here in the new buisness section, how about providing some basic financials for the companies you profile.  Cashflow, debt ,top & bottom line etc.  It would provide a lot context to the article.and allow readers to have some idea of how well (or not) ,the buisiness is actually performing, in a financial sense.  Just a suggestion.
 

While I dont think companies woud l divulge this info, I do agree it would be interesting to see.
Interest.co.nz should set up something similar to CrunchBase (by TechCrucnch) for NZ companies which pulls togeterh all funding and investor information for non listed companies.

Thanks for this suggestion. Being small private companies, many of the businesses featured in this section are obviously reluctant to reveal too much detail about their financials but I will attempt to glean what I can and incorporate these in future articles.

Super...so Parliament no longer needs to be an expensive old pile to which all the wannabees get to fly to every sodding week at great cost...ditto the Beehive...they can all stay at home...would save hundreds of millions...
And the junket mob have no excuse to blow away millions on overseas journeys to "meetings"
Lockwood could click his mouse to turn any naughty member into the clown most of them are and the whole country could get a good laugh.
And Bill English is going on about saving heaps isn't he!....will we see Bill kick off a change to end the waste and 'Faceme' Parliament...will we? ....Hell NO
 
 

LOL @ Wolly and I agree.  

I do wonder though ... whether nothing beats actual face to face when trying to negotiate a business deal, or consult an idea, or put accross a point.   When computers can give you the real sense of being in a room with someone, then maybe.   You need to pick up their movements, the way they are sitting, their surroundings, the way they smell even in order to be a true influencer.  Because of this, the cost and time incurred in travelling pays off.  Besides some of us are born to do it!
 
But perhaps I am old fashioned and soon to be relegated to the ranks of dinosaur?  perhaps my skills in this area are fast becoming redundant.  perhaps a whole NEW set of skills and inherent abilities will be required to achieve results in the future?  I am heartened to see that they are using this in schools ... I just hope that the teachers we pay so little for these days, have the foresight to develop the skills necessary?
 
 
 
 
 

Sounds very good, I can't see any video demos on the web site just awful corporate adverts. Hope it takes off! On a technical note your cameraman needs to learn two thirds rule and looking room for his camera framing.